Updated: Jan 29, 2022
5 impossible things to do when God drags his feet.
This morning during my quiet time I decided to revisit an old practice of writing questions for God in a bedtime journal. This involves recording a direct question, and then waking (hopefully) to find an answer has emerged in the silence of sleep and unguarded morning insight. I remembered that I had a lovely leather journal deep in the well of my nightstand drawer for this very purpose. Glancing at a few entries from 2017, I was briefly bummed and baffled by the unanswered prayers that persist, and those answered in a way I found displeasing. Feeling the deadly bile of bitterness creep into my consciousness, I promptly turned to God for more answers. He had some.
This past weekend I went to a women's retreat at an old-fashioned, spartan lakeside Methodist camp in central Florida. The cornerstone activity was a full four-hours of solitary prayer and meditation, guided by a beefy hand-out of scriptures and suggested reflection questions. I cannot tell you, if you don't already know, how very fruitful such times can be, especially if you bag your personal agenda and simply listen. I confess that this isn't one of my best skills, but these past several months (and the 53 years prior) have disciplined me. I am now more eager and willing than ever to WAIT ON GOD--open minded, restful, attentive.
As I like to say, I was "clobbered into submission." I'm not alone.
It's not that I haven't waited before, even with sincere intention. Still (pun intended), I've waited with angst and antsy-pants, toe-tapping if not visibly, then for sure in my innermost parts. What God has graciously revealed to me is that's not what he has in mind, but he understands my struggle.
Loads of Bible verses and biographies reveal the substance and form of God's ideal design for waiting:
1. Wait quiet and serene. Not whirling, twirling, or manipulating to rush things along.
2. Wait without idolizing outcomes. Surrendering what we want in favor of God's will.
3. Wait gratefully. Thanking God for where we are on the way to where we're going.
4. Wait faithfully. Trusting God wants the best for us and his timing is best, too.
5. Wait a darn long time. Knowing God's timing is not ours.
If those five items indeed characterize A+ waiting, I'm going to have to repeat a year or 54. Don't despair! God will get you there. That's kind of the point.
God has Zombie legs.
My brother Dario is known as "zombie legs" because on strolls anywhere, he is always bringing up the rear from way back at a very leisurely pace. Me, on the other hand, it's taken me all this time to get so I'm not rushing, rushing, long-legged, ahead of everyone, including God. Just FYI, God shall not be rushed. Not a bona fide commandment but could be.
I'm so very sorry to tell you that the Bible says plainly that the great Watchmaker doesn't concern himself much with time. He's infinite, you see, so deadlines are of no interest! Least of all mine! The apostle Peter tries to help us understand this by explaining that one day is equal to 1000 years to God (2 Peter 3:8). I don't think this is intended as a mathematical formula (though you can try the calculations), but just to give you the gist of God's concept of time.
A merciless, self-critical masochist, I would like to smack myself upside the head for what will-fully rushing has cost me, especially in light of the high scriptural standard. I would, but for my all-merciful God and his gracious embodiment, Christ.
The so-called waiting rooms of life are where God does his very best work. I'm not sure, but maybe we can hasten the process and reduce the agony by giving in all the way, right from the get-go. Hah! Mostly, I think God runs the show. That is, the five characteristics for intentional, graceful waiting are the product of years of unwilling, messy waiting.
The Bible seems to confirm my analysis.
God left a very clear and potentially comforting account of Biblical waiting rooms. The most involved and eloquent show scant evidence of any passing grades on my five points. At least not graceful, voluntary waiting. Let's take a look at just a few using a Disney ride-line meter. No Fastpass here!
Jack-*Joseph - Wait time: 14 years
Favorite son of dream coat fame, Joseph was a bit of a jackass about his turns-out-accurate dreams of grandeur and dad's preferential treatment. This led to his resentful brothers' conspiring to make him go away by turning him over to slave traders.
Ben King and Leslie Ann Warren crushed it in this Italian TV production of Joseph.
Thus began a good 14 pretty awful years for Joe, including what looks like lousy luck and injustice, even while he excelled and garnered great performance reviews along the way. In the end, Joseph realized his God given mission on a truly epic scale, but it didn't look good on the way there. Everything he went through involuntarily, strategically shaped him and propelled him into position to actualize his dreams.
Now it must be said that Joseph behaved admirably the whole time and sought God relentlessly, but 14 really tough years is 14 really tough years.
Macho Moses - Wait time: 40 years
As most of us know from Charlton Heston's classic movie The 10 Commandments if not Sunday school, Jewish baby Moses was informally adopted by the Egyptian Pharoah's daughter, enjoying all the perks of privilege for a long while. Until--as an adult--enraged by injustice toward his native people, Moses killed an Egyptian to defend a Jewish slave, foreshadowing his ultimate mission of liberating the Jews from slavery. Fearing both Hebrew and Pharoah's wrath, Moses fled to the desert for 40 years (40!!!), before reluctantly leading the high-profile liberation. That's forty, 4-0, years.
A lot happened during those 40 years, most of it decidedly unglamorous and some not-at-all fun or seemingly promising.
I can only imagine how Moses felt early in his process, having killed the Egyptian soldier in righteous rage for the injustice, only to find himself exiled to a lack-luster desert for decades. By the time he did successfully challenge Pharaoh, he did it obediently but reluctantly, so thoroughly had he been humbled.
Anxious Abe - Wait time: 25 years
Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. (Romans 4:18-21)
What this compelling passage in Romans doesn't mention is that when tired of waiting, Abraham complied with wife Sarah's suggestion he sleep with the maid in order to make the promised baby ahead of schedule. Ruh-roh. Some would say today's giant Middle Eastern mess is a direct result of their haste. Romans also doesn't mention that earlier, Abraham effectively pimped his pretty wife out of fear.
God did keep his promise to Abraham about delivering the beloved son Isaac. He did. Twenty-five years later. That's a really long wait. Clearly, outstanding behavior and compliance with my 5-point list wasn't a prerequisite.
The looming list.
As I reviewed list upon list in my bedside journal, I recognized that many of those items I wanted don't qualify as divine promises. Just simple desires. I also recognize that some of my greatest blessings are the things I wanted and didn't get.
Even so, my spirit undeniably longs for the fulfillment of a few cherished desires--even some really holy ones--that I do believe were promised to me by God. I can't explain why they seem like real pinky-promises, but they do. Regardless of my conviction, I've learned, like Joseph, Moses, and Abraham that God is God and I'm not. I'm wise to...
Whatever the ideal we paint, the fact is most us of fall far short of the optimized 5-point standard for polite waiting. God graciously allows us the riveting record of how many spiritual heroes were subject to many painful formative years of detours and disappointed expectations. Can this refining process be avoided on our way to fulfilling God-given dreams or is it absolutely essential to the process? Can anything make it a little less difficult?
The Bible offers many, many relevant instructions: Be thankful. Pray without ceasing, persevere, show up don't give up. Repeatedly.
I don't want to invoke any prosperity Gospel of holding onto your pet promise, trusting it will come to pass if you just wait right and long enough. Graveyards are full of broken dreams held dear by faithful people.
In my own forever waiting rooms and in-between times, I've come to believe that the growth is in the waiting. Holding onto God during the grueling, tense, interminable waiting is what produces the letting go life. Whether it's that car, that man, that baby, that cure, that bonanza...
Our true hope is a person who calls himself the fulfillment of all things and promises that:
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. Ephesians 1:7-10
I have it on excellent authority that in heaven, we will experience the fulfillment of all desires beyond imagining. One day, we're promised we'll have it right here on earth, too. Until then...
Remember: God loves you no matter what.
Grace & peace,