A Twilight Musing
Those of my generation may remember a bygone country song that reflects the old southern custom of making kids wait to eat until the adults were served. In the meantime, they were told to “take an old cold ‘tater and wait.” That bit of social history reminds me that in general we Americans regard waiting as an imposition, a disadvantage to be avoided if possible. Being made to wait is felt (and sometimes intended) as a put-down. An important person often shows his/her superior standing by making other people wait. Going to the head of the line at the airport check-in is a sign of special status, and being able immediately to see a president or other person in authority shows special closeness to that person. A restaurant “waiter” is a person who serves others; and an old sense of “waiting upon” someone (e. g., in Shakespeare) is putting oneself at the disposal of a superior. Rarely is waiting seen as a positive experience.
These thoughts moved me to consider the place of “waiting” in the Bible, where it is presented positively, as a mark of dependence on and submission to God, as in Ps. 25:1-5, 20-21
To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. 2 O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me. 3 Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame; they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous. 4 Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. 5 Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long. . . . 20 Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me! Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you. 21 May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you.
This passage shows the nature of biblical waiting: those who cry out to the Lord can be assured of His care for them, and that assurance leads to courageous perseverance in times of hardship. As another Psalm says, “I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Ps. 27:13-14).
Waiting on the Lord is also an antidote to angry despair in the face of unrelenting evil:
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land. (Ps. 37:7-9)
In the same vein, when we are treated maliciously and injured, we are not to avenge ourselves, but wait upon the Lord to do vengeance (Prov. 20:22; Rom. 12:17-19).
Failing to wait upon the Lord can have dire consequences. The children of Israel could not wait in faith for only 40 days until Moses came down from Mt. Sinai to give them God’s Law, but in their impatience they made a golden calf to worship (Ex. 32).
Saul was rejected as king of Israel because he disobeyed the order to await Samuel’s return to make a sacrifice before he went into battle (I Sam. 13). Abraham and Sarah grew impatient waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promise to send them a son and brought the servant woman Hagar in to be a surrogate mother for a son and heir, thus bringing Ishmael into the world to set up a permanent rivalry between him and Isaac, the true son of God’s promise who came miraculously when God was ready. In all these instances, we see that failing to wait is coupled with exercising our own wills instead of submitting to God’s will.
But what are the benefits of waiting? In general, one can say that willful and purposeful waiting gives time for God’s purposes to ripen and come to fruition, while dampening our strong inclination to chart and pursue our own way. As the much-quoted proverb says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths” (Prov. 3:5-6). This kind of submission to God brings peace of mind, for it frees one from anxiously worrying about the future, since it is in God’s hands. Moreover, waiting on God is a time of recharging our spiritual batteries. As Isaiah says, “They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Is. 40:31). It may also be that God is using our waiting to prepare us for tasks and ministries of which we are not yet aware. Remember how Joseph was sold into slavery, and even when he prospered there he was unjustly thrown into prison. But when he was sufficiently matured by his experiences, God brought him forth to be the deliverer of Egypt from coming famine. In the end, he was the instrument for bringing his family to Egypt to become established as the multitude called the Children of Israel and to receive the land promised to the descendants of Abraham and Isaac.
In the Christian dispensation, all of our waiting is wrapped up in anticipating the return of our Lord Jesus to take His people to share His inheritance in the New Heaven and New Earth:
Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. (I Pet. 3:11-14)
Waiting for God is the incubator of patience, and patience enables us to endure suffering in the faith that God is working even through our hardship to bring about His purposes. The ultimate purpose of God for us is that we “await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Phil. 3:20-21). When that transformation has taken place, we will wait no more, for time is finished, and past and future will be collapsed into the Eternal Now.
Image: "Waiting" by Brian Donovan. CC License.