Waiting on God
Waiting on God
by Todd Turner
Text: Romans 8:23-25
Topic: What are the implications of waiting on the Lord
Big idea: Waiting on the Lord is fundamental to our faith.
Keywords: Trust, Unanswered Prayer, Waiting
· No one likes to wait.
- Illustration: Ortberg tests the congregation with a humorous multiple choice quiz, demonstrating our natural, ungodly responses when we are forced to wait.
- Illustration: Ortberg touches on the common heart of frustration by quoting Lewis Smedes who summarizes the inevitable waiting that accompanies life.
Waiting on the Lord is an act of obedience.
· God commands us to wait upon him.
- Illustration: Ortberg expounds upon biblical stories where God told his people to wait, including Abraham, the Israelite nation, Simeon, Anna, and the disciples.
· Contrary to popular opinion, waiting is not irresponsibility.
Waiting on the Lord requires a trusting heart.
· Waiting requires patience.
- Illustration: Ortberg jokes about an ingenious economist who thinks he’s discovered a loophole in Scripture that might make him rich, only to discover that God uses the same loophole to teach the man patience.
- Illustration: Ortberg picks up on the theme of trust by relating an Henri Nouwen story of the absolute faith of the trapeze artist who must hang in midair, waiting for his partner to catch him.
· Waiting requires confident humility.
· Waiting requires inextinguishable hope.
Waiting on God
by Todd Turner
How do you feel about waiting? Do you enjoy a nice, long wait? I don’t like to wait. I don’t like it when I have to stand in line at the bank or the post office. I don’t like being at a stoplight sitting behind an accelerator-challenged driver when the light turns green. I don’t like it when I pull into a gas station and all the pumps are occupied, and I have to wait for somebody to pull away. How good are you at waiting? I thought I’d give us a pop quiz. I’m going to walk you through a few scenarios and ask you to think through how you would respond.
Here’s the first one: You are at a tollbooth. The driver of the car in front of you is having an extended conversation with the tollbooth operator. Think for a moment about how you would respond. I’ll walk you through a few possible responses. A: You are happy. You observe they are doing the tollbooth in community. You think about forming a small group—with you and the other driver and the tollbooth operator. B: You think of things that you’d like to say to the tollbooth operator. Invite him to the Christmas Eve service perhaps. Or, C: You attempt to drive your vehicle between the other person’s car and the tollbooth.
Second scenario: You’ve been sitting in the waiting room of your doctor’s office for an hour. How do you respond? A: You’re grateful for the chance to catch up on the 1993 Reader’s Digest. B: You tell the other patients you have a very highly contagious and fatal disease in an attempt to empty the waiting room. Or if you have little more flair for the dramatic, C: You force yourself to hyperventilate to get immediate attention.
Now, these are fairly casual kinds of waiting, but we put up with them. However, there are other, more serious and difficult kinds of waiting. There’s the waiting of a single person to see if God has marriage in store for him or her. There’s the waiting of a childless couple who desperately wants to start a family but day after day, week after week, their prayer goes unanswered. There’s the waiting of someone who longs to have work that’s meaningful and significant and seems to matter, but it doesn’t happen. There’s the waiting of a spouse that’s trapped in a hurting marriage that seems unable to change. Lewis Smedes puts it like this: “Waiting is our destiny. As creatures who cannot by themselves bring about what they hope for, we wait in the darkness for a flame we cannot light. We wait in fear for a happy ending that we cannot write. We wait for a ‘not yet’ that feels like a ‘not ever.’”
Waiting on the Lord is an act of obedience.
Waiting is the hardest work of hope. When we turn to the Bible, God himself - God who’s all-powerful, all wise, and all loving - assures us over and over to wait. Psalm 37:7: “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.” Wait for the Lord, the Psalmist goes on, keep to his way, and he will exalt you to inherit the land.
