“And sure enough even waiting will end…if you can just wait long enough.” —William Faulkner (1897-1962), American writer and Nobel Prize laureate.I’ve recently written on the topic of waiting in a blog post titled, “The Waiting Game.” However, the subject came to mind again today while reading a book titled, “Just Enough Light for the Step I’m On” (1999, 2008) by Stormie Omartian, a bestselling Christian author. She opens Chapter 12 titled, “Waiting in the Wings,” with the following two paragraphs:
Has it ever seemed like you are waiting in the wings for the next scene of your life to start? The stage is dark and you’re expecting the lights to go up and the curtain to rise. The first act may or may not have gone smoothly, but by now you’ve been on an extended intermission and you’re beginning to wonder if the second act will ever begin.
How many times in our lives have we found ourselves waiting like that? Waiting for things to change. Waiting for something to happen. Waiting for life to get back to normal. Waiting for more time or more money. Waiting for the relationship to get better. Waiting for the right door to open. Waiting for the right person to come along. Waiting for somebody to notice. Waiting, waiting, waiting. (Quote source: “Just Enough Light for the Step I’m On,” 2008 edition, p. 107.)
Sound familiar? On page 109 she writes, “Going through a waiting period doesn’t mean there is nothing happening, because when you are waiting on the Lord, He is always moving in your life.” And he is moving in your circumstances behind the scenes, too (see blog post titled, “Backstage: Behinds the Scenes”).
Isaiah 40:31 reminds us that “…those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” So what, exactly, does it mean to “wait on the Lord”? GotQuestions.org gives us the following answer:
The command to wait on the Lord is found extensively throughout the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, it is more about waiting for the Lord’s providential care, but most New Testament references relate to Christ’s second coming. In all cases, it is about waiting expectantly and with hope. Fundamental to being able to wait is trusting God’s character and goodness.
Waiting on the Lord is something the godly do. It’s about holding on tight, hoping with expectation and trust, knowing that our Lord is not making us wait just to see how long we can “take it.” There are times when God will delay His answer, and we will at times wonder why He seems so reluctant to intervene in our affairs: “I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God” (Psalm 69:3). But, knowing the Lord, we trust that He will come at the perfect moment, not a second too soon or too late.
Waiting on the Lord necessitates two key elements: a complete dependence on God and a willingness to allow Him to decide the terms, including the timing of His plan. Trusting God with the timing of events is one of the hardest things to do. The half-joking prayer, “Lord, I need patience, and I need it RIGHT NOW,” is not far removed from the truth of how we often approach matters of spiritual growth and the Lord’s will. To wait on the Lord produces character in the life of the Christian in that it involves patience (see James 1:4). Waiting involves the passage of time, which is itself a gift of God.
The word “wait” in the Bible carries the idea of confident expectation and hope. “For God alone my soul waits in silence . . . my hope is from him” (Psalm 62:1, 5, ESV). To wait upon the Lord is to expect something from Him in godly hope, “and hope does not disappoint” (Romans 5:5). We wait on the Lord in a way similar to how we wait on the arrival of out-of-town relatives, with loving anticipation of seeing them again. All creation eagerly awaits God’s restoration: “The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed” (Romans 8:19). Those who wait for God to keep His promises will not be disappointed.
Waiting on the Lord involves being at rest in the Lord. Psalm 23 provides a lesson concerning being still. Sheep will not be at peace near rushing water, but they will lie contentedly by “still” water, and that’s where the Good Shepherd leads us (Psalm 23:2). The words “He makes me lie down” can be translated “He causes me to rest.” When we, like sheep, are still, we are resting in the Lord and trusting our Shepherd.
Being still means we have ceased from following our own agenda or ingenuity; we have stopped trusting in our own strength and will power. We are waiting upon the Lord to exchange our weakness for His strength (see 2 Corinthians 12:9). The apostle Paul had a “thorn in the flesh,” and, as he gains spiritual insight, he understands that the affliction is a protective suffering meant by God to keep him from sin. As a result, the apostle is content to rest in God’s grace. God does not remove the thorn; He gives Paul a place to be still in the bearing of it. Paul learned to be still and wait on the Lord.
To wait on the Lord is to rest in the confident assurance that, regardless of the details or difficulties we face in this life, God never leaves us without a sure defense. As Moses told the panicky Israelites trapped at the Red Sea by Pharaoh’s army, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Exodus 14:14). The heavenly perspective comes as we focus not on the trouble but on the Lord and His Word. When it seems God has painted us into a corner, we have an opportunity to set aside our human viewpoint and wait upon the Lord to show us His power, His purpose, and His salvation.
When we don’t choose to wait on the Lord, we solicit trouble for ourselves. Remember how Abraham and Sarah did not wait on the Lord for their child of promise; rather, Sarah offered her maid, Hagar, to Abraham in order to have a child through her. The account in Genesis 16 and 18 shows that their impatience led to no end of trouble. Any time we fail to wait on the Lord and take matters into our own hands—even when we’re trying to bring about something God wants—it leads to problems. When we “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33, ESV), we can allow God to work out the rest of the details.
