What Christmas Teaches Us About the Timing of God

God’s timetable is all over the Christmas story.

Like many of you, I’ve read and preached the Christmas story many times in my life.

But a few years ago, I noticed something that I had missed for most of my life.

God’s timetable is all over the Christmas story.

Once you see it, you’ll never miss it again.

As leaders, it’s important to have a good sense of timing. Getting in sync with God’s timing helps us lead our church to seize the opportunities he gives us.

So what can the timing of Jesus’ birth tell us as leaders about God’s timing in our own ministries? I’ll share five lessons over the next two weeks. Here are the first three.

1. God Has a Timetable for Everything That Happens.

God had been telling the world for centuries that he was going to send a Savior. But God waited thousands of years for just the right time to send his Son.

Why didn’t God send him sooner?

God had his own timetable for Christmas.

The Bible says, “But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children” (Galatians 3:4–5).

We don’t know why God sent Jesus when he did, but we know it was the right time to do what he wanted to do.

The same is true in your ministry. God has a timetable. You may not know what it is right now, but you can trust that his timing is perfect.

2. God Does Not Tell Us the Details in Advance.

Although God has a timetable for your ministry, he doesn’t lay it all out to you in advance.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says this: “God has given them a desire to know the future. He does everything just right and on time, but people can never completely understand what he is doing.”

God didn’t tell Israel exactly when Jesus would come, but the Bible says Jesus came at the right time.

You and I like to know exactly what’s next in our ministries, but that’s not how God works. God rarely lays everything out before us. Why?

First, it would overwhelm you if God told you everything he wanted to do through your ministry right now. You’d likely run away from it.

Second, you’d probably abuse it. You would try to change the bad parts.

But the most important reason he doesn’t announce his timetable for your ministry in advance is that he wants you to trust him. Everything God does in your life is because of his love for you. He wants you to trust him more today than you did yesterday.

3. God Is Never in a Hurry, and He’s Never Late.

God isn’t bound by time. He can be in the past, present, and future at the same time. Our view of time is bound by life on earth, which rotates every 24 hours and travels around the sun every 365 days. God doesn’t live on a planet, so he is timeless. He is never in a hurry, and he’s never late.

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When the people of Israel were awaiting the coming of Jesus, it probably seemed like God was taking forever. Many thought he was late.

But the Bible says Jesus came at just the right time—not a second too soon or a second too late.

To see that, you would need to have God’s perspective on time. Second Peter 3:8 says, “Do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.”

Pastor, that’s not how you and I look at time. When we’re waiting on God to change a heart, meet a need, or grow our church, it feels like a thousand years. We don’t like to wait. But God is timeless.

That has major implications for our ministries. God has given you a vision for your ministry. I know many leaders who give up on God’s vision because it’s taking too long.

Maybe that’s you. You’re ready to throw in the towel. The dream for your ministry is bruised and broken.

God doesn’t want you to give up. He says this in Habakkuk 2:3: “The vision will still happen at the appointed time. It hurries toward its goal. It won’t be a lie. If it’s delayed, wait for it. It will certainly happen. It won’t be late.”

If God gave you a dream, he will make it happen. It just has to happen on his timetable, not yours.

So wait for it. It’s worth it.

I know what it’s like to want to rush the dream God has given you. I was 25 years old when I started Saddleback. I was in a hurry to get everything, but God’s timing was different. Slowly and steadily God fulfilled the vision.

Pastor, God is not in a hurry. He has a timetable that he will fulfill.

His timing is always perfect.

4. God’s Timing Is Not Always Convenient.

God’s plan for your life and his timing is good. It’s for your benefit, but it’s not painless. It won’t always be easy.

Think about Mary and Joseph. Mary was a pregnant virgin. Imagine her conversation with her mom: “Hi, Mom, I’m pregnant. I’m still a virgin, and the baby is God.” I’m sure that wasn’t an easy conversation.

Then Caesar Augustus decides to call a census and tells everyone to return to the town where they were born. Imagine if the government asked us to do this today. It would be chaos. Every plane, train, and automobile would be booked. Every highway would be full.

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But back then, this meant Mary had to get on a donkey and take a long trip to Bethlehem the day before she delivered her baby. Then she must deliver her first child in a barn without any family but Joseph—along with a bunch of animals.

This wasn’t Mary’s plan. Her timing would have been much different. But the Bible said Jesus would be born in Bethlehem, so that’s what God orchestrated.

The Christmas story wasn’t Mary and Joseph’s idea of how they wanted to welcome their first child into the world. But it was part of a much bigger plan.

2020 wasn’t convenient for many of us. A year ago, no one would have dreamed that a global pandemic would have killed hundreds of thousands of people. We couldn’t have imagined needing to close our churches for months at a time.

2021 will have its share of inconveniences, too. Your leadership will be challenged by them. You can either throw in the towel, or you can lean on God and his plan for your ministry.

5. At the Right Time, God Can Do Anything Instantly.

God can do more in one millisecond than you can do in your entire life. At the right time, God can do his will instantly. The Bible says, “At the right time, I, the Lord, will make it happen” (Isa. 60:22).

God doesn’t worry about time because he doesn’t need time to accomplish what he wants to do.

Pastor, this is tough for us to accept. The most difficult place for us to be is in God’s waiting room. Many of you find yourself there right now. You’re waiting for COVID-19 restrictions to subside. You’re waiting for your congregation to return to church. You’re waiting for a vaccine. Maybe you’re waiting on something in your personal life—children to be born or possibly an upcoming marriage.

When you’re in a hurry for something to happen and God isn’t, that’s God’s waiting room. When you’re in God’s waiting room, you tend to wonder if what you’re waiting on will even happen at all.

But God doesn’t need a lot of time to do what he wants to do in your life and in your church.

Israel waited for hundreds of years for the Messiah to come. But the Bible says, “When the right time came, God sent his Son” (Gal. 4:4).

When the time is right, he’ll answer your prayers as well. Even 2020 can’t get in the way of God’s perfect plan for your life and your ministry.

Read more from Rick Warren »

This article originally appeared on Pastors.com and is reposted here by permission.

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Rick Warren

Rick Warren, an Outreach magazine consulting editor, is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church and the best-selling author of The Purpose Driven Life. He built the Purpose Driven Network, a global alliance of pastors from 162 countries and hundreds of denominations who have been trained to be purpose driven churches. He also founded Pastors.com, an online interactive community that provides sermons, forums and other practical resources for pastors. Rick Warren and his wife Kay are passionate about global missions and what he calls “attacking the five global giants” of poverty, disease, spiritual emptiness, self-serving leadership and illiteracy. His solution, The PEACE Plan, is a massive effort to mobilize Christians around the world into an outreach effort to attack these problems by promoting reconciliation, equipping servant leaders, assisting the poor, caring for the sick and educating the next generation.