God Will Have You Wait
The absence of time is inconceivable. Our existence is so bound up by time that, although we can explain the concept of eternity, we cannot conceive of life without time. Any movement – whether it is progress or regression – is marked by time, and so it is engrained in us to think of everything through the lens of time. From the moment we are conceived in our mothers' womb, we are bound to time, and only a short amount at that. Time is running out for all of us, and waiting seems to get in the way. Indeed, waiting is the wasting away of time. Sometimes we don’t mind it, other times we become outraged. Yet, we always respond to our waiting. Why we wait will dictate how we wait, and how we wait displays to us and to the world our understanding of God.
I'm sure you had to wait today. Most likely there have been multiple periods of waiting in your day. Why? Apart from the apparent reasons such as large amounts of traffic and red lights, the line at the grocery store, stuck in a plane unable to take off, or any other reason that would cause you to wait, why did you have to wait? What lesson did you learn from waiting? That question seems odd in our current society. We have set up entertainment to drown out the deafening silence of waiting. Music, television, and magazines are ever ready at our disposal in almost every place of waiting today, and it has caused us to become blind to the reason why we wait.
These daily occurrences are only short times of waiting; they are so commonplace, they often go unnoticed. It is in the trials we face that we truly wait; they wake us from the humdrum of our daily lives. We cannot escape trials like we can escape short periods of waiting because they are forced times of prolonged waiting. If you are struck with cancer, you cannot escape with entertainment or some other distraction. Maybe it is a wayward son or daughter who must come to the realization of their waywardness before they return. You cannot cause them to see their folly in only a short time. Another case would be an unruly spouse with whom you must endure, and cannot escape without the pain and damage of that relationship persisting for a prolonged period of time. Whatever the trial may be (physical, mental, relational, or spiritual), it is not something that is over by morning. It is a trial, and a trial denotes a longer period of time passing before it is over.
In our trials, we often find our prayers unanswered. Although we pray fervently with many tears, we find that all we hear is our voice bouncing off the ceiling. God seems silent in our darkest days. This was the case for Job. In his darkest hour, God was silent. All he heard were his three friends' accusations and arguments against him. They had no clue what God was up to, and God remained silent. For 37 chapters, Job hears nothing from God. His loss was catastrophic, and all those who remained blamed Job for this calamity. His cries for some sort of answer seemed to fall on deaf ears. It seems fitting to ask the question again, what was the purpose of waiting? Why do we wait in silence in our trials?
The answer comes at the end of Job. God has just finished drilling Job with unanswerable questions, and Job responds:
“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:1-6 ESV)
We wait because we are not in control. Our waiting shows us that we cannot always control what we do with our time. Waiting in our trials takes time away from us, and this doesn’t allow us to do what we wish to do. These times should humble us to the point where we acknowledge God as Job did: "I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted." This God, who stands outside of the confines of time, does not wait. There is nothing He cannot do at any given time. If you are looking for a reason why God does not act immediately, it is not that He must wait, but because we must wait.
Job was forced to rely on God in his suffering. He had nowhere else to turn but to God. In Job's case, it was a deeper dependence on God that resulted from his trial. This is true for Christians today as well. Job's words ring true for every Christian who has come through trials gaining a greater understanding of God: "I had heard of you by the hearing of my ear, but now my eye sees you." It is the increased dependence upon God that He has us wait in our trials. It is to encounter, in a very real sense, the reality that we are not in control and that we are not all that dependable. Why do you wait in your trials? Is it only to get to the other side unscathed, or is it for the greater, sanctifying purpose of complete reliance on God?
There is a far greater purpose for our waiting than just enduring it. On the ladder of important outcomes from suffering, patience is at the bottom for Paul. In Romans 5, Paul states that our suffering and trials produce patience, but patience is not the goal. Patience produces a proven, experienced character, and that character produces hope. It is for increased hope that we wait, and it is for a stronger faith that we endure. Job's greatest blessing was not having his wealth restored, but having his faith in God strengthened. The prophet Isaiah agrees with this. "But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint" (Isaiah 40:31 KJV). This is the crescendo of a chapter dedicated to encouraging the people to take heart in the midst of despairing times. In essence, the prophet is saying that you will not fail because God is your God and He does not fail. When their reliance is on God, and when they wait on Him, they cannot fail.
