Girl sitting and waiting

Persistent Waiting

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Scott Hamilton, YTI Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling

February 9, 2018

Many of the Bible stories children learn include characters compelled to wait. Abraham waited for his promised son; Joseph waited for his vindication; Moses waited to enter the promised land; Jesus waited to start his ministry. Further, these people often got frustrated while they waited. Let’s be honest; how many folks do you know who receive the assurance of something think to themselves, “Hmm, I guess that promise will take 25 years to come to pass”?

Promise and Waiting

If receiving God’s promise and having to wait for its accomplishment weren’t enough, life for these same people continued. Abraham managed his household; Joseph spent time incarcerated; Moses wandered around in the desert for 40 years; Jesus was 30-ish before he sensed the appropriate time to launch his ministry. Interestingly, as life continued, not all the players made the best life choices. Sarai wanted to “help” God fulfill God’s promise, so she offered her slave to Abraham for “comfort.” Moses threw temper tantrums and reached a level of frustration so high he told God, “Kill me now!”

Living into God’s will, however you define it, is challenging even on its best day! One of the greatest struggles is waiting for all of the puzzle pieces to fit together. Human creatures don’t often receive the privilege of seeing, much less recognizing, exactly what God is doing until well into the process and after much sweat and prayerfulness.

Waiting, regardless of how short or long a time, can create great angst for most I know because they want what they want right now, not later. In fact, many may get downright angry when life doesn’t adhere to what they’ve decided is the appropriate time table. Impatience has become the norm. More often than not, the spiritual life includes opportunistic waiting.

Wonder and Expectation

I wonder what life would be like if people were able to more easily live into waiting with a greater sense of wonder and expectation? At one point in the first letter to the Thessalonian church, Paul tells them to pray constantly and be thankful in all things; it’s God’s will for them. As much as I would like it to say so, Paul didn’t write, “Pray for one week, two days, 12 hours, and 4 minutes, and be thankful.” The Greek wording for “pray constantly” suggests praying intermittently, taking various moments (longer or shorter) to be consciously prayerful. Let’s be honest, praying “constantly” would severely inhibit my ability to provide for my family, drive, read a book, etc.

As I understand the original wording, Paul is saying, “Pray intermittently throughout the time you’re not sleeping.” He is not saying, “Assume a prayerful position, pray, and do nothing else until you hear from God.” I’ve always wondered how I was supposed to “pray without ceasing” when there are things to do every day. Like most other people, there is work, family, friends, car maintenance, groceries, etc. I can’t cross such things off my list if I’m sitting in my prayer closet in the dark all day. When do I get to eat?

Praying Toward the Center

Paul is encouraging the Thessalonians, and us, to consistently return to a prayerful center. Bring whatever you encounter to God prayerfully through the day. Seek wisdom and guidance in life’s normal happenings.

While Paul’s letter does not explicitly say so, I get the sense that an undergirding principle here is something akin to, “Pray throughout the day (or night) and watch what God does in the process.” Surely most pray-ers of the Bible prayed “without ceasing,” but doing so didn’t necessarily change the circumstances so much as it transformed the ones praying in relation to the matter about which they prayed.

The biblical narrative is chock-full of verses speaking to the idea of waiting. Various Psalms (25:4-5; 27:13-14; 33:20-22; 37:7; 40:1-3; 62:5) address the concept of waiting on God. Isaiah 30:18 and 40:29-31 remind us that God provides strength to those who are weary, those who wait for him. Lamentations 3:25 tells us the Lord is good to those who wait for him. The prophet Micah watched in hope for the Lord. James 5:7-8 tell us to be patient.

Prayerful Trust

Waiting, at least for me, is about trusting in a relationship. I must trust in the person who made the promise to bring it to pass. Usually, there is little I can do to “hurry” the process. In fact, in many circumstances, my desire to move things along may, in the long run, derail the process entirely.

I know a man who endeavored to live into what he sensed was God’s will for his life. He earned the appropriate degrees; he ministered in local churches in various capacities. The man encountered an obstacle he needed to cross to continue along what he sensed was God’s trajectory for his life. The man stumbled and fell as he tried to hurdle the rock in the road. He got a running start and tried to hurdle the obstacle again, then again, and yet again.

Interestingly, during a time when the man felt centered and relaxed, he attempted the leap one last time. He simply settled himself, did what he knew to do, and jumped. Calmly, and in an almost anticlimactic way, the man crossed the chasm that had, for six years, stymied his progress. The man had waited, often impatiently, for the appropriate moment to present itself. That moment came, and the man simply did what he sensed God wanted him to do, and all went as it “should.”

What I’m suggesting is rather simple: Most of us don’t ever completely “know” what is happening in life. Sure, we get a sense of what is good and right. We sense (hopefully) where we can join God’s ongoing activity, and act accordingly. But here’s the rub: More often than not, we don’t know if we’ve gotten it “right” until we turn around and look at the path on which we’ve walked, regardless of how long. Only when we stop, turn around, and reflect, do we truly see what God has been doing and working on for however long a time. Such moments are truly holy.

We all know that life rarely goes as we think it’s supposed to go. Yes, there will be times when we must “wait” for many things. When you think about it, be prayerful, regardless of the circumstance; regardless of amount of time. Be thankful in all circumstances, regardless of how long you think you’re waiting for something to happen. Trust in the relationship you have with God. Rest comfortably in the promise of God’s provision, regardless of how long it takes. Wait, if doing so is necessary.

Prayerfully and persistently, wait. All will be well.