By Charles Price

Waiting “For” God, Or Waiting “On” God?

Stress is one of the biggest causes of trauma facing our society – and one of the biggest causes of stress is impatience. 

We are told impatience can affect our sleep, encourage a sense of frustration and helplessness, reinforce negative emotions and make it difficult to focus on the present. 

We live in an ‘instant’ world. A generation ago, we mailed letters that took days to arrive – now in our world of social media, we are frustrated when we don’t get an instant response.

Our times and technology may go on changing, but God does not. This presents some difficulties in our instant age – because God is never in a hurry. 

In a series of seven “Woe to those who …” statements in Isaiah 5, including those who “…get up early to run after drinks…”, who “…call evil good and good evil…”, who are “…wise in their own eyes…”, and so on, all of them make good sense.

Yet, in the middle he unexpectedly says, “Woe… to those who say, “Let God hurry; let Him hasten his work so we may see it.” – Isaiah 5:19 (NIV). 

In other words, “…please don’t expect God to hurry up, and ‘Woe to you’, if you do!”

When God gave Abraham the momentous news that he and his wife Sarah would have a son, despite their being old and she already past the menopause, they had to wait another 25 years before their son Isaac was born.

The promise had not been just for a son, but for a nation that would come through the son – yet it was another 60 years before Isaac himself became a father.

And that just once, of twins Esau and Jacob. It took 85 years for Abraham’s first grandchild to arrive! If I was Abraham, I would have expected a baby nine months after the promise, and for grandchildren to start coming along in 20 years. 

After 85 years, they would be during the fourth or fifth generation! But no, after 85 years only two baby grandsons!

Jacob, one of the twins, then died in Egypt as an old man, having been taken there to escape a famine. His descendants stayed in Egypt for 430 years, multiplying to more than two million people. 

When they eventually returned to Canaan, they had been enslaved, humiliated and abused before becoming refugees wandering through a barren wilderness for another 40 years. 

“Waiting ‘on’ Him has no time dimension, it is a quiet confidence and trust in God for whatever His agenda is.” 

Charles Price

So, what had happened to the promise of being a great nation given more than 500 years before? There is little sign of it yet! God takes His time. He was not in a hurry! It would be another 1500 years before a baby would cry in Bethlehem, and the promise to Abraham of his “seed” – as singular – see Galatians 3:16 – would arrive, so that, at last, “… all peoples on earth will be blessed through you…” – Genesis 12:3 (NIV).

What do we do when things don’t come to pass? When things we have sensed God has shown us, or things He promises in His Word, don’t seem to happen? The wrong thing would be to do what Abraham did. 

Ten years after the promise had been given to him, absolutely nothing had happened – there was no child and Sarah – his wife – is described as, ‘worn out’ and her womb as, ‘dead’.

So, they panicked and came up with their own plan to get things moving! Together, Sarah and Abraham planned that Abraham would have the son through their maid, Hagar. She would act as a surrogate mother.

It wasn’t totally unusual in their culture, so Hagar conceived Abraham’s child and they called him Ishmael. But, he was not the promised son. Ishmael was an imposter in the plan, born out of sheer impatience on the part of Abraham. This led to lack of trust in God, which in turn led to human ingenuity to bring about what God had promised by their own abilities and resources. 

God gave to Ishmael the dignity and value He gives to every human being, and unfolded a plan for him and his mother, but he was not the son God had promised Abraham earlier.

Abraham needed to understand what Isaiah came to write about in Isaiah 40:31, “… but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint”. (ESV). 

The energy and strength lie with those who ‘wait for the Lord’. Some translations change the wording a little, “…they that wait upon the Lord” (KJV). 

There is a subtle difference between waiting ‘for’ the Lord and waiting ‘on’ the Lord. Waiting ‘for’ Him is time sensitive, waiting for something to occur, to happen, to come to pass, and in it are the seeds of impatience.

Waiting ‘on’ Him has no time dimension, it is a quiet confidence and trust in God for whatever His agenda is. 

The NIV translates it as follows, “…those who hope in the Lord shall renew their strength…” Again, the focus is not the timing, but on God Himself, patient waiting, trusting and hoping in Him.

We must wait ‘for’ the Lord and His timing, but to do that well we need to wait ‘on’ the Lord and forget about the timing of whatever it is we are waiting for.

We just get on with normal living knowing that His purpose, in His timing, with His resources will eventually come to pass. 

Try it! And, perhaps for the first time, you will relax in Him and renew your strength; mounting up with wings like eagles in a thermal.

You will run and not be weary – you will walk and not faint.

Whilst waiting ‘for’ Him though, make sure you wait ‘on’ Him.

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By Charles Price

About the author

Charles Price serves as the ‘Minister at large’ at the People’s Church in Toronto, Canada.

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