God comes to Abraham. Abraham is 75 years old and God says, “Abraham, you’re going to become a father. You’ll be the ancestor of a great nation.” But it won’t happen today, it won’t happen tomorrow. You know how long it was before that promise came true? Twenty-four years. Think about being 75 years old and being told you’re about to become a parent—and then waiting 24 years. That’s how long Abraham had to wait. God told Israel, his people, that they’d be a nation, able to leave the slavery of Egypt and be independent, but they had to wait 400 years. And then God told Moses he would lead the people to the Promised Land, but they had to go to the wilderness and wait 40 years. Then came the great promise that the Messiah, the Savior, the Redeemer from God, would come. God’s people waited. They waited generation after generation, century after century, when God seemed silent. Then, strangest of all, when the Messiah came, he was only recognized by a few. He wasn’t at all what they thought they were waiting for. In fact, he was only recognized by those who were waiting for him.
Luke 2 tells us about two people who recognized the Messiah because they were waiting on God. The first is a man named Simeon. Luke 2:25: “Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout,” and then verse 25 says he was, “waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him.” Waiting can be translated either “waiting for” or “looking forward to.”
“It had been revealed to Simeon by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him into his arms and praised God, saying, ‘Master, you may now dismiss your servant in peace.’” I’ve been waiting my whole life; now my wait’s over, God.
Verse 36: “There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of 84. Year after year, decade after decade, this amazing woman, a prophet of God, never left the temple, but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were waiting for” (or looking for, again, it is the same word that’s used earlier and can be translated either way) “the redemption of Jerusalem.”
So the Messiah came, Jesus lived and taught, and his disciples kept waiting for him to bring in the kingdom the way they expected, to right all the wrongs. But he was crucified.
He’s getting ready to ascend, and so they ask again, “Are you going to restore the kingdom? Is our waiting over now?”
Jesus had one more command, in Acts 1. He says, “Don’t leave Jerusalem, but wait.” So they did. They waited in the upper room, and the Holy Spirit came.
But that didn’t mean the time of waiting was over for the human race. Paul writes in Romans 8, “We ourselves who have the first fruits of the Spirit groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see we wait for it with patience.”
We wait and we wait. Forty-three times in the Old Testament the people are commanded, “Wait on the Lord.”
This runs all the way through the Bible to the very last words. In the last chapter of Revelation, John closes by saying, “The one who testifies to these things says, ‘Behold, I am coming soon.’” It may not seem like it, but in light of eternity, it’s soon. Hang on. And then John writes, “Amen, even so. Come Lord Jesus.” All right. We’ll hang on. But come. We’re waiting for you.
Obvious question: why? Why does God make us wait? If he can do anything and if he’s all-loving, why doesn’t he bring us relief and answers now?
I certainly don’t understand all of this, but I believe at least in part, to paraphrase Ben Patterson, what’s going on is this: What God does in us while we wait is as important as what it is we’re waiting for.
Paul says while we’re waiting for God to set everything right, we suffer. But suffering produces perseverance, and perseverance produces character, and character produces hope. God is producing these qualities in us while we wait. What that means is that biblically, waiting is not just something we have to do until we get what we want. Waiting is part of the process of becoming what God wants us to be.
In the time that remains tonight, I want to talk about what it means to wait on the Lord. First I want to say one word about what biblical waiting is not.
Biblical waiting is not passive waiting around for something or someone to come along that will allow you to escape from your trouble. People sometimes say “I’m just waiting on the Lord” as an excuse not to face up to reality, take appropriate action, or own up to their responsibility. That is not what waiting on the Lord is.
I’ve heard of people with horrible financial habits—impulsive spending or refusal to save money—get into a huge money mess and say, “We’re waiting on the Lord to provide.” That’s not biblical waiting. Waiting on the Lord in this case does not mean sitting around hoping you will get a letter from Nordstrom’s saying, “Bank error in your favor, collect $200.” That falls under the general theological category of “don’t be stupid.”
