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Keys to A New Beginning (6)

Learning How to Waiting Upon the Lord

Number 21:1-9; Hebrews 10:32-39; James 1:2-4

Jim Davis

A desire for instant gratification is a characteristic of our fast moving space age. We have been reared in a push-button age of automatic machines. We are now developing self-checkout lines in many stores. I was in a Kmart store where you could check yourself out. You scan the items you are buying just as a clerk would, and then you scan you check card to pay for them and then you bag the items. You walk out without any assistance. We live in age where time is of the essence.

Years ago if people missed a stagecoach they were content to wait two or three days for next one. Now they get exasperated if they miss one section of a revolving door. It is estimated that the annual cost of running red lights, in medical bills, car repairs, etc. is $7 billion. The average amount of time saved by running a red light is 50 seconds. America is the country where we jump and run traffic lights to save seconds and wait patiently for hours on the first tee.

In this fast moving age we have also become impatient of slower and less direct methods of reaching our goals. Too often we seek to apply our space age technology to our relationship with God. Many are looking for a shortcut to knowing God. Shortcuts usually leave us shallow and hollow because they lead us to embrace hollow religious philosophies. We try to read a chapter a day to keep Satan away, or have a quick short devotion and rush away in hopes of making up for our spiritual bankruptcy. We are glorifying men, trusting in religious externals, quasi-religious fellowships, and salesmanship methods for church growth instead of depending upon the dynamic power of God to accomplish his purpose in our lives.

You can learn a lot about the patient waiting of God from nature. You can learn a remarkable lesson from the cocklebur: its sticky seedpod contains several seeds, not just one. And these seeds germinate in different years. Thus, if seed A fails to sprout next year because of a drought, seed B will be there waiting for year after next, and seed C the year after that, waiting until the right conditions for germination arrive.

Waiting Is A Great Teacher

Second only to suffering, waiting may be the greatest teacher and trainer in godliness, maturity, and genuine spirituality most of us ever encounter.

If Israel had of known that it would have taken forty years to prepare them to enter the Promised Land they would have never left Egypt. Israel learned their most important lesson in the wilderness. They learned how to wait upon the Lord. Waiting wasn't Israel's greatest strength.

Israel had conflicting expectations as they experienced the harshness of the wilderness. Their anxious expectations of the Promised Land led them to believe there would be no difficulties ahead. There was a conflict between what they expected and reality.

Numbers 21:4-5
"They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, 'Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!'" (NIV).

Someone has said, "Conflicting expectations are like a tight shoe. They begin with a pinch, but if left unattended, they soon become painfully tender to the slightest touch." In these verses we observe that Israel's waiting made them painfully tender as they faced the difficulties of the journey. They lost sight of God’s leading as they allowed their circumstances to drive them. "People who struggle the most with expectations tend to be driven by gusts of circumstance instead of knowing where they're going."

James 1:2-8
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does" (NIV).

The only way we can "consider" our difficult circumstances a "pure joy" is through seeking to understand the purpose of our circumstances. Difficulties produce "perseverance" which enables God to finish his work in us so that we may be brought to maturity. When we have difficulty understanding the purpose of our trials and tribulations, we must ask God for wisdom while we are waiting on him.

Jesus understood the nature and purpose of his suffering. This enabled him to defer his desires by saying "my time has not yet come." This is the motive for deferring our desires. Most of us think our time has come five minutes after the desire first pops into our minds.

James 5:7-9
"Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near. Don't grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!" (NIV).

James writes, "the Lord’s coming is near . . . The Judge is standing at the door!" Almost two thousand years after this was written, we are asking ourselves if James knew anything at all about what he was writing. I think we miss the point of many verses such as these as our minds race forward to the final Judgment Day. I think James is reminding us that God stands at the door of our lives—He is near—He knows what is going on—He will act when the time is right. The "Lord is at hand" in every circumstance (Philippians 2:5). Throughout the New Testament we read the phrase "the hand of the Lord was upon them." The hand of the Lord continues to be upon his people. His hand is upon your life. We must understand this as we are waiting upon the Lord.

Too often periods of waiting are times of confusion. Some in Thessalonica waiting on the Lord’s return stopped working as they stood around looking for Jesus to return. Too many are waiting for Christ’s kingdom to come in the clouds. It is not in the clouds it is here in the present where I stand. It is to forcefully move in every area of my life as King Jesus rules my life. The words "watch" and "beware" in the biblical scheme of things are usually used to point to what we need to be doing in the here and now while we are waiting upon God to act.

How to Wait Upon the Lord

It's relatively easy to understand that we need to wait upon God, but what do we do while we are waiting upon God to move? The idea of waiting may lead us to think it is spent in passivity rather than action. It goes on in periods of waiting just as it does in all other times. What do we do while we wait upon God's timing? This is the crucial aspect of waiting.

It is not a time to bury our heads in the sand. I received this note from someone who read one of my sermons on the internet: "Skimmed through your article on the mind of Christ... am going back to re-read it . . . was wondering if you could tell me what a ‘spiritual crisis’ is . . . don't think I've ever had one . . ."

I am afraid this is what only knowing church doctrine do to us. They persuade us to adhere to a few religious practices as we bury our heads in the sand about the truly important things going on in us and around us. They blind us to the reality of what is going on. By the way I just sent this person Paul’s revelation of his struggles in Romans 7:14-25.

Times spent waiting upon the Lord are usually those times Satan challenges us to follow him. The Israelites became impatient during their time of waiting. They made a golden calf, griped about the food and became impatient. Their failure to respond correctly to periods of waiting blinded them to what God was doing. Their time would have been much more productively spent reflecting on what God was trying to accomplish during those periods of waiting.

