“WAIT” IS NOBODY’S FAVORITE WORD | HOWARD GOLDTHWAITE
“To wait” can be defined more than one way. One definition is to remain inactive while anticipating something to happen that is not under your control. To be more precise, we wait for something under God’s control.
Another definition for the verb is to stay ready, alert, and always available for service – as performed by a waiter, waitress, or lady-in-waiting. Even when a waiter is not bringing food or taking away dishes, he might be standing in the corner doing nothing, but he’s in a constant state of readiness for when he is needed. A center fielder may be standing around, but he is always in a state of readiness in case the ball is hit to his area, then he will spring into action. A group of firefighters standing around the station doesn’t mean they’re goofing off; they’re simply waiting for the alarm to go off so they can spring into action and go save some lives. So in that sense, waiting is not the same as doing nothing.
Both of these definitions of wait apply to the idea of waiting on God.
Waiting on God’s timing is one of the ways that we serve Him, and God promises that our waiting will pay off: “Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.” (Isaiah 40:30,31)
WAITING ON GOD MEANS ALWAYS BEING ALERT, READY, AND PATIENT
Waiting on God means to remain in a constant state of readiness even when nothing seems to be happening. We must be ready to hear from Him, to obey Him, to spring into action to serve Him. We must always be ready and available to follow or serve on His timetable – not merely our own.
In his book Waiting On God, Wayne Stiles gives us many good perspectives on what waiting on God is all about. “Waiting on God seems passive. It feels like we’re sitting in the ash heap with poor Job, scraping ourselves with the shards of our broken life. On the contrary, waiting is a very active part of living. Waiting on God, if we do it correctly, is anything but passive. Waiting works its way out in very deliberate actions, very intentionally searching the Scriptures and praying, intense moments of humility, and self-realization of our finiteness. With the waiting comes learning. I can’t think of much I’ve learned that’s positive from the times I’ve plowed ahead without waiting on God.” (Wayne Stiles, The Waiting Place, 86,87)
Jesus taught this famous parable about waiting and staying ready: “Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps. Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the prudent, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the prudent answered, ‘No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut. Later the other virgins also came, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open up for us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly I say to you, I do not know you.’ Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.” (Matthew 25:1-13)
A great example of refusing to serve God by waiting on His timing is found in 1 Samuel 8, where the Israelites demanded to the prophet Samuel that God give them a king. “Give us a king like all the other nations have.” (1 Samuel 8:5b NLV) They wanted to be like all the other nations, whereas God wanted them to be different from all the other nations. They wanted to blend in, whereas God wanted them to stand out. Nevertheless, God granted their demand, but gave them a king who was an exact mirror of their shallow, be-just-like-everybody-else, spiritual condition. God gave them Saul, who always seemed to have the same opinion as the last person he talked to.
A great example of being willing to serve God by waiting on His timing is from 1 Samuel 24. Before David became king, he was pursued by Saul, who viewed David as a rival to the throne. Even though the prophet Samuel had promised David that he would one day replace Saul to become King of Israel, David was willing to serve God for many difficult years by waiting for God’s timing. One day, while David and his men were running for their lives and hiding in a dark cave from Saul’s 3,000-man hunting party, who happened to come walking in all alone? Saul himself! David’s men whispered to him, “Today is the day,” and encouraged him to pounce, but David knew that if God made a promise, He would also keep it. David wisely and graciously spared Saul, which gives us some insight into why David was God’s choice to later become King of Israel.
SOMETIMES “WAITING ON GOD” MEANS NOT WAITING
God’s timing usually comes in two different varieties: either God telling us “Not now,” or us telling God, “Not now.” We’re either telling Him, “Hurry up,” or He’s telling us, “Hurry up.” Learning to trust God’s timetable is one of the greatest lessons in the life of a Christian.
