Last week I departed from this blog’s usual focus of applying the academic discipline of biblical studies to the church. Instead, I posted devotional material from my out-of-print book (2006), “When God Gives a Time Out.” I shared chapter 1, “An Introduction to Time Outs” and over the next several weeks I will post additional chapters. I pray they will be an encouragement and guide in our current circumstances.
Chapter 2: What Do You Mean “Time Out?”
I use the term “time out” because God does in concept what we see so many parents literally doing to their children. It all boils down to the fact that the child is not listening. They may be doing something they are not supposed to do or just doing something other than listening. The parent makes the child cease all activity. The child must now sit on the stairs, or in a special chair, with nothing to do except listen.
I will speak about the specific time outs God has given me in subsequent chapters. In general though, a time out is when God so controls the situation that you have no choice but to stop doing a certain thing, or stop doing everything. Something is getting in the way of hearing God’s voice and He is making you sit quietly until you are ready to listen. Are you in a relationship and suddenly circumstances cause you to cease contact with that person? Perhaps it is a time out. Have you ever had a job that kept you real busy and you either can’t do that job for a time or get permanently laid off? Perhaps a time out. Can you remember any period in your life when you were stuck or just unable to do a certain thing? Again, God may have been giving you a time out. This feeling of being stuck reminds me of how my wife would give a time out to our kids when they were toddlers. On occasion, Wendi would tell one of our children to go sit on the stair, but they wouldn’t go. She would then take that child to the stair and hold them very firmly. Of course they would struggle to break free, but they were stuck. Eventually, they calmed down and were ready to listen. God will hold us on the stair until we stop squirming. We want to quickly get out of the time out, but God must talk to us about the situation so that we are better able to deal with it the next time. God can bring you to a place where you are stuck financially. Is He holding you in a time out so that you will listen to Him concerning how you manage your money? God can bring single people to a place where they just can’t seem to get a date. He may be trying to get that single person to listen to what He was to say about relationships. Whether it is a specific area of your life, as in these examples, or your entire life, God gives time outs so that He can lovingly parent you to a place of maturity.
Not every instance of being stuck is a “time out” from God. Every time such an occasion comes up, however, we can be proactive and consider it a time out and listen for the voice of God.
The history of Israel was full of time outs. The book of Judges records the cycle of God giving Israel time outs by allowing invaders to oppress Israel. As Israel was stuck and unable to do the things they once enjoyed, they cried out to God and listened to his voice. When they listened to the Lord, God ended the time out by sending a deliverer. Before long, Israel again stopped listening to God and “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”(Judges 21:25) During this time there was much religious activity and much was getting done, but all the activity was not a result of hearing God’s voice. People were doing what seemed right to them, and that is when they got into trouble.
When we do whatever seems right, we also get into trouble. We listen to the voice in our head or the voices in our culture and do whatever seems right. We don’t listen to God, because we assume that we already have the direction we need. Israel was directed towards idolatry and false religion. These practices distracted them from hearing their Heavenly Father’s voice and hurt their relationship with Him. Christians are directed towards the idols of success, or popularity, or esteem. Like the Israelites’ idolatry, these practices distract us from hearing God’s voice and hurt out relationship with Him. If necessary, our Father in Heaven will bring us through a cycle of time outs until we realize that our relationship with Him must be the driving force behind all that we do in life.
Time outs seem punitive, but they are ultimately aimed at producing maturity and growth in God’s people. The Babylonian captivity is the central time out in the history of Israel. Even after the period of judges, Israel continued to listen to the voice of idolatrous priests, false prophets, and corrupt kings. Israel waged wars, followed laws, and did “religion” like all the other nations – and that was the problem. Like the other nations, they didn’t function out of a relationship with God or from hearing His voice. The Israelites were God’s children and enjoyed a special relationship to God. Instead of living in that special relationship, they chose to live like the other nations. God gave Israel a seventy-year time out in Babylon and when they returned, pagan idolatry never again distracted them from hearing God’s voice. Many other distractions and subtle idolatries of the mind would arise, but Israel put away pagan idolatry and the desire to do things like the other nations. The “punishment” of the captivity was a national time out that was aimed at returning Israel to a close relationship with God. In captivity, the Israelites could no longer do civil, social, or religious things like they were accustomed to. Instead, they were stuck in Babylon. Did they enjoy being away from home and in captivity? Absolutely not. Time outs may not be enjoyable, but they are a way for our Heavenly Father to hone our relationship with Him and mature us. God’s motive for a time out is not revenge. Time outs are a way for God to bring about the intimacy and growth He has planned for His children. Concerning Israel’s time out In Babylon, the Prophet Jeremiah said:
“For thus says the LORD, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the LORD,’ and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.’” (Jeremiah 29:10-14)
God’s plan, although it seemed cruel, affected the necessary change in the Israelites. After (and during) the Babylonian time out, Israel called upon God. The relationship of Israel listening to God and God listening to Israel was restored for a time. No longer did Israel seek to do things like the other nations. Instead they sought God. They sought the Father’s voice instead of the competing voices that surrounded them. Although time outs aren’t fun, know that God’s ultimate plan for you is for good. He wants to be in relationship with His children and sometimes we need a time out so we can hear that loving plan.
Questions to Ponder
- As you read this chapter did any occasion in your life immediately come to mind as a possible time out?
- Can you think of any other time outs recorded in the Bible?