Why waiting on the Lord is not like waiting at the dentist’s office

And it will be said in that day, “Behold, this is our God for whom we have waited that He might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; Let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.”   Isaiah 25:9

I usually notice when I read a passage that refers somehow to “waiting on God”. This is partly because the meaning of that phrase intrigues me, and partly because it is a major Biblical theme that makes an appearance in one of my favorite Bible stories.

First the phrase, though:

It is all over the old testament, especially in the Psalms and Isaiah (Ps 25:5, 37:34, 39:7, 130:5; Isa 25:9, 26:8, 33:2, 49:23), but one of the most famous occurrences is actually in my Isaiah reading for next week:

Yet those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.   (Isa 40:31)

The meaning of the word translated here as wait has been explored in books, articles, devotionals, and commentaries, far more thoroughly and intelligently than I will do here, but for some reason, misconception prevails.

I don’t know if this is because of how we view waiting in general. Maybe the word has a mostly negative connotation for us—like sitting around, bored out of our minds, thumbing through stupid waiting room magazines, only to have our name called for a dental check-up that we know we need for health’s sake, but would rather do without.

Maybe we think of something like that when we think about waiting.

And that’s lame enough.

But, when we translate that kind of waiting into a spiritual idea, we even take the magazine away…because that would distract us from our waiting. It’s as though the art of still, silent waiting is the point. Learning to wait is the value of waiting, because nobody likes waiting, and that’s what God wants us to do—wait. Right?

The problem with this is that in the phrase wait upon the Lord, we’re waiting for God! This is not a boring waiting room scenario. This is a looking forward to seeing our dearest, most cherished, most favorite loved one after a long absence scenario. This is being excited about the time that will be spent together and getting everything ready. It’s planning and preparing the meals, activities, and all the little touches that will let them know just how special they are to us.

This is desire, hope, eager anticipation, and expectation.

Sure, it can include struggling to be patient through difficult circumstances as we look forward to the consummation of our hopes. And it can include times of quietness, reflection, listening, or earnest conversation when appropriate. But stillness is not synonymous with waiting. And waiting, itself, is not the end goal. The goal is, of course, what or who we are waiting for.

And, incidentally, qavah (the Hebrew word often translated into English as wait) doesn’t come with dental office waiting room associations like our English word does. According to my NAS old testament Hebrew Lexicon, it means to look for, hope, expect. In fact, it is also often translated as expect.

That is a posture of the heart. And like other postures of the heart, it will be reflected in our lives. If we are looking, expecting, and hoping for God to work, move, give wisdom, save lives, right wrongs, heal, and be who he says he is, we will certainly be doing a fair amount of looking and listening. But, it’s an active looking and listening. It’s an expectant, desperate, and excited looking and listening. It’s a stepping out and knowing that God will do stuff with us and through us kind of looking and listening.

Though time set aside to spend alone with God is important, the biblical concept of waiting for or upon the Lord doesn’t seem to be primarily a regimented discipline of taking time out from life to sit quietly in a prayer closet.

It’s a lifestyle.

We demonstrate our expectation and hope in God by striving to be who we already know he wants us to be and working to do what we already know he wants us to do. Obeying with eyes and ears open is a vote of confidence in God. This kind of lifestyle is both the means and the evidence of our trust in God and our readiness to be a part of what he is doing.

Indeed, while following the way of Your judgments, O LORD, We have waited for You eagerly; Your name, even Your memory, is the desire of our souls.   (Isa 26:8)

And oh, the things we will get to see and participate in when we live our lives with a heart that is always waiting on God.

This brings us to the story I love so much. It is the story of Simeon in Luke 2:25-35. (Which is seasonally appropriate too, I’d like to point out.) 

And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel ; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. (Luke 2:25)

I find it very interesting that in the description of Simeon’s character, looking for the consolation of Israel immediately follows righteous and devout. Righteousness, devotion, and the expectant longing (waiting) for God to act are very much linked.

Simeon was looking, and he saw.

And what he saw was glorious, beautiful, breathtaking, and unimaginable. He saw God as a newborn baby. He saw the coming of the savior of the world in this miraculous, vulnerable, and (dare I say) cute, little package. And he had some idea of what he was seeing, because God told him—and he was listening.

God brought Simeon into the temple that day (v. 27) to show him something very special and something very dear to his heart. I believe this is because Simeon’s hopes were all wrapped up in God, and his life of obedience showed it. I believe God appreciated that about Simeon, and gave this old man a special peek at what he was up to.

But, whether or not I am right, waiting on the Lord is frequently upheld in Scripture as an attitude and perspective that God approves of, uses, and rewards.

When I think of Simeon and what God showed him, I am reminded of what I could miss if  I don’t trust or care enough to look for what he is doing in the world around me.

I want to expect and look for God in the everyday, even as I long for his someday return. I want to see the beautiful miracles and pieces of God’s heart that are cloaked as the humble and the ordinary.

May God find me waiting on him.

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4 thoughts on “Why waiting on the Lord is not like waiting at the dentist’s office”

  1. This is so awesome, and we had this very conversation with youth group last Wednesday. :) Romans 8:18-25 (“waiting eagerly”) was our text and we discussed the idea that waiting isn’t sedentary. It should be obvious, since we’re also told over and over to ACT, but I think you’re right – the word “wait” has certain associations for us. I think that way our brains infer things is one of the biggest obstacles to reading in context. I can so easily get stuck on a word and abandon the rest of the text. I hate that! But back to waiting, I’d also cite Acts 20:24 and Matthew 24:14 as support for proactive waiting. :)

    1. Yes! Thank you for the great NT references. It was getting late and I was getting tired as I wrote this, so I abandoned trying to look at the development of this concept in the NT. Philippians 1 has one of my favorite articulations of expectant waiting as a life perspective. You may have read this before, but I wrote about it here: http://treasurecontained.com/2010/09/20/word-monger-monday-%CE%B1%CF%80%CE%BF%CE%BA%CE%B1%CF%81%CE%B1%CE%B4%CE%BF%CE%BA%CE%B9%CE%B1-part-2/

  2. A very appropriate reflection for this Advent season, thanks Crystal.
    Can’t push this too far, but it’s interesting that it is not the powerful, those apparently in control of events, who are let in on the secret of the promised Messiah’s arrival. Rather, it’s the old couple who are tuned into God through long years of prayer. Waiting on God it seems to me is a form of humility: of hard won wisdom that God’s ways are not our ways, and he will accomplish his purposes in ways that we can’t predict let alone direct. Easier said than done of course ….

    1. Hi, Patrick. Good to hear from you! Your comment makes me think about how much less likely we are to practice waiting on God when risk and vulnerability are rare in our lives (either by choice or by circumstance). Not that a person with a great deal of power or control can’t look for and see God; it just takes more honesty and intentionality if life doesn’t force us to acknowledge our dependence very often.

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