Monday, February 25, 2013

Waiting on the Lord

"Waiting for God” was a British sitcom (1990-1994) about a two rebellious residents of a retirement home. It has been shown on American PBS stations over the years.

The title is a comically bleak reference to death, all the residents have to look forward to, so the two of them (Tom, whose dementia seems partly feigned, and the gruff Diana) decide to raise some hell. After yesterday's post, I was still thinking about the scriptural subject of “waiting for (or on) the Lord.” There are numerous Bible passages that concern this subject: Psalm 27:14, 39:7, 52:8-9, 62:1-12, Lamentations 3:25, Isaiah 40:29-31 (that one is quite well known and affirming), Isaiah 51:1, Galatians 6:9, and numerous others. In the New Testament, the theme of waiting connects not only to God’s providential care for our lives but also the Christ’s second coming.

I don’t wait well. Being stuck in traffic or a slow line, etc., make me anxious, although I think I’m more patient today than I used to be, thanks to self-calming strategies that are helpful. My family might dispute that, LOL, but I see my own slow progress. Nevertheless, impatience is a common trait, and a sermon I preached on this subject years ago became a real connection among several of us who fail to have inner peace while waiting.

Waiting on the Lord is difficult because we don’t know God’s timing or all God’s purposes. Just because we’ve “claimed a promise” about God’s provision, doesn’t mean that God is obligated to act in that way, or according to our timing. In my experience, I’ve felt both very let down by God and thankful for God’s care, within a “big picture” context of God’s ongoing and faithful provision for me and my family.

It’s a tricky balance to live one’s life conscious of the importance of waiting for God. On one hand, God wants us to “be still” and trust in God (Ps. 46:10), and not always take matters in our own hands. For instance, some of us try to browbeat others to believe or behave like we do. But we need to trust the Lord to work in those persons’ lives, according to the Spirit’s timing, not ours---and, after all, maybe the Spirit wants us to see things in ourselves to change.  

On the other hand, Gal. 6:9 and other verses indicate that we’re going to be active in our faith, and we might grow weary and discouraged in our efforts to serve the Lord. If I’m waiting on the Lord to the extent that I’m doing nothing, that’s the wrong approach, too. (Remember that corny joke about the person who refused the help rescuers in a flood, because he was trusting the Lord's help. When he was killed in the flood and went to heaven, he protested that he’d prayed for God’s help, and St. Peter tells him, “We sent two boats and a helicopter!”)

Waiting on the Lord is a balance: neither absolute stillness and inactivity, nor frantic productivity that tacitly indicates we don’t really trust God to work unless we cover all the bases ourselves beforehand. My own struggle is definitely the latter.

Waiting on the Lord is also important to keep in mind when we face disappointments in life: people who got promoted instead of us, illness that struck, opportunities that never opened up, prayers that we can’t perceive were ever answered, people's coldness. We become insecure about many things. We can’t always turn off our painful feelings and the strategies we use to feel better and cover ourselves. But we can address those feelings and strategies by focusing upon the Lord, who does not disdain our human struggles.

“Waiting on the Lord” is a matter of dependency on God, and many of us don’t like to be dependent on anyone, including God. But that Isaiah 40:29-31 passage indicates that waiting is a source of great strength and renewal.

He gives power to the faint,
   and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
   and the young will fall exhausted;
but those 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.

That’s a wonderful promise for those of us for whom waiting just upsets us and freaks us out.

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