By Lindsey Bell
I don’t like to wait.
My guess is, neither do you.
Our you-can-have-anything-you-want-and-you-can-have-it-now culture has made waiting even more difficult for us. With Poptarts and TV dinners, we can have a meal ready in less than five minutes. Smart phones and the Internet allow us to discover interesting facts about anything within seconds. What used to take hours to accomplish now takes minutes.
The convenience is great, but it brings with it a down side. Now instead of viewing waiting as a part of life, we view it as an inconvenience. Or worse, we view it as an injustice.
In the last few years, I’ve been in a time of waiting with God. I’ve prayed for something I deeply long for and haven’t gotten an answer (or at least, I haven’t received the answer I want). I’ve had to wait. This time of waiting has led me to search the Bible to discover several biblical people who also had to wait. Most of these men and women we consider to be examples of faithful followers of God.
Abraham and Sarah
Children across the country sing songs about “Father Abraham.” He is one of the most famous figures of the Bible, and the reason for his fame—by and large—is his faith. Abraham and his wife, Sarah, were faithful to God, even through devastating circumstances.
As we read their story in Genesis 12–25, it’s easy to forget Abraham and Sarah were real people with real dreams and hopes. Like us, they had ideas of what life should look like. Infertility was certainly not something they anticipated. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what life held.
In the culture in which they lived, childlessness was more than just an incredibly painful situation. It was viewed (mistakenly) as a curse from God. The people around them probably thought Abraham and Sarah were to blame for their own pain. They likely assumed God was punishing them for some sin.
Put yourself in their shoes. How would you have felt? Abraham and Sarah didn’t have any children and longed for God to answer their prayers for a baby. God, for whatever reason, didn’t grant them their request. Blow 1. Then to top that off, they were judged by their neighbors for something they had no control over. Blow 2. You can imagine, then, how they must have felt when God came to Abraham and promised to bless them with a child. Finally.
God made this promise in Genesis 12, when Abraham was 75 years old. At his age, I’m sure he expected God to quickly fulfill his promise. His body, after all, was not getting any healthier. God, though, had other plans. One year passed. Then another. Then a decade. It took another 25 years for God to fulfill his promise to Abraham and Sarah—25 years of waiting, 25 years of praying, and 25 years of questioning whether or not Abraham heard the promise correctly. I imagine those years were some of the most difficult of Abraham and Sarah’s lives.
I also think there was something else that happened in those years—growth.
Abraham and Sarah had 25 years to learn how to be a man and woman after God’s own heart. They had 25 years to learn how to trust God to do the impossible and 25 years to learn that hopeless is not in God’s vocabulary.
Sometimes I wonder if Abraham and Sarah’s time of waiting was more than just chance. If maybe the wait was part of the plan. Abraham and Sarah, after all, were destined for greatness, and greatness doesn’t often come easily.
If God had given them everything they desired the moment they asked, I doubt Abraham and Sarah would have made it into the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11. As painful as the wait can be, it’s the wait that grows our faith.
Others Who Had to Wait
Abraham and Sarah weren’t the only people in the Bible who had to wait. In fact, the list is rather long.
• Noah waited as “the waters flooded the earth for 150 days” (Genesis 7:24).
• The Israelites waited 400 years for God to deliver them from slavery in Egypt (15:13). Then, because of their own stubborn hearts, they waited another 40 before entering the promised land (Numbers 14:34).
• Joseph waited more than two years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit until someone finally remembered him and brought him out (Genesis 41:1-14).
• Hannah waited years for a child she desperately longed for, as did Rachel, Zechariah, Elizabeth, and others throughout the Bible.
• David, after God promised him a kingdom in 1 Samuel 16, went back to being a shepherd. He ran for his life from Saul for years before he was finally crowned king in 2 Samuel 2.
• Job—after he lost everything he loved—had to wait for God to bring good from the ashes.
• Paul prayed for God to remove his “thorn in the flesh” and waited for God to do so (which, as far as we know, God never did).
• Even Jesus waited 30 years to grow into adulthood and begin his earthly ministry. He waited another three years anticipating his salvation mission on the cross.
Whereas we view waiting as an inconvenience or an injustice, the Bible paints a different picture. Waiting, in many instances, is the vehicle God uses to make us into the people he longs for us to be. As we wait and pray and groan and cry over the things that are out of our control, God molds our hearts and teaches us to trust in his control.
Hebrews 11:1 says this: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” In essence, if God never allowed us to wait, we would never have to hope for anything. We would have everything we could ever want instantly . . . but not have faith. Faith is, after all, trusting God with something you can’t see, something you hope for but don’t yet have.
A Culture that Moves Fast
Unfortunately, in our culture waiting is hard. It goes against the norm. Whenever I get stuck in the slow line at the grocery store, it takes every fiber of my being to wait patiently. Waiting on something important—like a medical diagnosis, a child, a job, etc.—is even more difficult.
It’s not impossible, though. Here are a few tips that might help:
1. Remember that God is still in control, even when it feels as though he’s not. We can’t see behind the scenes. We don’t know what God might be working on while he seems absent.
2. Develop a prayer journal. In it, record your prayer requests as well as God’s answers. (Keep in mind the answer might be no at times.) As you look back on this journal, you’ll begin to see that God is moving, even at times when it might not feel like it.
3. Redeem the moments as you wait. If you’re waiting for a job, use the time to further develop your skills. If you’re waiting for a child, use the time to strengthen your relationship with your spouse. View your waiting as a time of growth rather than as wasted time.
4. Practice patience. Use the inconveniences of the day (like getting stuck in the slow line) as opportunities to practice patience.
5. Observe a day of rest. By making time each week to slow down, you teach your body it’s OK to wait. It’s OK to not go all the time.
6. Allow God to use your waiting to mold you into the person he longs for you to be. Romans 8:28 promises God will use everything—even our times of waiting—for good. Time spent waiting is not time wasted. Not with God.
Lindsey Bell is the author of Searching for Sanity: Insights from the Parents of the Bible. She blogs weekly about faith and family (www.lindsey-bell.com).
Benefits of the Wait
1. Past: Think of a time in your life when it was tough to wait. What was the benefit of waiting or of avoiding impatience? Were there ways you kept yourself focused during the waiting time? Did the results of the situation surprise you after you spent time waiting patiently?
2. Present: What’s something in your life now that you feel impatient about? What could you do to distract yourself from your impatience? What benefits are possible for you and the situation as a whole if you choose to be patient?
3. Future: What are some tactics you can use to prepare for future patience-testing times? What people and strategies can you turn to when you find yourself waiting again?