This word broke my heart. I had been slogging through the sad stories of the kings of Israel and Judah. Again and again they rejected God and worshiped idols. Sometimes they even brought the idols into the temple. Some kings began to sacrifice children, making Israel more depraved than the nations it had replaced. Most of the stories in Kings and Chronicles are not encouraging.
Like many, I have been slogging through the trials of life that can break your heart and weary your soul. I have been committed to the long-haul work of the kingdom: praying for lost family members, praying and working for community transforming revival, hoping and praying for those with addictions to be set free, interceding for the healing of families and relationships. Honestly, the stories of one sinful king after another discouraged me. Why hope for any good in this life?
But then comes the story of King Hezekiah and all he did to restore the worship of the Lord. He cleansed the land of idols. He then reestablished the priesthood and the Levites. In Jerusalem the song of the Lord was sung again. We are told, “And Hezekiah rejoiced, and all the people, that God had prepared the people: for the thing was done suddenly” (II Chronicles 29:36).
“Suddenly” brought me to tears. I was surprised at how deeply I long for “suddenly.” This year I have grimly embraced the call to be patient, steadfast and persevering in prayer. Yet, I hunger for the sudden answer to prayer that ambushes my heart with joy.
I dutifully pray for the healing and salvation of those I love and am fully committed to keep praying until I, or they, die. God’s Word is indeed filled with exhortations to patiently believe and trust in God’s promises. Endurance and perseverance are essential. But because I had stopped hoping for anything “sudden,” my spirit had grown gray and joyless. My hope was set only on the day when we behold the returning Christ and are in “the twinkling of an eye” changed into His likeness. This “suddenly” is comforting but does not provide much hope for next week, month, or year. It left me faithful but joyless. I was haunted by the possibility that my prayers might never, if ever, be answered.
I wept at the hope and joy expressed by the “suddenly” in this verse. God had brought a quick and unexpected turn-around for the people in Jerusalem. The very suddenness of the return to the Lord was a source of delight. Centuries later after all the years of prayers for the Messiah, there did come a day when Jesus suddenly appeared in the temple. On that day Simeon, who for years waited for the consolation of Israel, held the baby Messiah in his arms (Luke 2:28). Anna, a woman of night and day fasting and prayer, also saw Jesus and prophesied over him. Here perseverance and endurance collided with God’s “suddenly.”
And there is the “suddenly” of Pentecost when the rag-tag beaten down apostles and followers of Jesus became, in a couple days, an army of thousands empowered by the Holy Spirit. It is true, we really are called to endure, persevere in prayer, and hold on to our faith in the face of all kinds of distress and opposition. But it is also true that we pray to a God of the “suddenly”.
Without faith in God’s power and desire to work suddenly, we despair and labor in prayer out of duty instead of joy and hope. Nothing is too difficult, too far gone, or too lost for Him. Every day we need to pray and obey with endurance. But we need to hope for the “suddenly” and with grim joy declare “Today is the day of salvation!”