You’ve probably heard about the guy who prayed, “God, give me patience. How about right now!” We probably can all relate to that. Whether it’s sitting at a red light that seems reluctant to turn green, awaiting good news such as after a job interview, or just sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, being patient isn’t a strong suit for many of us. (Is being a “patient-patient” an oxymoron?)
So many things in life require waiting. We should be used to it by now. But if waiting is an art, most of us aren’t “artists.” For about a year, we’ve been waiting for this thing called the coronavirus pandemic to just go away. More times than I could count, I’ve said and heard others say, “I’m over it!” We’ve grown tired of masks, social distancing, not being able to go wherever we want to go, whenever we want to go there.
And yet, despite our aversion to it, waiting can make many experiences more enjoyable. Years ago this was illustrated by the ketchup commercial that used the lyrics from the Carly Simon song, “Anticipation.” The pourer waited and waited for the ketchup finally to emerge from the bottle while the song’s lyrics repeated, “Anticipation…anticipation.” Finally, success! The condiment flowed onto the still-steaming hamburger, demonstrating that the wait was worthwhile.
I can still remember the weeks – even months – of anticipation I felt as a boy, waiting for the arrival of Christmas. I had studied the catalogs, shown my parents the things I would like when we went to department stores, and could hardly wait to see what I’d discover under the tree.
Sadly, we’ve become spoiled. We’ve grown worse at waiting than ever. Immediate gratification, we believe, must be written somewhere in the Bill of Rights. We want what we want, and we want it immediately. Later is not an option.
We see evidence of this everywhere we go. Just the other day I was stopped at an intersection for a light and heard a siren. Fast approaching was a firetruck, so as the law prescribes, when the light turned green I waited to proceed until the emergency vehicle had passed. A driver behind me, obviously convinced of his self-importance, honked his horn at me and as he passed, made a gesture to display his impatience. Actually, I think the gesture was to indicate his IQ level.
Like it or not, time and experience have taught me that waiting is an integral, indispensable part of spiritual growth. Many times, whether waiting for a house to sell, for a new job opportunity to open up, for a financial crisis to be resolved, or for a health diagnosis and course of treatment to be determined, my awareness of how much I need and must trust in the Lord has heightened.
Many times in the Bible we find examples of the benefits of waiting – and the consequences of not doing so: Joseph waiting in prison until he was freed to interpret Pharaoh’s dream. The Israelites, when Moses tarried while meeting with God on Mt. Sinai, fashioning a golden calf to worship. David, after years as a lowly shepherd boy, becoming God’s anointed to become king of Israel. Judas Iscariot, losing patience when Jesus didn’t confront the Roman establishment, betraying Him for 30 silver coins. Obviously, those who waited were the wiser.
The virtues of waiting are extolled throughout the Scriptures, but nowhere more strongly than in Psalms. Written by King David, it admonishes, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes” (Psalm 37:7). Wow! Sounds like excellent advice for us in the 21st century, even though these words were written thousands of years ago.
In the same psalm, perhaps for emphasis, David writes, “Wait for the Lord and keep his way. He will exalt you to inherit the land; when the wicked are cut off, you will see it” (Psalm 37:34). Again, seems like good counsel for today’s times.
A few psalms later we read, “I waited patiently for the Lord; He turned to me and heard my cry – He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord” (Psalm 40:1-3). Are you noticing a recurring theme?
Yet another psalm underscores the importance of waiting: “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10). I’ve discovered that in those times when we’re frenetically moving, desperately determined to make things happen, it’s easy to lose sight of the Lord. In times of chaos and uncertainty, rather than adding to the frenzy, it’s usually best to do as the psalm suggests, just to “be still and know” that He is God – and we’re not.