A History of Waiting
O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you "Violence!" and you will not save?
—Habakkuk 1:2 (ESV)
It occurs to me that I've never met anyone young and patient.
We're all in a hurry. We don't like to miss one panel of a revolving
door. Patience comes hard in a hurry-up society. Yet it's an
essential quality, cultivated only in extended periods of waiting.
Every few weeks an email pops into my inbox with a read receipt attached, a feature that automatically sends an email to the sender, letting them know that, yes I have dropped everything else in my life to read their all-important missive.
Read receipts bother me. Is it an unhealthy need for control? Maybe it's pride that says, "I may read your email. I may not read your email. And I really don't want you to know." So you know that I take delicious satisfaction when my email program gives me the option—send or don't send.
You can guess which I choose.
There is one kind of read receipt I'd love to send. Too bad it doesn't exist.
I'd like to send a read receipt to God. Wouldn't you? A little note that says, "Did You hear my prayer? And if so, would You click this box? Thank You, your humble servant, Dan."
Several years ago, my wife, Angela endured a confounding string of medical issues. For two years, her life was: visit a specialist, schedule a test, revisit the specialist, hear the shrugging nonanswer, try a new medicine, and experience no relief. That bad movie replayed over and over and over again as if on a cosmic loop.
The darkness of those years forced me to rethink my approach to prayer.
We know God hears us. We know God cares for our needs. We know we're important to God. After all, we learned this the first day of Sunday School.
But where is God when we need Him most? And why does He make us wait?
What I discovered during our roller coaster of uncertainty is that we were not the first Christians God made wait. In fact, waiting is a theme replayed in the lives of the great men and women who play a starring role on the big screen of Scripture.
Consider the family of Jewish patriarch, Abraham. He and his wife, Sarah, struggled to reconcile the reality of her infertility with God's lofty promise to plant in their home the seeds of a great nation. Abraham's own name, chosen by God, means, "father of a multitude." Imagine the mockery this brought among his peers, especially in a culture that placed a high value on fertility. A man's worth was weighed by the size of his family, and a woman's by her ability to bear children.
Yet every single year for 25 years, God's grand promise went unfulfilled. Twenty-five years of sleepless nights and tear-stained failure. Twenty-five years of answering the questions from friends and family with a shrug and forced smile.
These two faithful believers, who left everything in their hometown of Ur to follow the Lord, endured the searing pain of childlessness. The supposed "father of multitudes" was childless.
Finally, with Abraham at the ripe age of 100 and Sarah at 90, God answered. He touched Sarah's womb and delivered on His promise. Isaac was born.
Three generations later, Abraham's great-grandson Joseph saw his God-directed dream delayed. As a young man, Joseph experienced a powerful series of night visions. He discerned these dreams as a special call of God to leadership. This was exciting for Joseph, but to Joseph's father and brothers, they came off as fantasies of a spoiled family favorite.
Thirteen years would pass before Joseph would see the fulfillment of those dreams. In those 13 years, he was nearly killed by his brothers, sold as a slave into a foreign country, sent to prison on a false rape charge, and forgotten by a friend who had promised to negotiate a release. Finally, when it seemed Joseph would die alone, shamed, and forgotten, he got his break. At the age of 30, through circumstances only God could ordain, the once-favored son of Jacob ascended to that long-promised leadership role—he became prime minister of Egypt.
Those same royal courts crushed the aspirations of another Hebrew. As a prince in the house of Pharaoh, Moses' heart burned for the plight of his people, the Hebrews. As descendants of Joseph, the Hebrews had settled in the land of the Nile, and through several generations, built a nation within a nation. Their growing size and influence was seen as a threat to the new pharaoh's hold on the throne. He responded the only way power-threatened dictators know how to d with severe oppression.
So Moses rejected the soft comfort of the palace and assumed the role of rescuer. He would lead his people against his own royal family. But when Moses put his plan into action, the Hebrews rejected his leadership. Moses was forced to flee Egypt, an embarrassed and shamed fugitive. He spent 40 years on the backside of nowhere, leading sheep until God finally fulfilled Moses' destiny and led him back to Egypt to lead Israel out of bondage.
