I hate waiting. And I don’t think I am alone; we don’t have the time to wait for the next tube so we squeeze onto the already full, airless container, bending our backs with the contours of the sides rather than wait two minutes for the next shuttle. We buy microwaveable ready meals rather than cook. We pre order Starbucks using an app so we can skip the queue. I was called Emily, then I moved to London and three syllables was too long, I became “Em”. We hate waiting.
But waiting is important.
Abram. Habakkuk. Isaiah. Simeon. Anna. Even Jesus. These guys (and girl) knew how to wait.
God promises to make Abram into a ‘great nation’ when he leaves Israel aged 75 (Genesis 12). When Abram is 99, God renews his promise to ‘greatly increase [Abram’s] numbers’, and gives Abram (which means high father) the name Abraham (father of many) as a sign of His promise (Genesis 17). But the promised son is not born until Abraham is one hundred years old!! (Genesis 21:5). It is twenty five years after God first promised Abram that he would have offspring; and with each year the fulfilment of this promise must have seemed increasingly impossible, yet God is able and faithful to his promises.
But why did God make Abram wait so long? In part it was about faith. The next chapter in Genesis details God’s call to Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac (Genesis 22). In Counterfeit Gods, Tim Keller writes that God knew Abram’s heart and therefore his faith, so it was not to prove it, but to improve it: it was only through the fire of obedience and testing that Abram’s faith would be made pure. And that faith, which had been built in the years of waiting did indeed stand up. Abraham withstood the fire and came out stronger. If he had been given Isaac immediately maybe He would not have understood that God’s ways are not our ways, and He would not have dared take Isaac to sacrifice. But Abraham knew His God. He knew God was bigger even than the son who was seemingly the answer to God’s promise. And God was glorified through Abraham’s obedience and faith.
Abraham’s story looks forward to a greater story, when another beloved son would be taken up the mountain for sacrifice, so that although Isaac partially marked the end of the wait for Abraham, he also marked out a bigger promise to wait for.
The bigger promise that is alluded to in the story of Abraham and Isaac is prophesied throughout the Old Testament, it was this revelation of which Habakkuk wrote;
For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.
And Isaiah wrote,
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6
And for which Simeon and Anna spent their lives praying, fasting and worshipping (Luke 3). The promise for which these men and women waited was fulfilled in Jesus. Or was partially fulfilled in Jesus. We are still in a time of waiting. A time of now and not yet. Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well,
‘a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.’
The time has come, but is still coming; We are still awaiting the Jesus’ return, when the veil will be lifted and we will be able to worship the Father in Spirit and in truth. So on an eternal scale we are waiting.
But often we are also waiting on the smaller scale of everyday life. Knowing that what we are currently doing is not actually where God wants us to be but unable to understand why He doesn’t hurry up and get us out. We should take heart that even Jesus had to wait until He was thirty to begin His ministry (Luke 3:23). And Jesus’ waiting time was not wasted as in this time ‘[He] grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man’ (Luke 2:52). the time out of the public eye is preparing Jesus for the time when He finally is. He is instilling patterns that continue even when he is busy because he learnt their importance. Luke 5:16 says, “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Habits like drawing on God for strength, for His identity, for his direction, set Jesus up so that regardless of whether his ministry is a success or failure He is rooted and ready to glorify His Father.
To wait is an important spiritual discipline. Like Jesus, we should be putting in habits that build our faith and relationship with God. Like Abram, as we trust God for his promises, our faith is developed, and our character is strengthened. It is not about racing from one thing to the next but trusting that God is at work;
“You are working in our waiting
You’re sanctifying us
When beyond our understanding
You’re teaching us to trust”
Sovereign Over Us Michael W Smith
it is as we wait that our character is shaped and moulded to be able to cope with what God has for us. We should enjoy the step we are on, for as long as God keeps us there, knowing He has exciting things ahead, but needs to shape our character to hold up so that whether we encounter success or failure we will be able to cope with the avalanche. Similar to when the voltage in a circuit is raised above its upper limit, and the circuit blows. If too much is put onto a person who does not yet have the character, mental resources, or friends to fall back on then they seek solace outside of God and can either combust or the power surge leaves them feeling invincible and they fall, taking others down amidst shouts of hypocrisy.
If waiting is so crucial in our development surely to claim to be ‘Playing the Waiting Game’ (emphases added) is crass and trivialising. Well, maybe, except that we were also called to ‘Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice’ (Phil 4:4), therefore we should enjoy the waiting, certain that God is preparing us for something epic, both here on Earth and also on His glorious return.