There is a lot of waiting that happens in our house these days. With three kids, two hands and one brain someone is always waiting for me. My kids actually think that if they have to wait too long they will die. I know this because they have told me in no uncertain terms.
A few weeks ago I found myself completely exasperated at their inability to be patient and said, "Look! You just have to trust that Mom is going to do ___________ for you! Can you just trust me and wait?"
As the words left my mouth I could almost see them pull a U-turn in midair and come back to knock me in the forehead. God has a sense of humour. That statement was for my own heart just as much as it was for my kids, "Lisa, can you just trust me and wait?"
I've been noticing an interesting pattern in my reading of I Samuel these days and it is one of waiting on God or not waiting, as the case may be.
"The Philistines then drew up in battle formation against Israel. After a fierce struggle Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand men on the battlefield. When the troops retired to the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the Lord permitted us to be defeated today by the Philistines? Let us fetch the ark of the Lord from Shiloh that it may go into battle among us and save us from the grasp of our enemies.” I Samuel 4:2-3
The Israelites had just lost a significant battle to the Philistines and upon returning to their camp they ask a valid question, "Why has the Lord permitted us to be defeated today by the Philistines?". They ask a good question and it's the right question. This was not a tactical issue in the army or an issue with the Philistines, it was an issue with their relationship with God. Long ago God had promised victory if they followed Him and they had just lost. Something was amiss.
If you look back at the passage: what do you see between the question and their decision? Nothing. Absolutely no passage of time. Just enough time to take a breath and continue with their own answer.
They could have waited for an answer. They could have sought advice from Samuel - he was the currently recognized prophet. They could have torn their clothes and fasted or waited a few hours or even a few minutes. They could have listened. Here was an opportunity for repentence, for recommitment, for a healing of their divine relationship. But they don't, they don't wait at all. They ask a good question but do the first thing that comes to mind and the results are disastrous.
They decide they need to take the Ark of the Covenant into battle. In a wonderful moment of theatrical irony the Philistines' own fear and respect for God causes them to fight with wild abandonment in surety that they will be killed. Even the Philistine's understood that the God of the Israelites was special. The Philistine's win and the ark is lost.
I often find myself cringing at the Israelites in the same way I do reality TV stars. "Seriously, again with the bad choices and the not listening and the idolatry and the complaining?" But I also identify with them at the same time. If the Israelites are anything - they are deeply, deeply human.
Waiting is so hard isn't it?
We are not practiced at waiting and our modern culture is no help. We value fast acting, quick deciding people. If you were looking for a way to be counter cultural or subversive, start waiting for God to move before you move. In a culture that tries to avoid awkward moments, waiting is all about awkward, long, drawn out silences.
It's hard to wait with the silence, day after day, year after year. It's easier to just move ahead with what we think is right. We want to get on with things and move forward and keep the proverbial ball rolling.
The Israelites were misaligned in their relationship with God. They knew why they had lost, that's why they ask "Why has God allowed this?" But knowing you are out of alignment and waiting to find the way back are two very different things.
So what's the point in waiting? What could it possibly achieve?
Waiting gives God the opportunity to sift our hearts. We are forced to listen to what he has to say, to examine our motivations, to one by one silence the voices that plague and push us.
Waiting allows God to align our hearts with him and draw us back into relationship with him.
Waiting is an opportunity for intimacy.
Waiting is an exercise in trust.
By waiting we are trusting that if we ask- God WILL answer, that God sees us and cares EVEN IF He does not answer immediately and that God won't disappoint us. It's the belief that God REALLY DOES have what is best for us. Ultimately, it is stepping out and saying that we believe God is faithful and will fulfill his promises. And we say all this by standing still and waiting.
I love the old King James language of Isaiah 40:31 and I love it even more sung by gospel singers.
"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."
Teach me Lord, teach me Lord to wait.