You know those Bible stories that strike a little too close to home? For me, there are at least two biggies.
The first is the story of Abraham and Sarah and God’s promise to them for descendants and vast as the dust of the earth … if it could even be counted. God reiterates the promise later, this time telling Abraham to look to the sky and count the stars. “Can’t do it? That’s how it will be with all the descendants I’ll give you. They’ll be beyond counting,” God said.
Except there was a problem. Abraham and Sarah were growing old, and Sarah was infertile. “Me? Get pregnant? Impossible,” Sarah thought. And this is where the story gets real. Sarah got tired of waiting so she came up with a better plan: have Abraham sleep with her maid Hagar so she can give him a son.
If you know anything about the story, you know it goes south from there: jealousy, conflict, even banishment. God kept his promise to Abraham, but now those innumerable descendants found themselves in competing camps, embroiled in contentious rivalries even to this day. How might the course of history been different if Sarah hadn’t grown impatient in waiting?
Then there’s the story of Saul, the first king of Israel. God had warned the Israelites that they didn’t need a king like all the other nations. But the people had insisted and made Saul their king. So Samuel the prophet, acting on behalf of God, attempted to make the best of a bad situation. Rather than punish the Israelites, the Lord showed them his power then called them to repentance and obedience: both the people and their new king.
When Saul faced his first battle as king, Samuel had told him to wait at the battle line before advancing so Samuel could make an offering to the Lord and ask for his protection and blessing. But when Samuel didn’t come when expected, Saul grew impatient in waiting. The enemy was breathing down their necks, and the people were cowering in fear. Sure, only priests and prophets were allowed to bring offerings to the Lord, but Saul needed to do something now.
So, like Sarah generations before him, Saul came up with his own plan. He made the offering himself. As he finished, Samuel arrived. “What have you done?” the prophet asked. And knowing the answer before Saul even gave it, Samuel delivered the news that his impatience and disobedience would come at a cost. “You have acted foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you, for now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not endure. The Lord has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has appointed him as ruler over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you” (1 Samuel 13:13-14).
I get a little weepy thinking about these two heroes of the faith, both people like me who seemed committed enough at the time, faithful even, but when they were tested with waiting they failed. In both cases, the negative consequences weren’t immediate. Sarah thought she’d given Abraham an heir; Saul went on to win the battle. But the fallout came over time, just as the blessing would have, if only they’d waited.
How many times have I resisted the long waiting, giving in too soon because the urge to act outweighed the longing for God’s best. We can’t always distinguish one plan from the other, but we can sense the impatience in our spirit, and we can feel the regret of a rash decision. This might seem different from last week’s hesitation fueled by fear, but both betray a distrust that God knows what we need or is able or willing to provide it. On the flipside, when we wait and act on God’s prompting, we demonstrate faith not only in God’s plan but also in his character.
Waiting is a tempest. If you are prone to fear, you should run immediately for cover. Do what God’s calling you to. On the other hand, if you are more often the fool who rushes in, plan to hunker down. Wait out the storm. Often, the best plan of action will appear as soon as the clouds have parted.
PRAYER: Lord, waiting is hard. And while I trust you and your goodness, I don’t always understand your timing. Sometimes, your work in my life seems too slow, and I’m tempted to move ahead without you. Even as I say it to you, I know what it means: I’m trading the promise of your perfectly timed plan A for a poorly executed plan B that’s born of impatience and insecurity. To be honest, though, sometimes I don’t even know I’m jumping ahead of you until it’s too late. I need your help. I long for the better way you bring. Fill me with your spirit and help me discern your work in my life. Help me grow in patience. Help me grow more like Jesus. (LISTEN BELOW)
How long, oh Lord? How long will this season of waiting go on? Over and over again in the Bible we find people waiting for God to lead them, heal them, rescue them, or answer them. How these same people respond to the waiting often signals what they believe about who God is and how he’s at work in their lives. Throughout December, in the month of Advent when we reenact the Messianic waiting that defined so much of Israel’s history, we’re going to talk about what we can learn about Hope in Waiting in our own lives.