Has a well-meaning friend ever advised you to, “Wait for God: His timing is perfect!”? But when you really think about their counsel, you’re not entirely sure what they mean? Like me, do you read the Psalmist declare, “I wait for the LORD, my soul waits” (Ps 130:5) and desperately want to take the advice but have no clue how to go about it!?
One of the postcards on my bedroom wall reads, “Great things take time.” It’s a sentiment that naturally resonates with me: sometimes stuff just has to be ground out. I find a deep satisfaction in persevering until a job is done. Success, for me, is measured in terms of progress, not just arrival, hence my difficulty with waiting. My problem is not necessarily that waiting takes time but that it does not guarantee or even progress towards any desired outcome. Waiting seems like a waste in the purest sense of the word. However, not for the first time, God has taken me into his Word to challenge this interpretation. “From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him.” (Is 64:4)
My understanding of waiting as a process completely independent from the things that happen does not fit with this verse. Isaiah 64:4 suggests that the God of Israel not only reconnects waiting with the fabric of life, but makes it a necessary step if we want to see him intervene for us. After pondering this verse for the last few weeks, I offer a few thoughts on exactly how my views have been challenged:
- The Bible does not consider waiting for God as a pitiable state. “Blessed are all those who wait for him” (Is 30:18). Probably the core of our misgiving here is that we automatically associate waiting with inaction. If I’m waiting it must mean that neither I nor God is doing anything! But in the Hebrew Bible the opposite of waiting is not action but forgetting. “But they soon forgot his works; they did not wait for his counsel” (Ps 106:13). The Psalmist interprets Israel’s waiting for God as an active outworking of their hope in YHWH – as hope in action and a sign of someone actively engaged in relationship with God. “I will wait for the LORD … I will hope in him” (Is 8:17).
- Waiting is not only a ‘training’ tool – shaping believers’ character to be more like God’s – but is also an active demonstration of what God is like. God himself waits. “Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him” (Is 30:18). The Psalmist does not understand waiting as beneath God or a sign that something is wrong, but declares it an inherent component of God’s identity as a merciful and just God. Therefore, my waiting isn’t just the winter before the spring of God’s revelation, but somehow in itself embodies the very revelation of God’s perfect nature.
- The Bible does not present waiting as an optional process: the only choice humanity has is what to wait for! Those who choose not to wait for God, end up having to wait for other things like the mere passing of time (2 Kings 7:9) – just hoping that tomorrow will bring something different, or death (Job 3:21). The Greek version of the Hebrew Bible (the Septuagint) offers an interesting insight into how the Church has interpreted different concepts throughout the ages. In several places, its interpretation of the verb ‘to wait’, (e.g. in Psalm 25:5) demonstrates an understanding of waiting not as a listless apathetic state but one of resistance in the face of opposition. Waiting for the Lord, then, is not just a negative pattern a believer finds themselves in because nothing is happening, but the active maintenance of a belief or course of action; a standing of one’s ground whilst under pressure from opposition. It is a standing firm; a remaining in the good as opposed to fleeing towards the destructive.
Latest posts by Jen Smith (see all)
- Reclaiming Christmas with our words - 20th December 2015
- What does it mean to be the Church? - 16th November 2015
- Psalm 23, Ikea manuals and the restoration of my soul. - 31st August 2015