Waiting and Waiting

“What are you waiting for?”

We are all waiting for something. How many times have we asked, or been asked that question–“What are you waiting for?”

the start of school…
career…
an acceptance letter…
a grade…
romance…
marriage…
a pregnancy…
health…
validation…
death…
justice…
reconciliation…

Life is a series of waits. When I was growing up, my mom rotated through about ten wise sayings, and we kids really did not appreciate any of them. But one of the least favorites was, “God’s timing is always perfect,” usually expressed with a demeanor of utter calm while she careened our van toward whatever appointment we were late for. As usual, she was right, unfortunately.

She knew that there is a right way and a wrong way to wait. And that spiritually speaking, waiting is a good thing.  

I want to be careful here not to imply that God withholds blessings from us as a test of character or a proof of our fitness to enter heaven–God does not use waiting as a management training tool or a punishment. I don’t even think that God chooses to make us wait; I think maybe having to wait for things is just a part of life. But I do think that when we find ourselves longing for our next step and feeling like it just isn’t coming, our loving God thinks in those moments, “This could be good for our relationship.”

We Christ-followers are notoriously terrible at waiting well even for minor conveniences. Like Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride, we “hate waiting.” People who design our favorite projects have caught on to this. Have you all experienced the wondrous invention of the Skip Intro button on Netflix? They made that because we are so lousy at waiting. (And I am so grateful.)  Because we hate waiting so much, we develop unhealthy tendencies all intended to force the thing that we’re waiting for into our present moment. I have two default strategies when my way isn’t coming fast enough – I agonize, or I create my own solution.

Because God lives to meet with us, and God is able to meet with us in a special way in our waiting. In our waiting, we seek God more. In our waiting, we recognize that we don’t have control. When waiting, we just might approach God in a whole new way.

Agonizing

We all know what it feels like to agonize over something that is out of our control. This approach to waiting involves hang-wringing, watching the clock, checking the phone over and over, refreshing the webpage and a lot of sighing. Instead of letting go or choosing to trust, we fill the waiting time with as much anxious movement as possible.

Have you seen that commercial where Cookie Monster has cookies baking in the oven and struggles to wait for them to finish? It would be funnier if it weren’t so relatable. Agonizing over waiting is particularly common for the perfectionists among us. But have you noticed that one of the problems with leaning in to anxiety and complaining is that once the thing we’ve anticipated finally comes, it’s a letdown? Our desires can’t live up to the life we’ve given them in our heads. We fill our seasons of waiting so full of nerves that we can’t hear God’s voice or feel God’s presence. God can only be “the Lord with us” if we acknowledge the presence and comfort of God’s Spirit.

David from the Old Testament was the anti-Cookie Monster. We may know more about David than about any other character in Scripture because his life was chronicled from his childhood to his death – including his personal journal and songbook! This is a guy who was willing to wait as long as it took for God’s promises to take effect. And in his waiting he was neither anxious nor passive. He did not receive God’s promise and then spend the next 20 years complaining to anyone who would listen that the throne was rightfully his. Never once do we hear that David complained about Saul’s continued reign – in fact, over and over David honors Saul as the king more than any of his companions is willing to do.

So when he writes in the book of Psalms about waiting on God, we know that he knew what he was talking about.

This guy who knows a thing or two about waiting says to wait “on the Lord” and not “to fret.” We should listen to him. When Scripture says “be still,” we all are expected to obey that command. Trust is not easy, especially for certain Myers-Briggs types and Enneagram numbers, but it is required of all of us. Without complaining, without agonizing, wait on the Lord. It’s an active waiting, but not a nervous one.

Solving the problem

The Old Testament writer gave us a literary foil for David. His name was Abner. Abner was the general in the story, the cousin and right-hand man of King Saul. Abner was no slouch – he got things done. But they were usually Abner’s things, not God’s. When it comes to making up my own solution rather than waiting for God’s timing, I am much more of an Abner than a David.

We don’t have a ton of information about Abner in Scripture, but the few times when his name does pop up are telling. One of the first times we hear about him is in the story of David and Goliath, and I love this moment. Scripture says,

If this conversation happened today, I think it would sound like, “Hey Abner, who on earth is this kid?” “Dude, I have no idea.” After David succeeded in killing Goliath, it was Abner who escorted him to King Saul for their first full introduction.

