“Wait for the Lord. Be strong and take heart, and wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:14)
“It’s certain that waiting’s the most bitter lesson a believing heart has to learn.” (Michael Card, ‘Maranatha’)
Waiting is a topic on my ‘top ten’ list of important life lessons; it’s probably number 1 in my chart of most hated things. Like many people, I have a natural tendency to impatience, and waiting isn’t something I find easy.
Waiting for God is hard, because it leaves us frequently frustrated, forlorn and feeling forgotten. God speaks – what heady days those are! He makes promises to us – how we embrace these with fervour and passion! But then comes that uncomfortable bump into reality, when nothing seems to change and we are left wondering if we have heart aright and what is going on.
It’s not helped by turning a page or two in the Bible and seeing their promises fulfilled… while failing to compute the timescales involved. Because let’s face it, a story about every incident in the life of Abraham’s 25 years of waiting for his son to be born would hardly make riveting reading, going something like this:
“Got up. Had breakfast. Did some business deals. Had lunch. Walked for a bit asking God when my son and heir will be born. Had a row with Sarah. Had dinner. Went to bed.”
Frustrated is the first emotion I feel at God’s delays. Why promise me something and then delay? Why tell me something and then make me wait? Frustration leaves me feeling thwarted. How can I settle into the routine, into the mundane, when You’ve shown me so much more? Why take me on a rollercoaster ride when You know I detest them?!
Then I feel forlorn, struggling to believe ‘the dream’ will ever come true. It’s too good to be true. I don’t deserve it to be true. Pragmatism coupled with my natural pessimism start to colour the picture, and instead of the vibrant colours of faith, I’m left with a drab monochrome.
From there it’s a short step to feeling forgotten, forsaken, abandoned even. “God doesn’t really care.” It’s hard to maintain faith in that stage, or at least to maintain faith in the God who is (loving, kind, faithful, merciful, gracious, benevolent). A failure to understand God (which rationally I know is perfectly normal and inevitable since He is omniscient and I am not) quickly gets mutated into (at best) feeling forgotten by Him and at worst into a resentment of Him akin to the child’s petulance at having to wait a full year for its next birthday the day after basking in the glory of a pile of presents! This is the ‘moody, sad and very grumpy’ stage of faith which is not pleasant to experience or to witness.
So what is to be done in these waiting periods which, if I’m honest, seem to comprise a large percentage of my life?
Two more ‘Fs’ help me as I wait: faith and formation. Faith is having confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1) It’s not about having it all yet or seeing it all now, as the rest of that chapter points out in relentless example after relentless example, dismantling any false belief in the instantaneous nature of God’s timing. Faith is how we live. It’s not an optional extra. It’s the core ingredient in our relationship with an invisible God. Faith means we believe God over and above what we see or how we feel. “It doesn’t matter what I see,” Aaron Shust sings (‘Deliver Me’)
Formation – well, this is what God is doing in the times when it seems like He’s doing nothing. He is forming us. He is shaping us into the image of Christ. (2 Cor 3:18, Rom 8:29) He is refining us, testing us, forging us and forming us into His image. He’s doing whatever is necessary to make His plans succeed. He’s knocking the youthful arrogance out of Joseph through the trials of betrayal and injustice. He’s changing the hot-headed murderer Moses into a fearless, bold leader who relies on God and not on his ‘fortuitous’ upbringing… He’s doing plenty of things that are character-based when all we long for are action films!
If you are currently waiting in a state of forlorn frustration, tempted to forge your own way ahead, learn from the mistakes of others and stop. Self-help in these instances won’t cut it. Learn to wait for the Lord. It takes strength to wait. But waiting for Him to do the impossible is never a waste of time.