How you wait matters: Guretzki

01 July 2023

en français

I've waited a lot lately. 

I’m writing this column while waiting for a connecting flight on the way home from South Africa after some meetings with the World Evangelical Alliance’s International Council. Getting to and from Johannesburg from Canada was the longest trip I’ve ever taken with 24 hours of layovers and almost 40 hours of flying over one week. Lots of waiting.

But that’s just one kind of waiting – you more or less know how much time is in-between events, though with air travel these days even that is uncertain.

Other kinds of waiting can be significantly more anxiety inducing. Like waiting for that much-needed tax refund stuck in the system. Or waiting for the results of an exam or medical test. Or to hear if a loved one’s surgery was successful.

Conceptually parallel to the concept of angst – general unspecified anxiety – is a type of unspecified time of waiting where you have no idea when, where or how the waiting will be over. Many spend years waiting for that special someone who hasn’t yet shown up – and so they continue to wait. Others wait for clear answers to tragedy and loss: Why me, Lord? Why them? Why now? Why not now? Often, no answer comes.

It is in suffering our ability to wait is most tested – and most needed.

Why do we have to wait so much?

We live in an instant gratification world. The faster things come to us, the more impatient we become. We can’t imagine why the package we ordered today isn’t on our doorstep tomorrow and we certainly can’t fathom why it takes so long for the next Netflix episode to load.

It doesn’t take a degree in theology to discern the relationship between waiting and the spiritual fruit called patience (Galatians 5:22). It’s encapsulated in the old quip, "Be careful when you ask the Lord for patience because He may make you wait."

As I searched scripturally into why we have to wait, I was surprised the connection between waiting and patience wasn’t as clearly delineated.

It didn’t take long to return to the oft-quoted verse, "They that wait upon the Lord will renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles. They shall walk and not grow weary; they shall run and not grow faint" (Isaiah 40:31).

Shockingly, this verse doesn’t connect waiting with the formation of patience at all. That’s hard for those of us in a technique- and results-oriented society, who feel waiting must have some kind of necessary outcome or purpose. Surely waiting should yield patience!

The verse doesn’t say those who wait on the Lord will eventually find out why they waited. It doesn’t say waiting will produce patience. It doesn’t say that whether walking or running they can rest in the fact they will eventually arrive.

What is clear is as we wait on the Lord, we’ll gain the strength needed for the moment. In other words, "The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him" (Lamentations 3:25).

There is one place where waiting is demanded more than any other and that is in the midst of suffering. In the night leading to His death, Jesus was in Gethsemane, waiting on the Father. Indeed, He chastised His disciples that they could not even wait with Him for a short time and fell asleep at the watch.

I tend to be charitable toward the disciples because they didn’t have a sense of the imminence of Jesus’ death that He did. But here Christ modelled what the prophet promised – waiting on God strengthened Jesus even when the outcome was still somewhat unclear, even for Him. Jesus did, after all, ask God to take the cup from Him if possible.

And so it is in suffering our ability to wait is most tested – and most needed.

I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to pain and quick to reach for the Tylenol. But what happens when the pills and therapies don’t work? When the physical pain becomes chronic or terminal? When the mental anguish can’t be calmed? When the answers we seek aren’t forthcoming?

It is then we are called to wait on the Lord. Not that such waiting will necessarily resolve the presenting problem. It may not. But that in waiting on God in those difficult moments, we can experience a strengthening from the Lord that otherwise we may never experience.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get in line to wait to board yet another delayed flight.

david guretzki

David Guretzki is the EFC’s president and CEO. Read more of these columns at Photo of chairs by Edwin Chen.

Author: David Guretzki

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