We hear brief mentions of Abner over the next few chapters, and the only thing of note is that Abner is always, always by Saul’s side. He clearly occupies a place of importance. If Abner is one of those people who gets their personal fulfillment from meeting the needs of others, then I suspect that he is fairly happy during these years. Who needs God’s presence when you have a co-dependent relationship, amirite?

Abner then steals the entire show in 2 Samuel chapters 2-3. Saul has just died, and Abner has therefore lost his liege, friend and partner in power. In this time of crisis, Abner does not seek God as David did. Instead, he takes matters into his own hands like I probably would. He installs Ish-bosheth, Saul’s progeny, as king and then rides out with the king’s army to pick a fight with David. Same old story. Alongside Saul, Abner had only practiced doing things his own way, so when the crisis came and he needed to make a choice that affected an entire nation, he did not wait, he did not seek God’s direction – he fell upon his habits of control and mistrust, and that decision resulted in violent deaths for many of his soldiers. The thing is, it didn’t matter what a great warrior and general Abner was – those skills meant nothing when they were matched up against God’s presence with David. David remained in God’s presence and experienced God’s pleasure, while Abner avoided God’s presence and experienced God’s displeasure. Abner serves as a literary foil for David. Scripture says that David’s rule grew stronger and stronger while Abner’s power grew weaker and weaker.

David = the good example of waiting

Another one of my mom’s awful sayings during my childhood, one which I believe Kristen Bell co-opted from her in Frozen II, was “Just do the next right thing.” Don’t skip ten steps forward or worry over what you can’t do yet—figure out the best step you can take right now, and do that. David mastered this practice.

Over the 20 or so years between his calling to be king and the crowning moment we read about today, David literally had multiple opportunities to take the situation into his own hands and make himself king. Twice he spared King Saul’s life, even when his advisors urged him to take it. Even after Saul died, David did not elbow his way to Saul’s castle in Jerusalem. He took the much smaller seat of authority where it was vacant in Judah. For seven whole years, David ruled over a sub-section of the territory he had been promised, perhaps wondering if God ever intended to give him the whole kingdom.

I think he must have known that if he had seized this moment prematurely and forced it to happen on his own timing, he would have lost the peaceful knowledge that he was exactly where God wanted him to be.

Not until Saul’s last heir was assassinated and his murderers were punished did David assume rule over the whole kingdom.

Everyone knew. Everyone around David knew that he was destined to be their leader. His calling and anointing were no secret—do you think David might have encountered some advice along the way to be a little more selfish than he was? Do you think, perhaps, his companions encouraged him to do what was good for him?  

Instead, David asked for God’s direction for each move that he faced, and then he did whatever God said to do. He waited, but he was active in his waiting. Reading the chapters from 1 Samuel 17 where David fights Goliath to 2 Samuel 5 where David is crowned king is way more entertaining than any soap opera. Conspiracies, forbidden love, displays of valor, betrayals, escapes, lies–it’s the original Game of Thrones in there. But if you read closely, you’ll see that the one common thread that ties together each daring escapade is an ongoing conversation between David and God. David asks God whom to attack, whether to retreat, where to live, and how to fight. And God answers. He justifies his unpopular decisions by explaining to his men that he cannot defy God’s orders. David doesn’t look for legal loopholes; he obeys a moral law.

Waiting on God

You know, David’s life foreshadows Jesus’ life in so many ways… minus the area of sexual decision-making. Jesus discerned his calling from a very young age, but like David, he didn’t begin to fulfill it until he was 30 years old. While there aren’t many details about how Jesus spent his time during those years of waiting, we do know that by the time he started living out his call, he had perfected two important practices: memorizing Scripture and taking every care to God in prayer. I believe that all those years of waiting for his time in ministry were essential practice in spiritual disciplines.

So we start waiting upon God—not agonizing over things that don’t matter, not looking the other way, not taking matters into our own hands—but actively waiting upon God. Doing the next right thing. Seeking God’s direction honestly, and then following it. Relinquishing control over our own lives, as painful as that is.

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