Originally posted at Truth Matters Ministries.
Waiting is a very particular kind of suffering. Depending on why you’re waiting, it can be merely a little uneasy, or excruciating. Submitting a college acceptance application and waiting for the results a few months later is very different from sitting in a hospital emergency room awaiting news of an emergency surgery.
I remember the time when college acceptance letters came by mail. As in, a physical envelope was placed into the little mailbox in front of my house. I had only applied to 2 schools: my first choice, and my back-up. My backup school acceptance letter came first, and unexpectedly earlier than usual, so that was a pleasant surprise. But I knew the first choice school letters would be coming within a particular 3-day window. When I would hear the mailman drive up my street and come to my house, I would race out the door, take a deep breath, and then gently open the door as I prayed for a large envelope. (A small letter meant a rejection.) The first day was nerve-racking because there were only small letters. I feared a rejection letter as I went through that small stack. But it came up empty. Good. The second day, there was a big envelope. The smile that began to stretch across my face in anticipation was quickly dashed when I saw it was from Bank of America. I hated them for teasing me and sending a big huge envelope addressed to my father. (I would later go to work for Chase Bank. LOL. Don’t send big envelopes during college acceptance letter season!) The third day felt like an eternity, waiting for the mailman to arrive. I swear he came an hour late that day. (I would later go to work for UPS… just kidding.) The walk up to the mailbox was slow; I prayed the entire way. I grabbed the white handle to my mailbox, and there it was: The largest, most glorious acceptance letter I’ve ever seen in my life. It had the words “Welcome” emblazoned in gold and blue. It smelled of lavender and rich mahogany; it was weighty, in a luxurious way. These guys knew their audience. I ran back into the house to celebrate with my mom. I’ll never forget the proud look she had on her face. In an instant, the anxiousness of waiting was lifted off my shoulders. The weight of waiting was instantly gone.
Two years ago, there would be another kind of waiting. We had just put our kids to sleep in their room after our church’s Wednesday evening service. Tracy and I were getting ready to go to bed because we were exhausted; it had been a long day. And then my phone rang. It was a little after 10 pm, and it’s unusual for me to get a call that late. Tracy’s mom’s voice on the other end was panicked. “Your dad got hit by the other car…” I don’t remember the rest of the conversation. We grabbed the kids and rushed back out. Tracy’s dad was involved in a massive car wreck on the highway, and her mom saw the entire thing unfold as she drove in the car behind him. As we drove to the site of the collision, we weren’t sure what to expect. We didn’t know at that point if Tracy’s father even survived the crash. Driving up the highway, our hearts sunk when we saw the extent of the accident. The other side of the road was at a total standstill. Debris extended from one end of the highway to the other. It looked like there were 5 or 6 cars that were involved in the incident. There were ambulances, fire trucks, and police cars; the spinning red lights were what I remembered the most. They reflected the intensity of the moment, and everything moved in slow motion. From the phone call until we found out that Tracy’s father was alive would be nearly 2 hours. He ended up miraculously coming home a few hours later with minimal bruising and aches. But every minute of those 2 hours was excruciating; I remember the deep silence as we waited for news in our car, but questions and prayers filled our minds.
These are examples of a particular kind of waiting that is in preparation to receive some sort of news. But there’s another waiting that can sometimes be just as challenging and painful. It’s the waiting where time seems to stand still. You’re looking for change or momentum in your life, but it doesn’t appear to be coming. Promotions, opportunities, openings, and advancements seem impossible to obtain.
David saw the messenger in the distance. “Your father and your brothers are waiting for you. The prophet Samuel is offering a sacrifice to the Lord,” David was told. When he got to the place where the sacrifice was taking place, all of his brothers were there waiting. And next to his family, looking particularly sagely, stood Samuel, the great prophet of God. Samuel was still mourning the rejection of King Saul when God called him to anoint another king of Israel. Perhaps he had arrived thinking he would anoint someone like Saul. Jesse’s oldest son was most impressive to Samuel, but one by one, God rejected all of them. God told Samuel not to look at outward appearance because what mattered to God was the heart. When David finally arrived, Samuel looked upon this child and smiled: this was God’s anointed. He was certainly young but handsome and ruddy. Samuel walked up to him, lifted the horn of oil, and poured it on David’s head to anoint him. He would be God’s new chosen king, to lead the people of Israel. The Holy Spirit rushed upon David at that moment. Scholars say that David was a young teenager, maybe 12 or 15 years old.
