The Waiting Game

So much of our precious time here on Earth is spent waiting – in lines, for a paycheck, at the doctor’s office, in traffic, for decisions to be made, for medical test results – waiting, waiting, waiting. You may have heard some of the statistics on how much time Americans spend waiting. For example, the average American commuter spends an average of 38 hours per year in traffic (Werbach, “The American Commuter Spends 38 Hours a Year Stuck in Traffic”), and Americans as a whole spend 37 billion hours per year waiting in lines (Stone, “Why Waiting is Torture”). Sometimes we can bypass waiting, e.g. by flying first class, getting an express pass at Disneyland, buying movie tickets in advance, taking the carpool lane on the freeway, and DVR’ing our favorite TV shows so we don’t have to wait through commercials. But ultimately there is nothing any of us can do to avoid waiting for someone or something.

In addition to the unavoidable waiting that we do every day, there is also the larger, perhaps more grueling and agonizing waiting that we must do when we’re living with unresolved problems and/or trying to make decisions. So many people I know are in a holding pattern right now, and they are eagerly awaiting God’s direction regarding employment, finances, wayward children, health problems, and so on. We recently put our house on the market, and we are waiting to see if it will sell as well as what our next step after selling should be. I have applied to three graduate schools in pursuit of a Master’s degree in ministry/theology. Though I have been praying about this for months, I am still waiting for God’s clear direction as to which school I should attend and whether I should even go back to school during this particular season of my life.

My Bible’s dictionary/concordance defines “wait” as “to stay, serve, or attend to; to patiently anticipate” (Zondervan NIV Life Application Study Bible, page 2365). With perhaps the exception of the verb “stay”, the actions described in this definition clearly illustrate that waiting is not something we do passively while doing nothing. Most of us find some useful way to pass the time while we’re waiting: We read the newspaper or a book (hopefully not while sitting in traffic!), talk on the phone, study, check our email, listen to music or talk radio, etc. We don’t generally just sit there while we wait. In the same way, while we wait for God’s answers to our prayers, His direction regarding impending decisions and for His will to be revealed in our lives, we can be making good use of the present moment. We can remain faithful and diligent with our current responsibilities, submitting all thoughts of doubt and uncertainty back to God (2 Corinthians 10:5).

There is never a wrong or inappropriate time to love God, and worshiping the Lord is certainly one of the best ways to spend our time while we’re waiting. Take time to just be in relationship with Him and enjoy His fellowship. Though I consciously set apart quiet time to be with the Lord each day, I need God’s help to make my time with Him about HIM and not just about getting answers to my questions or a quicker response to my prayers. When I can’t get my mind to turn off so I can enjoy being in the Lord’s presence, Scripture reminds me that I can calm the inner storm by worshiping Him not only for what He’s already done and for what He is going to do but also for who He is – faithful, dependable, holy, trustworthy, just, merciful and praiseworthy:

Sing joyfully to the LORD, you righteous;
    it is fitting for the upright to praise him.
Praise the LORD with the harp;
    make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
Sing to him a new song;
    play skillfully, and shout for joy.
For the word of the LORD is right and true;
    he is faithful in all he does.
The LORD loves righteousness and justice;
    the earth is full of his unfailing love.
We wait in hope for the LORD;
    he is our help and our shield.
In him our hearts rejoice,
    for we trust in his holy name.
May your unfailing love be with us, LORD,
    even as we put our hope in you.

(New International Version, Psalm 33:1-5, 20-22. This Psalm is so uplifting that I encourage you to read it in its entirety.)

Serving others is another purposeful way to wait on the Lord. When I’m serving others, I’m too busy to think about myself and my own worries and concerns. Sometimes when I help out in my son’s first grade classroom or in his Sunday school class, I think I’m too busy or that I have other important business that I need to attend to. But when I’m focused on those sweet kids (well, most of them are sweet!), it’s actually a nice break from my own head and I leave with renewed awe at the Lord’s precious creation.

As I wait for God to reveal His plan, I have the opportunity to use my time telling others about Him. I strive to give Him glory even in my difficulties. And though I don’t consider myself an “evangelist” as compared to others in whom I recognize the gift of evangelism, I can still pray for courage and boldness in sharing what Jesus has done for me. Writing this blog is an example of one way I’m trying to encourage others with the Good News as I wait for God’s responses to so many unanswered questions in my life.

Though waiting for God’s help isn’t easy or comfortable, waiting on Him is beneficial for us. David was blessed as a result of his patient waiting on the Lord. When David “waited patiently on the Lord”, the Lord “turned to [him] and heard [his] cry. He lifted [him] out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set [his] feet on a rock and gave [him] a firm place to stand. He put a new song in [his] mouth, a hymn of praise to our God” (Psalm 40:1-4).

The fact is when we believed in Jesus and put our faith and trust in Him as our Savior, we knowingly or unknowingly signed up for the process of sanctification. This painstaking process requires the strengthening of our faith and our growth into the image and likeness of Christ. How can our faith be developed unless we go through periods of uncertainty during which faith is required? I definitely do not enjoy the uncomfortable waiting periods and uncertainty in my life. At the same time, I have joyful hope for what is to come both in this life and in the next.

