We are a culture of action. We’re eager to get started, to accomplish something. And to a great extent, we are valued according to what we achieve. How much money do we make? What awards have we won? What discoveries have we made?
When we meet someone new, we ask “What do you do?” If we have a need, the standard advice is to “don’t just sit there—do something!” We applaud a man of action and disparage a couch potato. We tell ourselves that life is too short to wait. We have a friend who describes his life as “Action! Camera! Lights!”—or perhaps “Go! Get set! On your mark!” (Not too surprisingly, he tends to run into problems.)
Sometimes, taking action is appropriate. Proverbs reinforces this view: “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!” (Proverbs 6:6) and “How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep?” (Proverbs 6:9).
Sometimes, we take action when God is telling us to wait:
- Abraham and Sarah conceived Ishmael, when God wanted them to wait for Isaac.
- Saul went ahead with the sacrifice instead of waiting for Samuel to arrive—and lost the kingdom. (1 Samuel 10:8 and 1 Samuel 13:5-14)
And sometimes we get it right:
- Twice, David waited for God to remove Saul, instead of killing him when he had the chance. (1 Samuel 24 and 1 Samuel 26)
- Joseph waited to consummate his marriage to Mary until after Jesus was born. (Matthew 1:24-25)
Recently, as I’ve been reading through Psalms, I came across this verse: “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:14) It takes strength and courage to wait for God. Think how hard it must have been for David to spare Saul. Consider Joseph’s restraint with Mary!
When everything around us is urging us to take charge and forge ahead, our inclination is to act. If we instead choose to be patient, it’s likely that those around us won’t understand. We may be criticized for our inaction and accused of being lazy. We may feel an opportunity slipping away. We may see time passing us by. We may struggle with feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness.
Once again, Pete and I are facing a ministry-related challenge. It’s tempting to try and solve the situation ourselves—to take the initiative and do something. But we both sense God saying, “Your ideas are not what I have in mind. Wait for Me.” Deadlines are approaching. It’s easy to worry, to feel desperate, to doubt. I’m certainly motivated to pray—hard!
When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, God led them with a pillar of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night. That way God could lead them at any time, day or night. Later, when the Jews had constructed the tabernacle, the pillar rested there.
In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out—until the day it lifted. So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the Israelites during all their travels. (Exodus 40:36-38)
The Israelites had a clear indication of when to take action and when to wait. We don’t have a tabernacle with a cloud hovering over it, but we do have the Holy Spirit. His leading is personal and specific.
Waiting doesn’t always involve inaction. God may have us busy doing something else while we wait for Him to act. Moreover, there are some things we know God wants us to do, now and forever. Hosea 12:6b reads, “… maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always.”
Scripture is are full of passages encouraging us to wait on the Lord. I’ll end with one of my favorites:
Since ancient times no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.