Waiting on God
Waiting for the Lord is a biblical principle we see in both the Old and New Testaments. The people of Israel marched around Jericho for seven days before the walls fell. Elijah bowed himself low at Mt. Carmel and waited for the rain. The disciples tarried in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost. As we read these stories and others, we conclude that at times God makes us wait for Him. Perhaps you are waiting now for the Lord to deliver, to bless, or to answer. What is the purpose of such seasons in our lives? We will attempt to answer this question in this article.
When God seems to have us on hold, we might think we need to wrestle with Him. If we seek His favor long enough and earnestly enough, He will answer. Some say the Lord “weighs” our prayers, and when they are sufficient, and we have enough faith, He will act. Wrestling with God is a big job, so sometimes it is best not to do it alone. So, we call in reinforcements, the more people praying the better. If we are zealous, we might add fasting to our travail or things like 24/7 prayer chains. Such things get God’s attention. Right?
I must admit such things amuse me. One reason is that I have done all of them and then some. I believe such passion is often misguided, and it can even be counterproductive. Trying to twist God’s arm is an impossible task, and the sooner we realize this, our wait for God can accomplish the Lord’s purpose.
When we seek God, the purpose is not to change God’s heart or to earn His favor. It is to change our heart and to bring us to God’s rest. Times of waiting are times of sanctification. We often view sanctification as the journey from evil to good. Yet, John the Baptist gave a superior definition of what it means to be set apart. “He must increase. I must decrease. (John 3:30)” Waiting on God is for accomplishing this work. When God makes us wait, it does not mean He is doing nothing. On the contrary, He is bringing us to the end of ourselves, and there we will see His face.
Thorncrown Chapel was my dad’s dream. In 1971, my father, Jim Reed, a retired schoolteacher, purchased the land where the chapel now stands and built his retirement home there, planning to spend the rest of his life in the peaceful seclusion of the Ozarks. He wasn’t the only one who admired his location, however, and people would often stop near his house to gain a better view of the beautiful Ozark hills. Instead of fencing them out, Dad invited them in. And then he decided he and Mom should build a glass chapel in the woods to inspire their visitors.
The first major obstacle was finding an architect. Who could design the kind of structure my dad wanted, and who would be willing to take on such a project? Dad found his answer unexpectedly one morning while having an early breakfast with a friend. The two were discussing the problem when a man sitting nearby walked over and tapped my dad on the shoulder. He apologized for eavesdropping but explained that he knew E. Fay Jones, an architecture professor at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. The fellow assured my dad that there was no better man for the job. Shortly thereafter, Dad met Fay Jones, and much to my dad’s surprise, Jones was quick to accept the project.
From the first, it seemed God’s hand was in everything, even Thorncrown’s location. On March 23, 1979, the construction crew broke ground on the mountainside where Jones originally planned to build the chapel. They were just a day away from pouring the foundation when God put on the brakes. Dad was looking around the site when he felt a strange sensation. Though he was alone, he felt like someone was pushing him, as if to say, “Walk this way!” When Dad reached Thorncrown’s current site, the urging stopped. He looked around. Before him was what looked like a natural stone altar. To his right stood majestic rock bluffs and to his left was a beautiful wooded setting. This was the spot, and Jones agreed. It seemed like everything was falling into place.
Halfway through the project, however, funds began to run out. The building process soon ground to a halt, and Dad desperately tried to raise the necessary money to complete his dream. First, he went to several banks to get a loan, but none would take a risk on such an unusual idea. Next, he wrote all his friends, hoping someone would help him. Few responded, and the ones who did chided him, saying that a retired schoolteacher should not be building a glass chapel.
The Lord could have run to my dad’s aid at the first sign of distress, but He didn’t. He made my dad wait. The Lord seemed to be silent when my dad needed to hear His voice the most. My dad thought God stopped loving him. He would later see that Love was hard at work.