This doesn’t mean we sit idly by as we wait on the Lord to act on our behalf. We should not spend our time doing nothing; rather, we should continue to do the work He has given us to do. Psalm 123:2 says, “As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a female slave look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, till he shows us his mercy.” That is, we should look to God with the constant anticipation and willingness to serve that a servant shows to his master. The idea of waiting on the Lord is not like waiting for the dentist in the waiting room (thank goodness!). Rather, the sense of waiting on the Lord is somewhat akin to what a waiter or waitress does in a restaurant. Our attitude and actions should be as those of a waiter anticipating and meeting the requests of the one he’s waiting on. Our waiting on the Lord is not biding our time until we finally get the service we’ve been waiting for; it’s filling our time with service to the Master, always on our feet, ready to minister.
The command to “wait on the Lord” means that we are to be near Him and attentive so that we may catch the slightest intimation of what He wants for us. We naturally think of ourselves as self-sufficient. We turn here and there and expect help from our own ability, from friends, or from circumstances. But in the spiritual life we are taught to distrust self and depend upon the power of the Holy Spirit.
Waiting on the Lord involves the confident expectation of a positive result in which we place a great hope—a hope that can only be realized by the actions of God. This expectation must be based on knowledge and trust, or we simply won’t wait. Those who do not know the Lord will not wait on Him; neither will those who fail to trust Him. We must be confident of who God is and what He is capable of doing. Those who wait on the Lord do not lose heart in their prayers: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (1 John 5:14).
Waiting on the Lord renews our strength (Isaiah 40:31). Prayer and Bible study and meditating upon God’s Word are essential. To wait on the Lord we need a heart responsive to the Word of God, a focus on the things of heaven, and a patience rooted in faith.
We should not despair when God tarries long in His response, but continue to patiently wait on Him to work on our behalf. The reason God sometimes waits a long time to deliver is to extend the goodness of the final outcome. “Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him” (Isaiah 30:18, ESV). (Quote source here.)
God often uses waiting as a crucible in which to refine our character. Perhaps the prophet Isaiah realized this when he wrote, “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” —Isaiah 40:31
Faithful waiting on God makes us stronger, not weaker. Waiting is also a sign of humility. Remember that, long ago, persons of lesser rank who served nobility and royalty were said to “wait upon” them. In a similar way, they were said to “attend” their lords and rulers. Even today, the French word for “wait” is “attend.” Maybe there is something to learn here. Maybe we should think of waiting on God less as passively sitting around until something happens and more as actively attending—listening carefully for God’s voice and watching intently for evidence of His moving in our lives and in the world around us.
Now, believe me, I understand that those of you reading these words who are in the midst of waiting for a miracle or waiting for a dream to be realized or waiting to be delivered from a dark, scary place probably feel helpless. You feel as if you’re doing nothing, but you’re actually doing something very important. In fact, this waiting—this attending to God—may be the most important spiritual work you could possibly do. While you are waiting faithfully on God, you are also allowing your hope to grow up. And if you can’t be still and wait and hope—even when you have no reason to hope—you can’t become the person God created when He thought you into existence.
Spiritual transformation doesn’t take place when we get what we want. It takes place while we’re waiting. It is forged in us while we’re waiting, hoping, and trusting, even though we have yet to receive what we long for. Spiritual transformation happens in the waiting room.
Waiting also helps us learn the vital lesson that just because a dream is delayed doesn’t mean it is denied. When we continue to hope patiently and place our trust in God and in His schedule—not ours—we begin to gain the type of long-range perspective that allows us to have peaceful souls, even when the storms of life are raging about us. With God, we can wait out the storm and see the sun breaking through the clouds. When we trust in Him, we will eventually see the rainbow and the rebirth of our hopes and dreams….
Waiting and Life
So life isn’t turning out exactly the way you thought, and you have laid it before God in prayer, over and over again. You’ve taken the steps you know to take and prepared yourself to the best of your ability—and it still isn’t happening.
Is it time to move on? Is failure inevitable? And if it is, how much longer should you keep prolonging the obvious?
My bias is that, most of the time, we give up too soon. I prefer to help people see all the possibilities God may be placing before them. I am always hesitant to place time limits on God. The important thing is to continue trusting the end result to God, even when the outcomes you want are not immediately apparent.
Remember that faithful waiting—attending—involves much more than passively sticking your hands up in the air until God rains blessings down into your palms. Faithful waiting involves actively seeking contentment, even amid less-than-optimal circumstances.
Can you listen for God’s guidance, even when things aren’t going your way? Can you proactively trust Him, even when you aren’t seeing the evidence of the victory you long for?
I encourage you to keep doing the next right thing, taking the steps you know to take, without getting frustrated because you aren’t yet where you want to be. Act on the belief that God has a plan and that He is bringing it to completion in your life. Commit to being ready for that completion to occur, even if you can’t see it coming. (Quote source and entire article available at this link.)
Waiting isn’t easy but as we’ve read above, that should never be the focus of our attention as much is gained in the waiting if we don’t lose patience. I’ll end this post with Isaiah 40:31 which states: But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles . . .
They shall run and not be weary . . .
They shall walk . . .
And not faint . . . .
YouTube Video: “Wait on the Lord” by Donnie McClurkin and Karen Clark Sheard: