In God’s Waiting Room

How to survive when you and God are in different time zones.

 
 
“I can’t figure out why you keep having these headaches, Mrs. Carpenter. I think we need to rule out the possibility of a brain tumor. I’d like to schedule you for an MRI.”

Those words from our doctor ushered my wife, Dionne, and me into a period of intense stress and outright fear. She cried out in her sleep one night, demanding, “Am I going to die?” I lay awake next to her, praying.

More than anything else, we simply waited.

First we waited for the MRI appointment. Less than a week away, it still felt like forever. We slept very little the night before, rose early that morning, and drove 20 minutes to the hospital. A maze of hallways brought us to the x-ray lab. The nurse led Dionne to a room housing the sophisticated equipment that would take a picture of the curves and convolutions of her brain and reveal any intrusive growth.

She lay there for an hour, her head and torso swallowed by the machine, waiting.

I waited outside. In the waiting room.

Then we drove home to wait for the results. We were limp with relief when we heard hours later that there was no tumor.

During this same week my friend Mike was dying of cancer. Eighteen months of waiting, of praying and hoping, of chemotherapy and radiation, finally came down to a few days, and then a few hours. I sat by his hospital bed, held his hand, told him I loved him. I hugged his wife, talked to his teenaged son. We waited.

Finally, Mike woke from his pain in the presence of God.

 God’s Waiting Room

That same month Dionne and I came to a decision. We had prayed for God’s guidance for nearly a year. Finally we were sure: He was calling us from the pastorate to a church-planting ministry. And that would mean a move, resigning from the church we had started four years before, selling our home, buying a new one, uprooting the kids. It would also mean raising a substantial portion of my salary. And the logical timetable was to do all of this in six months. Six months of frenetic activity. But also, six months of waiting.

During this half-year period, I came to realize that all the experiences of waiting that piled upon us were not just waiting for doctors or lab techs or realtors or potential supporters. We were really in God’s waiting room.

Scripture says a lot about waiting on the Lord.

There is encouragement for the present:

“We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield” (Ps. 33:20). “I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry” (Ps. 40:1).

There is instruction about what to do, or not do, while you’re waiting:

“Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart” (Ps. 27:14). “Wait for the LORD and keep his way. He will exalt you to possess the land; when the wicked are cut off, you will see it” (Ps. 37:34). “Do not say, ‘I’ll pay you back for this wrong!’ Wait for the LORD, and he will deliver you” (Prov. 20:22).

Other promises point to the future:

“In that day they will say, ‘Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the LORD, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation'” (Is. 25:9). “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” (Is. 40:31, NASB).

Waiting on God is a lot like other kinds of waiting. As such, it is often difficult. The psalmist said, “I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched; my eyes fail while I wait for my God” (Ps. 69:3, NASB). I have felt that way, too.

In Hebrew, wait comes from a root word meaning to be taut, like a stretched-out rope. It’s probably related to the verb “to be in labor”!

What makes waiting such labor is not having control. Waiting is about uncertainty, about the unknown. It’s easy to be fearful, stressed, when you don’t know what’s coming next.

Maybe that’s why waiting usually has negative associations. What is a “waiting room” but a place where you languish before the doctor or dentist will see you? Frustration and fear are built into the idea.

If you’ve ever waited to get the results of a lab test, or to hear whether you passed an exam, or were granted a loan, or were accepted to college, or got the job, you know that waiting can be nerve-wracking.

Nowhere do we see so clearly the disparity between God’s ways and ours as when we are waiting on Him. Waiting is mysterious, just as God Himself is mysterious. His timing is not our timing, His ways not our ways.

God’s Timetable

As we planned our move, a timetable emerged. I would finish my pastorate on August 31 and begin in the new community on September 1.

It seemed obvious we would need to sell our home by the end of June, giving us time and some equity money to find a new home by fall. Then our two boys could begin their new school on time, Dionne could search for a local job, and I would avoid a 300-mile commute.

It also seemed obvious our fund-raising efforts should be completed by summer’s end, since by September my salary would depend upon a team of supporters.

Our house went on the market in early April. Fresh in our minds were stories of friends who had sold their homes within a week or two. One man told us, “God is the best realtor you’ll ever have.”

I also began to seek the financial undergirding for our church-planting ministry from individuals, churches, and institutions.

Weeks passed, and then months. The end of May came and our house had not sold. June, July, August, September, and October passed, still with no sale.

