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Wait on the Lord: An Invitation to Unwasted Time

Let me share with you a truth I learned by the time I was a toddler: the people of God wait. A lot.

My dad’s a preacher. There were quite a few years as I was growing up that he would preach at two different churches on Sunday. Different churches, same sermon. And we kids would sit through both of them. That’s a long time to wait for Sunday lunch. We learned that the people of God have to learn to wait.

Although I’m thankful for it now, back then I could get a little annoyed that we were always the first to get to church and the last to leave—our parents would talk with everybody. Nowadays, I’ve turned into my parents. I’m the one who stays and talks, and my kids have to wait on me. But back then, a lot of waiting. That’s what the people of God do.

When I was a fifth grader, my family was invited by another preacher family to their church’s Passover reenactment in their church gym. I didn’t really know what we were there to do, but I gathered from the guy’s introduction that we were going to reenact a Passover “seder” and it would take four hours. But, he promised, it would not feel that long. He was right; it felt like six.

Looking back, the Passover service itself was beautiful, meaningful. The problem was us: we were Gentiles from Kansas. We kids were not trained to sit still for a four-hour Passover service, and we were no doubt embarrassing our parents, mostly unintentionally. We made mistake after mistake—whether spilling the pitcher of water, choking on bitter herbs, accidentally flicking grape juice onto the book instead of the paper plate, and repeating the congregational refrain one more time after everyone else went quiet.


“The people of God wait. A lot.”


Three and a half hours in, the leaders of the service had the kids all get up and go look for the reappearance of the prophet Elijah. Not likely in Kansas, but we looked anyway. One of the girls from our table ended up looking for him in the men’s bathroom (at the time we thought she was just needing to go, and she picked the wrong bathroom). Her move actually made sense, though, because the prophet would have been coming from a long journey.

All of this reinforced for me the truth that the people of God wait a lot. At every Passover service for centuries, they have looked for, and not found, Elijah. Why wait for Elijah? It’s because that’s how the Old Testament ends. Malachi is the final book of the Old Testament, and it ends by talking about how Elijah would come again before the Day of the Lord. As Jesus later explained, this was a prediction fulfilled in John the Baptist who prepared the hearts of his countrymen for the coming of Jesus (Matthew 11:13-14). This second “Elijah” showed up some four centuries after Malachi said he would.

A Brief History of Waiting on the Lord

God had been promising His people a Messiah for at least a couple thousand years. You think it’s hard for you to wait for Christmas to get here? After Jesus came, add another thirty or so years before Jesus began his ministry of teaching, preaching, and healing. For three or so years, his disciples got to see previews of heaven, watching the blind see and the deaf hear. This is what they and their ancestors had been waiting for. Yet then Jesus died. What followed was a long weekend of waiting. It’s true that Sunday came and Jesus rose from the dead, but then, listen to what Jesus told His disciples before going back into heaven:

“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.” (Acts 1:4, NIV)

More waiting, this time for the Holy Spirit. Within weeks, the Holy Spirit came, the church began, and things got pretty amazing. The church grew and expanded from nation to nation. Yet another millennia-long wait was just commencing.

Jesus had said He would return, and His disciples figured it was just going to be a few years of waiting. Years turned into decades. When decades went by with Jesus still not having returned, one of his original apostles, Peter, wrote a letter encouraging Christians who were wondering what was taking Him so long. Here’s what Peter told them:

“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:8-9, NIV)


Wait on the Lord: “Jesus had said He would return, and His disciples figured it was just going to be a few years of waiting.”


That’s helpful but not entirely reassuring for those who keep watching the sky and checking their watches. Peter explains that Jesus is waiting until He’s given more and more people the time to repent. Because Jesus waits, we need to get used to waiting. Decades turn into centuries, and as of last count, the centuries have turned into two millennia. The people of God wait.

Years of Wasted Waiting?

