Give me more than a minute to scan the tabloid headlines in the grocery store check-out line, and I become a frenzied, toe-tapping, scowling creep. In one such moment, I actually considered jamming my cart into the heels of a shopper who cut in line.
Conditioned by our instant-messaging, fast-food eating, "need it now" culture, I've developed an intolerance for waiting. Sometimes, I'm so intent on reaching a goal or straining toward a coveted destination, I forget the Bible considers waiting good: "It is good to wait patiently for the Lord to save us," says Lamentations 3:26 (CEV).
Our lives include different types of waiting that span a variety of circumstances. Some waits are merely annoying inconveniences. Others are rife with threats. I experienced both the morning of September 11, 2001. I began the day in a doctor's waiting room with my daughter, who was scheduled for an 8:30 checkup. By 9:30, the embarrassed receptionist apologized profusely for the delay. As it turned out, the doctor wasn't even in the building. Fuming over wasted time and our subsequent tardiness, I left and headed for my daughter's school. Abruptly, news reports of terrorist attacks jarred the morning's first wait into perspective. My minor inconvenience no longer concerned me as I entered a more emotionally arduous wait for word from my husband who was visiting Philadelphia and staying near places being evacuated in case of another attack. Much more agonizing was the wait of those whose loved ones never came home that day. When the wait is inexplicable and steeped in suffering, we have to cling to God.
I've learned this lesson from watching my friend Lisa. While in his early thirties, Lisa's husband was severely debilitated by a crippling disease. At its onset, I waited with Lisa for a miracle that didn't come. Her husband now lives apart from his family in a nursing home where he's surrounded by dying people twice his age. I've prayed. I've cried. I've accused God of turning his back on Lisa and her family. Each time, God gently turns my face to gaze on him, not the circumstance. In a wait that doesn't seem to end, we must look beyond our surroundings to God and trust him with the outcome. While the wait is grueling, God never puts us on hold to tend to more urgent matters; his purpose always is being fulfilled in our waiting.
From God's perspective, waiting is an exercise he's designed to help us develop patience, a sign of spiritual maturity. The New Testament writer James urges us to "Let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing" (James 1:4, NKJV).
Sometimes waiting builds our character; other times it's God's way of granting us a much-needed rest. For example, last year my job ended abruptly. While I looked for another, my less-hectic schedule provided opportunities for me to enjoy my family, exercise more, and dabble in projects. I was thankful for the breather when, as suddenly as the first job ended, another employment opportunity opened up. God knows when we're exhausted, and he wants us to have time to catch our breath. Psalm 23:2, 3 reminds us, "He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul."
If you're going through a waiting period, here are three ways to profit from it:
1. Wait quietly. When I was growing up, our family traveled three long days by car from Canada to New England every other summer to visit relatives. I was the child who trumpeted in time with the mile markers: "Are we there yet?"
Today we live in the busiest, noisiest time in history. But God encourages his waiting ones to be still and spend time being quiet. I've learned to quell my fretting about wasting time waiting by thinking about God's promises. While between jobs, I returned repeatedly to this verse from Psalm 16:5: "Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure." Knowing God had secured my future, I could wait quietly for him to reveal his plan.
I often write helpful Scriptures on index cards and carry them with me. When my thoughts become disquieted, I read the verses and ask God to help me see his perspective on waiting. In the Christian classic Abundant Living, author E. Stanley Jones says it's in spending quiet time with God that a Christian gains poise and power. Jones says, "One translator interprets the command, 'Be still, and know that I am God' this way: 'Be silent to God, and he will mold you.' Be silent to God, and he will make you become the instrument of his purposes. [In silence] an all-wise Mind will brood over your mind, awakening it, stimulating it, and making it creative."
When I'm silent before God, I know most vividly he hasn't deserted my friend Lisa and her husband. God has a message in your wait, and in silence you can hear it clearly.
2. Wait hopefully. I pull out all the stops when it comes to waiting despairingly. When my doctor leaves me a message to call his office, I panic. While dialing his number, I convince myself he's going to tell me I've contracted an incurable disease.
When I'm called to wait, I think the worst. But the Bible reminds us to wait hopefully. "No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame … you are God my Savior," says Psalm 25:3,5. Biblical hope isn't a wishy-washy, "I hope this will turn out for good, but maybe it won't" attitude. Biblical hope is the confident assurance that God's in charge—no matter what.
We can have the same hope the Old Testament patriarch Abraham had awaiting the fulfillment of God's promise he would become the father of many nations. The Bible says, "Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed … he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead … yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised" (Romans 4:18-20).
3. Wait obediently. As a child, I'd stealthily unwrap, then rewrap, the Christmas gifts my parents had purchased for me. I couldn't bear waiting until Christmas morning to open them! However, I've learned the only waiting that's beneficial is obedient waiting, which takes place by aligning my actions as closely as I can with scriptural principles and asking God to adjust my attitude.
My friend Lisa, whose husband is living in a nursing home, endures her wait, knowing its culmination most likely will happen in eternity, when Jesus wipes away her tears and relieves her husband's suffering (Revelation 21:4). Lisa says the only way to wait obediently is to focus on God. How does she do this? "When I'm overwhelmed, I cry to God in sheer desperation," she says, "and he always comes through. Sometimes he uses the words of a song, sometimes it's something one of my kids says. When I cry to God, he does whatever it takes to encourage me."
As we wait on God, we must stay obedient. As I wait for God to change my teen's heart, I must learn to put aside sarcasm—a tool I'm too often tempted to use—and allow God's love to work through me. When the wait's too much to bear, I surrender it to God by setting aside time to visit a scenic place—I'm partial to beaches. There I concentrate on God's magnificence, then surrender the wait to him by physically acting out the motion of handing my wait over from my hands to his. When I'm later plagued by worry or questions, I think back to the day on the beach when I surrendered the wait, and I remind myself I've given it to him. He'll come through.
Psalm 119 voices a servant's cry. The Psalm brims with the promise that those who obey God's statutes will be satisfied. They will not wait in vain. While you wait, live according to God's Word, seek him, and meditate on his message.
Faith Tibbetts McDonald, a university writing instructor and freelance writer, lives in Pennsylvania.
Copyright Â© 2002 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.
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