Waiting on the Lord in this case probably means dragging your self to a good sense seminar and learning about biblical principles for a life of stewardship. Biblical waiting is not passive; it’s not a way to evade unpleasant reality.
Waiting on the Lord is a confident, disciplined, expectant, active, sometimes painful clinging to God. Waiting on the Lord is the continual, daily decision to say, “God, I will trust you and I will obey you even though the circumstances of my life are not turning out the way I want them to, and they may never turn out the way I want them to. I’m betting everything on you, God, and there is no Plan B.” That’s waiting on the Lord. It’s the hardest work of hoping.
Waiting on the Lord requires a trusting heart.
There are three requirements to waiting on the Lord.
The first is this: waiting on the Lord requires patient trust. Will I trust that God has good reasons for telling me to wait? I don’t know what they are. But will I trust that God knows what he’s doing? Will I remember that things look different to God because he views things from eternity?
This is what Peter writes about (2 Peter 3:8-9): “But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord, one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise as some think of slowness but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.”
God has a different perspective. An economist read this passage and was quite amazed by it and talked to God about it. “Lord, is it true that a thousand years for us is just like one minute to you?”
The Lord said, “Yes.”
The economist said, “Well then, a million dollars to us must be like one penny to you.”
The Lord said, “Well, yes.”
The economist said, “Well, Lord, will you give me one of those pennies?”
The Lord said, “All right, I will. Wait here a minute.”
Often we want God’s resources, but we don’t want his timing. We want the penny but not the minute. We want his hand, but we don’t want his calendar. We forget his work in us while we wait, which is as important as what it is you’re waiting for. Waiting means I must trust that God knows what he’s doing.
Maybe you’re single. We live in a society where often the assumption is that marriage is normal and singleness is not. You feel the pain of that stigma. Maybe you feel a legitimate longing for intimacy. Waiting is so hard, and maybe there’s a relationship at your fingertips that promises to take that loneliness away. But you know that relationship is not honoring to God. Maybe you know in your heart that this is not the right person. Maybe this person does not share your ultimate commitment to God. Maybe this person is putting pressure on you to be involved sexually even though you’re not married. But because of the pain, you’re tempted to think, I’ve been waiting long enough. I’m going to reach out for whatever satisfaction I can get in this life and worry about the consequences later.
So I’m asking you, if you’re in that situation, will you wait on the Lord? Will you courageously say, “OK, God. I will take you at your word. I will not get hooked up with a relationship that I know would dishonor you and bring damage to the souls of those involved. I will seek to build the best life I can right here where I am. Not knowing what tomorrow holds and even though I sometimes feel like nobody in the world understands how painful it is, I’ll trust you. I will wait.”
Will you do that? Maybe you have a dream about certain things that you’d love to accomplish, a mark you’d like to make, something about your work or your ministry, and for reasons you don’t understand, what you always hope for is not happening. You don’t know why; you just know it hurts. And you are tempted to try to force things to happen, to manipulate, or to use people. Or maybe you’re tempted to give up ever trying to realize the potential God has given you and just drift along. Will you have the patience neither to try to force it nor to quit, but wait patiently on God?
Continue to learn about your giftedness. Humbly and openly receive feedback and coaching from others. Grow in the truth one step at a time and trust God’s plan for you rather than what it is you think you need.
This last week I read one of the most beautiful pictures of waiting on God that I’ve ever seen. Many of you know Henri Nouwen, who died just a year or two ago. Not long before his death, he wrote a book called Sabbatical Journeys. He writes about some friends of his who were trapeze artists. They were with the circus, and their lives had an effect on him. They were called The Flying Roudellas. One thing they told Henri Nouwen is that there’s a very special relationship between the flyer and the catcher on the trapeze. The flyer is the one that lets go, and the catcher is the one that catches. As you might imagine, this relationship is important—especially to the flyer. When the flyer is swinging high above the crowd on the trapeze, the moment comes when he must let go. He arcs out into the air, and his job is to remain as still as possible and to wait for the strong hands of the catcher to pluck him from the air. This trapeze artist told Nouwen, “The flyer must never try to catch the catcher.” The flyer must wait in absolute trust. The catcher will catch him. But he must wait.