Regardless of whatever short-term situation I’m waiting on or through, ultimately I am waiting to one day be united with Christ. The Apostle Paul explains my anticipation for Christ’s kingdom much more eloquently than I ever could:

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently” (Romans 8:18-25).

The Israelites had to wait over 400 years after their last prophet had spoken to hear from God again. This period marks the separation between the Old and New Testaments. Though God was silent during this time, He was still at work creating the perfect religious and political environment for his Son’s work. And “when the time set had fully come, God sent his Son” (Galatians 4:4). When God appears silent in our waiting, we can rest assured that He is actively moving to create the right setting for His plan to unfold in our lives.

Warriors, as we wait for marching orders from our Commander in Chief, let us take comfort in the promise that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

References:

New International Version. [Colorado Springs]: Biblica, 2011.
BibleGateway.com. Web. 22 December 2014.

Stone, Alex. “Why Waiting is Torture”. The New York Times, 18 August 2012. Web. 19
December 2014.

Werbach, Adam. “The American Commuter Spends 38 Hours a Year Stuck in Traffic”.
The Atlantic, 06 February 2013. Web. 19 December 2014.

Zondervan NIV Life Application Study Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

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Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places

While it may be true that the Lord works in mysterious ways, my experience has been that it is also true there are times God speaks directly to us with a clear and obvious message. Lately it’s become apparent the Lord wants me to address a negative pattern in my life, turn from it and stop repeating it. My morning devotional talked about being a drain on others vs. being a wellspring, I watched a Joel Osteen message about honoring others, and all the while the Holy Spirit has been convicting me about my search for attention from others, their approval and the need to feed my own ego with accolades and conversations that focus on me.

I know I’m not in spiritually fit condition when all I start to think about all day long is me. Gone are the thoughts of praying for others and about what I can do for those in need, and resentment about my service commitments and responsibilities takes over. I am impatient – wherever I go I seem to be in the slowest line or behind the slowest driver, and don’t these people know how important I am and that I need to get somewhere?! It has taken some time for me to come to the realization, but when I finally stopped to ask why I’m so grumpy and irritable, I recognized that I am disconnected from the Father. And I’ve also discovered that, interestingly enough (no coincidences here!), it’s during these times that I’m too “busy” to get to Bible study, I don’t have time to spend with other Christian women, and I cut short my quiet time with God so that I can get started checking off my all-important to-do list.

I can so easily become the center of my own little universe. I cringe at the ugliness within myself when all I think about is me! I see it happening, yet I feel powerless to do anything about it. My sinful nature takes over, and the enemy just loves it! How can I get out of this mindset and stop being so self-centered? After all, God is the only one whose approval I really need and only He can give me the inner peace and truly unconditional love that I so desperately seek out and crave. So what can I do on those days I’m completely self-absorbed and self-consumed? I don’t have the power to remove my own selfishness, but the Holy Spirit does. The first step to adjusting my attitude is confessing my self-centeredness to God and sincerely repenting. Then I present myself to the Father with no holds barred. As the Apostle Paul instructed:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. (New International Version, Romans 12:1; emphasis mine)

When I humbly submit myself to the Potter, He can mold me back into proper shape. Then I will no longer “conform to the pattern of this world” but rather, I will be “transformed by the renewing of [my] mind” (Romans 12:2a). The next step is to fill myself up with spiritual food and water by spending time with God in prayer, in His Word and with other Christians. When I am spiritually nourished, the desire for worldly recognition and acceptance fades away. The Samaritan woman Jesus met at the well sought fulfillment in her relationships with men (she had previously had five husbands and was living with a sixth man when she encountered Jesus), but Jesus explained to her that the spiritual “well” she continually visited would only leave her thirsty again. Only He can offer us the living water that quenches our spiritual thirst:

“…but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14)

When I feel myself being drawn back into seeking validation from the world, I can run my thoughts and actions by the checklist provided in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. The checklist determines whether what I do and think spring from love: Are my thoughts and actions patient and kind, and not envious, boastful or proud? Do they demonstrate honor to others? Are my thoughts and actions other-centered rather than self-seeking? Am I not easily angered? Am I not keeping a record of wrongs nor delighting in evil but instead rejoicing with the truth? Are my thoughts and behaviors displaying love that always protects, trusts, hopes and perseveres? Scripture tells me that I can be the most successful person in the eyes of the world and be fully equipped with tremendous spiritual gifts, yet without love I am nothing: If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

Fellow warriors, I don’t know about you, but I definitely do not want to be a clanging cymbal. That is one loud and annoying sound! Instead, I want to gently and humbly shine the light of Jesus and reflect His love onto those I come into contact with. For no matter what I accomplish in this life, the greatest legacy I will leave behind is love. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Courage in Battle: Keep Calm and Carry On

Facing life and all of its challenges requires immense courage. I believe this is true for every person regardless of how “courageous” a person may be according to the world’s standards. The homemaker raising three small children needs just as much courage as the jet-setting world traveler who seeks to climb Mt. Everest and sail around the globe by his/herself. The physical dangers are obviously different for each person, but we all have to make do with the cards we are dealt in life, and we all have to face the darkness that is within each one of us. So when I speak of courage, I am speaking of it in terms of facing our fears, the things that are scary and uncomfortable that we have little or no control over.

