What To Do In The Mean Time
“The mean time can be pretty mean.” This little line has been floating around in my thought process for years now. What am I talking about? There’s always a mean time. You know, “Meanwhile, back at the ranch...” What’s going on while you’re waiting for something else to take place.
God has a lot of promises for us, as well as principles. We’re instructed to pray in faith, without knowing how long we may be expected to wait for the answer. We’re told to do right, stand right, cleave to what’s right, even though the immediate moment might convince me that it’s not likely to turn out for the best. We’re commanded to obey and follow God’s leading, regardless of the consequences, and trust God’s promises and power to take care of what is out of our hands. I don’t know about you, but it seems like there are always one or more scenarios in progress in my life with people, projects or problems, and the devil is sure to invent one if I think I’ve finally solved them all.
So what should I be doing in the mean time? I’m talking about after I’ve prayed and before I’ve received God’s answer. I’m talking about after I’ve attempted to do the right thing in a situation, and before it has been resolved and I’ve seen the final outcome. After I’ve committed a need or problem to the Lord’s hands, and before He has shown me the final product of Him taking the raw material of my sorrows and turning them into joys.
These waiting times may have me wailing, “But it hurts, and I just don’t understand!” These are times that come in the life of every believer that are sure to try my soul, and that’s why the mean time can be so mean. Any time there’s a lull in the conversation, the devil will start whispering discouragement and despair, so it’s up to me to formulate a plan for what to do in the mean time.
You may come up with a plan much better than mine -- so be sure to give me your ideas -- but here is my rough draft to try to stay on course during difficult situations. What to do in the mean time?
Guard your Wounds and Weaknesses
The mean time may be a time of pain and weakness from wounds that you’ve received. I could be talking to the heartbreak of a devastated and disillusioned wife who is one thin strand from totally giving up on her marriage. While you’re praying and waiting and hurting, you need to put up a high fence around your heart and guard your areas of weakness, which first entails that you acknowledge those weaknesses.
For instance, if there are not a lot of positives in your marriage relationship right now, then there are unmet needs that will leave you vulnerable to Satan’s attack. For a woman, I think emotional needs almost always trump physical ones, and that is the easiest way for the enemy to lead you astray, since it can seem so innocent. The devil is sure to have some guy on the job or around the corner with a listening ear and open arms who will be glad to convince you that he understands and cares about what you’re going through. If I could march an army past you of women who have been unfaithful, I guarantee you that a high percentage of those wrong relationships started with only an emotional bond, that naturally led to a physical one as time progressed.
Now is not the time to let down your guard in protecting yourself from dangerous emotional attachments. You need some strong rules and principles to guard and protect and make right decisions for you while you are not in any condition to do those things for yourself. Talk to the Lord, talk to your pastor’s wife or a girlfriend if necessary, but do not allow yourself to form emotional bonds with another man, and heart-to-heart conversation is the easiest way to fall into that trap.
One of the things that fundamental Baptist Bible-believers are both commended and criticized for is having high standards of morality for our young people to protect them and help them to stay pure. But I’m afraid we are sometimes guilty of thinking that it’s not so important for ‘an old married woman like me’ to abide by the same guidelines.
Don’t allow yourself to be alone with another man in a building or car or anywhere. Don’t allow any physical contact to take place beyond a courteous handshake. Don’t go anywhere with another man, or sit around indulging in deep conversations, even if your intention is ‘just to talk.’ Don’t allow conversations with men to stray into off-limits areas that are private and intimate, or even headed in that direction. Don’t allow one-on-one friendships to form with other men, but restrict yourself to having couple to couple friendships with both spouses together. If you are hurting and there are very real needs in your marriage that are unmet right now, you need a lot of protection and accountability.
There are probably hundreds of other situations that beg the same advice. No matter what pain or problem you are dealing with, protect yourself during this ‘mean time.’ Guard your wounds and your weaknesses, which are the first areas your enemy will attack.
Bank on God’s Promises
At one of his very lowest points, David learned an important lesson that we need to learn if we are ever going to make it through the deep valleys. “And David was greatly distressed; for the people spake of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.” (I Samuel 30:6)
When the outlook is bleak, it’s very easy for me to become negative and hopeless and despairing; in fact, that is one of the tendencies I fight against the most. In the early years of our marriage, my husband often reminded me that I was a pessimist, so I was sure to share this funny with him when I heard it. “You’ve heard it said that it takes all kinds. Well, I’ve learned that it requires both optimists and pessimists to run the world and keep things in balance. It took an optimist to invent the airplane, but it took a pessimist to invent the parachute!”
Even so, God requires me to live and walk by faith, which is the direct opposite of walking by sight. It doesn’t take any faith for me to believe God and trust His promise in Romans 8:28 when I can clearly see how all things are going to work together for good. But God is pleased with faith that looks beyond all the insurmountable problems and hindrances and says, “I know it’s true just because God said so.” “And we know that ALL THINGS work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
Here are some of my life-long favorite verses that I have clung to while walking through the valleys and praying through problems. “For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.” (Psalm 84:11) “In the day of my trouble I will call upon thee: for thou wilt answer me.” (Psalm 86:7) “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God, in him will I trust. Surely he shall deliver thee... He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler... A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee... There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways... He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him. With long life will I satisfy him, and shew him my salvation.” (from Psalm 91)
“Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.” (Psalm 55:22) “And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.” (Psalm 50:15) “Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him: and he shall bring it to pass.” (Psalm 37:4-5) “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand.” (Psalm 37:23-24) “Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.” (Jeremiah 33:3) “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee: yea, I will help thee: yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” (Isaiah 41:10) “And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” (Matthew 21:22)
If my personal tendency is to be negative and despairing, then I just need to double up on the encouragement that I gather. When the mean times roll around, be sure to stock up on encouragement, and bathe your heart in the promises of God.
