“Are we there yet?”
If you’re a parent, you know the question. It’s the same one that’s been asked from the back seat of the family truckster since time began. Over and over again. And by now, our family has taken enough road trips where we have instituted the practice that we don’t answer that question. As a parent, it’s a no win kind of question because no matter how close you are to the destination, you’re never close enough.
As much as we might exhort our children to “be patient,” the truth is that we don’t like to wait either.
To be fair, it’s not all our fault, is it? Part of our hatred of waiting involves the culture we have been born and raised inside of. Everyone, everywhere, and in everything is constantly looking for a more efficient way to do whatever it is that they’re trying to do. We need faster wait times at the airport. We need to move more cars off the roads and more people into public transportation to reduce traffic and therefore our time spent waiting in vehicles. We need people to answer our email or text message quickly, on our time table, so that we can move onto the next task. And of course, we’ll soon have the drones. All to make sure we can maximize our time and not waste any of it in waiting.
But despite all these innovations, we still do a lot of waiting. Sometimes that waiting is in a real, actual, physical line. But sometimes, the waiting is more profound and yet less visible. We are waiting for a season of life to be done, or for a new season of life to begin. Waiting for an illness to be over. Waiting for a relationship to be restored. Waiting for the recognition we think should come our way. Waiting for an opportunity. Waiting, waiting, waiting.
This is true of everyone. But as Christians, we “wait” differently. Our sense of “waiting” is unique from our culture, because our perspective is unique from our culture. Here are four specific uniquenesses of Christian waiting:
1. Christian waiting is perpetual.
For most people, “waiting” is just a means to an end. You bide your time until the waiting is over, and you get the meal you ordered or the promotion that you’re due. But for the Christian, waiting is not just a temporary time; it’s a perpetual state. Our whole identity, in a way, is built around waiting, for we are the people who believe in things that we cannot see. That are not readily apparent. That are coming, and yet have not yet come. To be a Christian means to be someone who waits, whether we like it or not.
We believe that the war for the future and the glory of God was won at the cross. And yet we are waiting. We are waiting for that victory to be fully realized in the new heaven and the new earth. We are living in the already, but not yet, so for us as Christians, waiting is really central to the entire way we live. We are the people Jesus described using a parable of ten virgins who were going out to meet the groom coming for the wedding. Only five of them realized the need for constant vigilance and alertness, while the other five went to sleep and ran out of oil in their lamps. Jesus makes the point for us, helping us see that we live always, until He returns, in waiting:
“Therefore be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour” (Matt. 25:13).
2. Christian waiting is busy.
Not only is Christian waiting perpetual; Christian waiting is busy. For most of the world, “waiting” is really about idleness. It’s the time when you can refresh your Instagram stories, play a quick game on your phone, or just generally seek some kind of entertainment – something to occupy yourself until you get onto the real business you’re waiting for. But Christian waiting is not an exercise in time filling – Christian waiting is filled with meaning, purpose, and action.
In other words, Christians are “active” waiters. We must realize that our waiting is not arbitrary or due to bad timing on our part, but rather it is time given to us, by God, to make the most of. In this, we take our example from God Himself, who is also waiting. And yet in His waiting, He is very, very busy using His people to spread the gospel to the world:
“Dear friends, don’t overlook this one fact: With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord does not delay his promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:8-9).
Waiting is a chance to be busy about kingdom work and priorities.
3. Christian waiting is hopeful.
In many cases, waiting is filled with a sense of doom. Impending dread. Anticipation of the other shoe to drop. We just know that at the other end of this waiting is some disaster waiting to come into our lives; we’re just stealing ourselves for it. But the Christian waits differently than this; the Christian waits with hope:
“He will not fear bad news;
his heart is confident, trusting in the Lord” (Ps. 112:7).
We do not fear bad news. That’s not because bad news never comes – it certainly does, for the Christian and the non-Christian alike. We don’t fear the bad news because ultimately, there is only good news. We trust that even if our circumstances changed, we are secure in the hands of our providentially loving God who, though it might be difficult to see how, is working all things for our good and His glory. In this, we have hope.
4. Christian waiting is formative.
If you ask a random person on the street their perspective on waiting, they might respond in all different kinds of ways. But I bet you could boil them all down to this – “Waiting is a waste of time.” That’s why we try to eliminate it if we can. It’s because we see no value in it whatsoever. But the Christian realizes that waiting is formative in the hands of God who does not waste any experience.
God plays the long game. He is forming and shaping us, from the inside out, into the image of His Son, and waiting is one of the tool He has at His disposal. As we wait, God is busy building into us the kind of patience, integrity, and perseverance that marked His Son and therefore must mark us as His brothers and sisters.
Friends, we are going to wait. It’s part of life. But as in all things, we as Christians ought to wait differently. We ought to wait from the perspective of faith. And in this we find yet one more way in which we stand apart from the world, confident in a God who does all things well.
And does all things in good time.