Promises, by definition, require waiting.
If I approach my friend and promise him a coffee tomorrow, my friend needs to wait. His confidence in receiving that promised coffee will draw from the strength of our friendship and his understanding of my trustworthiness.
On the other hand, if I walk up to my friend and hand him a coffee, there’s no waiting required. My friend might need to find cream and sugar, or to express gratitude, but he does not need to wait. The gift is in his hands.
Christianity rests on promises from God to his people. Therefore, waiting is an essential part of life for those who follow Jesus.
Many Words for Waiting
So many words that are foundational to the Christian life imply waiting: patience, endurance, steadfastness, hope, faith, and trust. I’m sure the list could go on.
Waiting for God has been a central part of relating to him since the early pages of the Bible. Consider the call of Abram.
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1–3)
After his commands, all of God’s verbs to Abram are in the future tense. A bit later in the story, Abram learns that God’s promises to him extend way past his lifetime. That’s serious waiting!
Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” (Genesis 15:12–16)
But God’s call to wait extends far beyond Abraham. It is so central to a believer’s experience that we find it all over the Psalms.
For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
for my hope is from him.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my salvation and my glory;
my mighty rock, my refuge is God. (Psalm 62:5–7)
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
And he will redeem Israel
from all his iniquities. (Psalm 130:5–8)
In 1 Thessalonians, Paul includes waiting in his short summary of the Christian calling.
For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. (1 Thessalonians 1:9–10)
Similarly, when Paul explains the way that God’s grace sanctifies God’s people, he writes that grace teaches us to wait.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ (Titus 2:11–13)
Once I started to think about waiting as a fundamental Christian task, I realized that it is everywhere. (See also: James 5:7 and 2 Peter 3:11–14.)
God is Patient
In learning to wait, we are becoming more like our patient God. We are more fully reflecting his image.
Notice all of the “waiting” words included in how God describes himself to Moses on Mt. Sinai.
The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6–7)
As the perfect image of his father, Jesus also was (and is) patient.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1–2)
May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ. (2 Thessalonians 3:5)
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:15–16)
How to Wait
If our calling to wait is clear, it isn’t particularly easy. I don’t know many people who enjoy waiting or who would claim to be good at it!
That passage in Hebrews 12 (quoted above) provides great instruction on how to become more patient. We will be able to run the race with endurance by looking to Jesus, who undertook his task with endurance. Jesus serves not just as an example, but as the one who provides the power to change. Patience, after all, is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).
One of the best ways we can grow in patience is to ponder what we are waiting for. We look forward to new heavens, a new earth, a new body, and an existence without the curse of sin. That is all glorious! And, best of all, we will be with God, face to face. God’s dwelling place will be with his people (Revelation 21:3).
Our ability to wait is strengthened by the magnitude of the glory for which we wait. I can stay in place far longer for peach pie than for a paper clip.
So as we meditate on heaven and on God himself, we strengthen our own weak, impatient hearts. We build up patience and endurance in the midst of hardship. And as we ponder God’s very precious promises, we grow our ability to do that most Christian of all things, to wait.