Waiting On God
It is not my nature to be patient; I much prefer to plan and to act rather than to quietly sit back and wait for something to happen. Perhaps it is for this very reason that God has led me into the waiting room of life, time and time again where I have had to learn to sit quiet and still, waiting for Him. For me, the most difficult part of waiting is the uncertainty of the future. Wouldn’t it be so much easier to wait if we had a time schedule in front of us? If we could peek into the next chapter, or perhaps even the last page of the book to know how the story would end? As it is, we have no way of knowing when or how God will act. Perhaps it would be much easier if we did know, but then again, if we did, we would never learn to trust Him. Our faith would be a very weak and shallow one if it was never tried through the furnace of waiting. Often it is in the midst of the exceptionally difficult external situations that God gives us the opportunity to grow spiritually beyond ourselves. As we wait, we grow, and we are sanctified.
Waiting on God is no passive thing. Our lives are not put on hold until God answers our prayer in the way that we hope for and grants us the desire of our heart. Every second of every minute, of every hour, of every day, of every week, of every month, of every year we are to be living actively by faith. What does it look like to live by faith in a season of waiting though? Here are four practices I am learning through a season of waiting: trust, surrender, prayer, and worship.
Sometimes God’s answer is not a clear yes, nor is it a clear no, sometimes His answer is “Trust Me.” This may mean that you are to remain single for the rest of your life, or it may mean that you are to be married someday. This may mean that you are to remain childless, or it may mean that God will one day give you the gift of children. This may mean that your loved one is not given the healing you so fervently pray for, or it may mean that God will miraculously restore their health completely. This is what trust is all about. It goes into operation when there are no answers and we are perplexed, as sheep needing a Shepherd. Waiting on God is a willed and deliberate act of trust. We are not at the mercy of our circumstances; we can choose to trust God. This is what the old hymn writer meant when he wrote: “I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name”. The word “frame”, in Old English, was the equivalent of- feelings, emotions, moods. We dare not trust our feelings and emotions, but wholly lean on Christ. Trusting God has nothing to do with our feelings, it is a matter of choice. It is choosing to respond in a way that doesn’t seem humanly natural. We must leave whatever it is we are longing for in the hands of the Giver. Trust requires us to say “Yes, Lord, I will take it” to whatever He has in store for us.
The Lord knows better than we do what we need. He knows better than we do whether or not we are asking for bread or for a stone, for a fish or for a snake (Luke 11:11). Some of the things we ask for are snakes that will destroy us. A little child does not know that a third bowl of ice-cream is going to make him sick, but it is for this very reason that a loving parent tells him no. We know it is not in our child’s best interest, it is not for their good. While our children are young, they must trust their parents’ judgement. God’s children too must learn to trust and leave the judgement to Him. He has promised to supply our every need so if we were truly in need of a specific thing today, our all-wise God would ensure that we have it.
Where does your trust lie? Is it in the God who stretched out the heavens and calls the stars by name? Do you believe He is trustworthy? Do you think that the God who manages the galaxies, who designs each human fingerprint to be distinctly unique, who forms the tiniest microscopic organism with all of its complexities, who creates a baby in its mother’s womb- do you think there is a possibility that maybe He can run your life? That you can trust Him to give you what you need?
We do not know what God has in store for us. My twenty-year-old self desperately longed to return to India to serve the children there beyond the five months I had been given, but God had other plans. Instead, He chose to give me a wonderful husband and place me in a small American town where He had two other children who needed me to care for them for a season. My twenty-three-year-old self longs for the foster children in my care to remain with me the twelve months I was promised, yet I very likely may have to let them go to someone I do not know much sooner than I hoped. This is when surrender comes into play. To wait on the Lord means to give up our own ideas of how we think things should work out. To surrender ourselves to Him entirely. To hand the pen to God and let Him write the story. It is when we do not know what God has in store that we learn what it means to walk by faith.
George Muller, a man who cared for hundreds of orphans through trusting Christ completely, once wrote on how to ascertain the will of God. The first step he says is to, “seek at the beginning, to get your heart into such a state that it has no will of its own in regard to a given matter. Nine-tenths of the trouble with people generally is just here. Nine-tenths of the difficulties are overcome when our hearts are ready to do the Lord’s will, whatever it may be. When one is truly in this state, it is usually but a little way to the knowledge of what His will is.” Betty Stam, a young missionary to China who was martyred, once prayed: “Lord, I give up my own purposes and plans, all my own desires, hopes, and ambitions, and accept Thy will for my life. I give myself, my life, my all utterly to Thee, to be Thine forever. I hand over to Thy keeping all of my friendships; all the people whom I love are to take second place in my heart. Fill me and seal me with Thy Holy Spirit. Work out Thy whole will in my life, at any cost, now and forever. To me to live is Christ. Amen.” This is what it looks like to be surrendered to God. We must relinquish ourselves entirely to Him. We must be willing to get out of the way and let Him work. At times this will mean standing still as Naomi told her daughter-in-law Ruth, “Sit still my daughter until you see how the matter will fall.”