Our support began to trickle in. I applied to a Christian foundation for a grant. All the signs were positive for receiving major financial help. At the end of an interview, I was led to believe approval of our request was only a formality. The interviewer promised to contact me within a few days.

He never called. Many weeks later I discovered that our request had been denied. I was never totally sure of the reason.

Our home finally sold in November, five months after the “obvious” deadline. And our support finally was underwritten. But not in my timing.

Why did God delay? I don’t know.

I do know that waiting showed me, more clearly than ever, how dependent I am upon Him. I was humbled by the glaring truth that no plan of mine can succeed apart from His will. When our timetable went out the window, I saw God continue to provide for us. He remained faithful, and at the same time proved He didn’t need to do it my way.

Waiting on God exposes our true relationship with Him. Times of blessing make it easy to be spiritual, grateful, at peace.

But when we wait on Him, when He upends our plans, rearranges our schedules, and seems not to have heeded our complaints or taken notice of our needs, we begin to see how deep, or how shallow, our faith really is.

Waiting then becomes a great opportunity to grow. It is one of God’s tools to shape us into the image of Jesus.

How to Cooperate

The discipline of waiting is not easy, but there are some things we can do to aid the growth process. Here are some suggestions about how best to cooperate with God as you wait:

First, realize that waiting and worship overlap. Keep expressing trust and praise. At the heart of worship is forgetting about your circumstances and focusing on the character of God. And that’s what waiting is about, too.

It does enormous good to praise the Lord as you wait for Him. Not to butter Him up, or to try to hasten His answers to your prayers, but because He deserves it.

Second, be honest about expressing your emotions to God. But remember, God doesn’t owe you an explanation.

Honesty is essential to any relationship. If you don’t express your feelings to your spouse, your marriage can become artificial or distant.

Without honesty, your walk with God can degenerate into hypocritical pretending. So if you’re angry with God, don’t be afraid to tell Him. If you’re scared or confused, tell Him. Obviously God knows the truth anyway.

But remember that usually He does not tell us why He has chosen one course, or one timetable, over another. Years later we may understand the wisdom of it. But there is still a mystery as we stand in the shadow of His sovereignty.

Third, choose to think of waiting in images of anticipation, rather than images of dread.

Consider two events: Christmas Day and dental surgery. You have to wait for both. One you anticipate, the other you dread.

Too often we place waiting on God in the “dread” category.

Remember that the One on whom you are waiting is your Heavenly Father, who has your best interest at heart. Then your impatience should become anticipation: you are excited to see what He will do!

Then waiting for Him is like looking forward to the visit of a loved one you haven’t seen for a while. It’s like waiting for the birth of a baby. It’s like waiting for Christmas Day, when you unwrap the presents given by those who love you.

Fourth, be proactive, but beware of the “Ishmael” syndrome.

Remember Sarah and Abraham, and their attempt to help God accomplish His will. Their headstrong action brought Hagar into the picture, Ishmael was born, and heartache was the result for everyone.

Run from the idea that you have to take matters into your own hands. But waiting need not be passive. Your waiting on God is an opportunity for faithfulness and service. Make sure you are obeying Him to the best of your knowledge and ability.

Finally, place your expectations in God’s character, rather than in specific circumstances.

My most discouraging times have been when I was sure I knew God’s will. I prayed, believed, expected . . . and was bewildered when God did not do it my way.

Our hope must not be in circumstances, individuals, or institutions. Our hope must be in God.

Remember to focus your expectations on His character. He is a God of faithfulness, wisdom, kindness, and power. So you can always expect His dealings with you to be faithful, wise, kind, and powerful.

And you can confidently hope in His promises to provide, guide, and bless. But as you claim those promises, you must still allow Him to choose how and when He will keep them.

The End Result

Our period in God’s waiting room has given us a deeper confidence in His provision. The delay in selling our home led, months later, to a surprise blessing: we were able to purchase a bigger, better home in the new area. Had the Lord followed our timetable, we would have received less than His best.

He continues to surprise us. He provided a job for Dionne two miles from our new home. The foundation that had denied our application for a grant awarded us one a year later—without our asking for it!

We know, now more than ever, that God’s waiting room leads to the blessing of knowing Him more intimately, trusting Him more completely, and serving Him more humbly.

“The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD” (Lam. 3:25–26).


Article written by Jim Carpenter, Church Planter, writer for Navigator’s Discipleship Journal. His favorite verse is 2 Cor. 2:14 because, “it describes God’s perfect leadership of our lives as we seek to follow Him and influence others for the Kingdom.”

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