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Whether it's in business, politics, sports or stand-up comedy, experts tell us that timing means everything. Prayer, too, can be a matter of timing.

Failure to understand God's timing regarding a matter we are praying about can lead to spiritual disappointment and missed opportunities.

For any given prayer or undertaking in our lives, we need to discern whether the Lord is saying one of these four things:

  • Never
  • Always
  • At certain times
  • Not now

The Bible declares that from before the creation of the world, God intended us to be "conformed to the likeness of His Son" (Rom. 8:29, NIV). And anyone who studies the life of Jesus can't help but be impressed with His unruffled peace and perfect spiritual poise.

No matter the situation, the Lord knew what to say and when to say it. Whether He was healing the sick, walking the dusty roads of Judea, or preaching and praying, Jesus always did the right thing with perfect timing.

This keen understanding of divine imperatives and precise spiritual timing is at the heart of what it means to be mature in Christ. Some things must never be done, while others must always be observed.

At certain times a particular action is the only proper course to take; at other times even good things are inappropriate because the Lord is saying "not now." An inability to understand and obey these principles is a mark of spiritual immaturity and carnality.

When we fail to believe that God is serious when He says "never," we suffer the hurtful consequences of our disobedience. The same is true when we respond halfheartedly to an "always" command.

But when God responds by saying "at certain times," it can be difficult to know what precisely to do, especially when the decision has no obvious moral quality to it. Just as challenging is the ability to hear God's "not now" response, bidding us to cease an otherwise proper course of action.

GOD'S IMPERATIVES A most dramatic moment in Old Testament history well illustrates these principles. The Israelites had just left Egypt after the Lord had delivered 10 plagues on their enemy.

Following the desert road that led to the Red Sea, they had camped at its edge. But Pharaoh, who had let them go with great reluctance, changed his mind once again, pursuing them into the desert with a host of chariots and soldiers.

As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord (see Ex. 14:10-16). This was the first spiritual test God's people faced after their emancipation.

As Pharaoh's army drew near, the Israelites panicked, blaming Moses for delivering them in the first place. In their moment of crisis, they couldn't muster an ounce of faith in the God who had already proven His love and faithfulness.

It was in this setting that they heard one of the Lord's most important "never" words, a word that applies to us today. It came through Moses, who boldly declared, "Do not be afraid" (Ex. 14:13).

Whether it's the Israelites at the Red Sea or you and I at the beginning of the 21st century, fear and timidity are never God's will for His people. To be controlled by fear means the death of faith. "Without faith it is impossible to please God" (Heb. 11:6).

It doesn't matter how many chariots pursued the Israelites then or how many terrorist cells plot mayhem today. Fear is never an option for the children of the living God.

When we ignore God's word, "Do not be afraid," we sadden the Spirit of God and forfeit the blessings He intends for us. In fact, fear is far worse than diseases such as cancer or AIDS because they only attack the body while fear assaults the soul.

In times of doubt and anxiety, Christians must distinguish themselves by their faith and fearlessness. You may protest when looking at ominous headlines and wonder, How can we not be afraid?

Instead of letting the news control your emotions, read what the Bible declares:

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