God's school of waiting: A difficult but fruitful education
I don’t like to wait. No, let’s be completely forthright: I despise waiting. There is a certain highway in the city where I live that is notorious for traffic that is snarled for several hours on both sides of rush hour: I avoid it like cream of broccoli soup. Every Sunday morning, there are certain members of my family who move at the speed of a glacier in getting ready for worship and I’m convinced they make less haste on the days I have to preach. They make me wait and I don’t like it.
I realize that I am not alone in this. Fallen humans categorically do not like to wait. We want instant gratification. We want life’s knottiest dilemmas solved in a half hour or so. Why is it so hard for sons of Adam to wait? Conventional wisdom says doing absolutely nothing should be easy for us, but it is not.
Over the years, I have learned that waiting on the Lord one of the most potentially sanctifying (and necessary) aspects of the Christian life. It is one of those glorious “gospel paradoxes” that makes us say with the prophet, “O Lord, your ways are higher than our ways, your thoughts higher than our thoughts.” We pray in hope and then we wait on the Lord to answer. A Christian man prays for a job so that he can provide for his family as God has commanded and then he waits. A mother prays that God will draw her wayward son to himself unto salvation and then she waits. We pray that God will make our future path clear and we wait. We read Matthew 6:34 for a thousandth time for comfort.
The Puritans understood this reality well and developed something of a doctrine of waiting; they referred to it as being in “God’s school of waiting.” William Carey understood it well. He spent many years on the mission field before seeing his first convert. Of greater import, the inspired writers understood it well: Psalm 27:14, “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”
As difficult as it can be, waiting builds spiritual muscles in a unique manner. My sinful impatience notwithstanding, Isaiah makes this truth clear: “But they who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount with wings as eagles, they shall run and grow weary, they shall walk and not faint.” What a glorious promise! And yet, our discontented hearts find it difficult to wait.
Yet waiting on the Lord many good things for us. It:
- Causes us to pray without ceasing. We are needy and He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He is always faithful and the outcome of our waiting proves Him wholly true.
- Instills in us a clearer understanding that we are creatures who are absolutely dependent upon our Creator. Though our sinful hearts crave omniscience and omnipotence, we possess neither and waiting helps us to focus on that reality.
- Increases our faith. After all, does not the writer of Hebrews define faith as “the conviction of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen?” (Heb. 11:1) We wait and God works.
- Transfers the doctrine of God’s absolute sovereignty from the speculative realm to the practical. In waiting, we actually experience God’s Lordship in an intimate way.
- Grounds our future in a certain hope. This is Paul’s point in Romans 8:24-25, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” A glorious by-product of this is that instills patience, that most elusive of spiritual virtues, in us.
- Reminds us that we live between the times. When Jesus returns, the not yet will collapse into the already and there will be no more waiting for an answer to desperate prayers. The Kingdom will be consummated and Jesus will set everything right. Until then, we pray and wait and are sanctified by God’s wise process.
- Stamps eternity on our eyeballs. When we bring urgent petitions before the Lord, we wait with expectancy and the city of man in which we live fades in importance and we begin to realize that the city of God is primary. As Jonathan Edwards prayed, “O Lord, stamp eternity on my eyeballs.” Waiting helps to do that. It prioritizes the eternal over the temporal in accord with 2 Cor. 4:18, “…as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”