Some of you are in a vulnerable moment right now. You have let go of what it is God has called you to let go of, but you can’t feel God’s hand catching you yet. And you want to start flailing around. Will you wait in absolute trust? Will you be patient? Waiting requires patient trust. That’s the first thing waiting on God requires. The second one is this: Waiting on the Lord requires confident humility. Isaiah wrote these words: “the fruit of righteousness will be peace.” The effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever. The result of righteousness, the prophet says, will be these two character qualities: confidence - the conviction that God is able and a fearless orientation towards the future – and, oddly, quietness. This is the opposite of arrogance and boasting. It’s the humble recognition of my limits. Waiting is something by its nature that only the humble can do—or at least only the humble can do it with grace. To wait for something is to recognize I am not in control. I’m not calling the shots; the timing is not up to me. In our society, there’s a direct correlation between status and waiting. The higher your status, the less you have to wait. Waiting reminds me I’m not in charge. I’m the creature. But, we’re not just waiting around; we’re waiting on God. And God is doing something in us.
Therefore we can trust his wisdom and his timing, and we can wait with confidence. Therefore the single most important activity for people waiting on God is prayer. Prayer is the primary form that waiting on God takes.
It’s prayer that allows creatures, humbled human beings, to wait without worry. Recently, I had a night where I could not sleep and was troubled by all kinds of thoughts—“what-if” kinds of thoughts. What if I don’t get what I think I so desperately need? What if some things don’t turn out the way that I desperately want them to turn out? These were frantic voices inside me, and there was a semblance of truth in what they said—bad things can happen, but those words didn’t lead to life. The next morning I was reading in Mark 4 where Jesus and his friends are in the boat during a storm. They become frantic and panic. Remember what Jesus is doing in the boat? He’s sleeping. The disciples wake him up, and he says to them, “Pipe down,” and he says to the storm, “Pipe down,” and everything becomes calm. This story struck me as an example of one aspect of life that God does not experience. Jesus experienced nearly every human emotion, including sorrow, joy, pain, tiredness, anger and hope. But there’s one aspect of our lives that God never experiences: God’s never frantic. God never panics. God is never in a hurry. That gets irritating to those of us who are in a hurry. But God never is.
Lastly, it is important for us to learn how to recognize God’s voice. How do you learn to recognize anybody’s voice? You pick up the phone, and if you know somebody well you know their voice. It’s by experience. You’ve listened to it many times, and it has a certain tone. One thing you need to know about God is God’s voice is never frantic. When you hear desperate thoughts, or panicky thoughts, that’s not God’s voice. God’s voice will never lead you into panicky desperation. When you find yourself being led into panicky desperation, you can know that you are not listening to the voice of God. “My sheep know my voice,” Jesus said. It’s the voice of the shepherd who cares for his sheep. Always. We wait with confident humility. We can be confident because God’s leading us. We express humility because we are not in charge; we have to wait.
Waiting on the Lord requires inextinguishable hope. For in hope we were saved. Hope that is seen, Paul wrote, is not hope, for who hopes for what is seen? In other words, if I already had it I wouldn’t have to hope for it. But if we hope for what we do not see, what we cry out for and hunger and thirst for but don’t yet experience, we do so with patience. In the Bible we find a most wonderful promise attached to waiting on the Lord.
What we wait for is not more important than what happens to us while we’re waiting. The one we wait for will be worth the wait. He will.
Even youths will faint and be weary and the young will fall exhausted. There is a limit to the strength of the strongest human being. “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles. They shall run and not grow weary. They shall walk and not faint (Isaiah 40:30-31).”