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Which spiritual discipline do you like the least? Many people would jump immediately to fasting, but I can think of one that trips us up even more. Fasting might last for a meal, a day, or even a week (in some extreme cases). But the discipline I’m thinking about can last decades.
I’m talking about the spiritual discipline of waiting.
We often don’t think of “waiting” as a discipline, but it’s all over Scripture, and well-attested to in the Christian classics.
We serve a God whose calendar moves by millennia, not minutes, and who thinks in terms of generations, not seasons. Unless we understand this about God—that he moves by millennia, not minutes—we will never understand his ways with us. Peter is very clear: “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” (2 Pet. 3:8) We are obsessed with where we are today and with what is going to happen in the next year, while God’s plans for this world often take a long-term view.
Abraham was a sprightly 75 years old when God promised him that he would be a “great nation”—a bold promise given to a childless man. A quarter century passed before Isaac was born, and a full century went by before the promise about the land took concrete shape.
The Psalmist, though full of hope, recognizes that God’s blessings do not always come with the speed of a bullet, but rather with the slow, steady approach of a glacier: “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning.” (Psalm 130:5-6a)
As Israel lay conquered, Jeremiah urged his countrymen, “I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.’… It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” (Lam. 3:24, 26) Jeremiah knew God would bring Israel back, but it would a long time.
One thing is clear: God won’t be rushed.
Without a willingness to wait, we will be regularly frustrated with God and may become disillusioned with our faith. God never promises us that our present circumstances will always “make sense.” Sometimes, we will have to wait until the present becomes the past before what we are going through becomes even remotely understandable.
Waiting, for the believer, is not a futile and desperate act of those who have no other options, but rather a confident trust that eventually God will set things right—even if he is not operating within our preferred time frame. “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength,” Isaiah tells us (Isa. 40:31). It almost goes without saying that there is no reason for “hoping” if we already have all that we want; this verse implies the discipline of waiting.
How much in marriage requires us to wait? Waiting for change. Waiting for a job. Waiting for our kids to embrace faith. Waiting for healing. Waiting, waiting, waiting. Sometimes, it seems like half of family life is about waiting.ll pick it up with the next one, in particular looking at how understanding the discipline of waiting can serve us in marriage and family life.
[photo:Elvert Barnes, Creative Commons]