Tuesday, August 18, 2015

How Long the Wait

I am reading the Sacred echo*, by Margret Feinberg. Her third chapter is titled "how long?" I love the chapter because it speaks to one of the struggles I've had with prayer--"the waits." For years it seemed like I would pray and then just wait and wait and wait to see if the prayer was answered. When the waiting got long, I found myself giving up because I felt invisible, unloved, ignored, and unworthy. I also found that unanswered prayer often left me filled with shame and guilt because I had heard pastors say unanswered prayers indicated that there was sin in our lives. I don't know how many times I would find myself waiting on God and find the shame and guilt rising in my soul leaving me obsessively searching my heart for the hidden sin. Over time I learned more about prayer, but occasionally the guilt would come flooding back--
  • like it did when I prayed my parents' marriage would be healed, but it ended in divorce
  • like it did when I had been praying for a friend to receive Christ and he died in unbelief
  • like it did when I had been praying for a friend to conceive but she died with ever bearing a child
  • like it did when I'd been  praying for a friend to find a mate and it never came to be 
  • like it did the time I'd been praying for healing for a friend battling cancer, but it eventually took it toll and friends and family said good by 
  • like it did when I prayed for God to heal a friend's sick heart, but she died of congestive heart failure
  • like it did when I was praying for God to lift the fog of depression but it lingered for several years more
  • like it did when I was praying a friendship would be restored only to realize it won't happen this side of heaven      
Don't get me wrong, I can fill pages with answered prayers--a son who survived a ruptured spleen, a thriving granddaughter who survived a traumatic birth three months early, a friend who shared how God had healed her grieving heart after losing three babies, allowing her to enjoy the two she had, infertile couples conceiving when they were told conception was impossible, our friends' grandson surviving leukemia, other friends' grandson surviving liver cancer, addicts walking in victory, victims finding voices, wounded souls finding deep joy, lost souls finding salvation, prodigals returning to serve, deep healing conversations at just the right time, and words of affirmation that have filled hungry souls and imputed God's hope just as souls were running dry.

Margret shares in her book that she has learned to look for themes that have played out in her life because they teach her things that God may be doing in her life. One of the themes she'd noticed was the theme of waiting and she began to ask the question "Why so much waiting?" As she searched the Scriptures she saw that it is a theme that was woven through out the Scriptures. God is waiting, Creation is waiting. We are waiting. One of the things that makes waiting hard is that we tend to forget that God is waiting with us. She also found that many before her asked, "How long must we wait?" In fact the first person to ask how long was God, Himself. In Exodus  10:3 God asks Pharaoh through Moses and Aaron, "How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me? Let My people go, that they may serve Me."

After finishing the chapter, I have been thinking about the waiting and realized the waiting has done some significant transforming work in my life. First, it has exposed areas of unbelief that I didn't know existed. Sometimes the unbelief had to do with God's character. I could say God was good, but there were times in the waits God showed me I doubted His goodness. I could say God is love, but in the waits God showed me I was not believing He loved me in a real and personal way. I could say God is all powerful, but in the midst of the waits God showed me that at times I doubted He had the power to do what I was asking. If someone was really sick, I prayed half heartedly for healing, because it was the right thing to do, but in my heart of hearts I struggled to believe He could and/or would heal broken bodies.

Many years ago when we moved from Mississippi a friend called often to see how I was adjusting. We spent a good part of the time talking about God, His character, His power, and how He acted in the days the Bible was being written. I believe she had the spiritual gift of faith and I soaked up godly wisdom from those conversations. I began to pattern my prayers after her prayers and after the prayers found in the Scriptures and I began to see a difference in me as my eyes and heart became more open to what God was doing when He seemed active and when He seemed inactive.

A few years into the journey I realized I struggled with unbelief in that I didn't fully believe what God said about me in His word. This made it difficult for me to come boldly to the throne of grace. It made it hard for me to persist in prayer as God instructs us to. When I began to choose to embrace my God-given identity, I began to pray more often, more persistently, and more expectantly.  