God grew another Jewish leader from the obscure sheep fields. David was an unremarkable shepherd boy who nurtured a passion for God. But he was forgotten among Jesse's many sons. Then one day a man named Samuel, a prophet and priest in Israel, appeared at Jesse's house. He was under divine guidance to appoint the next king of Israel.
After combing through the impressive lineup of future leaders among Jesse's sons without receiving God's blessing, Samuel asked if there was anyone else. The father sheepishly mentioned his other son. The forgotten son. The "I-was-hoping-you-wouldn't-ask-me" son.
David was finally summoned to the presence of Samuel, who was directed by God to anoint David as the next king. Great, now what? Back to the humble sheep fields for David. No coronation ceremony. No crown. No throne.
At age 16, what David didn't know was that 14 long, hard years would pass before he would ever see that crown, that throne, that ceremony. And that was only the throne of Judah. Another 71/2 years would pass before he assumed the throne over all of Israel.
Waiting is not a theology reserved only for the Old Testament. I'm intrigued by a subtle theme in Jesus' teaching on the Gospels. Often, when implored to demonstrate His deity, He would say, "My hour has not yet come" (John 2:4). Jesus resisted the urge of the immediate, submitting to the precise timing of the Father's will.
Paul, the world's first and greatest evangelist/church planter, endured his own long period of waiting. When we race through the books of Acts and Galatians, which chronicle Paul's journey from enemy of the Cross to defender of the faith, we often miss the silent years that trans-@ pired between his Damascus Road experience and the beginning of his itinerant ministry. Scripture is silent on Paul's thought process during that time, but I imagine a fiery former Pharisee burning with anticipation, longing for the day he could share the gospel with the world.
You must know that none of these believers waited with perfect trust in God's will. The Bible is not an anthology of specialized saints; it is the divine record of ordinary men and women whose faith was strengthened in the crucible of God's waiting room.
Like us, they grew impatient with God, tried to force God's hand, and often chafed against the slow pace of God's will.
Waiting: The DNA of Faith
Nearly 50 times the Scripture implores us to wait because waiting is the DNA of faith. The root Hebrew word might imply "waiting with eager expectation." In other words, believing, against the odds, that God will be faithful to His promise. This is a waiting that includes more than merely sitting idly by. It means holding on to your integrity, your values, your faith in God, even as circumstances seem to prove God wrong. It's an anticipation and longing that runs deep into the soul.
David breaks it down in Psalm 27:14, likely written during the future king's own angst-filled years spent running from the madman Saul. David spells out the two indispensable ingredients of a faith that waits— courage and strength.
Waiting reveals courage, the courage to hang on to your values when logic says to let go. But it builds strength.
Ask any successful athlete. He or she will tell you that strength doesn't come overnight (even in the age of steroids and human growth hormone). Strength is built over time, the accumulation of a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly regimen of disciplined training. Read the biographies of world-class performers. They'll share about early mornings in the gym, working, pushing, and sweating.
Our waiting years are God's gym, where He builds in us a stronger heart muscle. This is growth that can't be microwaved, truncated, or manufactured at warp speed. A durable faith is formed in the mundane disciplines of daily life, a straight line in the diligent pursuit of godliness (1 Timothy 4:8).
Lessons from God's Waiting Room
I think I've spent an entire lifetime in waiting rooms, either escorting my wife to her many specialists or awaiting the inevitable visits on behalf of my kids' various ailments. Each time I smart at the irony. We rush to get out the door, step on the pedal, and blast into the office, only to sit and wait. Thankfully all of our doctors carry up-to-date subscriptions of Sports Illustrated and Newsweek. And if not, well, there is my iPhone.
Still, the waiting room makes me restless as I mentally check off the work I'm not getting done. It's always an interesting ride home. Angela is routinely subjected to my verbal tirades against the medical establishments that seem to be at odds with my all-important schedule.
