Waiting is absolutely no fun, but God seems to delay us quite regularly, and he always has a plan, so what is he up to with our waits?
To even be considered as a lifeguard, you must take a prerequisite test. While some of the requirements may vary depending on where you apply, they are usually a continuous 300 yards swim (for uninitiated, that’s 12 lengths of the pool). You are also required to tread water for two minutes without using your hands.
Two minutes of treading water, that doesn’t sound so bad…until you have to do it, especially with your hands tucked into your armpits.
Suddenly, your torso feels like a trunk of lead; your feet just can’t seem to move fast enough, and the stopwatch is crawling with the leisure of an older sibling eating the last ice cream bar right in front of you, smirking at your impotent glares.
Those two minutes will take their sweet time, thank you very much.
Waiting is not usually a fun experience, but it’s an incredibly common one, so at least we’re in good company. In the Bible, God’s people were generally waiting for him to fulfill a promise he’d made to them or to deliver them from a bad situation.
Waiting is full of this peculiar tension when we know what God’s said about our future or his own nature as a redeemer, but we don’t see evidence for these things yet. There’s a reason why the Psalms combine waiting with courage. “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 27:14, ESV).
In the Pool on the Brink of Summer
In a sermon, Gary Wilkerson meditated on the passage where Jesus tells his disciples to wait for the Holy Spirit. He could have sent the Spirit right away, but instead his followers had to linger in expectation of God moving.
“This is true for a lot of Christians I know,” Gary pointed out. “They sense their life isn’t going quite according to God’s design. They’re dissatisfied, wanting more in their marriage, their work, their walk with Christ, their witness for him. Jesus is promising them, ‘God desires those changes for you. But such things only happen through the power of the Spirit. Until he comes, things will remain the same.’ Luke wrote this scene in his gospel, and he repeats it in the Book of Acts….
“Jesus’ message in both passages is clear: ‘Wait on the Spirit! Don’t rush, clamor or panic. You can’t will your way to accomplishing the works of the kingdom. Wait in faith, and you’ll be endued with power from on high.’
“Today, a lot of us ‘show ourselves’ before God’s appointed time. We end up spinning our wheels, tiring ourselves, becoming weary in doing God’s work. Friend, the only power we’ll ever have for God’s work will come from time spent in prayer.
“So, what does it look like to wait on God?
“For many of us, any kind of waiting is a terrible experience; it speaks of boredom, mental torture, moaning and sighing. Scripture paints a different picture of the disciples’ waiting period. ‘While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God’ (Luke 24:51-53, ESV).”
Waiting for God gives us the opportunity to delve deeper into his character through the Bible. Waiting makes space for us to pray passionately about an issue. Looking forward to God’s promises should temper our wild and anxious hearts with patience.
In the silence and anticipation, we find our best auditorium for praise of a holy Father who loves us enough to give us such good things.
Keeping Our Heads Above Angry Water
What about when we’re waiting not for divine gift but rather freedom from strangling sin or agonizing circumstances?
What if we don’t have an explicit promise of deliverance from God? What if there are no verses or words from heaven to specifically address the agonizing situation that we’re enduring?
What if we’ve been waiting years for the resolution of an issue completely outside of our control but that also seems to be increasingly grim and impossible? What if we’re afraid that we may be struggling through painful circumstances that are the consequences of a poor choice or a past lifestyle steeped in sin?
“It’s hardest to wait when I am uncertain about the outcome. When I’m trusting God for the best, while at the same time preparing for the worst. It would be much easier if I had a guaranteed good outcome. Or at least a promise from God to hold on to…. I have read and reread Psalm 13:1–2, ‘How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?’
“O Lord, how long? I have asked that question many times.
“As I study Genesis, I see that while Abraham was waiting, God was working. Molding his character. Teaching him patience. Building their friendship. It was in that 25-year wait that Abraham got to know God intimately. It was in those seemingly wasted years that God transformed him.”
Risner concludes that the years of depending on God’s faithfulness gradually moved Abraham’s trust away from the practical solutions he could see and toward the power of God to create an answer however he saw fit.
This was how Abraham was able to put Isaac onto an altar decades later. The waiting had made him trust that God could easily solve this impossible situation.
God had brought a baby out of a womb that, by every law of nature, shouldn’t have been able to bear children, and God could bring a young man back from the dead, if he so chose. Abraham the coward, who offered his wife to other men to save his own skin, had shriveled away. Abraham the man of enduring faith had been forged in the waiting years God had given him.
Important Questions When Treading Water
Waiting, whether it’s for a much-anticipated promise or much-needed deliverance, exposes our hearts’ inclinations as well as those of people in our lives.
What lies have we unwittingly begun to believe about God? What idols have taken up residence in our lives? How well have we built up the disciplines of prayer, praise and waiting on the Lord?
Do certain friends and family members start to avoid us when the solution stays out of sight, sometimes for years? Do they become impatient with repeat prayer requests and the ongoing struggle? Or do they hunker down beside us and unveil true compassion that volunteers to anticipate God’s movement over and over and over again?
Nothing will expose the answers to these questions faster than a painful wait.
This kind of limbo is a chance to learn important truths about ourselves and the relationships we have. It’s an opportunity to draw into the presence of God in unique ways. It often brings up chances to minister to others in similar situations.
As Dr. Paul Tripp, seminary lecturer and faculty member of the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation, wrote in a wonderful sermon, “Waiting is not just about what I get at the end of the wait, but about who I become as I wait.”