As we read through the story of Scripture it’s not long before we encounter someone who is called to wait. Abraham and Sarah had to wait 25 years for the promised Isaac to be born. The children of Israel waited hundreds of years to be redeemed from their bondage in Egypt. David had to wait for years until he became king, all the while eluding Saul’s wrath in the wilderness.
Waiting is all too familiar, and our default position as fallen human beings is to seek to avoid it. We come up with all kinds of ways to do things more efficiently. We want to avoid delay and discomfort. Any parent who’s taken their children on an extended road trip has heard the whining question from the backseat, “Are we there yet?”
As a result, we quantify waiting as a bad thing. And in the Christian life, we can come to a mistaken conclusion that it’s a punishment, or the result of not enough effort on our part. Something must have gone wrong because I didn’t receive things when I expected. Did I not pray enough? What about fasting? How many times have I had these questions as I pray again for that unsaved loved one?
“Why have I been waiting decades God? Have I done something wrong?”
Waiting is not a punishment though, just like receiving something immediately is not an indication of some kind of merit. Any responsible parent knows this from experience. So I think we need to recalibrate our thinking and look at how God sees waiting. What is he doing in the interim?
I believe waiting is a tool God uses to test us and to reveal the condition of our hearts. You see that when you examine the interim periods in the lives of those I mentioned above. Abraham was given a great promise but in the interim years, as he waited, his dependence on the Lord faltered and he went along with Sarah’s idea to produce an heir through Hagar. God used this waiting period to further reveal Abraham’s tendency to trust in himself and as a way for him to recalibrate his faith. Abraham may have faltered for a time but he turned his eyes back to God. He continued to grow strong in faith as he gave glory to God and the promised Isaac was born. (Romans 4:18-22)
What happened in the interim years between Joseph and Moses? (Exodus 1 and 2) We don’t know a lot but we do know that some had their faith refined through testing, like the Hebrew midwives. And many learned endurance through prayer as they continued to cry out to the Lord for deliverance. God used their waiting to intensify their longing and refine their faith.
What about David? He was anointed by Samuel as king but spent years in the wilderness evading the death threats of Saul. The Psalms give us evidence of what happened to David in the interim. His knowledge of God deepened. (Psalm 18:1-3) His longing for God increased. (Psalm 63) He also learned to lament as a way to process his feelings of despair and zeal for justice. (Psalm 7)
So even though waiting confuses us, discomforts us and makes us feel we’re on unstable footing, we see through the Scriptures that God uses this interim period, this waiting, as a tool.
We’ve all been in an interim period since Covid changed everything last year. Impatience overwhelms us as we face the omnipresent question: “How long?”
But be assured that God is using this interim period, as he always has, as a tool. He is testing and refining us, seeing how we will respond. Will we, like Abraham and Sarah, look to ourselves and our own strength? Will we, like the Hebrew midwives, cling tenaciously to our faith when it is tested and allow it to be refined? Will we endure in prayer? And will we, like David, allow this interim period to increase our knowledge of and longing for God? Maybe we need to learn how to lament.
Waiting isn’t dead space and it isn’t a punishment. It’s a tool in God’s gracious hand. He uses it to gently reveal what’s in us and to make us stronger.
How will we respond in the interim?
“From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him.” Isaiah 64:4