I've also spent significant time in God's waiting room, and while the reading material is fresher (the Bible, good Christian books), my restlessness is as acute. I remember my single years, how often I yearned for the love of a wife. I remember ticking off ministries I could have been doing if only God would hurry up His marital timeline. Little did I know that during those years, God was forming my character and also preparing a special woman, Angela, who arrived from Texas, via Germany, to Chicago to be my wife. (It's a long story; stop by Chicago sometime, and I'll share the entire miracle.)
Maybe you're nervously fidgeting today in God's waiting room. It could be the pursuit of answers to a medical crisis. It could be the impossibility of finding a job in a tough market. It could be the hope of finding true love. Everyone's waiting room looks different, and yet, God's purpose is always the same.
I've always found comfort in the words of the obscure Old Testament prophet Habakkuk. His anguished cry, "How long?" echoes the pleas from our own impatient hearts.
Here Habakkuk sat as God's chosen prophet, wondering when God would follow through on His promise to punish evil and reward good in Judah. His impatient words read like a challenge to the Almighty, as if His credibility was at stake.
God's answers are like medicine to a heart that yearns for hope:
• When God is silent, God is active. God told Habakkuk, "Look around at the nations; look and be amazed! For I am doing something in your own day, something you wouldn't believe even if someone told you about it" (Habakkuk 1:5 NLT). At the very moment of Habakkuk's desperate prayer, God was raising up the Babylonian army as the solution to Israel's disobedience. And when we're in the waiting room, when it seems all of God's activity has ground to a halt, God is behind the curtain, moving the characters and pieces in place on the stage of our lives.
• God's solution often comes from an unexpected source. God's chosen method of punishing Israel was unexpected. The Babylonians were more depraved than Israel and yet they were God's solution to Israel's disobedience.
In Habakkuk's world, Babylon was in no position to be a sovereign ally. They would get judged by God, but not before they were used as an effective chastisement against God's own people. The lesson for us in God's answer to Habakkuk is that God often brings resolution to our situation from an unlikely source. He's not limited by our carefully crafted scenarios.
• God's timing is always perfect. God said to Habakkuk and says to us: "My will is executed with precise timing. I'm not early. I'm not late" (Habakkuk 2:3 ESV). God is not hurried by our manufactured sense of urgency. He's not impressed by our demands for answers. He operates according to a divine clock that isn't moved up by our twenty-first-century sense of rush.
• God is worthy of worship, regardless of our circumstances. I love Habakkuk's response to God. Chapter 3 could be read at every Thanksgiving celebration. The humbled prophet says, "Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer's; he makes me tread on my high places. To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments" (Habakkuk 3:17-19 ESV). Here's the question we must ask: Will we worship God in the waiting rooms of life? Or will we only worship Him on the mountaintops? Can the Christian employee praise God when he is given a pink slip? Can the single person praise God when there are no prospects for marriage? Can the childless couple praise God when they fail to conceive? Can the pastor praise God even as he sees declining attendance?
Waiting is considered loathsome to a generation accustomed to having quick answers, fast results, and instant gratification. But we must surrender our hearts to the sovereignty of God who slows us down, because waiting is not wasted time at all. Waiting is the essence of a faith that pleases Him.
• If God intervened tomorrow and changed your situation, would that enable you to trust Him more fully? Would it make Him a better God?
• In what way do you attempt to advance the timing of God's agenda? • Has this strategy helped? Has it hindered?
I've always enjoyed studying the characters of the Bible. Two resources, one new and one old, really make these people come alive:
• The "Great Lives" series by Chuck Swindoll. I'll never forget my first introduction to Dr. Swindoll's biographical teaching series. I was in the car on the way to work after classes and his series on Moses was featured on the radio. I actually was late for work several days.
• Bible Characters by Alexander Whyte. This is a terrific series by a preacher of several generations ago.
• Abraham—Genesis 11-21 • Joseph—Genesis 30-47 • Moses—Exodus 2; Acts 7; Hebrews 13 • David—1 and 2 Samuel • Paul—Galatians 2:1-10; Acts 9-28 • Habakkuk—Habakkuk 1-3
iF@ith: Connecting with God in the 21st Century
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© 2011 by Dan Darling
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