I’ve always disliked waiting. As a kid, Christmas Eve was torture. Being on hold with Comcast feels endless (the same sappy song repeating every ninety seconds). Last August Kregel Publications offered to publish my book on Hearing God, but their schedule meant it’s release would be delayed ten interminable months.
I think God is teaching me to wait. On him. Of all God’s lessons, his command “to wait” bewilders me most. Let him direct me to mow a friend’s lawn, or to donate to Doctors Without Borders, or even to repent to my wife. Something—anything!—I can do.
Normal waiting simply requires stomaching the excruciating, unending, intervening passage of time. Tedious monotony, like standing behind a novice in the grocery self-checkout line. You want to yell, “The barcode’s right there!” Dreariness. Only thirteen bags of cat litter to go.
Waiting on God is far worse. I have no clue when he’ll act or (worse) what he’ll do. Moses waited eighty years to lead God’s people out of slavery. And when he began, the life of every person he wanted to help spiraled downhill; and not even Moses imagined a parted Red Sea.
Waiting on God requires the inner certainty that his way is best, and that his hiddenness is not absence and that his silence is not impotence.
I’m Tempted to Go-it Alone
When God fails to act in the manner or timetable I think best, I grab for the wheel. He’s had his chance and clearly isn’t getting it right. I’m tempted to do God’s job, after all, I know exactly what should happen and God isn’t producing. Maybe I’ll just go-it alone.
But Elisabeth Elliot (whose life really didn’t go as she planned) once wrote:
God is God, and since He is God He is worthy of my worship and my service. I will find rest nowhere else but in His will, and that will is necessarily infinitely, immeasurably, and unspeakably beyond my largest notions of what He is up to.
Textbooks Don’t Help
Waiting on God isn’t learned in the lecture hall but the laboratory. The lump of clay doesn’t write a PhD. thesis on The Art of Goblet-Making. It lets the skillful fingers of the potter shape it into a chalice.
But along the way, the potter also puts that chalice into the fires of his kiln. It’s in the fleeting flames of that forge that I usually reach for my “better way.”
This morning I read a passage in which God tells the Israelites not to go to Egypt for military help, that the protection of Pharaoh will be their shame and the shadow of Egypt their humiliation. Like me, the Israelites thought they knew better than God.
But he continues with an invitation,
The Lord waits to be gracious to you,
and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. (Is. 30:18)
I think those words are the tender fingers of a loving artist on a hot summer day. I never before dreamt of God waiting for me. It always seemed the other way around.
Yet God too sits in a furnace, the fires of my determination to go my own way.
Imagine God patiently waiting (like, for eternity) for me to stop grasping for false solutions—my trips to Egypt—for what only he can provide. He waits for the day his Parted-Red-Sea in me will be the obvious outcome of his grace and not the result of my feverish plotting and planning.
So God, what do you think should happen next? I can hardly wait.
P. S. Please consider buying my new book, Hearing God in Conversation: How to Recognize His Voice Everywhere. Human beings long for nothing more than to hear God. I believe it will help you hear his voice.
I’ve included most everything I know about how to hear God. Topics include:
- Learning to recognize the sound of God’s voice
- Hearing God in his silence
- How to Brainstorm with God
- Hearing God in Scripture
- Hearing God for guidance
Eugene Peterson said:
I picked it up and our curiosity and I couldn’t put it down.
Pastor Gary Wilkerson (son of David Wilkerson) said:
Sam Williamson has written a remarkable book that teaches both how to hear God’s voice in Scripture, and then to hear his voice in every avenue of life. It’s filled with humor, insight, practical tips, and sound theology. I can’t recommend a better guide than Hearing God in Conversation.
Don Schwager (author of hugely popular website, www.DailyScripture.net) said:
This book is a rare gem full of spiritual wisdom, practical insight, and personal examples of how God converses with us in our daily lives. I was captivated from the first to the last page.
Sam, I know exacitackally what you mean. Let me tell you one story (the latest of many such stories).
A little more than a year ago my wife and I began looking for a home to buy. We were renting a home, but had the money (within reason) to buy. We looked at places and applied for work far and wide around the US. Mostly, after a fashion with no doors opening, we began to search from the mid Oregon Coast to the tip of the Olympic Peninsula. We began to feel called to open a writing center. We knew we needed a large house for that purpose. However, we looked at large and small within our price range. We met with realtors in several towns and cities in these areas after searching for the homes we thought we might like on the internet. Some, after seeing them live, were not right. Many went into escrow with someone else just as we considered making an offer.
To make a long story short door after door closed all year long, while one home (a little out of our price range and certainly not in our prefered city) remained open. It was a lot of home for the money and zoned commercial/residential. We saw the price drop and, finally, made a low-ball offer. It was countered and we countered. Two weeks later the cash sale closed and we were moving on the very day our lease was up.
Along the way, for several months, as the time for our lease to be up, friends and family would constantly inquire about where we were going adding to our own anxiety, but I knew that God would work on our behalf. Others weren’t so sure. I would often say that God was like Gandalf the wizard who said, “A wizard is never late, nor is he early; he arrives precisely when he means to.” And that’s just how God works.
Now we have the ideal home and are about to open our writing center (http://harborhousewriters.blogspot.com/), knowing that the Lord, having shown his perfect will and timing, has placed us precisely where he means to. And, after another grueling wait, I have just received your book from Amazon. and can’t WAIT to begin reading!
Thank you for sharing.
What a FABULOUS story. Thanks for sharing. I hope other writers come to you writing “Harbor.”
I may be one of them.
Let me know what you think of Hearing God in Conversation.
Love this, Sam. I can hardly wait with you.
Two impatient souls waiting together 🙂
Great post, Sam. It caused me to reflect about the difference between passive waiting (not taking any action at all while waiting) and active waiting (doing all you can to advance a situation but understanding that your efforts may or may not work). I think sometimes when Christians hear messages about waiting, they immediately assume that it means passive waiting is the better way, which can lead to fear of taking action even when action would be appropriate (because they don’t want to “take things into their own hands”), and the belief that something is holier when it happens with no human effort.
Online dating might be a good example of this. Everyone who does it is doing so because they haven’t been able to find a good match by happenstance. Although there are probably differences in opinion out there, I’ve never heard a Christian say that online dating in general reflects impatience or a lack of faith because the “better” way of meeting someone is by accident. This is because God can’t possibly work only through accidents. He is merciful enough to work with and through us, not just for us.
I suppose that sometimes we are called to passively wait, and sometimes there really is nothing we can do. But other times we need to be confident that we have the freedom to act, knowing that we’re not going to mess up God’s will by honestly trying to achieve what we want and need to be doing, and accepting that our efforts might come to nothing anyway. How to tell which is better in any particular situation? Maybe the same way we discern anything?
Great distinction between passive and active waiting. I love your closing question.
I believe God rarely gives precise formulas because we’d simply act on those formulas … and forget God. God gave manna in the desert but they had to go out and get it (why didn’t he just put it in the stomach?). On the other hand, when Abraham took matters into his own hands, he created a child not of the promise.
Somehow we need to learn to do as God calls us while completely leaving the results up to him.
Thanks for your food for thought.