Finally, Dad stepped out one evening to take what he thought would be one last walk down to his half-finished dream. He told himself that he would allow himself one final look and never return. Questions filled his mind: “Why would God do this to someone trying to serve Him?” “Why would the Lord give a person a great idea and then abandon him?” Yet, God had not left Him. In fact, the Lord was with him even in his time of waiting. When it seemed like the Lord was doing nothing, He was busy bringing my dad to the end of himself which is God’s appointed ending.
Just as Dad was about to leave his dream behind, he did something he had never done before. On the still incomplete altar, he fell on his knees and he prayed. And though Dad had prayed before, it was never on his knees and never like this. He wept and cried, and in the midst of his travail, he found he was not alone. He had reached the end of his sufficiency, but that exact point was the beginning of God’s sufficiency.
We talk of going to the altar to pray. Yet, the altar and the cross are the same place. It is the place where we lose who we are that we might live in who Christ is. Our need to be enough is one of the hardest things to lose. We want to be sufficient, and we believe our deeds can move God. When we are waiting on God, we might believe we are reaching the point of being enough and doing enough. Yet, God calls us to wait for the opposite reason. During the times of travail, we reach the end of our sufficiency. Being enough is lost at the cross, and there Christ becomes enough for us. The relationship based on self dies that we might live in Christ’s relationship with the Father.
They used to call it brokenness, but brokenness is not just becoming willing. It is God taking us to the end of the old measure, so He can give Himself to us. Brokenness is ultimately about union. It is the death of our separateness.
That evening at the altar was precious in God’s sight. It was if the Lord was waiting there for my Dad. A few weeks later, a woman in Illinois loaned him all the money he needed to finish the chapel, but that was not the point, and such things never are. The purpose is always Christ. There on those steps my dad found union with Christ, and it changed him. I knew something was different when I arrived home from college. My dad always greeted me with a handshake. He was always distant. I got out of my car and extended my hand for the customary handshake, and he batted it away, grabbed me and gave me a big hug. My dad’s newly realized closeness to the Lord had brought him closer to me. That is the way it is supposed to work!
We view waiting for God as increasing our efforts to reach God. We pray more, fast more, and try to increase our faith. Ironically, the time of waiting is for reaching the end of our efforts. It might even seem like our relationship with the Lord dies, and in a way it does. At the end of our finite efforts the Infinite One awaits. Our travail is not to increase our righteousness but to reach the end of it. And this struggle can be very intense. We fight to hold on to God, and God waits for us to let go! When we do, we reach an appointed ending, a time that is most precious to the Lord, for there we realize union with the Beloved. From this time forward, we no longer take any thought of our own righteousness, only His. Being enough is no longer an issue. All that matters is that Christ is more than enough.
There are other endings which the Lord cherishes.
When we define living, we usually think of biology. If we are still breathing, we live. However, there are other definitions of life. In good times we might say, “That is living!” or “This is the life!” Our lives are also the sum of who we are, what we have, and what we want. If we have enough in these areas, we use another expression, “Life is good!”
There are many things to consider when we evaluate the quality of our lives. One is our relationships. We want people to love us, and when we suffer too much rejection, life can appear barren. If you are lonely, you feel like you are in a wilderness, and recognition and acceptance look like the promised land.
We want to have enough materially, but the definition of what this means is constantly changing. A hundred years ago in the United States, having enough meant you had your basic needs meet. There was food on the table and a roof overhead. Yet, as prosperity grew, we transformed from a need-based society to a want-based society. We no longer strive only to get what we need, we must have what we want to be happy. If we fail to get the things we want, our bank accounts grow empty, or we lose the things we love, it can seem like we are dying. How many people have ended their lives when they went from being one who has to one who has not?
We measure our lives by our circumstances, good and bad. Bad things have much more power to tip the scales toward unhappiness. It is human nature. There can be ten good things in our lives and one bad. Which one gets our attention? We might believe life cannot be good unless that thing we hate is gone. Our circumstances can dictate how we define life, and if we let them do so, life can be a roller coaster ride of highs and lows.
