Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Waiting is the Pits!

I waited patiently for the LORD; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God. (Psalm 40)

Waiting for anything in an instant gratification society may seem like “the Pits,” but since "elapsed time" takes up the better part of our lives, we would do well to use it wisely. Few would argue that sleep is a waste of time, yet we spend about 24 years in slumberland during our brief stay on earth. Rummaging through the Bible to find "escape clauses" that justify a lathered lifestyle will only prove that the Bible is as much a book about waiting as it is about faith.

The time that we receive an "encouraging word" from the Lord, is not a time to breathe a sigh of relief! It is time to begin training for the marathon! Noah waited 100 years for the flood. Abraham waited ‘til he was one hundred years old for Isaac. Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of soup because he couldn’t wait 'til dinner. Jacob waited 14 years for Rachel. Joseph spent years in slavery and waited at least two years in prison before his God-given dreams became reality. Moses was a fugitive for 40 years while he waited for God’s call on his life. Israel spent 400 years in bondage waiting for Moses and another 40 in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land. Impatience buried an entire generation of Jews in the wilderness. David waited over 15 years after Samuel anointed him before ascending to his kingly throne. The Jewish people waited thousands of years for Messiah, only to miss the “time of their visitation.” (Luke 19:44) God continues to wait patiently for sinners to repent and believe the gospel before He will wait no longer. As Christians, we eagerly wait for Jesus to return. So we see that faith and waiting are inextricably linked.

Wystan Hugh Auden, Noted twentieth century Anglo-American poet, wrote the following about impatience:

Perhaps there is only one cardinal sin:
impatience. Because of impatience we
were driven out of Paradise, because
of impatience we cannot return.

King David understood the importance of waiting on the Lord. When he found himself in a deep “pit,” neck-high in “miry clay,” did David try to craft a “plan of action and milestones” to extricate himself? Would wriggling, wrestling, or writhing have enabled him to lift himself out of his quicksand pit? On the contrary, knowing that struggling would cause him to sink deeper, David remained still and “waited patiently for the Lord” to intervene.

Often, when confronted with difficulty, we reflexively “spring into action” without asking God for wisdom and guidance, without seeking Him for an answer, without knocking on Heaven’s door. Our intentions may be good, but without God’s intervention and wisdom, we often make matters worse.

When I was a child, one of my parents’ favorite aphorisms was Benjamin Franklin’s “God helps them that help themselves.” I lost count of the number of times I heard, “God expects you to use your head. That’s why He gave it to you.” or ”Don’t just stand there, do something!” Sayings such as these were repeated so often that they became “mantras” seared into my brain like a brand on a bovine’s rump. It wasn’t until I began to understand God’s word that I realized “common sense,” isn’t always “sound wisdom.”

Scripture tells us that God’s ways are higher than ours, “as high as the heavens are above the earth,” (Isaiah 55:8-9). We are instructed not to rely on our own shallow understanding but to acknowledge God, not only in difficult or impossible situations, but in “all our ways.” (Proverbs 3:5) Are we wiser than the Wisdom of Solomon? Why then, do we rely so heavily on “common sense” in our decision making and problem solving?

As an example of someone who paid a hefty price for failing to “wait for the Lord,” the story of Israel’s first King, Saul, is one of the saddest in Jewish history. Jonathan, Saul’s son, had attacked and slaughtered a garrison of Philistine troops stationed at Geba. This drew the ire of their foreign occupiers who intended to crush the fledgling insurrection before it spread further. The Philistine army amassed a formidable invasion force at Michmash from which they would stage their campaign. In addition to infantry “as the sand which is on the sea shore in multitude,” there were "30,000 chariots, and 6,000 horsemen" that contributed to Israel's dismay. (1 Samuel 13:5) Seriously outnumbered and “outgunned,” the panicked Israeli army in Gilgal began to disintegrate. With Samuel nowhere in sight, Saul felt he had to do something! In a desperate attempt to rally his troops, Saul took it upon himself to offer the burnt offering and peace offerings; a privilege reserved exclusively for the High Priest, in this case, Samuel.

No sooner had Saul finished the offering, did Samuel appear. Upon learning what Saul had done, Samuel rebuked him and pronounced an end to his kingdom and God’s intention to replace him with a king who would be "a man after His own heart." (1 Samuel 13:14) Saul's confession to Samuel reveals why he acted so presumptuously:

Because I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that thou camest not within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered themselves together at Michmash. Therefore said I, The Philistines will come down now upon me to Gilgal, and I have not made supplication unto the LORD: I forced myself therefore, and offered a burnt offering. (1 Samuel 13:11-12)

A little saying I have grown fond of is, “Don’t give up five minutes before the miracle happens.” Had Saul waited only five minutes longer, his kingdom would have been established forever. (1 Samuel 13:13) Instead of waiting on the Lord, Saul allowed fear to control him. As a result, he acted impetuously and forfeited his chances for an enduring kingdom.

We see in Saul how unbelief fueled fear that caused him to abandon waiting on the Lord and take matters into his own hands. What does it mean to “wait upon the Lord?” Does the “waiting” David speaks of in Psalm 40 imply sitting around and doing nothing? Sometimes, but not always. Consider the list below for a few examples of what it means to “wait upon the Lord.”

Waiting on the Lord means …

  • I do not rely on my own understanding to resolve problems; I acknowledge God “in all my ways.”

  • I do not violate my integrity to achieve an objective; I act with integrity, leaving the results to God.

  • I do not act out of fear; I respond in faith based on God’s faithfulness and promises.

  • I do not seek ungodly advice; I seek the counsel of godly men and women.

  • I do not form alliances with ungodly men: I seek relationships with others on the “narrow way.”

  • I do not yield to temptation; I approach the “Throne of Grace” in times of testing.

  • I do not use prayer as a last resort; I devote consistent time to God in prayer, in good times and bad.

  • I am not miserly with God’s provision; I honor God in my giving knowing He is my provider.

  • I am not impatient when God’s answer is delayed; I wait upon the Lord for His answer and provision.

While “waiting” may seem counter-intuitive or unproductive, the Scriptures teach us that those who wait upon the Lord reap tremendous benefits.

Hast thou not known? Hast thou not heard that the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? There is no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: 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. (Isaiah 40:28-31)

We simply can’t afford not to wait on the Lord.
(c) 2008, Seeds for Good Soil. (Last updated: 3/11/2009 9:23 AM)

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