The perfection of God’s timing is always much clearer in hindsight. But God never sees anything in hindsight. When it comes to God’s timing, we humans definitely walk by faith, not by sight. Thank goodness God has seen the future and shapes our future. In fact, God is already in the future right now.
Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to do nothing when we’re waiting for God to act. We lose faith that God will solve a problem on our timetable, or with exactly the solution we have in mind, and we start to think our own solutions will be better than His.
On the other hand, sometimes God’s timing has nothing to do with waiting around. There are times when God’s timetable is much faster than our own; like when the twelve spies returned from checking out the Promised Land. God wanted the Israelites to act courageously, move swiftly, and begin conquering. But ten of the spies focused only on the enemy’s power and not on God’s. They convinced the rest of the nation that the time was not right. By ignoring God’s window of opportunity, their procrastination ended up costing them forty additional years of wandering.
The Three Worldly Men from Luke 9:57-62 put their own timing above God’s. They thought Jesus was in too much of a hurry for them to follow; they wanted more time. By waiting for their own timetable they were refusing to wait on God.
GOD’S TIMING: PERFECT OR TERRIBLE?
One thing I love about the Psalms is the stark raving honesty we see by the writers as they pour out their hearts to God. There are multiple examples in the Psalms where the writer asks God “How long?”
“Howlong, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? Howlong will You hide Your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1)
Howlong shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart all the day? Howlong will my enemy be exalted over me?” (Psalm 13:2)
“Lord, howlong will You look on? Rescue my soul from their ravages, my only life from the lions.” (Psalm 35:17)
“Howlong, O God, will the adversary revile, and the enemy spurn Your name forever?” (Psalm 74:10)
“Howlong, O Lord? Will You be angry forever? Will Your jealousy burn like fire?” (Psalm 79:5)
“O Lord God of hosts, howlong will You be angry with the prayer of Your people?” (Psalm 80:4)
“Howlong, O Lord? Will You hide Yourself forever? Will Your wrath burn like fire?” (Psalm 89:46)
“Howlong shall the wicked, O Lord, howlong shall the wicked exult?” (Psalm 94:3)
Those don’t sound like the cries of people who fully understand the perfection of God’s timing. But they are definitely honest cries from hurting people. Hurts open hearts. Hurts have a way of making us more straightforward and honest toward God. And God wants us to be honest with Him. “Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, and in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.” (Psalm 51:6) Some people would call that “hidden part” your “knower.” I’m not sure if the knower is in your brain or your gut or your heart, but wherever it is, that’s where you know that something is true.
In the midst of a trial, when you’re wondering how long it will be until God acts to resolve your problem, other well-meaning Christians love to offer comfort by reminding you that God’s timing is perfect. When I’m in the middle of difficult situation and someone tells me God’s timing is perfect, I tend to want to respond with a simple request: “Define ‘perfect.’”
Having said that, it appears Abraham and Sarah were trying to hurry up God’s timing for having a baby; and look at all the pain and heartache it caused by taking matters out of God’s hands and into their own. Aaron didn’t trust God’s timing when Moses was away on the mountain for forty days receiving the Ten Commandments, and when Moses returned he found Aaron and the Israelites had broken the first two by making and worshiping the golden calf. King Saul didn’t trust the perfection of God’s timing when he was told to wait for Samuel the prophet to show up and bless the Israelite army, so Saul usurped Samuel’s role and did it himself; a show of disobedience which ultimately cost Saul his life and dynasty.
Wayne Stiles makes a brilliant observation about the results of our refusal to wait on God’s timing: “Every sin we commit represents a failure to wait on God. Try to think of an exception. Sin begins in the mind, where we choose a shortcut to joy, fulfillment, or relief. Our struggles to wait on God for satisfaction often comes because the new life God is heading us toward doesn’t seem as great as the one he has redeemed us from.” (Wayne Stiles, Waiting On God, 83, 84)
THE WAITING PLACE
You’ve probably seen the classic Dr. Seuss book, Oh The Places You’ll Go! It’s a very popular book to give young people when they graduate from school and begin their career.
