(Part 2 in a series. For part 1, click here)
I recently read the following statement on the website of an independent service designed to acclimate new immigrants to American culture: “Most Americans are impatient yet disciplined. No one likes to wait in line and they are easily frustrated…Life in the U.S. is generally fast-paced and busy. It is all about making money. People don’t want to waste time on anything, even eating food.”
As a Canadian immigrating to the U.S., I must say I found this interesting. I wish I could say that it wasn’t true of my home country either, but even we polite Canucks are an impatient lot. Ask a Canadian in March whether or not they’ve had enough snow for one year and if they are ready for Spring to arrive, you’ll see the impatience I’m referring to. In fact, our first world, materialistic impatience is spreading to every culture that is emerging from a simpler past. Look at the lineups for the release of the latest tech gadget in Hong Kong, Singapore, or Tokyo.
As the world gradually moves toward a stronger, more potent degree of impatience, does Christianity stand in contrast? What an opportunity for the gospel and for God’s glory—when a believer waits in settled peace for God to move, provide, or guide!
God hasn’t left us without examples and instructions regarding waiting. If you scan your Bible knowledge briefly, who stands out to you as the most potent example of a good “waiter?” My mind immediately went to Joseph.
“Only remember me, when it is well with you, and please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this house. For I was indeed stolen out of the land of the Hebrews, and here also I have done nothing that they should put me into the pit.” (Genesis 40:14-15 ESV). Joseph knew the cupbearer was getting out of prison in three days and he asked the cupbearer to mention him to Pharaoh so he could get out of there. Only a few verses later, in chapter 41, verse 1, it says, “After two whole years…”
Joseph was 17 years old when God gave him the first dream about His plans for him (37:2). He was 30 years old when Pharaoh made him second in command over all of Egypt (41:46). What happened in that approximately 13-year-long span? Well, we could sum it up by saying that it mostly involved slavery and prison as a result of the jealousy and betrayal of his brothers. Does that sound like a fun 13 years to you? Not me. In chapter 40, verses 14 and 15 you can almost hear the struggle in Joseph’s words. “Please remember me; help me get out of this pit because I don’t belong here. Honestly, I was framed!” It would not have been an easy experience, and we can certainly understand his plea for help. But the most potent indicator of how Joseph handled his waiting comes in his response. “And Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him. And Joseph remembered the dreams that he had dreamed of them…” (42:8-9a ESV). “So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt” (44:4-8 ESV).
Remember David. David faced a difficult season of waiting in between his anointing as God’s chosen king over Israel and his establishment in that position. What would you have been saying to God in prayer as you sat in a cave in the wilderness running for your life when you were supposed to be king? Many of the biblical references to waiting well are penned by David in the Psalms during these periods of his life. “Give me not up to the will of my adversaries; for false witnesses have risen against me, and they breathe out violence. I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Ps. 27:12-14).
Consider national Israel and their hope in the promises of God. Abraham waited for the birth of Isaac. Jacob waited and worked for his wife. Then after Joseph, the young nation falls into slavery in Egypt and waits for God’s deliverance. Then in the wilderness they struggle with impatience over a number of issues and are judged accordingly. Then, as a result of their sin of distrust and fear, they wait (at least, some of them did) 40 more years in the wilderness before inheriting the land. Once in the land they sin almost immediately and fall into a continual cycle of judgment, then waiting for merciful deliverance. As each world empire grows bigger and stronger, overtaking the previous empire—all of the way from Assyria to Rome—the land is marched across and conquered over and over again and the people await their Messiah. How many of God’s promises to them came with waiting? How many of God’s promises to us might come with waiting?
Take one more step back. Consider waiting in the light of salvation history’s metanarrative (God’s all-encompassing plotline to which everything connects). Ever since humanity chose to sin in Adam and God promised a descendent to overcome the enemy (Gen. 3:15), we were waiting for that deliverance. We were waiting for the serpent’s head to be crushed. Then Christ, the Messiah, came and secured that victory, making it complete in one sense. And now we are waiting for Him to come a second time and to finalize the establishment of that victory in a kingdom reality.
Have you ever stopped to wonder, why the timeline? Why thousands of years of history in the unfolding of the salvation narrative? Why didn’t Christ come and die for the sins of humanity right there in the garden just after Genesis 3:15? Then humanity would have been restored and Adam and Eve’s descendants would have filled the earth in a perfect kingdom with Christ as the King. The perfect future we are heading towards could have been secured and realized thousands of years ago. Why wait? The answer, though not necessarily satisfying to the curiosity, is simply that God is using waiting to glorify Himself. And it is a good thing.
When the final victory is realized there will be nothing to wait for anymore! We will have an eternity to worship Him. There will be no more impatience and no more need to strive for patience. There will be no more goals, no more lights at the end of a tunnel, no more counting (or counting down) the days, no more “I can’t wait’s!”
What’s the point? God uses waiting to glorify himself. That means that waiting well is a tremendous privilege for which we should be grateful! (I’m thinking “ouch” as I reread what I’ve just written because my attitude has some travelling to do before it gets here. But hey, that’s one of the main reasons I blog. It helps me sort out my own thoughts and challenges me when they need to change).
To our right hand we have, “waiting well glorifies God and is a privilege for which we should be grateful.” And to our left we have an intensifying global culture of impatience. Which will you choose? You can only have one.