Waiting at the dentist’s office. Waiting in traffic. Waiting for test results. Waiting for a late child. Waiting for God’s leading. Waiting goes against my nature. Waiting implies helplessness. Waiting means that whatever needs to occur or be done must be done by someone else. If I could effect the change or the event I was waiting for, then I wouldn’t be waiting!
There is a frustrating blindness in waiting, like being in the middle of a coastal fog. There is no way to get your bearings, no sense of direction, and no way to identify landmarks. The only way to keep from getting lost is to be still and wait. Waiting acknowledges that God knows what I do not. And yet, somehow that does not stop me from wondering, worrying, and finagling to know the future. I rattle the doorknob and try to peek beneath the door. Which way is it, God? Can’t you give me a clue? How is this all going to play out?
The scriptures are full of admonitions to wait:
Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10, ESV)
Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! (Psalm 27:14, ESV)
Do not say, “I will repay evil”; wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you. (Proverbs 20:22, ESV)
These admonitions to wait are rarely heard in the good moments of life, rather they appear over and over again in times of distress and need. The book of Isaiah is full of the cries of the waiting as the Israelites desperately longed for and eagerly anticipated God’s deliverance from their exile.
O Lord, be gracious to us; we wait for you. Be our arm every morning, our salvation in the time of trouble. (Isaiah 33:2, ESV)
It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” (Isaiah 25:9, ESV)
The Psalms overflow with cries to God for help and rescue, and every plea involves waiting.
But for you, O Lord, do I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer. (Psalm 38:15, ESV)
I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. (Psalm 40:1, ESV)
For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. . . For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. (Psalm 62:1, 5, ESV)
The most prominent Bible characters were often “gifted” with the opportunity to wait on God. Abraham and Sarah waited into their ninth and tenth decades of life before God granted them the son he had promised. Jacob worked and waited for 14 years to marry his bride, Rachel. Joseph suffered 13 years of servitude and imprisonment before becoming Pharoah’s right-hand man. Moses waited 80 years before God gave him the command to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Hannah prayed and waited “year after year” for a son before the Lord answered her. David waited an estimated 15 to 20 years after being anointed king by Samuel before he actually ascended the throne of Israel.
Interestingly, David had two opportunities to short-circuit that waiting time when ruthless Saul seemingly fell into David’s waiting hands. But David honored the Lord and didn’t take the life of the king who sought to take his own life. Instead, he trusted the Lord to fulfill his promise and to give David the kingdom in his time. Saul, in contrast, disobeyed the Lord and did not wait when instructed to by the prophet Samuel. That impatience cost Saul the throne (1 Samuel 13).
I feel so much empathy for Tolkien’s character, Eowyn, in The Lord of the Rings. She is rejected in love, frustrated by her feminine limitations, and haunted by hopelessness. Her vindication comes in The Return of the King when she faces the Lord of the Nazgûl in battle, slaying him whom “no living man may hinder.” Yet her victory seems hollow, as it fails to save the life of her beloved father, and her valiant effort nearly costs her her own life. Wounded and senseless, Eowyn is carried to the Houses of Healing in the City of Gondor, where she is tenderly cared for, but to no avail. Not until Aragorn the King himself comes and ministers to her with his own hands does the cold abate from her brow. Yet, even as her body begins to heal, her heart does not, and she chafes to return to the battle. Aragorn, however, strongly advises against her departure from the Houses of Healing. She must wait there, he asserts, until she has had time to heal and regain her strength. Consequently, in the waiting she becomes acquainted with Faramir, and her wounded heart finally finds love that is requited.
In this, my time of waiting, I feel constrained as well. I am in the King’s Houses of Healing. But I, like Eowyn, am impatient: I want to go back out on the battlefield and finish the fight. I want to finish off the bad guys and close the book. Yet my Father intends for me here to realize that I can do nothing of myself–not forgive, not heal, not even find the strength for the battles I must fight: I must surrender all to Him. Like Aragorn, my King gently chides and admonishes me that my purpose for now is to rest in the Houses of Healing. He knows my weakness, my brokenness, my pain. He knows that for all my passion to right the wrongs that have been done, I do not have the strength to accomplish it. He bids me to rest, to be still, to drink slowly and deeply of his mercy and his grace, to soak in the warmth of his love in quiet contemplation.
In Paul’s epistle to the Romans we find our Heavenly Father’s purposes in waiting explained.
And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5:3 – 5, NKJV)
Growth happens in the waiting. Healing happens in the waiting. And waiting produces hope. If I think nothing is going to occur, I will give up waiting. As we persevere in waiting on God, we demonstrate faith that he will keep his promises to us. And that hope, Paul promises, will not disappoint.
From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him. (Isaiah 64:4, ESV)
By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness,
O God of our salvation,
the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas;
the one who by his strength established the mountains,
being girded with might;
who stills the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
the tumult of the peoples,
so that those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs.
You make the going out of the morning and the evening to shout for joy. (Psalm 65:5 – 8, ESV)