The waiting game

The waiting game blank clock face God's time

Are you patient? How well do you cope with long grocery lines, crowded doctor’s offices, and traffic jams? And those are easy compared to some other kinds of waiting–the single person longing for a marriage partner, the childless couple who wants to start a family, the spouse trapped in an abusive marriage who desperately hopes things will get better, the employee in a dead end job.

It’s easy to get frustrated. Waiting is hard, especially when we think something should be done, yet God tells us time and again: “Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act” (Psalm 37:7).

But have you noticed how much slower God’s timetable is than ours? God came to Abraham when he was 75 years old and promised to make him the father of a great nation. But God did not fulfill that promise for another 25 years. In the days of Moses, God told Israel they would be emancipated and given a land of abundance, but because of disbelief, they had to wait forty years before they could enter the land. Then came the promise of the coming One who would be greater than Moses. The prophet Isaiah told God’s people to prepare for His arrival, but 700 years later they were still waiting.

The Lord waited so long to send the Messiah that when He finally arrived, only a few people recognized him. Luke mentions two, and both were able to identify the Messiah because they had been proactively watching and waiting. In Luke 2:25 we read, “At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Christ to come and rescue Israel.” A few verses later we are introduced to a godly woman who was also awaiting the Messiah’s arrival: “She came along just as Simeon was talking with Mary and Joseph, and she began praising God. She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem.”

So the Messiah came, gathered disciples, and said the kingdom of heaven had arrived. Jesus’s followers expected him to conquer the world, but instead He was crucified. The resurrection revived their hope, and they asked Jesus when He would establish His reign. Jesus told them to stay in Jerusalem and wait.

Their patience was rewarded on Pentecost with the coming of the Holy Spirit, but that did not end the waiting. In Romans 8:23, Paul said, “all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope…”

Then there is Jesus’s final promise to His disciples 2,000 years ago: “Look, I am coming soon, bringing My reward with Me to repay all people according to their deeds… Yes, I am coming soon!”  (Revelation 22:12, 20).

We wait and we wait. But why? If God is loving, just, and all-powerful, why doesn’t He stop the evil and set things right? Why does He let His loved ones suffer? That’s an important question, and I don’t pretend to have the final answer, but I’ve learned this much: what God is doing inside us while we wait is at least as important as what we’re waiting for.

In Romans 5:2-5, Paul says there is more going on than we realize: “We confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory. We can rejoice, too, in our sufferings, because we know that suffering helps us develop endurance. And endurance produces strength of character, and character produces hope. And this hope will not lead to disappointment.”

God is producing these valuable qualities in us while we wait on Him and His timing. Waiting is not just something I must do until I get what I want–waiting is a key part of the process God uses to shape me into the person He wants me to be.

That’s why it’s essential to understand what the Bible means when it tells us more than forty times to “wait upon the Lord.” But first we must be clear about what it is not: waiting on the Lord is not acting irresponsibly and then expecting God to bail us out. “I’m just waiting on the Lord,” is often used as an excuse not to face reality and take appropriate action. If I have poor financial habits and get in debt, waiting on the Lord does not mean sitting around and waiting for a bag of money to appear on my doorstep. Waiting on the Lord in that case might include learning biblical finance principles and living within a budget.

For me, waiting on the Lord is often an active and painful clinging to God. It’s a decision I must make each day to trust and obey, even when my life is not going in the direction I want.

In his book, Sabbatical Journeys, Henri Nouwen interviewed a trapeze artist who told him about the special relationship between the flyer and the catcher: after the flyer lets go of the bar, the flyer’s job is to remain as still as possible and wait for the catcher to pluck her from the air. The flyer can never try to catch the catcher. She must wait in perfect stillness and trust she will be caught.

This is as hard to do in the spiritual realm as it is in the physical. When we’re up in the air, we tend to flail around and play the “what if” game. Have you ever played that?  What if she says, “no”? What if my job gets eliminated? What if the test results are positive? What if the economy tanks again?  What if, what if, what if. How often do you find yourself time traveling into the future to explore the what ifs? It’s tempting to go there, and some of us have the frequent flyer miles to prove it, but where is the profit in it? Will fretting about the future change what will happen, or does worry just wear us out?

Consider an alternate plan: trust God’s timing.

The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding. He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless. Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion. But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.

–Isaiah 40:28-31

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