There was a time in my late teens when I was very, very sick. For a year in a half, I prayed and begged God for healing but His answer was wait. During this time my sister shared a verse that became a great comfort to me, it was Isaiah 30:15, “In rest and trust, shall be your strength.” There were days when all I could do was lie in bed and breath through the pain but in those moments, God granted strength and gave me work to do- the work of resting in Him, not in the outcome of my circumstances. “Standing still on some occasions, is the paramount duty of the follower of Christ. There are times when we must be merely onlookers, when the flesh and the brain refuse to work. Hopes shrivel like autumn leaves, and we simply do not know which way to turn. It may be just then, that we shall learn for the first time to stand still in perfect peace and quietness of soul. Not idling away our time, not hopelessly limp and heedless of the outcome but working on, in such ways as may be given to us. Observing with eager joy the way in which God will work it all out to a perfectly glorious ending. All our little fussiness and haste, all our strong anxiety and warping care are as futile as the tugging of a little child’s hands at the great iron knob at an iron gate through which His loving father does not care to have him go just then.” -from a book entitled “When Days Seem Dark.” This is what it looks like to wait on God in surrender. It is a conscience, deliberate choice to put ourselves in His presence, within those encircling arms and utterly at His disposal. It requires our cooperation, the willingness to wait in perfect resignation and total acceptance. This is how we wait.
Prayer is the action in our waiting. In seasons of waiting, we can better learn to pray as Jesus did: “Father, not my will but yours be done.” We can learn to pray as He taught us to: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” In other words, “God, just do whatever will advance your kingdom further and bring the most glory to Your Name.”
I recently read this excerpt from Charles Spurgeon’s book “Beside Still Waters” which I have found very encouraging:
The Psalmist says, “Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart. Wait, I say, on the Lord!” (Psalm 27:14) There is no real danger. You are safe while God lives, while Christ pleads, and while the Holy Spirit dwells in you. Do not be fearful and unbelieving. “Wait on the Lord; be of good courage.” Wait on the Lord as a beggar waits for a handout. We have gone to God’s door, knocked, waited and obtained gracious answers. Wait, but knock as you wait. Knock, but with fervent pleading and strong confidence, for the Lord Himself waits to be gracious. Agonize in desire. Make the door of mercy resound again and again with your resolute blows. The Lord is good to those who wait on Him. He will answer you in due time, and you will never be sent away empty-handed. It is your Father’s business to provide for You. His name is Jehovah Jireh. It is your Father’s business to preserve you. He has “given His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways. In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” (Psalm 91:11-12) It is our Father’s business to mark the future. Our eyes are dim. We cannot see tomorrow. But our Father knows all about tomorrow, and He will be ready for whatever happens. Therefore, I wait on Him. I raise no questions. I expect great mercies. Blessed are you if you also wait on Him.
Our prayers often become more fervent in our waiting- our knocks turn into “resolute blows” as Spurgeon said. At times they will be accompanied with tears, with fasting, with anguish- prayer is the work we do in our waiting.
Another pregnancy announcement had left me pondering my own struggle with infertility and failed adoptions, wondering if I would ever have children. I was home alone, my heart was heavy, the tears came freely, the prayers were lifted, and against my natural impulse I sat at the piano and began to sing:
“Jesus! I am resting, resting
In the joy of what Thou art;
I am finding out the greatness
Of Thy loving heart.
Thou hast bid me gaze upon Thee,
And Thy beauty fills my soul,
For, by Thy transforming power,
Thou hast made me whole.
Oh, how great Thy loving kindness,
Vaster, broader than the sea:
Oh, how marvelous Thy goodness,
Lavished all on me!
Yes, I rest in Thee, Beloved,
Know what wealth of grace is Thine,
Know Thy certainty of promise,
And have made it mine.
