The Long Pause (Part 3)
Most of us don’t like waiting.
Like, not even a little bit. Like, if this webpage took more than a few seconds to load, you were probably already thinking about moving on to something else.
Why wait a few seconds when we have places to be and things to do?
Our whole culture is obsessed with not waiting. We have instant coffee, because who can wait five minutes for their coffee? We have whole meals we can make in the microwave, because who has time to cook dinner in the oven for 30 minutes? We have fast charging phones, because, really, who can be without their phone in 2021?
We prioritize speed and efficiency. (Or at least, that’s what we tell ourselves to avoid the deeper realities of our impatience and self-centeredness.) We pull up to a red light and we change lanes so we can get going faster. We keep refreshing our inboxes to make sure we see that email the instant it arrives. We keep our phones on us 24/7/365 in the event that something happens that we need to know about or react to as soon as we can.
We hate to wait.
But whether we want to or not, we all have to wait: for people, for decisions, for our packages in the mail, for Christmas, for an end to the gut-wrenching reality that stares us in the face every time we turn on the TV or get on social media. Life involves waiting. Part of the human experience is waiting. And part of God’s Story involves waiting too.
Waiting in God’s Story
As God speaks to us through Scripture, He doesn’t just deliver isolated tidbits of information for us to consider: He tells a grand, overarching story about how He’s working in history for the salvation of the world. If you haven’t read the first two articles in this series, you can do so here and here. But to summarize things so far, we’ve seen how in the beginning God created the universe, but humanity brought distortion and death into creation through disobedience. And even though the last chapter of the story was less-than-ideal, God didn’t abandon humanity. Instead, He said He would resolve the conflict in creation. Despite the Fall, God promised that a descendent of Adam and Eve would crush the head of the serpent, breaking the power of sin, death, and the devil that has distorted creation. It was this promise of redemption for which the world waited in the next chapter of God’s Story.
The waiting part of God’s Story doesn’t occur in one specific part of the Bible. In fact, this part of the story makes up most of the Bible. Genesis 4 through Malachi 4 is all about waiting—that’s 926 chapters of waiting. 926 chapters of people asking, in one form or another, the question of the Psalmist: How long, O Lord? (Psalm 13.1) It’s not an exaggeration to say that waiting is the longest part of God’s Story. And as the world waits, God does something perhaps unexpected: He calls a particular group of people to Himself—a specific gathering of Adam and Eve’s descendants—and He says that these people will be His people, the people that He will continue His story in and through. It’s not that God doesn’t love all people; it’s that He chose a particular group of people to play a particular role in His story. And He calls these people Israel.
Now, there’s too much of Israel’s waiting story to cover in any meaningful detail in one article (or really, one monograph). But there are some key moments that we should be aware of, some Story Highlights that I want to quickly touch on. But you can summarize Israel’s waiting story in something like five stages.
First, God Raised His People. In Genesis 12(1-3), God called a man named Abram—later, Abraham—to become the father of His People. Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” God promised Abraham that his descendants would bless the whole world and right the wrongs of the Fall. That’s where God’s People had their start—and it’s where the waiting really began.
Next, God Rescued His People. Several hundred years later, after the life of Abraham and his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob, Israel found themselves enslaved in Egypt. But God miraculously brought them out of Egypt (in what is known as the Exodus), across the Red Sea, and into the wilderness.
From there, God Regulated His People. Through Moses, the Ten Commandments, and the Law, God communicated the expectations and standards He had for Israel. His People were not to be like other people, but instead were to be set apart as an example for the Nations, that all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God; there is no other. (1 Kings 8:60)
Fourth, God Ruled His People. Once Israel entered the promised land, they were ruled, first by judges and then by kings. The greatest of these kings were David (“a man after God’s own heart”) and Solomon (“the wisest man who ever lived”). Eventually, however, the kings of Israel led the people into idolatry, immorality, and injustice. In punishment for their division and disobedience, God allowed Israel to be conquered and taken into exile by empires, first Assyria and then Babylon.
Finally, God Reminded His People. Before, during, and after the exile, God sent His People prophets—those who spoke on His behalf—to remind, chastise, encourage, and admonish the People to hear the word of the LORD, to reject idolatry, immorality, and injustice, and to wait for their redemption. God never abandoned Israel, but continually called them to Himself.
And in all this, the People of God waited. Abraham had to wait for a son. Isaac had to wait for a wife. Jacob had to wait for the restoration of his family. The people had to wait to be brought out of Egypt. Moses had to wait to receive the Ten Commandments. Israel had to wait to enter the promised land. David had to wait to become king. The prophets had to wait for the fulfillment of what they saw in the future. Those in exile had to wait to return to the land. God’s People waited—for Him to show up, for Him to fulfill His promises, and for Him to crush the head of the serpent.
Waiting is Part of the Story
All this waiting is vital to God’s Story. In the beginning, God created the universe, but humanity brought distortion and death into creation. So God chose a people, who He shaped through time and circumstance…. That’s this chapter of God’s Story. Waiting may be difficult; but God’s People must wait for God’s time. Waiting is part of the story, part of the process, part of what it means to belong to the People of God. Israel waited throughout their history—and God’s People today often must wait too.
There have been times that I’ve needed to wait on God. I’ve waited for clarity on next steps, answers to prayer, and the Cubs to win a World Series. But, in all honesty, my waiting has been nothing compared to the waiting that other people have endured. Which leads me to ask, what are you waiting for?
Maybe it’s a baby. A spouse. A friend. A community to share life with. The right job. Better health. Direction for life. A break. An answer to prayer.
Whatever it is, don’t give up. Waiting is hard and God doesn’t always say yes; but God’s people must wait for His time. And as we wait, there are some things we can do. Let me quickly suggest five simple practices to undertake while waiting.
While We Wait
First, pray. God says if you cry out to me, I will surely hear your cry…. (Exodus 22.23) Talk to God. He knows what’s going on and how you’re feeling. But tell Him anyway. Let me encourage you—if there’s something you’re waiting for that you’d like prayer for, please let someone know—or let me know in the comments, I would love to be praying alongside you.
Second, trust. Proverbs 3.5 calls us to Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding…. It may be difficult to see, but God remains in control of your situation. He knows you’re waiting, and His purposes will be accomplished in the end. It can be brutal, but don’t stop trusting.
Third, worship. Keep crying out to God. In the midst of waiting, the Psalmist says My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast! I will sing and make melody! (Psalm 57.7) Keep worshipping God through prayer and song and sacrifice.
Fourth, share. Share your story—it doesn’t have to be with a bunch of people, but share it with someone. Let other people walk beside you. When Job was waiting to hear from God, he spoke to his friends about what he was experiencing and thinking. We should do the same…. And if, like Job’s friends, you have the opportunity to wait with someone, do it. Sit with them. Weep with them. Pray with them. Wait with them.
Finally, hope. Don’t give up on God. Even if you’ve waited a long time, don’t give up. God can still answer your prayer, even if it seems like your waiting has been in vain. One of the most unique passages of Scripture speaks to this. The prophet Ezekiel, who had been waiting for God to restore Israel during the exile, records this encounter:
The LORD set me down in the middle of a valley and it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord…. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone…. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ But thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.” (Ezekiel 37.1-14, para)
Dry bones will rise again; but right now, we wait. God has not forgotten his promise. God will renew His People and draw the Nations to Himself, just as He told Abraham. And in that process, the head of the serpent will be crushed and all of creation will be restored. This is the hope that sustains the People of God as they wait. And this is where we’ll wait too—until we continue God’s Story in the next article with the arrival of the long-awaited King.
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