I’m not a patient person. Little frustrations like sitting in a traffic jam or standing in line at the bank have me grinding my teeth in annoyance. I feel that life is too short to waste time waiting. I often feel the same when I’m awaiting an answer from God, such as a prayer for healing for a sick friend or guidance about the right path to take. But God’s timing is different from mine.
The Bible gives us many examples of waiting. The Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years before God felt they were ready to enter the Promised Land. In the Old Testament, Joseph was wrongly accused and spent years in prison. And just think of the consequences that befell Abraham, when he and Sarah became frustrated with waiting for their own child, and Hagar conceived Ishmael.
Why does God make us wait? Although it doesn’t feel good, waiting teaches us how to be patient and trust in God’s timing rather than expect an instant solution to our problem. When that trust muscle gets exercised, it helps us draw closer to God and build a strong, loving relationship.
When we don’t feel able to move forward, we can feel like we’re wasting time. But waiting for God isn’t necessarily about accomplishing things. Shelly Miller, a pastor’s wife and author who focuses on resting and waiting on God, had this to say during a recent time of listening for guidance: “We discount time as wasted when it cannot be measured by what we produce.” She articulated what so many of us feel — that spending time waiting can feel unproductive.
However, it’s essential to be proactive rather than pretend things aren’t happening or look the other way. Giving up and thinking that God has abandoned us isn’t really true waiting. Waiting actively has four key elements. I think of them as being like a table with four legs — lose one and the whole structure becomes unstable.
1. Listening to God
When things seem to be spiraling out of control, it’s tempting to bombard God with our concerns rather than listen to him. Take time to sit quietly in meditation or contemplation. It will help you to feel calmer and more relaxed and allow God to speak to you. Online meditations like this one can be a great source of inspiration, or you could download a meditation app to help you. On occasions, I simply set a timer on my phone for 10 minutes, close my eyes, and try to focus silently on God.
2. Praying and thanking God
Rather than rushing into a list of pressing concerns, begin by remembering everything God has done for you already. When we bring to mind all God’s blessings so far, it helps build our confidence that God will continue to be faithful to us, even if circumstances around us look dire. Beginning our prayers by thanking God and worshiping him for his greatness helps us keep a proper perspective on our situation. Sometimes, when I’m struggling for words, I recite a prayer that expresses how I feel.
3. Seeking advice from others
It’s important to look for external advice carefully. Seeking wisdom from a host of people can cause conflicting answers and end in confusion. But meeting with a trusted friend or a spiritual mentor such as your priest can be very helpful. When I’m seeking advice and prayer support while waiting for God to answer, I turn to my church leaders and my closest friends. Reading the Bible together, praying together, and discussing the problem helps clarify my thinking.
4. Reading the Bible
Reading stories from the Bible about how others faced a long and troublesome wait for an answer from God can help us feel less alone. And seeing how God came through with the answer can be a great encouragement. As I begin to read, I ask God to reveal the message he has for me in the Scripture. Often, I’ll find a word or phrase jumps out or seems to speak specifically to my situation. I like to jot these down in my journal and go back to them later to find a trend or theme.
St. Paul is an encouraging example of how to wait for God without lapsing into lethargy. In Acts 24-26, St. Paul was arrested and imprisoned for two years by the Roman governor Felix. He was then transported to Rome, braving a fearsome storm and getting shipwrecked on the island of Malta, where he was marooned for three months. Upon arriving in Rome, he was put under house arrest.
Yet whatever happened, St. Paul continued to actively live out his faith. He spoke with Felix about his beliefs, trusted God during the storm (even telling the sailors what God had revealed about the future), and in Rome, he wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. He never doubted God’s love or that God would use him through what he said and what he wrote to others, even when circumstances seemed to conspire against his mission.
Of course, the Bible is also full of faith-building examples of how God fulfilled promises. Isaac was born to Abraham and Sarah, the Israelites finally did enter the Promised Land (although their problems didn’t magically disappear!), and Joseph rose to become a high-ranking leader in Egypt. Ultimately, St. Paul was martyred, which may not look like an answer to his problems, but God never promised to take our troubles away. Instead, he promised to be with us, whatever we were facing.
Waiting actively for God to speak can take time and patience, but knowing God is faithful makes all the difference.
(Originally published October 18, 2017)