Second, after my faith began to develop I realized the waiting stirred up passion in me that was new and exciting. The first time I became aware of this was on a short-term mission trip in Mexico. We had prepared our students to teach and minister to children in Mexico through a student lead Vacation Bible School. We helped the students prepare and we prayed with them that God would bring the children to the churches we would be at. The first day we went to the church we were assigned to and only a couple of children showed up where as in the past the church had been packed. Our students went back to base camp, defeated. At the worship service that night other sites were giving glowing reports of their day. Finally, a student stood up and said that she was glad they had had a good day, but then she began to cry and shared passionately how she longed to have a chance to shower the kids with love and to share Jesus with them. The more she shared, the more passionate and the more powerful her words were. When she sat down the leader looked over our team of hurting teens and gently said, "Your day was not wasted. God was still at work. He has used this day of waiting to grow a passion in you that was not there before." I don't think a student or an adult took a conversation, a teachable moment, or prayer request lightly the remainder of that week.

That was only a one day wait, but I have had other "waits" that went on much longer. In fact, I am still in the middle of some. As I continue to persist in prayer I find the passion still growing. I long for the lost to find God in ways I never have before. I don't just hope the prodigals will return, but passionately long for God to meet them on the horizon, bathing them in His lavish grace. I don't just kind of hope wounded hearts find healing, I crave it. I don't just hope married couples might be reconciled, I deeply long for it because in reconciliation they will see something of God they won't see any other way. I no longer just half heartedly lift up grieving souls who need God's comfort, I persistently and passionately pray they get to see His goodness in the pain of their grief, and will experience Him personally as the Comforter.

Third, I realize the "waits" help purify my heart. Before I prayed because it was the right thing to do. But when I pray during times of waiting, I find it builds compassion and love in a heart that was once numb and that drives me to pray more often. It purifies my motives because it brings me face to face with my pride and my desire to appear more Spiritual than I really am. The longer the wait the more the prayer becomes about God and the person for whom I am praying. I have realized that God has used the waits to help me learn to love the things He loves and to hate the things He hates. As He puts passion, Holy desires, and deep longings in my heart, I realize He is sharing His heart with me and I am longing for others to see His goodness in the darkness permeating this land. I am longing for His holiness to shine brightly in this sin-filled world. I am longing for His love to replace the hatred so prevalent today. 

Fourth, praying "during "the waits" have brought healing to my heart. I often share that in our home group that our pastor taught a lesson on waiting. He asked us at the beginning why waiting was so hard for us to do. I remember I couldn't answer the question for myself. When He shared that God has His hears turned towards those who wait upon Him, I realized why the waits were so hard for me. When I was waiting, I had this picture in my mind of God just walking right past me as I called out His name and requested something. I felt unheard, overlooked, and unloved. After I saw that He had his ears turned toward me, I began to picture the wait as an invitation to keep on talking to Him. And in those waits buried pain surfaced and was given to Him. In those waits doubts were expressed and cares were cast on Him. In those waits fear was faced and courage was found. And in those waits deep wounds were shared that only the Healer could heal. I think sometimes when we come to Christ and trust Him as Savior we get the idea that we are just to put on a happy face and pretend that life is perfect. But the reality is when we pretend we don't experience fully all that God is...the Healer, the Comforter, our source of strength, our source of power, our source of humility, our source of courage.

Finally, one of the best things I uncovered in the waits was intimacy with God. When my dear friend lost her babies and I lived far away, the only thing I could do was to pray for her and I did so daily. When a young friend walked away from God for a season, all could do for her was pray and I did so daily. When a couple in our Bible study struggled with infertility and longed for a child, all I could do was pray and I did so daily. When our granddaughter came early and was in the NICU for so long all I could do was pray. When far away friends were dying of cancer all I could do was pray so I prayed and I prayed and I prayed. As I write this another friend is terribly sick and has been in critical care for over twenty days and the passion I feel for him and his family overwhelms my soul and all I can do is pray--so I pray and pray and then pray some more. As I pray passion grows, doubts dissipate, pride melts and I find myself feeling closer to God, realizing as never before that God is just as much in the wait as He is in the activity. It reminds me most that we are all waiting for Christ to return so our redemption is complete. We are all waiting so there will be no more sickness, no more pain, no more death, and no more ungodly rulers for Jesus will reign perfectly. Sometimes God gives me glimpses of what He is doing during the waits, but other times the waits remain a mystery--a mystery with benefits--the benefit of transformation, of purification, of healing, of a growing faith, and a deeper sense of God's relational presence in our lives.

*the Sacred echo, Margaret Feinberg, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2008)

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Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!