It may not be that a catastrophe or illness has visited you lately, but it could be that you wish to have or do something in the present that is being withheld from you. In these situations, prayer seems to go unheard as well. There may even be pools of tears. It is not only in our catastrophes and illnesses that we are tried, and our patience is stretched, but also in our unmet desires. We want something to happen for us, yet there seems to be no hope of it occurring. In Church history, we find a story of such a trial.
Almost 400 years after the death of Christ, a mother had to wait for her wayward son. The son's name was Augustine, his mother, Monica. Monica, who was a Christian, was concerned for her teenage son because of his lack of interest in the Christian faith. Augustine had been wooed by the allure of the philosophers and set out on his own journey to find truth. This led him to embrace the philosophy of Aristotle, and later become enthralled with the philosophy of the Manicheans. However, his searching seemed to be in vain.
Augustine became a teacher of philosophy in Tagaste but was entranced by the schools in Rome. So he made plans to move there. This was all to Monica's dismay. He records in his personal testimony, Confessions, how his mother's tears for him while she prayed often formed small pools. As he was to set off by way of the sea, his mother clung to him either to cause him to stay, or to go with. It didn’t matter to her as long as she was with him. How she longed for her son to come to faith in Christ! Augustine lied to his mother in order to escape. He told her that he had to wait at the port for a friend and that she should go get some rest. But as soon as she had retreated to the place they were staying, he left for Rome.
It is not hard to image the pain this inflicted on his mother and the weight that this trial laid on her. She eventually mustered the courage to take the treacherous journey to Rome herself, yet the pain this would have caused must have been great. Moreover still, she waited for Augustine to renounce his philosophies and turn to the Catholic faith. By her fervent prayers, it is clear to see that Monica thought her son would only be further removed from the possibility of coming to faith if he went to Rome. There, at that seaport, her tears flowed as her prayers for Augustine to stay poured from her lips. Augustine, thinking back to the work of God during this time, writes in his Confessions, "But thou, taking thy own secret council and noting the real point to her desire, didst not grant what she was then asking in order to grant to her the thing she had always been asking." God did not stop Augustine from going to Rome so that, in Milan, Augustine would come to faith in Christ through Ambrose, the bishop of Milan. It was in the prolonging of her wait that Monica finally was blessed with the thing she had been waiting for, the salvation of Augustine.
Augustine himself had to wait as well. He aspired for wealth, honor, and marriage which are all noble endeavors. It is not a bad thing to seek for wealth, yet to love wealth is sinful. It is not a bad thing to seek to leave an honorable legacy, yet to love the praise of man is sinful. It is not a bad thing to seek a spouse, yet to idolize that relationship is sinful. All these desires are noble, but to place importance on them above God is sinful. And that is what Augustine was guilty of doing.
He writes that in this endeavor, God seemed to mock him by causing hardships to come to him as he pursued these ambitions. At the moment, he thought God to be cruel, yet in retrospect, he saw the mercy of God. He writes, “Thou wast being the more gracious the lest thou wouldst allow anything that was not thee to grow sweet to me.” God is most gracious in not allowing good things to come to us so that we might enjoy the ultimate good. Augustine realized that God was irritating his wounded soul so that it would not trust in anything but Him and be truly healed.
God will have us wait so that we lose all confidence in the things of this world being able to give us fulfillment. We must wait so that we do not become full of ourselves. However, the way we often live shows that we think we are all there is to this life; that all of life is centered on us. Therefore, in our waiting, we become impatient instead of learning patience. It is well said that we want to have patience and we want it now. Waiting, especially in trials, is to bring us to realize that we are small and not in control so that we would learn not to rely on ourselves, but on God.
Our waiting must teach us reliance. Think about this the next time you are stopped at a red light, and the lineup of cars in front of you ensures that you will have to wait through another red light. Why do you wait? It may only be a short time compared to the length of a trial, yet it is still time that you lose. Your answer to that question, “why?” will dictate how you respond to waiting, and will display the extent to which you place your hope in God.