While you wait, God works.
By Max Lucado
I sit in the waiting room. The receptionist took my name, recorded my insurance data, and gestured to a chair. “Please have a seat. We will call you when the doctor is ready.” I look around. A mother holds a sleeping baby. A fellow dressed in a suit thumbs through Time magazine. A woman with a newspaper looks at her watch, sighs, and continues the task of the hour: waiting.
The waiting room. Not the examination room. That’s down the hall. Not the consultation room. That’s on the other side of the wall. Not the treatment room. Exams, consultations, and treatments all come later. The task at hand is the name of the room: the waiting room. We in the waiting room understand our assignment: to wait. We don’t treat each other. I don’t ask the nurse for a stethoscope or blood pressure cuff. I don’t pull up a chair next to the woman with the newspaper and say, “Tell me what prescriptions you’re taking.” That’s the job of the nurse. My job is to wait. So I do.
Can’t say that I like it. Time moves like an Alaskan glacier. The clock ticks every five minutes, not every second. Someone pressed the pause button. We don’t like to wait. We’re the giddy-up generation. We weave through traffic, looking for the faster lane. We frown at the person who takes 11 items into the 10-item express checkout. We drum our fingers while the song downloads or the microwave heats our coffee. We want six-pack abs in 10 minutes and minute rice in 30 seconds. We don’t like to wait. Not on the doctor, the traffic, or the pizza. Not on God?
Take a moment, and look around you. Do you realize where you sit? This planet is God’s waiting room.
The young couple in the corner? Waiting to get pregnant. The fellow with the briefcase? He has resumes all over the country, waiting on work. The elderly woman with the cane? A widow. Been waiting a year for one tearless day. Waiting. Waiting on God to give, help, heal. Waiting on God to come. We indwell the land betwixt prayer offered and prayer answered. The land of waiting.
If anyone knew the furniture of God’s waiting room, Joseph did. One problem with reading his story is its brevity. We can read the Genesis account from start to finish in less than an hour, which gives the impression that all these challenges took place before breakfast one morning. We’d be wiser to pace our reading over a couple of decades.
Take chapter 37 into a dry cistern, and sit there for a couple of hours while the sun beats down. Recite the first verse of chapter 39 over and over for a couple of months: “Now Joseph had been taken to Egypt” (Genesis 39:1). Joseph needed at least this much time to walk the 750 miles from Dothan to Thebes.
Then there was the day or days or weeks on the auction block. Add to that probably a decade in Potiphar’s house, supervising the servants, doing his master’s bidding, learning Egyptian. Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Time moves slowly in a foreign land. And time stands still in a prison.
Joseph had asked the butler to put in a good word for him.
“But when all goes well for you, remember that I was with you. Please show kindness to me by mentioning me to Pharaoh, and get me out of this prison. For I was kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have nothing that they should put me in the dungeon” (Genesis 40:14-15).
We can almost hear the butler reply, “Certainly, I’ll mention you to Pharaoh. First chance I get. You’ll be hearing from me.” Joseph hurried back to his cell and collected his belongings. He wanted to be ready when the call came. A day passed. Then two. Then a week … a month. Six months. No word. As it turned out, Pharaoh’s “chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph; he forgot him” (Genesis 40:23).
On the page of your Bible, the uninked space between that verse and the next is scarcely wider than a hair ribbon. It takes your eyes only a split second to see it. Yet it took Joseph two years to experience it. Chapter 41 starts like this: “Two years later Pharaoh had a dream” (Genesis 41:1).
Two years! Twenty-four months of silence. One hundred and four weeks of waiting. Seven hundred and thirty days of wondering. Two thousand one hundred and ninety meals alone. Seventeen thousand five hundred and twenty hours of listening for God yet hearing nothing but silence.
Plenty of time to grow bitter, cynical, angry. Folks have given up on God for lesser reasons in shorter times.
Not Joseph. On a day that began like any other, he heard a stirring at the dungeon entrance. Loud, impatient voices demanded, “We are here for the Hebrew! Pharaoh wants the Hebrew!” Joseph looked up from his corner to see the prison master, white faced and stammering. “Get up!
“Hurry, get up!” Two guards from the court were on his heels. Joseph remembered them from his days in Potiphar’s service. They took him by the elbows and marched him out of the hole. He squinted at the brilliant sunlight. They walked him across a courtyard into a room. Attendants flocked around him. They removed his soiled clothing, washed his body, and shaved his beard. They dressed him in a white robe and new sandals. The guards reappeared and walked him into the throne room.
And so it was that Joseph and Pharaoh looked into each other’s eyes for the first time.
The king hadn’t slept well the night before. Dreams troubled his rest. He heard of Joseph’s skill. “They say you can interpret dreams. My counselors are mute as stones. Can you help me?”
We indwell the land betwixt prayer offered and prayer answered. The land of waiting.
Joseph’s last two encounters hadn’t ended so well. Mrs. Potiphar lied about him. The butler forgot about him. In both cases Joseph had mentioned the name of God. Perhaps he should hedge his bets and keep his faith under wraps. He didn’t. “I am not able to … It is God who will give Pharaoh a favorable answer” (Genesis 41:16).
