How Do You Wait on the Lord? (Hint: “Just Trust God” Isn’t the Answer.)

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What does it take to wait on the Lord?

Actually, let’s back up slightly. “Wait on the Lord” can be Christian-speak that doesn’t actually connect with real life. Try this. What does it take to have real joy even in the midst of chronic pain? How can you live with an unsaved spouse, or no spouse, a vindictive boss, crushing medical expenses, a stagnant economy – in short, all the hard and hurtful things that come from being a sinner in a world of sinners – and still have hope, peace, and contentment in God? That’s waiting on the Lord: your circumstances don’t change, your prayers are unanswered, and there’s nothing you can do about it. But instead of becoming bitter, turning your back on God, numbing the pain with alcohol or pornography or three tubs of Ben and Jerry’s, you keep praying, keep trusting, keep obeying God. How do you do that?

That’s what Psalm 33 is about. Here’s how the psalm ends:

Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you. (Psalm 33:20-22)

Pause. Don’t read this and think, Okay, I need to be glad in God. I need to trust God more. If I could do that, then I’d be able to wait on him. That’s a bland, tasteless, monotone walk with God. This is the end of the psalm. There’s a rich foundation of truth that needs to be laid before we can say with the psalmist, “Our soul waits for the Lord.” Here’s why the psalmist – and why we – can wait on God with vibrant confidence.

God will never do you wrong. Verses 3-4 are filled with proclamations of God’s uprightness:

For the word of the LORD is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness. He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD.

God doesn’t have a half-hearted commitment to doing things right as long as it doesn’t interfere with the bottom line. He loves righteousness and justice. All his works are done in faithfulness. He fills the earth with his faithful love. You can’t wait on a God who might cut corners – but you can wait on a God who will never do you wrong.

God spoke the universe into existence.Wait. What does that have to do with my circumstances? Everything, actually. Any situation that requires you to wait on God will carry with it the temptation to develop tunnel vision: this trial, this need is the final measure of God’s goodness, God’s power, God’s love. If you do ______, then I’ll trust you. Verses 6-9 explodes tunnel vision. The Big Dipper, the Himalayas, and the Mariana Trench were child’s play for God. He’s not challenged…by anything. But this isn’t merely information to browbeat you into submission. Connect verses 6-9 with v.5b: “the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.” The Creator of all is the God of steadfast love. No part of his world is absent from his love; everything in creation is his servant, awaiting his command to show steadfast love to his people. To you. You can wait on that kind of God.

God finishes his “to-do” list. No human plan ever goes perfectly. Something is always out of our control. Something is always left undone. Not so for God. He deliberately frustrates the plans of those who oppose him, but his plans are always accomplished:

The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations. (Vv.10-11)

At the end of every day, and at the end of all days, God can say, “My goals have been completed.” When you wait on people, you’re always left wondering if something beyond their control will prevent them from showing up. God is not like that. You can wait on the God whose counsel stands forever.

Nothing and no one else but God can give salvation. After talking about God, the psalmist now talks about us:

The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue. (Vv. 16-17)

These aren’t the only options for false hopes. We’re invited to personalize these. A ________ is a vain hope for salvation. How do you fill in the blank? Steady pay check? Romantic relationship? Control over your schedule? The perfect diet? After all the psalm has told us about God, we’re prepared to say, “This, too, is a vain hope for salvation.” But look what a promise awaits those who turn from false saviors to the true God:

“Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, that he may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine.” (Vv.18-19)

Who is it that God delivers from death and provides for in famine or want? Those who fear him – that’s the right response to his majesty and glory – and hope in him – the right response to his steadfast love freely offered in Jesus.

And now we’re back where we started:

Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you. (Psalm 33:20-22)

Where do you need to wait on the Lord? Don’t settle for a clichéd, “I just need to trust the Lord.” Listen to Psalm 33: we wait for a God who will never do us wrong, who spoke reality into existence, who accomplishes all his plans, who freely offers the only salvation that truly saves. And then speak back to this God. He’s worth waiting for.

Photo by Magdalena.

All The Things God Is Doing When It Looks Like He Is Doing Nothing

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I am a full-fledged member of the instant generation. I want what I want, and I want it RIGHT NOW! I want to watch television shows on demand. What do you mean I have to wait until next summer for new episodes? I want them now. When I send you a text message, I expect you to get back to me immediately. Ain’t nobody got time to wait around ten of fifteen minutes! I need you to respond NOW! When I select “Two Day Shipping” on Amazon, I expect that package to arrive at my front door in exactly two days. I don’t want any excuses about shipping plant fires, UPS workers strikes, or snakes on a plane. I want immediate results. And if you have the guts to post a video on YouTube, it better play right away without any buffering. Otherwise I’m out. I’ve got other, really important videos to watch, mainly of people putting Mentos into bottles of Coke.

I have been trained, for good or for bad, to expect immediate results.

The only problem is that God doesn’t usually do immediate. He doesn’t usually do fast. He doesn’t do overnight shipping. He works according to his timeline, not mine. And the wonderful reality, is that God is usually doing a thousand things when it looks like he’s doing absolutely nothing.