Invest in the Outcome
The first illustration that comes to my mind took place about 30 years ago. I was very distressed and burdened and praying about a relationship, and it was heavy on my heart as I walked and prayed that day. I stopped at a little drug store in a small town in Michigan and a fridge magnet caught my eye with a quote that reminded me of that broken relationship. My first thought was to be discouraged by it. “Lord, that’s not what I have, but that is what I want.” The Lord impressed on my heart to buy the little magnet, take it home and let it be a prayer reminder every day, and keep trusting the Lord with the situation. Though it was only a dollar, I was challenged to consider it to be an investment in that relationship, as well as an act of faith and hope. I did and He has, praise the Lord.
What can you invest in the answer to your prayer or solution to your problem that you are waiting for? Maybe it’s a few minutes, a card and a stamp. Maybe it’s a small ‘thinking about you’ gift. Maybe it’s a thoughtful word or act that you can offer -- just a no-pressure way of saying, “I still love you and you are still important to me.”
I had a friend who was praying for God to give her a child during several barren years in the early days of her marriage. When God impressed upon her heart to be prepared for His answer, she decorated and supplied the nursery, and the Lord has blessed her home with several children since then.
Whatever your ‘mean time’ consists of, look for a way to invest in the outcome that you are praying for and trusting the Lord for.
Keep On Keeping On ‘Back at the Ranch.’
Even when we’re faced with problems and perplexities, life goes on, and it’s essential that I keep putting one foot in front of the other. My responsibilities and jobs still need to be cared for. My family still needs me to be a wife and a mom. There are still lost souls that need to receive the message of the Gospel.
I remember the first time I heard it pointed out that when the Prodigal Son packed up and left home in self-will, his father did not pack up and leave in despair. Because the Prodigal’s father kept stoking the home fires and keeping a candle burning in the window for him, it gave that Prodigal a place to come home to. I don’t know how long the father waited; it may have been years. But I do know that if he had thrown in the towel and pronounced himself a failure as a father and abandoned the home place, the Prodigal’s story would not have had the same happy ending.
Whatever you’re trusting God for right now, however long you will have to wait for God’s answer, it’s important that you keep doing what you’re suppose to do ‘meanwhile back at the ranch. Just keep on keeping on.
Wait While You Wait
Don’t rush the reaping. Patience is a learned art, not a natural ability. Picture the frustration of a first-time farmer as he sows his seed, and then sits down beside the cornfield to wait for picking time. He’s already got the water boiling and the butter, salt and pepper ready to slather all over the first cob. You and I both know he’s in for a long summer, even if we’ve never had a garden.
In gardening we probably have a little more idea what to expect of the time lapse between sowing and reaping. But do we fail to realize that God’s time-table may be much different than our own while we’re waiting to reap a harvest from the good seeds that we have sown? “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we SHALL reap, if we faint not.” (Galatians 6:7-9) The only danger that might keep us from enjoying the harvest is if we quit, give up or faint in our endeavors.
Brother Hyles wrote a chapter for teens in one of his books called, “Don’t Rush the Washing Machine.” He warned them that if they kept turning the dial forward on the washer, then it couldn’t fulfill its intended purpose of getting the clothes clean, and if young people keep jumping ahead of the cycle or segment of life that they are in right now, they will be in danger of ruining the outcome and defeating the purpose that God has in mind for them. Each cycle is a necessary part of the final purpose.
If God has a purpose in every trial and learning experience He allows in my life, then I’m probably my own worst enemy when I find myself trying to force the situation and do God’s job for Him. I’m in danger of doing God’s work in my own way, like Sarah and Abraham did when they tried to ‘help’ God give them the promised Seed and brought the Egyptian maid, Hagar, into the equation. It ended up creating heartache and disaster for them, and still didn’t accomplish their intentions.
“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength: they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary: and they shall walk, and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31) My favorite preacher has a message called, “Wait while you wait.” He pointed out the fact that the word ‘wait’ not only means to be still and anticipate and be patient during the time lapse between prayer and answer, or between work and outcome, which we’re calling ‘the mean time.’
Another definition is to wait on the Lord as a servant waits on his master, or a waiter waits on a table. It involves taking orders, asking for instructions, and carrying out the directions that we have been given. It is serving at the pleasure of the One I am waiting on. This kind of waiting involves service and obedience, just doing what I’m told.
That opens up a whole new vista for me about what it means to wait on the Lord. I need to be diligent to wait on the Lord while I’m waiting on the Lord. I need to keep obeying Him, keep serving Him, and keep going on to fulfill the next order that I’ve been given. “Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.” (Psalm 27:14)
The Christian life has lots of blessings and mountaintop experiences, but there’s always a valley in between. We need to be prepared with a plan for the dark days, and know what we intend to do ‘in the mean time.’ I hope that you’ll share your thoughts with me, as I’ve told you my ideas. Be sure to safeguard your wounds and weaknesses. Encourage yourself and bank on God’s promises. Invest in the desired outcome, and keep on keeping on with your daily responsibilities in family and ministry, as well as keeping close in your daily walk with the Lord. Finally, don’t forget to wait while you wait, and keep serving the Lord while your hope -- your confident expectation -- is resting in God’s hands.
That’s what we need to do in the mean time.