what it means to wait

Waiting rooms. Blank white walls. Cold. It could be raining outside and you wouldn’t even know. No windows. No fresh air. Can’t breathe.

Rush-hour traffic.

Grocery store check-out lines.

A land where time seemingly comes to a stand-still.

You’re waiting…

for the sermon to end.

for some sign.

some movement from the other side.

some action.

some affirmation that everything will be okay.

Some days are a struggle.

Other days are a pain.

And still, others, you’re constantly looking for that other shoe to drop or for that wall to come crumbling down…finally. And it terrifies you to no end.

Waiting.

Life on hold …for the time being.

Some of you may be there.

I’ve been there.

The 11-year-old who didn’t have a clue; a young girl thinking she wouldn’t live to see tomorrow. The 13-year-old struggling to find her niche in the social ladder at school. The teenager searching for her identity and refusing to believe the lie that she didn’t matter. The college freshman questioning tomorrow. The young woman worrying over her financial situation.

I’ve been there.

I am there.

Life on hold…

Time crawls so slowly that it seems eternity could pass in any number of minutes.

No one likes it.

waiting1One of the most important actions commanded in the Bible is the call to wait on God. Even though God promises special blessings to those who wait, waiting is one of the most difficult actions to carry out.

No kidding.

Waiting is not just something we have to do in getting what we want. Waiting is the process of becoming what God wants us to be. What God does in us while we wait is as important as what it is we are waiting for.

Which poses the question: why is waiting so hard?

As part of a fallen humanity, we are so used to taking matters into our own hands, to following our own schemes, to making our own plans and showing God the blueprints we’ve drawn up for our lives…mapped out the way we would like them to go. “I’ve got this. I can do it so much better,” we think. In reality…our plans pale in comparison to what God has in mind and wants for us…to our benefit. What a blessing!

And yet, we can’t wait. Our culture screams its “I want it now!” slogan. We have media access at our fingertips. We can heat up food with the simple push of a button. We can change the channel without having to get up off the couch.

Personally, I hate not knowing. Being a type-A personality, incredibly independent and a control freak (I’m achingly aware of how much this is true), I thrive on having a plan.

Every. Day.

God has constantly thrown most of my mini-plans out the window and brought something bigger, something better, into each of my days…something I didn’t even consider during my original planning process…why? I can’t see the bigger picture most of the time. God does and He wants that for me. I’m constantly looking for things that I need to do…things that I think He wants me to do. And I’ve discovered that, while those things are important and not necessarily sins in and of themselves – they become so when they start to control you; when they become all that you are about – that God wants this moment for me. He wants me to wait; to catch glimpses of Him while I’m stuck in this hallway.

hallway

And during that period, we are to follow His movements; to “live and move and have our being in Him (Acts 17.28).”

I’m reminded of many stories within the pages of the Bible where God requires both men and women to wait. Noah had to wait 120 years while building the ark before the word of God would be fulfilled (sending of the flood). Abraham had to wait until old age before his wife Sarah gave him a son, Isaac. The Israelites had to wait hundreds of years to be delivered from the land of Egypt and spent the next forty (plus) years in the desert – more on that later. Ruth had to wait patiently for the Lord to provide Boaz to marry her. David had to wait until after Saul had died to be placed as king over Israel. The woman who had been bleeding for twelve years had to wait to be healed by touching Jesus’ garment. Jesus had to be born, grow, and wait until the age of 30 before He could start His earthly ministry and fulfill the predetermined plan of God.

Today, I want to focus on the following passage in scripture where the Israelites needed to rely on God’s movement while they were waiting for their promised land:

On the day the tabernacle, the tent of the covenant law, was set up, the cloud covered it. From evening till morning the cloud above the tabernacle looked like fire. That is how it continued to be; the cloud covered it, and at night it looked like fire. Whenever the cloud lifted from above the tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped. At the Lord’s command the Israelites set out, and at his command they encamped. As long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle, they remained in camp. When the cloud remained over the tabernacle a long time, the Israelites obeyed the Lord’s order and did not set out. Sometimes the cloud was over the tabernacle only a few days; at the Lord’s command they would encamp, and then at his command they would set out. Sometimes the cloud stayed only from evening till morning, and when it lifted in the morning, they set out. Whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud lifted, they set out. Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out. At the Lord’s command they encamped, and at the Lord’s command they set out. They obeyed the Lord’s order, in accordance with his command through Moses. Numbers 9.15-23 

A pillar of cloud by day.

A pillar of fire by night.

Leading

Both versions of that pillar guided and protected the Israelites as they traveled across the desert. Some have said that this pillar may have simply been a burning bowl of pitch; fire you can’t see during the day…only at night. But a bowl of pitch cannot move on its own. The Bible is clear that the cloud and fire moved in accordance with the will of God. The cloud and the fire were not merely natural phenomena; they were symbols of God’s presence and the visible evidence of His moving and directing His people.

The Israelites traveled and camped as God guided. God was teaching them how to follow Him. He was teaching them what it meant to wait. They moved when He moved. They stayed when and where He stayed. Their lives and activities were fully submitted to God’s leading.

