It happens every time. I’m pulling up to a red light and there’s a car or two in front of me. But the next lane over is clear. So what do I do? Pull over so I can be first in line when the light turns green, of course! (Unless the guy in front of me beats me to it!) Then there’s how slow my computer can be. What’s with that little colored wheel rotating around and around and around….while I wait for a function to be completed! I thought OS X 10.infinity was supposed make everything go faster!!
Maybe you’re not like me – maybe you don’t have much of a problem with waiting. Then again, perhaps you’ve been put on hold for what seems a lifetime while getting service from your Internet provider or, hold your breath . . . the Department of Motor Vehicles.
My mind often goes to this subject as I interact with many students and alumni who are in situations that require them to wait upon the Lord. With some it’s a relationship that seems stalled. Others are agonizing over how long it takes for a church to go through the candidating process. Still others are trying to find a way to get through Talbot in less time, for less money, with less effort. It’s hard for us to accept the reality that many things in life demand time – much more than we are willing to give them. Perhaps we’ve failed to see the benefits of waiting. Could it be that our lives are made better by languishing behind cars at stop lights, being put on ‘hold’, or living at the mercy of a slow search committee?
Here are a few benefits my wife Rolane and I have experienced as we have waited in life together for the last 38 years:
1. Waiting helps us with our control issues. Admit it. You are just like us. You like having your world in order and functioning according to your rules. I tell my students in their first semester to start learning how to lose control. Life is messy. It doesn’t operate upon our approval. What we think should take only so much time can end up consuming much more. As you read this I’m beginning a book project with one of my Talbot colleagues. We’ve set deadlines, but I know circumstances may well enter our lives that will jeopardize that timeline. Coming to grips with the unpredictability of life will go a long way in helping us sustain a joyful spirit in the midst of the chaos.
2. Waiting draws us back to our gracious Provider. You may recall King Saul’s first goof as Israel’s leader. The Philistines were gathering and organizing their troops. His own men were scattering. And Samuel was late to offer the sacrifice. So Saul took matters into his own hands and performed it himself– against God’s clear command (1Samuel 13). Saul wasn’t sure God would show up, so he resorted to his own devices to secure a blessing for battle.
Lest we get too tough on him, we would do well to remember how we get when there are bills to pay, shoes to buy for the kids, and the bank account is near empty. Desperation can hit any of us. Waiting for the Lord to come through becomes a bigger test. Rolane and I have seen God provide in such circumstances, often in amazing and miraculous ways. Whether it’s finances or the changing of people’s hearts, we can testify to His gracious provision.
3. Waiting purifies and strengthens our call. Lots of people enjoy their call to ministry when things are going as planned, when progress is being made. It’s when the attendance is stalled, the budget flat, or the search committee never responds that we start to question our call. Not seeing the kind of progress we’d like is only one of many reasons pastors doubt their call. A study by Duke Divinity School identified ten key factors for such doubt [God’s Potters, Jackson W. Carroll, Eerdmans, 2006, p. 165]:
People treating me differently as a pastor
Congregation making too many demands
Spouse resenting the amount of time ministry takes
Church members disagreeing over the role of pastor
Difficulty finding time for recreation and personal renewal
Congregation criticizing pastor
Spouse resenting family’s finances
Feeling so lonely and isolated
Difficulty in relationships with other staff
Difficulty of having a private life apart from the clergy role
Waiting is inherent in all these circumstances because it takes time to work through such challenges with people. In marriage the vows are to be kept ‘for better or for worse’. As hard times can strengthen our relationships, so it can deepen our sense of commitment to God’s call upon our life.
4. Waiting helps us grow spiritually. It’s been fun seeing our grandchildren come into the world and begin to grow. The natural process of physical and mental development is a wonder to us. Things we want to do with our grandkids require them to have a certain level of maturity. All five are now able to ‘overnight’ with us without their parents present. Great fun, but we have had to wait until they were ready – something that just takes time.
In like fashion, we all recognize that spiritual maturity doesn’t happen quickly. Christian leaders are not to be novices, reflecting a period of maturation in their lives prior to being given such responsibility (1 Tim. 3:6). Joseph spent significant time in the ‘cooler’ in Egypt being prepared by God to assume his astonishing leadership role. Moses was not ready to lead Israel until he had finished forty years of field education in the wilderness. One cannot help but conclude that these waiting periods served as strategic training opportunities for the Lord to purify and prepare His servants for the task ahead. He is still using ‘wait time’ for the same purposes. You may be in such a place right now. Who knows what the Lord may have in store for you!
5. Waiting sweetens the future. There is a happy ending to waiting. How often have you said ‘it was worth the wait’. You who are married say that about your spouses. Parents say that about their children. And pastors often share that about their churches. One alumnus we know spent a year in his job search and experienced ten interviews with different churches before he was extended a call. It was a wonderful fit for him and his family, and became a bright and blessed chapter in his ministry career. When you have waited for something, especially for a long time, you really appreciate it, don’t you!
When I was a pastor my hobby was photography (film, old school). I would save $25 a month toward darkroom equipment. After saving for many months I ordered my first enlarger. When it arrived at my door I was like a child at Christmas. How I loved that piece of equipment! What fun to develop pictures with it! The joy of ownership was much sweeter because it had taken time and discipline to purchase it.
Proverbs 13:12 asserts ‘Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire fulfilled is a tree of life’. Waiting is not fun, not easy, not something we take well to in this culture and age. Yet as we trust our loving, wise and gracious Lord, He – in His time – provides all we need for our blessing and ability to joyfully serve Him. So, next time you are waiting at the light, put on hold, or standing in line at the supermarket, remember that waiting has its advantages. May we all have the grace to see the benefits of the delays in life.