As I mentioned previously, when I was in the depths of my depression, it took everything I had to not get back in the bed and let the day just pass. I felt this was mostly because I lacked the energy and motivation to do the things I once enjoyed, let alone to do the basic tasks required every day. But there are days, I believe, when many of us would like to either avoid the day altogether because we’re anticipating something uncomfortable, anxiety-producing, stressful or just plain scary, or when we wish we could get back into bed and pretend the scary thing never happened. We never know what will be thrown at us on a daily basis, so how can we be ready for the battle and stand strong through it especially on those days we know we’re going to face challenges (e.g. a job interview, a funeral for a loved one, financial issues, medical tests, a parent-teacher conference about an unruly child, etc.). Or for those of us with a mental or physical illness, how will we cope with our depression, anxiety or chronic pain?

The Valiant Warrior is not a person who doesn’t feel fear or a person who rushes recklessly into battle. On the contrary, he/she is well-served by recognizing and acknowledging his/her fear, exercising caution and preparing his/herself for the upcoming challenge. A warrior needs to check in with his/her commanding officer, i.e. the Lord. To be courageous, we must make prayer a regular part of our life.

I have been praying more and more for the removal of fear and for soundness of mind. I am no prayer guru, but I set my alarm so that every morning I can have quiet time for prayer and Bible reading. This time has become a vital source of strength, centering and stability and gives me a positive way to start my day. But prayer is not limited to a certain time of day. When I can remember, I try to talk to God all day long, and I ask Him to be with me in my coming and going.

In the Old Testament, the Lord often said to Moses and Joshua, “Be strong and courageous” (Deuteronomy. 31:6, Joshua 1:6, 1:9). Imagine the fear these two men must have felt – Moses was commanded to confront Pharaoh and demand that he let the Israelites leave their slavery in Egypt, and Joshua was commanded to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land and to conquer the established cities therein. I especially like Joshua 1:7 where the Lord says, “Be strong and very courageous”. The Bible does not mention that Joshua was afraid, but he must have been if the Lord commanded him to be courageous.

We can take a lesson from this warrior about why he could find courage as he received his battle orders:

Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go (New International Version Joshua 1:9; emphasis mine).

Scripture offers us many words of hope and comfort that we can cling to in those times of fear or when we’re battle-worn and weary. Here are a few that I find helpful :

After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:
“Do not be afraid, Abram.

I am your shield,
your very great reward.”
(Gen 15:1)

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)

When I am afraid, I will trust in you.  In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me? (Psalm 56:3-4)

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)

Fear is a natural human emotion, and there are healthy fears. I wear my seat belt because I’m afraid that not wearing it would be detrimental to me in an accident. I’m afraid of losing my sobriety, so I take the necessary steps to ensure I don’t pick up a drink. I’m afraid of getting skin cancer, so I wear sunscreen when I’m out into the sun. And the Bible instructs us to fear (i.e. revere, respect) the Lord:

The fear of the Lord is the
beginning of wisdom,
and knowledge of the Holy One is
understanding.
(Proverbs 9:10)

Humility and fear of the LORD
bring wealth and honor and
life
. (Proverbs 22:4)

The fear of the LORD leads to life:
Then one rests content, untouched
by trouble.
(Proverbs 19:23)

And even though fear is an inevitable part of the human experience, the negative form of fear does not come from God. As 2 Timothy 1:7 explains, “For God hath not given us a spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (King James Version). How then can fear be overcome during those times it debilitates and immobilizes us? How can I move forward when I’m paralyzed by fear and anxiety? The antidote to worry may be found in Philippians 4:6a: Do not be anxious about anything (New International Version).

Even though intellectually I know the Lord is in control, when I’m full of fear Philippians 4:6a is a very tall order. But with the Lord’s power to help me carry out the rest of the Apostle Paul’s exhortations, it is possible:

…but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Phil 4:6b).

And if I pray to God about my needs and wants, offer him my requests and thank Him for being the Almighty, what will result?

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:7)

Paul also tells me that the God of peace will be with me if I think about “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things” (Phil 4:8).

When I focus on positive things and on the Lord’s power, holiness, purity and on the love the Father has for me and how Jesus died on the cross for me, it is then that fear begins to lose its power. I ask God to take away my fear and to give me the strength to do His will, and He is faithful!

And we do not need to fear because we know how the war ends – the Lord is victorious! He is our commander in chief demonstrating His power and strength for the entire world to witness.

The earth is the LORD’s and
everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it:
for he founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the
waters.

Lift up your heads, O you gates;
be lifted up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may
come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The LORD strong and mighty,
the LORD mighty in battle.
(Psalm 24:1-2; 7-8)

Take heart, mighty warrior! The Lord IS strong and mighty, and He is always with you in the battle.