Simply trusting Thee, Lord Jesus,
I behold Thee as Thou art,
And Thy love, so pure, so changeless,
Satisfies my heart,
Satisfies its deepest longings,
Meets, supplies its every need,
Compasseth me round with blessings,
Thine is love indeed.
Ever lift Thy face upon me,
As I work and wait for Thee;
Resting ’neath Thy smile, Lord Jesus,
Earth’s dark shadows flee.
Brightness of my Father’s glory,
Sunshine of my Father’s face,
Keep me ever trusting, resting,
Fill me with Thy grace
God didn’t promise to answer all of our prayers in the way that we hope for. But even if the answer we long for never comes, God is still worthy of our worship.
There was a period of time, perhaps minutes, perhaps hours, in the deep darkness of the pit when Daniel was not yet face to face with the lions. During this time he was forced to wait, either for the wild beasts to devour him or for God to miraculously deliver him. I sometimes wonder if he used this waiting period to worship. Did he sit in the dark lion’s den singing praises to God? Did he pray? Probably so, and we all know how the story ends, God chose to deliver him. Similarly, Daniel’s three friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not know whether or not they would be delivered from the fiery furnace, or whether they would die as martyrs. They waited on God and purposed that regardless of the outcome, the only true God was the One they would bow down to and worship. “If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king.” they said, “But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” These men knew and understood that God may not deliver them, they knew that they could die, but even so, they worshipped, will we do the same?
Many of God’s people have been called to wait with no promise of deliverance. Joseph waited in prison not knowing that someday he was to be promoted to second in command. Jacob waited and wrestled with God before he met his brother Esau to find out whether he would be killed or accepted. Others have waited and not been delivered; they have suffered greatly for the name of Christ, some of them even to death. Let us follow their example and do as the old hymn says: “bear patiently the cross of grief or pain. Leave to thy God, to order and provide, in every change He faithful will remain.”
Elisabeth Elliot once prayed, “Lord, take away this longing or give me that for which I long.” She later wrote that God answered her saying, “Daughter, I must teach you to long for something better.” Ultimately waiting on God is not simply about waiting for our answered prayer, it is about waiting for something infinitely better- God Himself. God is very gracious and loves to bless His children, but it is not His blessings which will satisfy us, it is only God Himself who is able to do this.
“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might He increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for 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.” -Isaiah 40 This is the God for whom we wait. He is everlasting and unchanging. He is mighty in strength and in power. He is our Redeemer. He is our Shepherd, we shall not want. He is our Savior. He is the Creator of every living thing. He is the mighty Deliverer, the great Rescuer. He is Lord. He is Master. He is a friend to the lonely and Father to the fatherless. He is a Refuge. He is infinitely better than any other person and any other thing. Do not grow weary in your waiting for Him. “Let you heart take courage, wait on the Lord.” -Psalm 27
Grace to Endure
God calls us to endure patiently, but He does not leave us without the grace we need to endure, He will supply it in our time of need. Corrie ten Boom, in her book “The Hiding Place” shares the following story from when she was a little girl:
Father sat down on the edge of the narrow bed. “Corrie,” he began gently, “when you and I go to Amsterdam-when do I give you your ticket?” I sniffed a few times, considering this. “Why, just before we get on the train.” “Exactly. And our wise Father in heaven knows when we’re going to need things, too. Don’t run out ahead of Him, Corrie. When the time comes that some of us will have to die, you will look into your heart and find the strength you need-just in time.”
God does not give us grace for tomorrow’s burdens and sorrows, He gives us grace for today’s. Just as He told His children in the wilderness to gather only enough manna for one day at a time so that they would learn to depend on Him for their daily bread, so He desires us to trust Him for our daily dose of grace. Carrying tomorrow’s load is of no use to anyone, it will not make today, or tomorrow, any easier. We must trust God for today, be faithful in the here and now, and trust Him to supply the grace we need for tomorrow.
Do you fear the uncertainty of the future? The potential of a life of singleness, of childlessness, of chronic illness? Do you fear the loss of a loved one or a dream you have long held dear? Leave it with God. We are encircled in the arms of the everlasting, upheld in His tender, loving, and fatherly care. Is that not the safest place to be? Look to Him and wait in patience.
Thou art the God who slept upon the pillow,
Thou art the Lord who soothed the furious sea,
What matter beating wind and tossing billow
If only we are in the boat with Thee?
Hold us in quiet through the age-long minute
While Thou art silent, and the wind is shrill:
Can the boat sink while Thou, dear Lord, art in it?
Can the heart faint that waiteth on Thy will?