He would not take the throne of Israel until nearly two decades later.
That’s a lifetime of waiting in our instant-gratification age. It’s no wonder that the Psalms are filled with the phrase “I will wait for the Lord.” Psalm 130:5-6 says this:
I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.
There is waiting that profoundly affects our souls. It’s the kind of waiting that is burdensome and heavy. Our souls feel like they are in limbo, as we wait for God to answer prayer and move something. It’s like a chess game: pieces need to be moved from the opposing side so that you can make yours. You can’t make your move until God makes his. It’s the kind of waiting that sees everyone in your group of friends move away to college while you’re stuck in your hometown. It’s the kind of waiting that sees everyone else move forward with a promotion, but you’re trapped in the same position. It’s the kind of waiting where you scroll through your social media feeds, depressed and wondering if God cares anymore. It’s not your fault that your mom got sick and you chose to stay and take care of her. You question if your integrity and faith are simply hindrances to moving forward with your career because you’re tired of being motionless.
Psalm 130 tells us that this kind of waiting can only be done in hope. Look at the analogy here: A night watchman’s job is to be alert during the night. His job is to be diligent in doing what? Waiting. And when does his job end? When the morning comes. And he knows it will come because it always does. The sun is faithful to rise every morning. In the same way, our waiting should be anticipating the Lord’s hand in our life. Waiting is where God does some of his most powerful work in our lives, as we learn to cling to his character and his Word. Notice the Psalmist is not looking to his emotions to provide him with the support he needs to wait. It’s God’s Word; it’s God’s promises. The Psalmist is hanging onto them for his life. That’s the hope that he has that gets him through the night. But it’s not an endless waiting: he knows God will pull through. He has the strength to wait because he knows the morning is coming; he knows God is with him.
Time, by definition, cannot stand still. It is always moving forward. It is always referring to change. Moving forward in time is defined by what is changing. From a physics standpoint, waiting doesn’t freeze time. It may not feel like it, but while we wait, we are being changed. That’s the key to understanding why God makes us wait.
Maybe you’re waiting for a college acceptance letter or some kind of special program, internship, or job. Maybe you’re waiting for an opportunity to open up in your life so you can jump to the next great thing. Maybe you’ve been waiting for years for a friendship that can’t reconcile. In the midst of the waiting, you’ve felt like a failure or that perhaps God has failed you. Why put your hope in a God that always fails?
These are tough questions and tough circumstances. But abandoning the Lord is not a real solution. It only shifts the weight of the waiting from God onto your shoulders. When you don’t get accepted to that college or that job, you’ve failed. When relationships break down, and it becomes apparent that all the waiting in the world won’t lead to reconciliation, you’ve failed. When the diagnoses come back positive for cancer, everything comes crashing down, and you are crushed underneath the weight of it all. Abandoning God in these times only leads to more pain.
David waited 20 years to become king. In that time, he was shaped to become the greatest leader Israel had ever known. He learned to lead a military. He learned to be resourceful. He learned to cherish relationships. He learned to obey God’s law. He learned the value of serving others. In other words, He learned to rely on God. Jesus Christ waited until he was 30 years old to start his ministry. In those 30 years, he was learning, growing, and trusting in God his heavenly father. And when he needed God the most, there was nothing but deafening silence. It persisted as his disciples left him, as he was beaten, as the crown of thorns was thrust upon his head, and as the nails were driven into his hands. When Jesus lifted up his head on the cross and cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, he was referencing King David in Psalm 22.
They would not wait in vain. David would be king of Israel, and his royal ancestry would end in Jesus Christ. And Jesus, the true king of Israel, would die alone only to be raised from the dead three days later. The stone was rolled away, and a new dawn would begin. If you’re waiting right now, you’re in good company. God is doing work in you. Value the journey and anticipate with hope the faithful rising of the morning sun.