The Unwelcome Gift of Waiting. An Article by Vaneetha Rendall Risner written for Desiring God.
Waiting can be agonizing. It’s hardest to wait when I am uncertain about the outcome. When I’m trusting God for the best, while at the same time preparing for the worst. It would be much easier if I had a guaranteed good outcome. Or at least a promise from God to hold on to. Or some reassurance to anchor my prayers. But God often seems silent when I’m waiting. I have no idea whether he’ll ever answer my prayer, so it feels like I’m waiting in the dark.
I have read and reread Psalm 13:1–2, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?” O Lord, how long? I have asked that question many times. If I knew God would eventually answer my prayer with “Yes,” it would be different. But with no such assurance, even a “No” would often be easier than “Wait.”
When God Says “No”
Several years ago, I searched the Bible to find a promise that would help me in the midst of a torturous wait. I wanted a word that I could “claim” — a verse that would assure me of eventual satisfaction. Something, anything, to cling to. As I was waiting, I read, “No unbelief made [Abraham] waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (Romans 4:20–21).
“Waiting is not just about what I get at the end of the wait, but about who I become as I wait.”
While I admire Abraham’s faith, this passage often frustrated me. Of course Abraham never wavered. He had a direct word from God. If I had a direct promise from God, an assurance of my answer, then I’d be content to wait, too. Abraham could wait because he knew he’d get what he wanted in the end. I wanted God to give me a promise like the one he had given Abraham. So, I kept begging God for a sign.
None came. No verse. No confirmation. Just silence on that issue. For years. And in the end, God’s answer was “No.”
At first it felt unfair. And purposeless. I struggled to make sense of those seemingly wasted years. While I had grown closer to God, somehow I felt that I had received a lesser gift. I put it out of my mind after a while. It was senseless to keep dwelling on it. But whenever I read that passage in Romans, it stung. Why didn’t God tell me his answer from the beginning?
One Model for Waiting Well
Several years later, as I begin reading Romans again in my quiet time, I hesitate at Romans 4. It painfully reminds me of that time of asking and waiting. Feeling disconnected from Abraham, I decide to look at his life in Genesis. I see Abraham’s humanity in how he sometimes doubted God’s protection. He even tried to fulfill God’s promise on his own through Hagar. Perhaps he thought God needed his help and ingenuity.
This part I can identify with. Abraham’s struggle with impatience feels all too familiar. Too many times I’ve tried to help God fulfill his plans — that is, the plans I’d like him to have. Plans that would give me what I want. What I think I deserve.
“As we wait by faith, we don’t hold on to a particular outcome. We hold on to God.”
As I study Genesis, I see that while Abraham was waiting, God was working. Molding his character. Teaching him patience. Building their friendship. It was in that 25-year wait that Abraham got to know God intimately. It was in those seemingly wasted years that God transformed him. And after decades of waiting, Abraham was ready for the supreme test of his faith, when he was asked to sacrifice Isaac, the son of promise. The son he had waited for.
Then I see it. Why had I not noticed this before? Abraham’s faith wasn’t rooted in the promise of descendants. If it was, he never would have taken Isaac to be sacrificed. He wouldn’t have relinquished what God had promised him years earlier. He would have clung tightly to Isaac, feeling entitled to this son. For Isaac was the fulfillment of God’s long-awaited promise to Abraham.
Abraham wasn’t clinging to his own understanding of the fulfillment of God’s promise. God could fulfill his promise any way he chose, including raising Isaac from the dead if he needed to (Hebrews 11:19). So, ultimately Abraham’s faith lay in the trustworthiness of God.
The Most Precious Answer
Abraham’s faith wasn’t in the promise alone. His faith was rooted in the Promiser. Because his faith was not in what God would do for him, but in God himself, Abraham was willing to risk. He could do whatever God asked. He wasn’t holding on to a particular outcome. He was holding on to God. Abraham’s waiting strengthened his faith. Taught him God’s ways. Showed him God’s faithfulness. Abraham knew that God would provide everything he needed.
“God knows what I need. I do not. He sees the future. I cannot. His perspective is eternal. Mine is not.”
I have the same assurance that Abraham did — that God will provide everything I need. As I let that promise sink in, I see my waiting differently. Perhaps God is making me, and you, wait for the same reasons that he made Abraham wait. To forge our faith. To make us attentive to his voice. To deepen our relationship. To solidify our trust. To prepare us for ministry. To transform us into his likeness.
In retrospect, I can see that “wait” is the most precious answer God can give us. It makes us cling to him rather than cling to an outcome. God knows what I need. I do not. He sees the future. I cannot. His perspective is eternal. Mine is not. He will give me what is best for me. When it is best for me. As Paul Tripp says, “Waiting is not just about what I get at the end of the wait, but about who I become as I wait.”
Article appeared in Desiring God June 15, 2016