Read: Isaiah 30:18-21
Most of us aren’t very good at waiting for the things we desire, but Isaiah shows us how waiting isn’t just an important discipline for believers; it’s actually a blessing.
There are many more beatitudes in the Bible than just the famous ones Jesus delivered in his Sermon on the Mount. For example, here’s a beautiful one from the 30th chapter of Isaiah. “For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him” (v.18).
Waiting isn’t very easy for people like us who live in a modern society. One perceptive observer has coined the phrase “the therapeutic culture” to describe our society. In a therapeutic culture the highest premium is placed on a pain-free, comfortable life. What people pursue most vigorously is their own personal happiness. What they prize most highly is their freedom and independence and autonomy.
And what they complain about most vigorously is any kind of obstacle or roadblock or handicap that might interfere with the immediate satisfaction of every desire. We live in an instant society—instant coffee, instant microwave meals, instant downloads with a broadband internet connection, instant credit so you don’t have to wait until you’ve saved up the money to buy that new wide-screen HDTV. Nobody is into delayed gratification; we want what we want and we want it now.
Waiting is a pain, an annoyance; a waste of time at best, at worst, it’s an infringement upon my rights. I get angry if I have to wait five minutes in line at the supermarket checkout. How could waiting possibly be good for me? But it is, if the Bible is right. Not just good for me, but a positive blessing. At least that’s what Isaiah says: “The Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him” (Isaiah 30:18).
The Bible often counsels us to adopt a “wait and see” attitude with respect to God. “Wait for the Lord,” the psalmist urges, “be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 27:14). Indeed, waiting could almost be a synonym for faith. A good part of what it means to be a believer is to hold on to the conviction that a loving God is in control of our lives even when it seems like he’s absent, or maybe isn’t even real.
We cry out to God to fix our problems, to rescue us from the mess we’re in, to deliver us from pain, and then we wait for him to respond, and hope that he does. We would like him to act immediately, according to our time-table. But he rarely does, and so we wait. John Calvin, the great theologian, said this, “it is contrary to the nature of faith to insist on the adverb ‘now.’”
Why We Wait
Waiting is a discipline of faith for people who are suffering. When Isaiah pronounced a blessing upon those who wait for the Lord God, he was speaking to the people of Israel during one of the darkest hours in their history. He talks about their receiving “the bread of adversity and the water of affliction.” Trouble—adversity and affliction—was their steady diet, in other words. It’s only the suffering who must wait. If you’re pretty happy with your life, if things are going just about the way you’d want them to, then the call to wait doesn’t sound all that relevant. Wait . . . what for? I like everything just the way it is.
But waiting is for those who are hurting, who feel let down, or beat up, helpless, or alone. It’s for people who wonder where God is, and why he doesn’t answer their cries for help. It’s for the abused wife, the abandoned husband. Waiting is for the parents who pray year in and year out for a troubled child and never see a change. It’s for the young man strapped in a wheelchair who realizes he will never walk; for the widow who wakes up each morning knowing that this will be yet another lonely, pain-filled day. Waiting is for the family praying desperately for a miraculous cure; for everyone who has ever stood at the side of a loved one’s grave. Waiting is for the oppressed who long to be free, for the hungry who long to be filled, for the sick who long to be whole, for the victimized who long to see justice. These, and many others besides, are they who must wait:
We who long pain and sorrow bear Praise God, and on him cast your care. Hallelujah!
And what believers wait for in the midst of our suffering is help. We wait because we believe that eventually God can and will deliver us, heal us, and make all manner of things well. We wait because we also believe that God rules over our lives not just in a general way but in the details as well, and that therefore all that happens to us, including every difficult trial and painful experience, doesn’t come by accident but serves his purpose for us. So we wait not just for help, but for answers. We believe, in the words of the old song, that “We’ll understand it all, bye and bye.”
Christians have a very different view of suffering than non-Christians. We believe that suffering and pain, while not good in themselves, can work for our good as God makes use of these things to help us become more and more like Jesus Christ (cf. Romans 8:28).
As increasing numbers of people in our society reject faith in God, they also have an increasingly difficult time either accepting or making sense of suffering. If God is no longer at the center of life, all that is left is yourself, which is why so many today seem to be worshiping physical health and earthly happiness.
Christians don’t despise either health or happiness. We view these things as blessings from God, and we give thanks to him for them accordingly. We also work to secure them both for ourselves and for others. If you study history, I think you will discover that it is Christians more than any other group who have worked to bring better health and better lives to more of the world’s peoples.
But the fact is we do not believe that a pain-free, pleasurable life on earth is the most important thing anyone could hope or strive for. We believe that holiness is more important than happiness, that, as J. I. Packer memorably said, God’s priority for us is character, not “kicks.” And sometimes that may require us to experience pain, loss and suffering just as Jesus did.
You will often hear people refer to some terrible event or other as “a senseless tragedy.” What they usually mean is that it was a preventable tragedy. For those who do not believe in a God who rules the world, nothing can have any meaning or purpose; literally everything is senseless. You might just as well speak of senseless happiness as senseless tragedy.
But for Christians who do believe in a sovereign God, then everything—even the most awful things—can have some meaning or purpose because God can and will use it to bring about our final salvation. So when we are plunged into grief or when we are suffering in body, mind or spirit, we don’t call it senseless. We wait, and what we wait for is not just that God will deliver us. We also wait for him to make his purpose clear, believing that nothing in our lives has no meaning.
How We Wait
Well, if that’s why we wait, let me speak just for a moment about how we wait. What does it mean to wait? What are we doing as we wait for God to save us, and to give us answers to our questions? Earlier I connected waiting with faith. Waiting is the special quality of those who believe that God is a Savior who can and will keep his promises. But waiting is also an exercise in another great theological virtue: hope.
The psalmist cried, I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and . . . plentiful redemption. (Psalm 130:5-7)
I once worked as a part-time night watchman, and I can personally attest to the truth of the psalmist’s metaphor here. Nobody watches harder for the first glow of daylight in the east than someone who’s been up all night on guard. That is how Christians watch and wait and hope for the Lord to appear.
Waiting means watching. It means doing your job, no matter how small that is or how insignificant it seems, doing it faithfully, day in and day out, because you believe the Lord is in control, and is watching over you. It means hanging on to your faith in God’s love and power, and your confidence that he will show up at the right time. And it means never losing hope in the promises of God, promises like these from Isaiah 30:
For a people shall dwell in Zion, in Jerusalem; you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you. And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. (Isaiah 30:19-20)
Waiting means watching; watching means trusting and hoping. The Lord is looking for people like that, people who will wait for him no matter what, no matter how long it takes. And here’s a really amazing thing. Isaiah says that as we wait for God, he is also waiting for us!
Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him. (Isaiah 30:18)