While Joseph sat in prison, it appeared that God wasn’t doing anything. He probably felt forgotten, abandoned, discarded. He probably felt useless. Meanwhile, God was doing a thousand things as Joseph sat idly in prison. God was preparing Joseph’s brother’s for reconciliation, Pharaoh to receive Joseph as from God, and the entire nation of Egypt to depend on Joseph as a wise steward of food.

While David was a fugitive, on the run from Saul, it appeared that God wasn’t doing anything. David probably felt like his best years were being wasted. Like his talent was going to waste. Meanwhile, God was doing a thousand things while David hid in caves and pretended to be insane. God was working on David himself, preparing David to be a man after his own heart. He was teaching David to trust him and to wait on him. And he was preparing Israel to receive their divinely appointed king.

While John Bunyan sat in prison, it appeared that God wasn’t doing anything. Bunyan probably felt like his ministry was being hampered and hamstrung. He was a gospel preacher who wasn’t able to preach the gospel. Meanwhile, God was doing a thousand things while Bunyan languished in his jail cell. God was preparing Bunyan to write the book that would be read by millions and would inspire millions to love the Lord. Bunyan’s prison cell was the womb for Pilgrim’s Progress.

Just because I can’t see God working doesn’t mean he isn’t working. It may seem like my prayers for my children are pointless, because I can’t see anything happening. But my prayers aren’t useless. God is working, and someday I will see the glorious fruit of those prayers. It may seem like my prayers for spiritual growth are futile, because I can’t see much spiritual growth. But my prayers aren’t futile. God is working, and someday I’ll see the fruit of my prayers. It may seem like my prayers for reconciliation with a friend are wasted, because I can’t see anything happening. But my prayers aren’t wasted. God is working, and someday I’ll see the delightful fruit of my prayers.

Just because I can’t see God working doesn’t mean God isn’t working. God is doing a thousand things when it seems like he’s doing nothing.

Man Finally Finds Calling At Age 80

We live in the age of the instant. Our information is delivered to us in real-time, nugget sized bites. An earthquake rumbles in Virginia and the information arrives in Washington D.C. before the tremors do. The birth of a child is instantly blasted onto Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for all to see and rejoice. When I have a bad customer experience I can do an instant cathartic venting session to all my online friends. If a YouTube video takes more than six seconds to load I stop watching it. I mean, seriously, who’s got that kind of time to spare?

I. Hate. Waiting. With a zealous passion that probably borders on the psychopathic.

I would rather drive the long way to get somewhere than sit in stand-still traffic, even if sitting in traffic will get me to my destination faster. I would rather have a sharp stick to the eye than wait in the DMV. Don’t tell me the video needs to buffer. Don’t tell it’s going to be an hour until we can get a table. Don’t tell me my item is back-ordered and will be shipped in six weeks. Waiting grates against every high-speed, now, now, now fiber in my body. And this is a problem.

Why is it a problem? Because God does some of his deepest, most profound, most heart-changing work in times of waiting.

Moses was approximately eighty years old when he met God at the burning bush (Acts 7:30). Eighty! By the time most people hit eighty they are getting ready to sink the last putt on the last hole. Their life is winding down, literally and figuratively. They’ve accomplished just about everything they’re going to accomplish. They’re not going through an end of life crisis. And yet God saved Moses’ greatest public work for the last third of his life.

For the first forty years of his life Moses was a big man about town. He was a Prince of Egypt. He was a public figure doing important things. Then Moses killed a man and was forced into hiding. Moses spent the next forty years in the desert doing nothing. Well, not nothing. He was a shepherd. But he certainly wasn’t doing public ministry of any sort. He wasn’t writing books or going on a speaking tour or leading people. He didn’t have a popular blog or podcast. He was shearing sheep and fighting off predators and cleaning up sheep poop. Not too glamorous.

What was God doing in Moses during those forty desert years? He was doing heart work. 

As Moses tended the sheep God tended Moses’ heart. He taught Moses to lead the people of Israel by first teaching him to tend sheep. As Moses worked with sheep God was preparing his heart to work with people. Faithful in little, faithful in much. Faithful in waiting, faithful in moving.

Forty years is such a long time! I haven’t even been alive for forty years. And yet that’s how long it took God to get Moses ready. God seems to be like that. His time frame is so much longer than ours and he works so much slower than we would like. Which I guess is appropriate given the fact that he’s God and he has the appropriate perspective. It’s just that most of the time I wish God could move a little quicker. My time frame is usually in hours, days, and if it’s a really long wait, months. God’s time frame is millenia.

Slowness seems to be God’s preferred method of operation. It was years between God’s promise of a son to Abraham and the birth of that son. During those waiting years God pressed and shaped and molded Abraham’s faith. It was years between David’s annointing as king and his ascension to the throne. As David was hiding in caves and dodging spears God was doing heart work on David. He was making David into a man after his own heart.

We tend to chafe when it comes to waiting. We want God to move and we want him to move now. We want him to save our child right now. We want him to provide financially right now. We want him to 0pen a barren womb right now. We want him to deliver us from illness right now. We want him to provide a spouse right now. When God doesn’t come through quickly we start to complain and challenge God.