Our dreams are also part of our lives. They are our definition of a good life. We cling to them and fight for them. People tell us to never let go of our dreams and to dream big. On the Christian side, preachers say God will give us a dream. Of course, those same teachers will tell us what we need to do to make our God-given dreams come true. We will do anything to save our dreams. Losing them is an ending we don’t want to face.
All these things and more comprise a life. If we are insufficient in any of them, we may seek God to save our lives. We assume that If we have enough faith and wait for God, He will give us the life we want, all to His glory! We wait for God to save what we fear losing, or we wait for Him to give us what we think we can’t live without. Yet, if we seek God long enough, we will have a fearful and awesome revelation. God is taking us to the end of our finite desires that He might give us the infinite life of Christ. That end comes at the cross, and the Lord waits for us there.
Our journey with God is a journey of worship. In our day when we imagine worship, we picture singing hymns and choruses. Yet, if you asked someone in Jesus’s day about worship, they would think first of sacrifice. Sacrifices and offerings were at the heart of worship in the ancient world.
A major sacrifice was the gift offering. We also see it referred to as the evening offering or burnt offering. As the name implies, it was a gift to God, and it was always burned. That way you couldn’t get it back. It also served as a type or shadow of New Covenant worship. We give our lives to God, and He consumes that which is given. Hebrews tells us that our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29). Often people pray for the fire of God without understanding what they are asking. The fire of God brings us to His appointed endings.
We wait for God to save our lives. He waits for us at the altar. The Old Covenant altar was a type or foreshadow of the cross. We hold onto the life we love, but God waits for us to present our lives to Him as a living sacrifice. Coming to the end of our lives is sometimes a very long journey. Yet, the Lord has infinite patience, and He is quite able to shake that which can be shaken.
The gift offering is the love offering. The world tells us to hang on to our lives and to pursue our definition of the good life with great zeal. Love compels us to lay all we call life on the altar of God and lose it there to the Beloved. At the cross, we lose being enough but we also lose having enough. Here ends our finite definitions of life, but it is here we meet with the Infinite One.
We do not offer the gift offering alone. We do it together with Christ. Jesus is the fulfillment the Law. He not only fulfilled the sin offering but also the gift offering. On the night He was betrayed, He chose to lay down His life at the Garden of Gethsemane. The word Gethsemane means “wine-press of oil.” It implies a place of great pressure. We face times of great pressure when it seems the life is being squeezed out of us. How do we respond? Do we try to save our lives, or do we offer the gift offering to God, putting God before life itself?
Jesus chose the love offering. This is the divine choice, one of unimaginable love. He chose to lose everything we call life, His dignity, all He owned, and even His physical body. Likewise, He calls us to be a living gift offering. We follow in His steps, choosing to love over self. This is an impossible decision for the ego which lives by and for self. However, the Spirit He has placed in us is willing. The flesh avoids the cross, even trying to use faith to escape it, but the Spirit sets its heart to go there.
Why does God compel us to lay down our lives? It is an exchange. We lose all measures of finite life and we gain the infinite measure, which is Christ. The cross is the way to life, and loss is the way to gain. This is foolishness to the ego but life to the Spirit. We embrace death, being crucified with Christ, knowing there is resurrection on the other side. Paul tells us in Romans 12:1 that this sacred relationship is the essence of worship.
Such is the Christian life. We reach God’s appointed endings again and again. It may seem that we are waiting on God, and sometimes with great effort and zeal. We want to be enough and have enough. Yet, in reality, God waits on us. He answers our cries by guiding us to His appointed endings. In His silence He is speaking, and our barrenness becomes a sacred place. It is here we see great glory and take on His image. When we reach the end of being enough and having enough, we meet the Christ who is more than enough.