Joseph emerged from his prison cell bragging on God. Jail time didn’t devastate his faith; it deepened it.
You can be glad because God is good. You can be still because He’s active. You can rest because He’s busy.
And you? You aren’t in prison, but you may be infertile or inactive or in between jobs or in search of health, help, a house, or a spouse. Are you in God’s waiting room? If so, here’s what you need to know: While you wait, God works.
“My Father is still working,” Jesus said (John 5:17). God never stops. He takes no vacations. He rested on the seventh day of creation but got back to work on the eighth and hasn’t stopped since. Just because you’re idle, don’t assume God is.
Joseph’s story appeared to stall in chapter 40. Our hero was in shackles. History was in a holding pattern. But while Joseph was waiting, God was working. He assembled the characters and placed the butler in Joseph’s care. He stirred the sleep of the king with odd dreams. He confused Pharaoh’s counselors. And at just the right time, God called Joseph to duty.
He’s working for you as well. I imagine that the sign on God’s waiting room wall reads, “Be still, and know that I am God.” You can be glad because God is good. You can be still because He’s active. You can rest because He’s busy.
Remember God’s word through Moses to the Israelites? “Don’t be afraid. Stand firm and see the LORD’s salvation … The Lord will fight for you; you must be quiet” (Exodus 14:13-14). The Israelites saw the Red Sea ahead of them and heard the Egyptian soldiers thundering after them. Death on both sides. Stand still? Are you kidding?
But what the former slaves couldn’t see was the hand of God at the bottom of the water, creating a path, and His breath from heaven, separating the waters. God was working for them.
God worked for Mary, the mother of Jesus. The angel told her that she would become pregnant. The announcement stirred a torrent of questions in her heart. How would she become pregnant? What would people think? What would Joseph say? Yet God was working for her. He sent a message to Joseph, her fiancé. God prompted Caesar to declare a census. God led the family to Bethlehem.
Waiting is a sustained effort to stay focused on God through prayer and belief. To wait is to “be silent before the Lord and wait expectantly for Him … Do not be agitated” (Psalm 37:7).
Waiting in Worship
Nehemiah shows us how to do this. His book is a memoir of his efforts to reconstruct the walls of Jerusalem. His story starts with a date. “During the month of Chislev in the twentieth year, when I was in the fortress city of Susa, Hanani … arrived with men from Judah” (Nehemiah 1:1-2). They brought bad news. Hostile forces had flattened the walls that had once guarded the city. Even the gates had been burned.
The few remaining Jews were in “great trouble and disgrace” (Nehemiah 1:3). Nehemiah responded with prayer. “Please, Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant … Give Your servant success today, and have compassion on him in the presence of this man” (Nehemiah 1:11).
“This man” was King Artaxerxes, the monarch of Persia. Nehemiah was his personal cupbearer, on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Nehemiah couldn’t leave his post and go to Jerusalem. Even if he could, he had no resources with which to rebuild the walls. So he resolved to wait on the Lord in prayer.
The first verse of the second chapter reveals the length of his wait. “And it occurred during the month of Nisan” that Nehemiah was appointed to a spot on the king’s Jerusalem Commission. How far apart were the dates? Four months. Nehemiah’s request, remember, was immediate: “Give your servant success today” (Nehemiah 1:11). God answered the request four months after Nehemiah made it.
Waiting is easier said than done. I wonder if I could have obeyed God’s ancient command to keep the Sabbath holy. To slow life to a crawl for 24 hours. The Sabbath was created for frantic souls who need this weekly reminder: The world won’t stop if you do!
And what of this command: “Three times a year all your males are to appear before the Lord God, the God of Israel. For I will drive out nations before you and enlarge your territory. No one will covet your land when you go up three times a year to appear before the Lord your God” (Exodus 34:23-24)? God instructed the promised land settlers to stop their work three times a year and gather for worship. All commerce, education, government, and industry came to a halt while the people assembled. Can you imagine this happening today? Our country would be utterly defenseless.
Yet God promised to protect the territory. No one would encroach upon the Israelites. What’s more, they wouldn’t even desire to do so. God used the pilgrimage to teach this principle: If you will wait in worship, I will work for you.
You’ll get through this waiting room season just fine. Pay careful note, and you’ll detect the most wonderful surprise. The doctor will step out of His office and take the seat next to yours. “Just thought I’d keep you company while you’re waiting.” Not every physician will do that, but yours will. After all, He’s the Great Physician. •
You’ll Get Through This: Hope and Help for Your Turbulent Times (Thomas Nelson 2013) by Max Lucado. Copyright ©2013. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson, part of the HarperCollins Christian Publishing (thomasnelson.com).
More than 100 million readers have found comfort in the writings of Max Lucado. He ministers at the Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas, where he lives with his wife, Denalyn, and a sweet but misbehaving mutt, Andy.
This article originally appeared in the September, 2013 issue of Home Life. Subscribe