As much as we may try to avoid it, waiting is part of life. We wait in lines at stores and restaurants. We wait for the “big day” to come. We wait for spring and summer to get rid of the snow and then we wait for the coolness of fall and winter to break the summer heat.
In the Christian calendar, there are entire seasons dedicated to waiting. Advent is one such season. Put simply, advent is the four Sundays before Christmas which Christians use to prepare to celebrate Christ’s birth. The word advent simply means “coming” and typically, we consider advent as the time to prepare to celebrate the first coming of Christ as a baby in Bethlehem. However, advent can also be a time to consider how we should prepare for Christ’s return and the complete reign of His kingdom on earth.
I acknowledge that there is a wide range of theology surrounding the return of Christ, end times and what it means for God’s kingdom to be on earth as it is in heaven. That, however, is not what I want to focus on. Regardless of specific beliefs or interpretations, we know that God has promised a “new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). We are now in a time of waiting for that new heaven and new earth. We are waiting for the fulfillment of that final promise, but we are also waiting for God to fulfill other promises. We’re waiting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Waiting for direction for the next step in life. Waiting for new life or relationships or the personal renewal that we’ve felt certain is coming, eventually.
The question I want to tackle here is, what does that waiting look like? What should we do while we wait on God? Should we be doing anything at all?
As with any good question, I believe that the answer is along the lines of “it depends.” While at times waiting involves action, at other times waiting involves little more than simply waiting.
Sometimes our waiting will look like silence, or at least quiet stillness. Psalm 37:7 asks us to “be still before the LORD and wait patiently for Him”. Lamentations 3:25-26 says that “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”. In both examples, while the person waits quietly, they do so in the presence of God. Their waiting is accompanied by prayer, seeking God and trusting that, in the end, He will do what He has promised. Their prayerful waiting, however, isn’t marked by speech but by listening. The writers are “still” and “wait quietly”, believing that God will speak and act if they quiet themselves long enough to notice God’s voice and movement.
How can we mirror their waiting? How can we create spaces where we readily anticipate God’s voice and action in and around us? It may be uncomfortable at first. Silence is becoming less normal and it seems like there’s always more to do and say. But taking time to listen, to the people around us, to creation, to God, is part of the waiting.
Thankfully, though, waiting isn’t entirely about silence and stillness. I am convinced that there are times when waiting is, in fact, a very active endeavour. At a time when I was considering the next step in my life, a mentor said to me “focus on the will of God that you know; don’t worry about the will of God that you don’t know.” I think this is helpful advice for any season of life, but especially for our times of waiting. Although there are lots of things we may not know, especially about the future, there are also lots of things that we do know. Scripture may not be clear about every specific, but God’s general calling for our lives is outlined again and again throughout His word. It’s given perhaps most succinctly in Micah 6:8 where we are commanded “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with [our] God”. This is the will of God that we know, this is what we can do with confidence even in a season of waiting. Act in ways that promote justice and equity. Love others in ways that demonstrate the same mercy that Christ demonstrates for you. Walk with God, knowing that you will falter but eager to learn from those mistakes and grow in your knowledge and experience of Him. While you wait on God, live in ways that remind yourself and others that God is still active and faithful.
Whether you wait quietly or actively (and I pray that you can learn to do both), my hope is that you can confidently echo that words of the psalmist:
I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the LORD
In the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
Be strong and take heart
and wait for the LORD. (Psalm 27:13-14 NIV)