While we are waiting upon the Lord we must determine to live by faith. Faith requires seeing the unseen. When we think God is not acting swiftly and decisively we can choose to believe that he is working behind the scenes. The difficulty with faith is that we want to see what God is doing in the present so that we can be confident. We usually want him to act according to our ideas. When he doesn’t we take matters into our own hands as we grumble and complain. This is nothing new God’s people have always done this.

The Christians to whom Peter was writing became anxious as they saw time ticking away. His promise was beginning to look impossible. They were starting to think that they had missed out. Peter reminded them that "God is not slack concerning his promises, as some count slackness, but longsuffering toward us." When we start thinking that time is running out we usually try to take things into our own hands. This usually interferes with God’s purpose for our lives.

Psalms 119:116-117
"Sustain me according to your promise, and I will live;
do not let my hopes be dashed.
Uphold me, and I will be delivered;
I will always have regard for your decrees" (NIV).

The time spent waiting must be spent in reflective meditation upon God's word. James tells us to ask for wisdom. The wisdom of God comes as we study his word and ask for his wisdom to apply it to our lives. The psalmist speaks of this kind of reflective meditation.

Psalms 1:1-6
"Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers.
But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.

Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish" (NIV).

Waiting in reflective meditation is a time to seek God's direction. Waiting is a time for reflectively mediating upon the law of the Lord. It is a time to look inward at our plans and motives as we reflect upon God’s plan. It is not enough to just meditate upon the word but you must allow it to be reflected in your life. We must look into the word as if were looking in a mirror with the intent of improving what we see in our reflection. The psalmist mediates upon God's word to walk in God's ways. I must think about how God's word applies to the problems I am facing. How does it apply to my sexuality, personality, marriage, finances, employment, or unemployment, etc.

Waiting in reflective meditation is a time spent maturing our thoughts as we ask God for the wisdom to apply his word. Maturity prepares the way for real growth, but it is something that doesn't come over night.

Waiting in reflective meditation is a time spent in seeking correction. Jeremiah prayed for direction and correction as he sought the Lord.

Jeremiah 10:23-24
"I know, O LORD, that a man's life is
not his own;
it is not for man to direct his steps.
Correct me, LORD, but only with justice--
not in your anger,
lest you reduce me to nothing" (NIV )

Waiting in reflective meditation is a time spent in supplication to God. In Psalms 25 we find the psalmist as his enemies surround him, he is feeling isolated and alone. In his anguish he seeks gracious instruction from the Lord. It was a time that he needed to wait upon the Lord.

Psalms 25:4-7
"Show me your ways, O LORD,
teach me your paths;
guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my Savior,
and my hope is in you all day long.
Remember, O LORD, your great mercy and love,
for they are from of old.
Remember not the sins of my youth
and my rebellious ways;
according to your love remember me,
for you are good, O LORD" (NIV).

Reflective meditation upon the scriptures produces patience. The biblical record is given for our learning. When we learn how God's hand has moved upon the people of the Bible as they waited, we can reflect upon what God desires to do for us while we wait. Those stories are given to us so that we might learn and gain comfort from the Scriptures (Romans 15:4).

Waiting in prayer is a disciplined refusal to act before God acts. In prayer, we are aware that God is active and when the circumstances are ready, when others are in the right place, and when our hearts are prepared, he will call us into the action.

  • Gideon’s time waiting while the Philistines were plundering Israel was spent making sure that he didn’t run ahead of God in making a decision about what to do.
        • David’s time waiting out on the Palestinian hills while he was herding sheep was spent practicing with his slingshot and picking out new psalms on his harp.
        • Daniel’s time waiting was spent in seeking wisdom from God.
        • Jesus’ time waiting was spent going about doing good.
        • The first century Christians who were waiting while Peter was in jail spent their time in prayer to God.
        • The five wise virgins spent their time waiting on the Bridegroom making sure they had enough oil for their lamps.
        • The five talented and two talented persons spent their time wisely investing the money entrusted to them.
        • The time these people spent waiting was productive time because they knew they were waiting on God’s hand to move in their lives.

        Reflectively waiting upon God has it rewards. The Chinese bamboo tree does absolutely nothing--or so it seems--for the first four years. Then suddenly, sometime during the fifth year, it shoots up nine feet in sixty days. Would you say that bamboo tree grew in six weeks, or five years? I think our lives are akin to the Chinese bamboo tree. Sometimes we put forth effort, put forth effort, and put forth effort . . . and nothing seems to happen. But if you do the right things long enough, you'll receive the rewards of your efforts. (Citation: S. Truett Cathy, Leadership, Vol. 7, no. 3)

        Times of waiting may be difficult, but it is during these times that we forge a deeper faith in God as we are forced to trust that his hand will eventually move in our lives.


        The greatest aspect of self-denial consists of bearing patiently all the things God allows to come into your life.

        Someone once said, "I have prayed hundreds, if not thousands, of times for the Lord to heal me—and he finally healed me of the need to be healed."

        The time spent waiting upon God is a time spent seeking wisdom, patience and maturity (James 1:1-5). Simply wait on him. So doing, we shall be directed, supplied, protected, corrected, and rewarded.

        There was only one remedy for Israel’s waiting. They should have focused their lives on God.

        Numbers 21:4-9
        They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!"

        Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, "We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us." So Moses prayed for the people.

        The LORD said to Moses, "Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live." So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived" (NIV)

        Today our lives must be focused on God through Christ.

        John 3:10-15
        "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life" (NIV).


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