Off the Clock

Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years (John 5:2–3, 5, esv).

The hardest part of a trial is not always the depth of the valley . . . or the level of darkness . . . or the uncertainty of it all.

The hardest part of a trial is often its duration—not knowing how long it’s going to last. Another month? Into next year? Through the milestone we’d been looking forward to? Till the kids are grown? Who knows?

We can’t know. And that’s the hardest part.

In the case of the lame man at the pool of Bethesda, the clock was still running at thirty-eight years—and counting. How long, in your life, is thirty-eight years ago? Is it literally a lifetime? Maybe more? Imagine being in the same condition for thirty-eight years—especially at a period in history when the average life expectancy was a lot closer to forty than to seventy or eighty.

But no matter how long you’ve been waiting, the clock must never be your focus. Whatever trial you may be experiencing today—and however much longer you may be left to experience it still—the clock will always be a source of discouragement to you. Marking time on the calendar, trying to calculate and speculate, will always distract your eye away from what’s most important, away from the singular focus that can transform even the cloudiest unknown into certainty and sanity.

Watching the clock builds despair. But watching Jesus builds hope.

To be obsessed with the clock is to believe in human formulas and measurements of what should happen (and when), rather than trust the absolute sovereignty of Almighty God. To be obsessed with the clock is to impose your own time limits on how long a person should be forced to endure a particular hardship. To be obsessed with the clock is to conclude that being released from your current difficulty must surely be what God wants for you—greater than whatever He could want to accomplish in your life through your determination to wait on Him and your devotion to remain before Him in constant, needful prayer.

Watching the clock leads to all kinds of trouble. But watching Jesus leads to hope.

Rather than looking up to heaven, saying, “You’ve got this long, God, before it’s too late,” you can instead live right now in total confidence, sure that the One who knows the end from the beginning is more than sufficient for your need, no matter how long in earth years it needs to last.

Whatever answers and guarantees you think you need, they are never to be found in contemplating the clock face. They are only to be found in the face of Jesus . . . and by counting on Him rather than counting up time spent in hardship.


  • How does “clock-watching” affect your spirit? What have you noticed about it?
  • In order to stop doing it, what specific habits and daily life patterns of yours would need to change?

Lord, I confess to often being more focused on my trials than on You, and to being more distressed by my discomfort than thankful that You care and You’re here with me. Forgive me for focusing on the extent of my hurt rather than exercising faith in You. Help me to focus not on what is seen but on what is unseen, and surround me with such a peace that others will marvel at You. I pray this in the sustaining name of Jesus, amen.