One section of the book describes a place called:
“The Waiting Place…
…for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or a No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.
Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.
No! That’s not for you!”
To the reader, it comes across that The Waiting Place is where the losers are. And if you’re in The Waiting Place waiting on something for any reason, that makes you a loser, too. But at some point in your Christian life, you’re sure to spend some hard time in The Waiting Place. You’ll be waiting on God “for a Yes or a No.” But that doesn’t make you a loser!
Mary and Martha were in The Waiting Place for four days, frustrated with God’s timing when Jesus didn’t arrive in time to heal their brother Lazarus, and they both told Jesus exactly the same thing: “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” But by allowing Lazarus to die and then raising him from the dead, it resulted in a jaw-dropping display of God’s power and glory. And even though Jesus knew full well that He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, He still wept along with Mary and Martha to share their grief. And I’m sure He does the same thing when we suffer.
The Waiting Place is one of God’s many classrooms. We learn things in The Waiting Place that we can’t learn in The Delightful Place, The Luxury Place, The Applause Place, The Spotlight Place, The Giggly Place, or any other place. Sometimes God doesn’t seem in a hurry – even to accomplish His own will.
Job was in The Waiting Place as he intensely sought answers from God while covered with sores and surrounded by critical, judgmental friends. Abraham and Sarah were in The Waiting Place when they waited on God to supply an heir, and they got in trouble when they took a shortcut. Joseph was in The Waiting Place as he sat in an Egyptian prison cell waiting for the royal cupbearer to mention his name to Pharaoh. Moses was in the The Waiting Place between the ages of 40 and 80 until God called him to lead Israel out of Egypt. David was in The Waiting Place for several years as he waited patiently to become king as God had promised even though he was running for his life from Saul.
All these biblical figures spent some hard time in The Waiting Place, which prepared them for their work later. But I doubt any of them enjoyed being there at the time. And so often, we don’t realize how much we learned during our time in The Waiting Place until after it’s over. “For the time being no discipline brings joy, but seems sad and painful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness, right standing with God and a lifestyle and attitude that seeks conformity to God’s will and purpose.” (Hebrews 12:11 AMP)
Sometimes we want to be used by God to do His work, but He seems to have us on the sidelines in The Waiting Place. My response to that would be that God is often more concerned about the worker than the work. He wants us to spend some hard time in “solitary refinement” to get us ready. A famous quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln goes: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” According to Wayne Stiles: “We may realize God has gifted us in some way – we may even have a particular vision for how we can serve God with those gifts – and yet, God does nothing to advance the goal. At times, in fact, it even seems like the Lord thwarts his own plans! Remember, God revealed to Joseph he would rule over his family, and yet Joseph struggled as a slave and a prisoner for years. Joseph’s story reveals a principle we must transfer to our lives as well: God’s ultimate plans for us include preparation and waiting.” (Wayne Stiles, The Waiting Place, 102)
EAGERLY WAITING ON CHRIST TO RETURN
Christians who love God with all their heart wait eagerly for Christ to return. Christ followers are also Christ anticipators who live obediently, watchfully, expectantly, and with joyful anticipation – like it could happen at any time. People who don’t love God don’t. The Bible doesn’t tell us exactly when He will return, it just tells us to stay ready. “Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will. Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But if that evil slave says in his heart, ‘My master is not coming for a long time,’ and begins to beat his fellow slaves and eat and drink with drunkards; the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour which he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 24:42-51)
I love the final two verses in the Bible, but I really love the way The Message renders them: “He who testifies to all these things says it again: ‘I’m on my way! I’ll be there soon!’ Yes! Come, Master Jesus! The grace of the Master Jesus be with all of you. Oh, Yes!” (Revelation 22:20,21 MSG)
As for now, we wait on God. But someday, a big part of our wait will be over. Oh, Yes!