Maybe you’ve been waiting for a job to open, a baby to come, a time of grieving to end, a sin to be overcome, the pain to abate, the right person to come along, a health problem to go away. Everyone is waiting for something to be made right.

As you wait, know you’re in good company.

How many decades did Abraham and Sarah wait for God to give them a son? How many centuries did the Israelites wait for God to deliver them from slavery in Egypt? How many decades did the Israelites wander in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land? After their leaders were unfaithful to God, how many decades did the Israelites spend in exile?

As they waited for the Messiah to come, the people of God found themselves ruled by four empires—Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome. Years of wasted waiting, right?


“Everyone is waiting for something to be made right.”


It was seventy years in exile to the empire, Babylon, which had destroyed their sacred temple. It was another two hundred years under the Persians, then another two hundred under the Greeks. The Jewish people were then conquered by the most brutal empire yet, the Romans, who ended up destroying their second temple. All this must have felt like years of wasted waiting.

And yet:

“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.” (Isaiah 40:31, NASB)

Although it’s true that the people of God wait a lot, it’s equally true that time spent waiting on the Lord is never wasted.

What Waiting Does for the People of God

Do you know what the Babylonian Exile did for the people of God? Getting taken over by Babylon finally cured them of their idol worship, which had been a constant temptation from the Exodus onward. The Babylonians also scattered the Jewish people not just to Babylon but to numerous other places in the Mediterranean world. Then when Jesus came and the church began and the gospel was preached all over the world, there were already pockets of people who were waiting for the Messiah to come. The Babylonian Exile wasn’t years of wasted waiting after all.

Getting taken over by Persia allowed the people of God to go back home to Israel and rebuild their homeland and temple.

The expansion of the Greek Empire gave people in Israel and Athens and Carthage and Rome and Ephesus the same language—the Greek language. So, when the church began and the gospel began to be preached all over the world, people had a common language in which to share and understand the gospel. And guess what language the New Testament was written in? Greek. Getting taken over by the Greeks wasn’t years of wasted waiting after all.

You know what getting taken over by Rome did for the people of God? Rome united the Mediterranean world under one government with one vast system of roads. You could travel from one country to another because they were all under the same government, and they all had roads going between each other. So, when the church began, they could spread the gospel from country to country and continent to continent. The years under Rome’s thumb weren’t years of wasted waiting after all.


Wait on the Lord: “The Babylonian Exile wasn’t years of wasted waiting after all.”


All of this helps explains what Paul wrote to the Galatian Christians:

“But when the set time had fully come, God sent His Son.” (Galatians 4:4a, NIV)

To the people of God, these may have seemed like years of wasted waiting—Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome—but in the end, it became clear the timing could not have been more perfect. It was worth the wait. God knew what He was doing all along. What seemed like years of wasted waiting was all part of a grand plan in the hand of God. Time spent waiting on the Lord is never wasted.

Advice from Those Who Waited on the Lord

Let’s say you’re playing basketball, and you twist your ankle. It does not feel good to plunge your foot into a bucket of ice-cold water. It doesn’t feel good to keep it wrapped with an ice pack. But the longer you can wait in the ice, the better your ankle is going to heal. It may seem like wasted time on the sidelines with ice on your ankle when your teammates are out there playing the game, but it’s not wasted time. The longer you can wait it out, the quicker you’ll be back in the game.

As you sit in the waiting room of your soul, you can wait on the Lord, or you can give up on Him. I want you to hear the advice of some people who had it rough but who waited on the Lord and now they’re glad they did. The prophet Jeremiah, called the “weeping prophet” said,

“The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘Therefore I have hope in Him.’ The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him. It is good that he waits silently for the salvation of the LORD.” (Lamentations 3:24-26, NASB)

Micah the prophet said,

“But as for me, I will be on the watch for the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation. My God will hear me.” (Micah 7:7, NASB)


Wait on the Lord: “The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him.”