I’m not trying to minimize the pain or challenge of waiting in any way. Waiting is really hard and emotionally taxing. But as we wait let’s embrace the heart work God is doing in us. What is God teaching you as you wait? Is he teaching you to trust his promises more fully? Is he teaching you to rely on provision more heavily? Is he teaching you to rest in care more completely?

As we wait let’s remember the words of Peter regarding the coming of Christ:

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

God may move slowly but he knows what he’s doing.

+original photo by robstephaustralia

Murphy’s Law or God’s Law?

When my Dad was in the army in World War II, waiting in line was a way of life.

Waiting in line to get your paycheck, waiting in line for dinner, waiting to see the movies, waiting to get clothing and equipment. He waited in so many lines he promised himself that after the war he’d never wait in line again. Until he found himself back home, once again waiting in line, with my mother to see a movie.

We can’t escape waiting, much as we’d like to. Murphy’s law says that no matter what lane of traffic we switch to, the other goes faster. And how is it that the cashier who’s never touched a cash register takes over as soon as I get in line? And I don’t even want to mention waiting in airports. Waiting is part of our lives.

Waiting is part of our spiritual lives. Waiting isn’t Murphy’s Law but God’s law. I’m waiting for him to heal family members. Waiting for him to change me and help me. Waiting for God to work in my children. Waiting for guidance.

Lamentations 3:24-26 says, “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,“therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him,to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.

Waiting is an act of faith. Because in waiting for the Lord, we are saying, Lord I trust in you. I hope in you. I have confidence that as I wait, you are being good to me and you are acting on my behalf. I’m trusting you for grace to come. Faith waits confidently for the Lord to fulfill his promises.

God’s word is filled with promises of future blessings. Promises we must wait for. Promises for our children. Promises to give us all we need to glorify him. Promises to protect us and keep us. Promises we wait for in faith.

James exhorts us, Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains (5:7). Farmers wait in patient faith. They don’t go out and dig up the seeds every day to check if they’re growing. They trust that the rains have activated them underground and they’re growing. There will be a harvest. That’s how we wait for the promise of the Lord’s coming. We don’t see it, but something is happening. The Lord will come.

That’s how we wait in faith for God. God is at work in my children. At work in me. Like the rain at work in the seeds in the ground. And someday there will be a harvest. While we are waiting, keep watering God’s promises by prayer and thanksgiving. Ask God to fulfill his promises. And thank him that he will. Thank him for the grace that is coming.

Waiting is an act of faith. While we are waiting and trusting, God is working.

(Originally published October 24, 2007)

Sentries In The Box Of Patience

Certain saints are summoned to active marching duty, and others are ordered to keep watch on the walls. There are warriors on the field of conflict and sentries in the box of patience. –Charles Spurgeon

There’s nothing more frustrating than wanting to do something for God, and not being able to.

At times we want to be out on the front lines serving God and we find ourselves keeping watch on the walls.  Every believer will have times like this.  And some are “sidelined” longer than others.  It might be because of a sickness or an accident.  It might be because of persecution.  And when we find ourselves in a spiritual holding pattern, there’s nothing we can do to get out of it but pray.

In times of waiting we can feel worthless, like we’re not bearing fruit for God.  We can feel hopeless and tempted to despair.

But as Spurgeon said, waiting is something God calls us to.  The Bible’s full of stories of men and women who found themselves sentries in the box of patience.

Moses wanted to lead Israel out of Egyptian slavery, but after taking things into his own hands and killing an Egyptian, had to flee to the backside of the desert for 40 years.  Can you imagine those 40 years for Moses tending flocks in the desert?  He may have thought he’d totally blown his chance to be useful to God.

Joseph spent years in an Egyptian prison.  He too may have felt like God had set him aside.

David spent a long time in the desert running and hiding from Saul before he finally became the king of Israel.

Jesus spent 30 years in obscurity before he began his public ministry.  He was tempted in every way we are except without sin. He surely was tempted to impatience at times.  Even Jesus himself had to spend time as a sentry in the box of patience.

Paul spent a lot of time in prison and John was exiled to the island of Patmos.  So when God calls us to wait, it’s nothing he hasn’t called multitudes of saints to before us.

When God calls us to wait, it doesn’t mean he isn’t actively at work in our lives.

Sometimes God makes us wait to teach us to trust and depend on him.  Waiting humbles us – it reminds us that we’re very limited creatures.  Waiting reminds us God is in control and our times are in his hands.  Waiting strengthens our prayer lives as we seek God again and again for an answer.  Waiting makes us compassionate toward others in their trials.  Waiting builds patience, faithfulness and long-suffering.  And waiting makes us all the more grateful when the wait is over.

Do you feel like you’re in a holding pattern right now?

The best thing you can do is thank and praise God your life and all he’s working in you now.  Ask him for whatever you desire, ask him to change your situation, and ask him for grace should he keep you there.  Pray for saints whose wait is much harder than yours, like persecuted believers in prison camps in North Korea.  Pray for brothers and sisters you know who are suffering much worse than you and waiting for an answer from God.