The Waiting is the Hardest Part

When God makes promises the timing is not always what we’d want. Abraham is promised that he will have descendants whose number will be like the stars in the sky. But then Abraham waits. He waits for a long time. And still he has no children. The promise of God was not for the next day–it was years later. It was to be fulfilled in old age, when he thought it was impossible. In the meantime Abraham took matters into his own hands and deviates from the will of God.

It seems that the trust is not always the hardest part. It is the trust carried out over time. It is the patience. Can we trust God for more than a moment? Can we trust when something promised is on the horizon or out of sight? Faith requires that we place our trust in God and then have the patience to endure.

What can help is knowing that God alone is the one who can really keep his promise. Only he is in complete control of all circumstances. So when he makes us a promise, he is always faithful. He is faithful to Abraham, and now we the descendants of Abraham can trust that he will be faithful to us.

Patience is hard, so we all probably need to pray for patience. (Although I hear that when we pray for patience, God doesn’t just make it appear. What does he do? He gives us practice. So be warned!)

I can’t help but link to this video. When I think of patience I think of the Tom Petty song, The Waiting, from which I took the title of this post. And when I think of that song, I think of this scene from The Simpsons. It’s not the best clip and leaves off the final punchline at the end–but it still gives me a chuckle.

“The Waiting is the Hardest Part”

When we think of the word “wait”, what does that look like? If someone is waiting for someone or something, what are they actually doing? It is easy to think of waiting as doing nothing. Waiting can seem like inaction, waiting for a later time when you will act. But read the first chapter of 1 Thessalonians. Read it all but the last verse.

Paul writes of their “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ,” they are imitators of Paul–who was no slouch, and they did this in affliction. The church has been an example all around Achaia and Macedonia, and beyond that, the word of the Lord has sounded forth from them everywhere. They welcomed Paul and his colleagues and they turned from idols to worship the living and true God. Does that sound like they’re doing nothing? This is how they wait, waiting for the the Son from heaven.

Waiting for Jesus’ return is not sitting on our hands. Later in his letter Paul explicitly tells them to admonish the idle. To wait upon Jesus is a vigilant life. It is active, for he did not leave us here to do nothing. We have a purpose and he has given us his Spirit! Why would we be blessed with the Holy Spirit if all we’re expected to do is nothing? Let’s wait, but do so in a way outline here in 1 Thessalonians.

Quick to Listen, Slow to Speak

I’m not sure how many times I’d repeated in my head (or deserved to have someone say to me), “quick to listen, slow to speak.” This of course is part of James 1:19 and is a simple directive, b it sure is hard. We all want to be heard. We’re tempted to think ourselves much smarter than we truly are and we want to give our two cents. But we don’t stop there, adding additional cents and finding ourselves in debt in the conversation. Having given so much speech, we owe the other person some time of listening.

Tell me if these situations are familiar to you–either as the victim or perpetrator:

  • One person in a conversation does not seem to be really listening, probably because he uses the time when the other person is talking only to think about what he’ll say next.
  • A person uses the story of another merely as a platform to tell another story that she thinks is much greater than the first.
  • Someone cuts you off to either agree, disagree, or correct the opinion that he actually did not hear since he interrupted you in the first place.
  • You have a friend who loves to tell you all about what is going on in her life, but has no time to listen to you.
  • You put your foot in your mouth because you jumped to conclusions without waiting for all the facts or because you didn’t wait for someone to finish.

It is so easy for us to fall into these traps. Embarrassingly, it is easy to complain when someone else does it, but then go off and do those very same things. But we need to evaluate ourselves, be humble in our relationships and conversations, and follow this command. The text goes on to say we should be “slow to anger” and being a person with patience who is slow to speak is key. I find it hard to imagine a hothead–someone quick to anger–as also someone who is a great listener and very humble.

On the flip side, don’t you find yourself drawn to people who listen to you? Who are patient as you speak and ask you questions? This can be a great witness for Christians to their neighbors, especially in a frantic world that is hurried and where we’re having more online relationships or transactional relationships. If you are one who listens, you’ll be taking a step to show the love and care God has for us to someone who may really need it.

This is also a lesson we need to make sure to apply to those God has placed close to us, those about whom we care most. That group is often one that sadly gets our worst, along with our best, since we see them so much. We can be so sure we already know them well enough, so we jump to conclusions, cut them off, or tune out. But we need to slow down.

If you need to be quick, be quick to listen. Give yourself time to really hear people. Take time to think. Then be slow to respond.

Job in 25 minutes

We’re finishing Job having now spent three weeks going through its 42 chapters. There is a lot to digest from it, and not only because of its length. It is a weighty book dealing with questions of God’s role in the world and suffering.

We were blessed at church to have had a sermon two Sundays ago that took on the minor task of preaching on the entirety of the book. Often as we preach from the texts we’re reading we preach on some of the texts. But as this tries to sum up the whole, I thought I’d link to it here and offer it up as a good word on this deep book.

The Patience of Job, Lauren Taylor, October 21, 2012


Christian Character and Reading Through the Bible

I have my wife to thank for providing me with this lengthy quote, taken from the book After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters, by NT Wright.

“The practice of reading scripture, studying scripture, acting scripture, singing scripture–generally soaking oneself in scripture as an individual and a community–has been seen from the earliest days of Christianity as central to the formation of Christian character.

It is important to stress at this point (lest the whole scheme collapse into triviality) that this has only secondarily to do with the fact that scripture gives particular instructions on particular topics. That is important, of course; but it is far more important that the sheer activity of reading scripture, in the conscious desire to be shaped and formed within the purposes of God, is itself an act of faith, hope and love, an act of humility and patience. It is a way of saying that we need to hear a fresh word, a word of grace, perhaps even a word of judgment as well as healing, warning as well as welcome. To open the Bible is to open a window toward Jerusalem, as Daniel did (6.10), no matter where our exile may have taken us.

…the point is that reading the Bible is habit-forming; not just in the sense that the more you do it the more you are likely to want to do it, but also in the sense that the more you do it the more it will form the habits of mind and heart, of soul and body, which will slowly but surely form your character into the likeness of Jesus Christ. And the “your” here is primarily plural, however important the singular is as well.

This isn’t to say there aren’t hard bits in the Bible–both passages that are difficult to understand and passages that we understand only too well but find shocking or disturbing (for example, celebrating the killing of Edomite babies at the end of Psalm 137). Avoid the easy solutions to these: that these bits weren’t “inspired,” or that the whole Bile is wicked nonsense, or that Jesus simply abolished the bits we disapprove of. Live with the tensions. Goodness knows there are plenty of similar tensions in our own lives, our own world. Let the troubling words jangle against one another. Take the opportunity to practice some patience (there may yet be more meaning here than I can see at the moment) and humility (God may well have things to say through this for which I’m not yet ready). In fact, humility is one of the key lessons which comes through reading the Bible over many years; there are some bits we find easy and other bits we find hard, but not everybody agrees as to which is which.

… perhaps it’s another sign of maturity when our sense that scripture is made up of some bits we know and love, and other bits we tolerate while waiting for our favorites to come around once more, is suddenly overtaken by a sense of the whole thing— wide, multicolored and unspeakably powerful. We had, perhaps, been wandering around in light mist, visiting favorite villages and hamlets, and then, as the mist gradually cleared, we discovered that everything we had loved was enhanced as it was glimpsed within a massive landscape, previously unsuspected, full of hills and valleys and unimagined glory.”

N.T. Wright, After you Believe, 261-264