The prophet Isaiah said,

“Indeed, while following the way of Your judgments, O LORD, we have waited for You eagerly; Your name, and remembering You, is the desire of our souls.” (Isaiah 26:8, NASB)

King David wrote,

“I waited patiently for the LORD; and He inclined to me and heard my cry. He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, and He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; Many will see and fear and will trust in the LORD.” (Psalm 40:1-3, NASB)

Time spent waiting on the Lord is never wasted.

What Are You Waiting On?

Again, perhaps you’ve been waiting for a job to open, a baby to come, a time of grieving to end, a certain sin to be overcome, the pain to abate, the right person to come along, a health problem to go away. In one way or another, you’re waiting for things to be made right.

In the meantime, please don’t give up on your fight against your sin. Don’t give up fighting for your marriage. Don’t throw in the towel on your kids. Don’t give in to discouragement. Don’t turn bitter. Don’t lose heart. Don’t stop praying. Don’t stop looking up. Don’t give up on God.

I don’t know what you’re waiting for, but while you wait, wait on the Lord. Whatever happens, keep trusting in Him.

I doubt the caterpillar enjoys his time in the cocoon, but time spent in the cocoon is never wasted. Be patient; trust in the Lord; wait on the Lord.

Whether you’re looking at the future or the past, either will remind you to wait on the Lord. As you look at the future, you’ll see that Jesus comes and restores all things. As you look at the past, you’ll see the people who have gone before us and stayed faithful. So can we.


Wait on the Lord: “Whether you’re looking at the future or the past, either will remind you to wait on the Lord.”


You will have rough nights. You may even experience decades-long nights, and civilizations can experience centuries-long nights. But morning always comes. The Hebrews waited for the Messiah to come for millennia. And Jesus came. After His death, Jesus’ disciples experienced a terrifying Friday followed by a depressing Saturday. But by sunrise on Sunday, Jesus was back. You too will face dark times as you wait on the Lord. But as surely as the sun rises, Jesus will return.

A Hidden Purpose of Waiting

When I was a teacher at a Christian school, we would periodically have teachers’ “in-service.” On these days, our administrator would often lead us teachers in team-building exercises. His favorite team-building exercise was the “helium stick.” It’s just a long stick, and everybody stands next to the stick with their fingers out beneath it. The point is for everyone to get the stick down to the ground, but without losing contact with the stick. The moment your finger stops touching the stick, you have to start over. It’s called the “helium stick” because no one wants to lose contact, and so everyone pushes up. Thus, the stick goes up instead of down, and so you’ve got to go through a long, uncomfortable time of trying to lower the stick to the ground all together.

The leader who’s having you do this frustrating exercise is watching you fail, seeing your frustration, seeing your slow progress. Does the leader really care about getting that stick to the ground as quickly as possible? Does the leader even care about the stick? No, it’s not about the stick at all, even though that’s what you and your team are trying to accomplish.

The leader is trying to accomplish something else, isn’t he? While you’re trying to get the stick to the ground, what’s the leader trying to accomplish?


“The leader is trying to accomplish something else, isn’t he?”


I don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish with your life. Maybe you’re trying to build a business. Maybe you’re building a family. Maybe you’re building your resume or a bank account. Maybe you’re building a group of friends, or you’re building for retirement.

I don’t know what you’re trying to build. Whatever it is, God’s building something—someone—else. You’re trying to get the stick to the ground, and sometimes you can’t seem to make any progress. You’re getting frustrated, and you’re wondering where’s God in all this. In the meantime, God sees our frustration and our lack of progress, and He’s just fine with the stick taking longer to make it to the ground. Whatever we’re trying to build, He’s building us.

How foolish we would be to give up and walk away from the God who is doing something productive even through our frustration. Time spent waiting on the Lord is never wasted. Trust Him.

So even if others give up on Him, as for you, stay faithful. Wait on the Lord. It will renew our strength as well as remind us of the incomparably more times He has been patient with us.

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