aiting for God to act—waiting for Him to show up, to step in, intervene, take over, or fulfill His promise—is arguably the most difficult discipline of the Christian life. The commands to wait on God—explicitly or implicitly—emerge again and again in Scripture, but also come with the promise of blessing if we do indeed wait and not give up:
Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, and they shall walk and not faint (Isa. 40:31 MEV).
Those who wait for Me shall not be ashamed (Isa. 49:23 MEV).
For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by ear, neither has the eye seen a God besides You, who acts for the one who waits for Him (Isa. 64:4 MEV).
You might ask, “How long must one wait?” My answer: As long as it takes to see why God said for us to wait. His command is for our good. He would not ask us to wait if what He has in mind were not worth waiting for.
When my wife and I first moved to England, we were impressed with how consistently, beautifully, and without complaining the Brits would stand in a queue. We Americans aren’t good at this, and sadly we show it sometimes when in England and jump queues. It doesn’t help our reputation!
It is one thing to wait in a queue for an hour or two. But what if God makes us wait in a queue for years?
When Louise and I married, I was working as a salesman. First, I was selling baby equipment; second, life insurance; and third, vacuum cleaners. In my days of selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door—a period that lasted a total of almost eight years—I used to lie on the floor praying and pleading with the Lord, “How long, how long, how long before You will fulfill Your word to me?”
I had an 18-month break from selling vacuum cleaners when I was pastor of a little church in Carlisle, Ohio, in 1962 and 1963. But things did not go well there. However, while in Carlisle I felt definitely that God gave me this promise: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will perform that good thing which I have promised unto the house of Israel and to the house of Judah” (Jer. 33:14). I took “that good thing” to refer to promises and visions I received back in 1955 and 1956. They certainly weren’t being fulfilled in Carlisle. We returned to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on January 1, 1964, where I recommenced selling vacuum cleaners until 1968.
When I would read the psalmist’s word, “It is time for You, O Lord, to act” (Ps. 119:126 MEV), I would think, Yes! I don’t know if the psalmist knew that it was time for God to act or if he felt it was time for God to act! Many times I have wanted to say, “It is time for You to act, O Lord,” but I am not sure I have had His warrant to pray like that! It is certainly the way I have felt countless times.
Two Timely Quotations
Two different statements have been given to me over the years that have been sobering and encouraging. The first came from Dr. Clyde Francisco, my Old Testament professor at Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
He used to say, “We all tend to think we don’t have enough time. The truth is, God gives all of us enough time.” I have thought about that a lot, especially when I think—getting older—I fear I won’t have enough time to accomplish what I thought I was called to do. This brings me to the second quotation. It comes from Terry Akrill, a godly layman from York, England. He used to say to me, “Time is God’s domain.” I was sobered by that word. It coheres with Dr. Francisco’s word, “God gives all of us enough time.”
That time is God’s domain indicates His prerogative regarding the timing of all events in the world—including our personal lives. It is a caution not to try to rush God to get on with our plans!
One of the easiest things in the world to do is to run ahead of the Lord. Is it a sin? Certainly. And yet it is what Joseph and Mary did. The child Jesus—aged 12—had been with His parents in Jerusalem. When Joseph and Mary headed back for Galilee, they assumed Jesus was with them. He wasn’t. Unknown to them, Jesus stayed back in Jerusalem. “Supposing Him to be in their company, they went a day’s journey” (Luke 2:44 MEV).
I will say to you right here that I pray every single day—and have done for a good while—that God will somehow keep me from running ahead of Him. I have done this too many times.
The big mistake for many of us—certainly for me—is to try to make things happen. We do it partly by running ahead of the Lord. I think that is what Abraham and Sarah did when they decided he should sleep with Sarah’s maidservant Hagar (Gen. 16:2–4). They had no children. They were trying to make good the promise that God did indeed give to Abraham—that his offspring would be as the stars of the heavens. This was when he was 75 and Sarah 65. Years passed after that without Sarah getting pregnant. She gave up hope and suggested that Abraham sleep with Hagar. He did. Although it was a part of God’s sovereign plan, Hagar’s giving birth to Ishmael gave great pain to Abraham and Sarah. And to the whole world.
How wonderful it is that “all things work together for good” for those who love God, to them who are the “called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). The fact that all things work together for good does not mean all we did was right at the time.
When I left home in 1956 and began work as a salesman, I went deeply into debt. I was so foolish. I bought expensive stereo equipment; I even bought an airplane (a Cessna 120)! I bought a car—a new Edsel. I was then too deep into debt to go into fulltime Christian ministry. Going into debt like that was not good. But those years as a salesman taught me how to handle money. (I have not owed any money to anyone since 1962.) I learned how to work with people. I learned how to be a businessman. I learned that waiting on God has great reward. Those years were not for nothing. All things have worked together for good.
So with you. Are you waiting for God to act? Have you cried out, “How long?” Take heart. He will show up—never too late, never too early, but always just on time.
Two Kinds of Waiting
There are two kinds of waiting. First, you can be waiting for anything—but you don’t know what you are waiting for. You just go on. The waiting could go on and on and on. You have no promise to hold on to. You have set no goal for yourself. Life goes on. You may have nothing to look forward to.
This is not good, because we all need something to look forward to. We need something to live for. Even if you don’t have an ultimate expectation down the road, you need to be able to look forward to time with God every day. His mercies are “new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (Lam. 3:23).
Forget goals down the road for the moment. Consider this very day. Yes. Right now. I pray that you will come into a relationship with God whereby you know for yourself how real His presence is. What God has done for others, He will do for you. He is no respecter of persons. Here is a word for you—you can take this to the bank: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jer. 29:13 NIV). That will give you something to live for!
The second kind of waiting is when you have something definite to look forward to. You know you won’t have to wait indefinitely. It is good to know that “the doctor will be seeing you,” “you will have a table in the restaurant,” “the flight is definitely scheduled.” So too when you have something that is from the Lord—and you know you have not been deceived.
That is precisely what the disciples had going for them. Jesus told them to stay in Jerusalem. “Do not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father” (Acts 1:4). They had infallible assurance that something from God was coming. When you have a word like that from God Himself, hang on to it. You will not be deceived.
However, the disciples did not know when this would happen. Looking back on the event, they might have figured out in advance that the Feast of Pentecost commemorated the giving of the Law of Moses. It would seem reasonable that God would do it on that day. But they did not know at first.
Only 120 waited (Acts 1:15). It is possible that more than 500 of Jesus’s followers heard Him say to stay in Jerusalem, for Paul says that more than 500 saw the risen Jesus (1 Cor. 15:6). It is possible that after a few days some of them gave up waiting. Those who initially went to an upstairs room “all joined together in prayer” (Acts 1:14 MEV). But even the 120 stopped praying long enough to discuss who should replace Judas Iscariot among the Twelve (vv. 15–26). Whether this was a good thing for them to consider has been debated for two thousand years.
The good thing is, those who waited were rewarded. On the Day of Pentecost, “suddenly a sound like a mighty rushing wind came from heaven, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting” (2:2 MEV). Notice that they weren’t kneeling. That shows that posture is not the most important thing when it comes to praying.
The main thing is waiting. God does the rest. We don’t need to make things happen. Only God can make things happen. I once asked [theologian] Carl F. H. Henry if he would do anything differently if he had his life to live over again. He paused and then replied: “I would try to remember that only God can turn the water into wine.”