He does that in our own lives…today…thousands of years after He led the Israelites through that desert after they left Egypt. They didn’t know where they were going. God only knows if they actually had maps back then. But the same applies to our lives now, even though we’re definitely not in or from the same era.

Life doesn’t come with a map. We have a guidebook (the Bible) on how to live, yes, but life does not come with a map. No two lives are the same. Sure, we all share the same struggles and yet, how we respond or react to those situations is different for each one of us. We’ve dealt with different sins, trials and circumstances. God leads each of us in different ways. What worked for you may not work for your coworker or friend who is going through something similar. But, in having faced it, we can help carry one another’s burdens and in doing so, lift each other up during those waiting periods.

You may be finding yourself in any of these situations:

  • Maybe you are in a job situation that’s really tough to endure and you are waiting and hoping that conditions will change for the better.
  • Maybe you are without a job and waiting for news on an application.
  • Maybe you are struggling financially and are waiting on that raise or another job to come up through the pipeline.
  • Maybe you are ill and are waiting for your health to improve.
  • Maybe you are on a diet and waiting for the number on the scale to finally go down.
  • Maybe you are a single person waiting on God to answer your desire for a life-partner/mate.
  • Maybe you’re waiting for a dear family member or a friend to become interested in spiritual things.

I recently found myself in such a place.

A stand-still, it would seem …some days anyway.

I’m learning that here, in this hallway, what it means to really rely on God, on Jesus, as my Source of strength to get me through the day. If I pick up what I left at His feet in a moment of surrender days/weeks ago, things fall apart. I start over-thinking; over-thinking leads to trying to read between the lines of the situation at hand; reading between the lines creates a problem that wasn’t there to begin with; that problem leads to worry; worry leads to asking questions that don’t need to be asked (if ever); those questions lead to frustration, which is followed by a fit of tears and this all leads me back to square one: where I started at surrender. A vicious cycle, if I let it and only I can stop it…not by my strength alone, but by His (Philippians 3:14). I’m learning that the energy I waste going through that cycle is pointless. I’m learning that I need to wait; to trust in His goodness and in His timing. And that during that time, I can turn my energies and emotions, my heart, to the things that matter – to volunteering, to spending time in the Word and in prayer…ultimately spending time with Jesus…my Source of Calm…my Identity. I’m learning to live and move and have my being in Him.

Fact: Even with our modern age “get-it-now” abilities and attitude and our dislike for waiting, life is full of it. And in spite of our dislike of it, waiting is vital to the very lives we live.

Waiting forces us to ask questions:

What does it mean to wait? What’s involved in this waiting? Waiting means that we look forward in confident expectation that God will work out the details of the situation for our benefit. It means that we lean on the knowledge and wisdom He’s made available to us in His Word and by His Spirit. It means we learn to trust that He is ultimately good. It involves both the negatives and the positives. It involves seeking out God in the midst of the trial. It means taking action at the right time; waiting on His timing. This does not necessarily mean that saying that “someday” you’ll come around to acting on it or waiting for that “nudge” or “sign.” We have a tendency to wait for a sign that soemtimes never comes. There are moments in life that God gives us the ability to move ourselves, trusting that the choice we make will be the right one.  It means that when it comes time to act, we take the right step in that action.

I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. Psalm 27.13-14

How are we to wait? Patiently. We are to be “still and know that He is God” (Psalm 46.10). We are to give God the benefit of the doubt that He knows what He is doing. It requires patient trust.

Wait for the LORD;
Be strong, and let your heart take
courage; Yes, wait for the LORD.
Psalm 27.14

Who and what are we waiting for? Primarily: God. The specifics depend on your own situation(s).

Why should we wait? – Because of who God is and what only He is able to do; it reminds us that He is in control. Because of who we are and what we are not able to do; it reminds us that we are not in charge; that we are not God. Waiting enables us to sustain through trials and satisfies that eternal longing in our souls. Waiting allows God to do His work. Waiting strengthens us in our weakness and builds our character. It lifts us up and brings an awareness of the need for worship into our lives. It encourages others and lifts them up in their own weakness.  

How long do we wait? However long it takes…whether that’s a week, a month or a year. We wait.

Waiting is a virtue. Its durability is directly related to its object of faith. Waiting is an act of faith. Not being patient enough to wait shows a lack of faith on our part. This is one truth I’m so achingly aware of right now.

God has a plan and a purpose and they are worked out in individual lives, in history, and in time. We have to simply wait for God to provide for our needs, healings, and hopes. We must learn to be patient and not give up hope. God is patient and He has a plan in your life and how it directly correlates to the lives of others.

Direction from God is not just for your next big move. He has a purpose in placing you where you are at right now. When you follow God’s guidance, you know you are where God wants you, whether you’re moving or staying in one place. Wherever you are right now, instead of praying, “God, what do you want me to do next?” ask, “God, what do you want for me while I’m right here?”  Learn to live and move and have your being in Him; to rest as He does. Learn to listen to His voice. What does He want for you while you’re in the hallway?

“Faith in God includes faith in His timing.” – Neal A. Maxwell

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