“The Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Luke 12:40). Jesus said this of second coming. But it’s also a familiar pattern of Jesus’ dealings with us in almost all areas. His reasons for this are mysterious and glorious, as the woman at the well in John 4 experienced.
Let’s imagine this Samaritan woman many years later as Photine1, living in Rome and listening to a young friend, Clodia, expressing her discouragement in waiting on Jesus.
Photine sensed Clodia’s invisible burden. “What’s on your mind, dear?”
“You know I don’t accept that response. Would you hand me the basket of pears?”
Clodia passed the basket. “I know. But nothing is what’s on my mind . . . as in nothing ever changes.”
Photine laughed, “When you’re my age, dear, you’ll know that change is all that ever happens.”
“Except the things you really want to change,” muttered Clodia, dropping a handful of pistachios into a cloth bag.
Clodia was new to Rome, having come from Carthage where she had become a Christian about six years earlier. The gracious, aged Photine had taken her under her wing. This morning they were preparing food for some of the sisters who had been jailed the previous week for sharing Jesus with a senator’s daughter. Clodia didn’t know all of Photine’s past.
Photine said, “I’m listening,” handing her another bag.
“Jesus said if we ask the Father anything in in his name he will give it to us.2 And I’ve seen answers to prayer. But there are things I so desperately want him to change. I ask and ask and nothing. Some things have gotten worse not better.” She filled the bag. “I don’t understand it.”
The old woman put three pears in the last bag and handed it to Clodia. “You will, honey, once you learn that Jesus is coming.”
Clodia wasn’t inspired. “I know Jesus is going to come back someday. But some of my prayers I want him to answer before then.” In went the last fist of pistachios.
“I don’t simply mean Jesus’ return, dear. I mean that Jesus is coming in answer to every righteous request you make in his name.”
“Yes, of course. He promised your prayers would be answered, didn’t he? Here, put those meal bags into this large sack. I’ll put away the food.” Photine got up stiffly, carrying the pear basket to the table. “You just need to learn to trust his timing.”
“But if he’s coming why is he taking so long?”
“Sweetheart, he’s God. Some prayers he answers in a day, some in decade, some in a thousand years. Just set the sack by door.” She came back for the bowl of pistachios. “Some prayers he answers after five marriages.”
Clodia set the sack down. “What? Five marriages?”
“Five,” answered the godly woman, and she shook her head. “And after the fifth I stopped with the formalities.” Clodia looked a bit stunned. “I was the whore of Sychar, Clodia, a slave to my sin. I had also prayed many times that God would deliver me and saw nothing change. I had heard that Messiah was going to come someday, but I had stopped hoping that he’d ever come for me. And then one day, when I least expected him, there he was, waiting for me beside a well.”
Photine poured the nuts into the storage sack. “Many times since he has come in answer to my prayers. But rarely when or how I expected him. Experience has taught me is that his strange ways are always best. So don’t stop praying, dear. But don’t place your hope on time. Let Jesus mind the time. Put your hope in his faithfulness. He’s never yet broken a promise. He will answer you.”
God is not deaf to your groaning prayers, the ones that come from the core of your being (Romans 8:26). He knows your deep longings, your desires for his kingdom to come, your yearnings to be “set free from [creation’s] bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). He is coming to fulfill every righteous desire beyond your wildest imaginings.
But “the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Luke 12:40). This is his way and his timing is often mysterious to us. But he knows what he’s doing and by employing the element of surprise in glorious purposes he humbles human pride, catches Satan off-guard (Luke 12:39), and, wonderfully, heightens our joy when the answers come.
So keep praying and cultivate patient, long-suffering faith. There will be a day when you find him unexpectedly at the well of your deepest thirst.
1Eastern Orthodox tradition says the woman at the well took the name Photine (or Photini), meaning “enlightened one,” after her baptism, became an effective evangelist, eventually moved to Rome and was martyred during Nero’s persecution.
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