I am weary with my crying out;
My throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.
Those of us who have been apart of Christian circles for awhile, have heard that there are three answers to prayer. "Yes," "No," and "Wait." I have always been able to handle the "yes" and "no" answers, because they are immediate and the matter at hand feels settled. There is very little confusion in clear cut answers. It feels like I have been heard, and I know that I had been answered in a way that is best for me.
On the other hand, the wait answers are hard. For a long while I wasn't sure why. Then our small group did a Bible study on the concept of waiting on God. The pastor opened the study by having each one of us share what we found difficult about waiting on God. Everyone gave that made sense, but in my heart of hearts I couldn't put my finger on why I found it so hard to wait. Later he shared a verse that essentially said that God has His ears turned to those who are waiting on Him. That really resonated with me and helped me see what was hard about waiting on God. When God didn't answer my prayers, I had been assuming that He didn't see me and that He chose not to hear me. If it was something I felt very passionate about, I would sometimes even envision myself climbing to a mountain top and crying out to Him in hopes of being seen and being heard.
I realized for the first time that night that God's waits were an invitation for me to keep on talking to Him, not a sign that I had been neglected by God. His waits were not a reason to withdraw and gravitate to the lies that I am invisible and not worth listening to. His waits have been and continue to be an invitation to keep on talking...
...talking until any pain in my heart is turned to joy
...talking until the lies I believe are exposed and replaced with His truth
...talking until my unbelief is transformed into belief
...talking until my desire for God is greater than my desire for His benefits
...talking until my will is perfectly aligned with His
...talking until by mustard seed-sized faith is big enough to move mountains
I now realize the waits don't mean I am neglected; they are periods of times that are designed by the wise Creator to mature and sanctify my oh so human heart.
As I have been thinking about waiting, I realize that waiting on God to answer prayers isn't the only waiting to which we are called. There are times we wait for God to fulfill His promises. One of the most powerful examples of this found in the story of Abram and Sarai who were barren and unfortunately living in the midst of a people who worshiped fertility gods.
Jehovah called Abram and Sarai out of that situation to a new land, promising to make them a great nation, which implied to them that they would become parents. That promise must have been like music to their ears. They left and were blessed abundantly with material possession...but, for a child they waited... and they waited...and then they waited some more.
During their long wait they had a few missteps and a few lapses of faith in which Abram lied about Sarai being his wife for fear he would be killed. In Genesis 15 we even get a glimpse of Abram trying to make sense of God's promise and the lack of it being filled promptly when he asks God if maybe his relative Eliezer was to be his heir. God restated His promise as a covenant contract with Abram trying to reassure Abram that He meant business.
Later, Sarai tries to help God out as well. She gives Abram her handmaiden to raise up children for them, causing all sorts of problems. As Abram turns 99 and Sarai 90, God not only visits again and restates His promise, He changes their names. Abram became Abraham which means exalted Father and Sarai became Sarah meaning princess because kings would come out of her line. Then they waited some more. The Lord visits again and this time Sarah laughs when she hears the promise. If she is anything like me, the laughter probably wasn't born out of joy, but out of cynicism.
I found that as I tried to put myself in their sandals for a bit I became less judgmental. I realize they were living a story as it was being penned and couldn't see the ending like I can. In the context of their story, their questions, their scheming, their actions, and even Sarai's laughter make sense because they're so human, just like me. Month after month, their hopes would rise and fall with her menstrual cycle. It probably even felt as if God were dangling their hearts' desire in their faces and then every month pulling it back.
Man, hadn't they already born the shame of infertility in a culture that idolized fertility? Hadn't they stepped out in faith and obeyed God by going to a new land? Hadn't a part of the promise been fulfilled in their amassed wealth? Why not it all?
So, the offer to help God out makes sense to me. In all honesty there are times that I do the same thing. When I am going through something that in my human mind doesn't seem match up to what I understand of God's Word, I try to reason it out to make it make sense. I really can't blame Sarai and Abram, for wondering, for misunderstanding, or for offering God solutions in how He could bring His promise to reality in their old age. Maybe they were trying to help God because they saw the situation as impossible. Yes, their view of God may have been small and they may have lacked spiritual understanding. But, sometimes my view is small, too.
During the wait they experienced things that gave them a bigger and more accurate picture of their God. They saw Sodom judged and destroyed and Lot's life spared. They experienced God's intervention and protection when they told lies out of fear. They met King Melchizedek--the priest of the most High and defeated armies.
Ironically, the couple who had been promised a child lived long enough for her life blood Sarah to cease and for all to know Abraham and Sarah's bodies were incapable of reproduction. They lived long enough for their unbelief to be exposed through her laughter...then and only then the God of grace acted. And in His acting God showed Himself to be the one true God, the Creator, and the Author of life.
Hebrews 11 tells us that Sarah came to believe and because she believed she was able to conceive. Maybe a part of the wait served to purify their faith so that they could believe the unbelievable and maybe a part of the wait served to show them that Jehovah is the God of the Impossible! God resurrected their sexually dead bodies and gave them a child in old age, turning their grief to laughter and their scoffing to faith.
In acting God also reconnected their sexuality to their spirituality. For the chiasm between the later two happened during the fall and it had grown wider by man's establishment of false religions that idolized fertility and sacrificed young girls as temple prostitutes. By His actions, God reestablished the purity of the marriage bed and the sanctity of the marriage covenant sealed spiritually by the sexual relationship.
The story of Abraham and Sarah gives me such hope with all that is going on in this world --wars, earthquakes, droughts, famines, tsunamis, persecutions. I know that Jesus promised to return and when things heat up in this world I find myself wondering just like the early church if God has forgotten his promise. But 2 Peter 3:9 says, "The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance."
It is so important to accept that the waits are intentionally designed by His love-scarred hands. My job during the waits is three fold. First, I am to be prayerful--pouring out my heart so that all that stands in the way of my faith is exposed and removed. Second, I am to be patient, believing that God is working both in the world and in the spiritual realms in ways that my human mind cannot understand. Third, I am to be a promise seeker who diligently pours over His Words because they remind me of who He is and give me hope.
His Word says, "His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire." (2Peter 1:3-4). His promises are precious and they are great. He gives them to me so that I can become more like Him. The enemy will try to convince me that God is not listening. But the truth is His ears are always turned to those who belong to Him. There is no greater time to display faith to a dying world than when I am waiting for God to answer prayer or waiting for God to fulfill His promises.
So, how are you doing at being prayerful, patient, and a promise seeker during the times that you are waiting on God? Some times I falter, but I am trying. I would love you to share what you have learned as you have waited on God! What did you learn about Him? What did you learn about yourself? And what did you learn about life?