By Will Banister
There is great purpose in the waiting. What is God teaching you?
Any theologian worth his salt will tell you God exists outside of our space-time continuum. God’s clock is different from ours; it’s nonlinear and doesn’t always jibe with the ticktock of our espresso society.
We know this. We know that God’s timetable is unique. We also know that God’s timing can seem capricious and arbitrary to us thinking mammals here on earth. We want what we want when we want it, and God does what He does when He does it. Again … most of us know this, but it’s an idea that is sometimes easier to swallow in theory than to stomach in reality.
And for those of us who are cursed with the blessing of thought, the crazier this time conundrum may seem — even when we take Scripture into account. There is no blueprint for God’s timing when it comes to waiting for an answer to prayer. His wristwatch has a different rhythm than ours.
READY, SET, WAIT
David was just shy of 17 years old when he slew that mammoth bully with his slingshot. Yet Abraham’s bones were brittle when God called him to service. He was an old, tough patriarch. Enoch was even older when he started walking with the Lord, while Timothy was just a young, shy buck.
And then there’s Jeremiah, whom God called before his umbilical cord was cut, yet who wasn’t informed about this call until after he could shave. And let’s not forget Hannah, who prayed and prayed for a baby boy until an apathetic priest told her to shut up and go home. God answered her prayer, though.
“We don’t have to wait around for callings to appear or wonder if we’ve missed them. They are made up of what God has put before us to do right now.” – Jennifer Marshall
All of these true stories have good outcomes — yet sometimes that doesn’t salve our immediate situation. We want answers now. Some of us have prayed for thousands of miles. Our hands are bloody from knocking on His door. Yet we keep knocking. We know deep down that God has amazing things in store for us — blessings that defy logic. He says so in Scripture. Deep down we know that God is totally attuned to our prayers, entirely sensitive to our innermost needs and desires.
Yet what do we do during the wait? How do we wait for our watch and God’s watch to get in sync? Are we supposed to join a monastery? Flee to a nunnery? Forget about the whole prayer thing and just go about our business, hoping that God has “soul mate” or “special calling” circled on His calendar?
WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?
How do we anticipate God’s blessings without forfeiting or forgetting our biblical mandate to be salt in an insipid world? How do we wait in a way that puts a smile on God’s face?
Jennifer Marshall, for one, has wrestled with this issue. In her book, Now and Not Yet, she underscores the idea that “callings don’t fit on a time sheet.”
Marshall muses: “Discovering your callings isn’t like being on hold, waiting for a second interview, or wondering if He will call. We don’t have to wait around for callings to appear or wonder if we’ve missed them. They are made up of what God has put before us to do right now, such as pay back college loans, clean the house, finish that project at work, help a friend who’s sick. And they are the opportunities we see emerging for the future that fit our skills and interests (that new position at the office, a master’s degree in journalism, a chance to move closer to family).
“That also means we don’t have to worry that we’ve missed a calling — and that includes marriage. As long as we live attentive to the first call to Christ and the personal callings He has put in our lives, we can be confident that we aren’t in a holding pattern just because 25 (or 30, or 40) is around the corner and marriage is nowhere in sight,” she says.
There’s nothing wrong with waiting for a specific blessing … it’s how we wait that matters.
Marshall alludes to a type of analysis paralysis among Christians, where they are so obsessed about the future that they miss big fat ministry opportunities right under their noses. She quotes a friend who says that many times Christians “think that God is going to give them a direct sign, put the manna right in front of them with a note attached that says, ‘Eat Me!’”
This includes waiting passively for a green light or a neon sign or a burning bush, whether it be for a job, a spouse, or something else. There’s nothing wrong with waiting for a specific blessing … it’s how we wait that matters.
Glen Packiam tackles this very issue. In his book Butterfly in Brazil, he encourages believers to roll up their sleeves and do ministry — right now, right where we are: “We all too easily assume that the place of significance is someplace else. Overseas. On the mission field. Just around the next bend. When we turn 40. When we make our first million. Whatever. … We don’t consider the possibility that God can use us right here and now.”
RUNNING THE RACE
Suzie Waltner, mortgage consultant and avid marathon runner from Nashville, Tenn., agrees with this line of thinking. “The Christian life is not something you sit back and let happen to you,” she says. “It’s something you go after with passion. It’s something that you can’t do alone and it’s something that will bring you heartache and pain at times, but your future joy will far outweigh all of that.”
And when it comes to waiting for God’s answers to her prayers, Waltner is at no loss for words. “I think the hardest answer for singles today to hear is ‘wait,’ but I also think it is the best one we could hear. It causes us to stop and take a look at where we are and where we’ve been,” she explains.
“God is amazing in His love for us and if we don’t focus too much on the answer to our prayers that we’re hoping for, we are more likely to look at what He has actually done for us.
“I think I am one of very few of my friends who has found contentment in being single. For most people my age (mid-30s) being single is not where they imagined they would be. It’s not where I thought I would be when I was planning my future in high school either, but neither is so much of my life. I don’t regret any of the decisions I’ve made with my life. I am happy to be where I am right now, and I am OK with my single status.”
Amen to that.
When it comes to waiting on God’s timing, it’s easy to lapse into a mindset that God’s clock is some cold, clinical mechanism somewhere out in cyberspace, wound by a Deity who is distant and aloof. When actually it’s a wristwatch that’s wrapped close to a nail-driven hand full of sweat and blood — a watch full of wisdom and tough love.
Jesus was an expert in waiting on God’s perfect timing, even when it meant Golgotha and a Roman bloodbath.
So, as I write this in a coffee shop, that great theologian Tom Petty is singing with his Dylan-esque drawl … “the waiting is the hardest part.” Thank you, Tom. You just finished this article for me. It’s true. God is faithful — yet sometimes it is the waiting that’s the hardest part.
Will Banister is an erstwhile singersongwriter. He lives in St. Paul, Minn., where he is pursuing a master’s degree in Christian Thought at Bethel University.
Waiting is hard for everyone. One of the most frustrating waits is the open-ended one, the one that has no end in sight. Because you are flying blind, you become frustrated quickly, even if it’s as trivial as waiting for someone to come fix your cable. You know, they give you a five-hour “window,” and they either show up earlier than the window opens or five minutes before it closes. Either way, you have wasted your entire day waiting around for them. Other open-ended waits are more serious and as frustrating — like waiting to hear back about a job interview or the results from a medical exam.
It’s easy to get impatient with our waits. As we think about resolving our wait, the worst thing possible happens: The wait becomes interminable. Why? Because what we are passionate about consumes us. We think about it all the time, and if our minds drift, even for a couple of seconds, there are plenty of reminders in our surroundings — reminders that scream, “You’re stuck with this problem indefinitely!” For example, if you have family problems, every time you see someone having a great time with his or her child or parent, you’re reminded of your personal struggle. Here are some practical steps to take while you wait:
- Choose to look at the future with hope. Waiting is hard work without hope.
- Discover and develop stuff you like to do. Take that photography class you’ve been thinking about.
- Enjoy your freedom. Usually when a wait ends we have a lot less discretionary time.
- Realize that everything passes. Good days do come to those who wait.
- Choose to make your wait about God instead of the wait.
From InTransit: What Do You Do With Your Wait? by Mike Harder (LifeWay Press).