“Those who wait for the Lord (i.e. wait patiently – wait hopefully) will find their strength renewed.” These words were written by a man who become known to Bible scholars as “the Second Isaiah,” for most of them agree that the latter chapters of the Old Testament prophetic book, Isaiah, were written by a different author who lived among the dispersed Jews during the time of the Babylonian exile (Isaiah 40). They had been driven from their homes and homeland and carried away to Babylon, a strange and pagan land. Jerusalem had been leveled. Their temple had been pillaged. The gates of the city had been burned. Suffice it to say, it was a discouraging time for the people of the covenant, the descendants of Abraham. They had grown tired and were troubled in spirit. Would they ever be able to return to the land God had given them as a land of their own? Now, it was no longer their own. The prophet, Jeremiah, one of the prophets speaking as “Thus saith the Lord” to them, had assured them they would return home, but they had been waiting for such a long time, and they were tired of waiting. They had kept hoping against hope, and many among them had finally become hopeless. They were finding it hard to see beyond Babylon.
I do not know of any people who like to be kept waiting. Just last week I was in a doctor’s office for over three hours. After completed a test that was scheduled, I had been in the waiting room, wondering when I would finally see my doctor. Obviously, they had a scheduling problem. Perhaps they had scheduled too many patients, and I was getting more and more impatient. Sometimes it is hard to practice what you preach. I have preached a number of sermons on patience, and am well aware of the fact that God puts me in situation where I must confess I often do not practice some of those things I encourage others to practice. There is one New Testament text in particular that I have chosen several times for a textual sermon, Romans 8:24-25: “Now hope that is seen is not hope, for who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
In the scriptures patience and hope are inseparably related. We are admonished time and time again to not lose hope, to not grow weary, to not give up, but to keep on hoping and waiting patiently on the Lord. In the passage quoted above from Isaiah, chapter 40, God’s prophet speaks for the Lord, asking: “Have you not heard? Have you not been told from the beginning – have you not understood? The Lord is the everlasting God…He does not faint or grow weary, His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to those who have no might He increases strength…Those who wait for the Lord will find their strength renewed. They shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not grow weary, they shall walk and not faint” (vs. 28-31).
Those words were written seven hundred years before the coming of Christ into the world, but they are as relevant for the people of God today as they were then. Spiritual renewal is a constant need for those who are believers, for the life of faith is a continuous struggle. Our faith is always being tested, especially in the tough times of life, when we become discouraged and downcast, wondering how long we will have to wait for our circumstances to change. The truth is, they may never change. It is the focus of our mind that must change. That is why there is such a strong emphasis in the New Testament on the renewal of the mind. We often allow ourselves to become problem-centered. Our minds become filled with the wrong thoughts, negative thoughts, unhealthy thoughts. It is our thought life where change is most needed. We need to “set” our mind on Christ, “who is our life,” and on the promises of God, which remain forever true – we need to “seek” the things that are above, rather than earthly things (Colossians 3:1-4). The Christian is a faith journey, and faith must be mixed with hope and patience. The Bible tells us, “For you have need of patience, so that after you have done the will of God you may receive the promise.”
This is true in so many areas of life. Whether we are aware of it or not we are continually acting in faith. If we invest in stocks, it takes patience to see whether those investments will increase or decrease in value. We must wait to see the results. If we plant seeds in our garden, we must wait to enjoy the harvest. If you choose to marry, you are taking a giant step of faith, and you must wait to discover how you and your spouse compliment each other, how unselfish you are in your desire to meet each other’s deepest needs. It takes time to transform a wedding into a marriage. It takes time and patience to make a house a home. So it is in the Christian life, which is a lifelong process of growth toward maturity in Christ, and we must accept the fact that we will never come to that place in our earthly journey of faith where we can say, “I have now arrived.”
No, but like the Apostle Paul, we must always have this mentality: “Not that I have already obtained this, or have reached the goal, but I press on to make it my own…This one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of you then who are mature (i.e. “on the way” toward maturity, for the Greek word refers to “the end,” the goal, the prize) be of the same mind” (Philippians 3:12-15). However, unfortunately, there is something about our sin nature that makes us want what we want when we want it, and that is usually now.
You have perhaps about the man who prayed for patience, saying, “God, give me patience, and give it to me Now!” Let me sound a warning at this point; NEVER PRAY FOR PATIENCE! For if you pray for patience you are asking for trouble! The Bible says, “Tribulation produces patience, and patience produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us” (Romans 5:3-5). I have heard about a man who prayed for patience, and God gave him a nagging wife! Has it ever occurred to you that praying can be dangerous? Be careful what you pray for. For example, every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer we ask, “Forgive us our debts (or trespasses) as we forgive our debtors” (i.e. “forgive our sins against You, O God, to the same extent that we are willing to forgive those who have sinned against us”). Are you really fully aware of what you are asking God to do?
Furthermore, many of us never (or seldom) reap the rewards of praying in faith, because we are “double-minded” or “ask wrongly” (see Hebrews 11:6 and James 1:6-7 and 4:3). Also, we pray and when God doesn’t answer right away (i.e. according to our own timetable), we stop praying, we lose heart, we give up. When Jesus says, “Ask and you shall receive” the tense of the verb is “keep on asking” – be persistent in prayer. This is clearly seen in the teachings of Jesus, especially in some of His parables (Luke 18), but also in his response to His followers, when they could not understand why He had kept them waiting (to Mary and Martha, for example: John 11). Isn’t that the way we often are, “Lord, if you had only done this, or that,” or, “Why did you wait so long to come to my aid?”
How often when we are praying, are we saying, at least to ourselves, under our breath: “Lord, come quickly! Whatever you are going to do, do it now?” When heaven is silent, and there is no immediate answer, we may grow weary in praying. But the journey of faith, which every Christian is on for his or her lifetime, is a pilgrimage that always requires waiting on the Lord, for His time is not our time, His thoughts are not our thoughts, His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8) – and we must learn to be patient, strong, trustful, courageous, persevering in Christ, knowing He is faithful, and He will see us through. So let us not lose heart! Never give up! Wait patiently! Wait hopefully! Wait confidently! And in “the fullness of time” you will find your strength renewed, just as mine has always been through the years, for this is exactly what God has promised to do. Always remember, especially in the testing times of life: WAITING ON GOD IS NEVER WASTED TIME!