Imagine being in Manchester over this last week…. Suicide bomber, 22 dead, nearly 60 injured. Now imagine a more widespread terrorist attack that painfully and more permanently alters your daily life. This attack destroys federal, state and local government buildings in your community. Somehow, the terrorists seriously damage local utilities, phone lines, cell phone networks and banking services. They murder many government and church leaders. Still worse, the attackers raze your home, rob you of all your possessions and kill your family members. You have no one left.
Welcome to Jerusalem in 586 b.c., following the invasion by the Babylonian army.
This is the backdrop to the book of Lamentations, which is a lament by the prophet Jeremiah over the city and the nation he loved, destroyed, deported, blown apart by a godless, cruel and vicious enemy. Your world, everything you've known and cared for, gone, ripped from your grasp! Nothing seems right, nothing seems fair, and everything seems way too long.
So Jeremiah writes 5 poems of sadness, fear, misery and anger towards God. Today I want to focus on a few key verses in the middle of this gut wrenching lament…
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”
The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.
I know many of you here are waiting on God. You've asked Him to lead you, you've told Him what you want, and you've started waiting… and waiting… and waiting. Things have taken longer than expected. Way longer. And now you've joined wait watchers and you are sitting there watching yourself wait.
You're frustrated , you're angry, you're impatient, you're losing hope! I understand, I've been there and wait is my least favourite word in the Bible.
Today I want to start a confronting but honest series called wait watchers. I know many of you need to hear this, as do I, constantly. I know many of you are in wait mode, in a holding pattern , waiting what seems like an eternity for God to speak, for God to lead. As I share, don't take offence at the words, take it on board and recognise the incredible if painful things God is doing.
Now when you think of wait watchers, You might recall some great weight watching slogans…
A mind is a terrible thing to waste and A waist is a terrible thing to mind!
A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.
Bigger Snacks, Bigger Slacks.
Don’t give up what you want most for what you want at this moment.
Eat your veggies-have less wedgies!
He who Indulges, bulges.
If you hang your swimsuit on the refrigerator door, the goodies inside will be easier to ignore.
WHY ARE WE WAITING?
Jeremiah, in the midst of disaster, calls us to wait quietly and seek the Lord. He's not the only one found waiting in Scripture. In Genesis 15:4, God gave Abram a promise, that he would have a child and heir. Cool says Abram, but he didn't know it would take 25 years of waiting to see it come to pass. And I know many of you here feel God has given you promises, but they haven't happened yet and you are asking the same question, right?
When we are faced with waiting, our minds race ahead. Our fingers tap. And often we begin to question: “Where is God, anyway? Life wasn’t supposed to look like this.What is God doing? Why hasn't He answered my prayer?”
Question: Might God have a greater agenda than simply answering our prayer? If so, what's the big idea, God? I have come to believe God intends the holding patterns of life to be times of reflection and contemplation that draw us closer to him. They are times of invitation, when God calls us to Himself. They are not His attempts at frustrating us, angering us or or alienating us. They are times when He lovingly, gently teaches us to rely on Him and Him alone. He's a loving Father, and He doesn't make us wait for no reason. He loves us, and has a plan for us. And if we wait, He has a reason. So what could possibly be the reasons God might make you wait?
1. GOD IS ORCHESTRATING THINGS FOR YOU
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Does this mean God works only the things we like? Only the things we want and want now? It says all things, and this means the good, the bad and the ugly!
Even while you sit impatiently waiting, and often whining, God is likely orchestrating things behind the scenes, things you have no idea about, to bring about that which He has promised. Many big decisions in life like jobs, houses, cars and relationships are a complex interweaving of people, personalities and circumstances, and while we are busy complaining that God is taking too long, He is surely working behind the scenes on our behalf!
You trusted the Lord for your salvation, His blood shed on Calvary.You trusted Him for your partner, your business, your home, etc. in the past. If you are waiting right now, can you not trust this same Lord that He is working all things for good for you? Rather than complain, why not ask Him to reveal what He is doing, so you can learn to trust Him all the more!
2. GOD IS DEVELOPING FRUIT IN YOU
In this world of ATMs, direct access, instant credit, and immediate gratification, the idea of waiting for something seems quaint, almost outdated. We rush through life. Yet waiting quietly for God’s blessings is a discipline that yields tremendous rewards. As we wait, we can begin to see God working in our lives, and we begin to produce fruit of the Spirit in our character.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
Was patience on that list? Yes it was, and in a world that is crazy for instant gratification, patience is a massive billboard for God on the highway of life! We teach our kids the virtue of waiting because it builds character, then we get mad at God if He makes us wait and teaches the same lesson.
But here's the good news. We learned in our series on the University of Adversity that, if we fail a test and fail to develop the right character or fruit, we don't fail the whole of life. We just get to sit the exam again… and again… and again!
My advice is this: Get your heart right, stop being mad at God and learn the lesson and develop the fruit, so you only have to sit the exam once!
3. GOD IS HEIGHTENING EXPECTATION WITHIN YOU
Believe it or not, waiting makes us rely on God and enjoy and appreciate the answer even more when it comes through.
Look at Hannah in our quiet times this week. She was desperate for a child, tormented by her peers, ashamed by her infertility, miserable and impatient.
1 Samuel 1:10
She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly.
God heard her, God promised her, and God answered her prayer. And what was the result? She was so thankful, she dedicated her child to the Lord and He became one of Israel's greatest prophets … Samuel! Heightened expectation makes the answer all the more sweet. You know this with your kids, and you need to recognise this with yourself.
4. GOD IS TEACHING YOU TO RELY ON HIM
Those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength” (Is. 40:31). A time of waiting can be a time of renewal. Waiting on God need not be wearisome, frustrating or miserable.
God often makes us wait so that we learn to rely on Him more. When Jesus heard that Lazarus His dear friend was ill, near death, we read this strange sentence…
So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
Do you think Mary and Martha, Lazarus’ sisters, were waiting? Do you think Jesus could have maybe rushed to His friends deathbed, or at least left on time? Of course, but Jesus said
But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
Jesus waited, and His friend died, so that the miracle would clearly be seen for what it was… an act of God! When God makes you wait, He develops not only the fruit of patience, but also hope, expectation and deeper trust in Him. If you wait in the correct way, if you learn the right lessons and wait patiently, He will renew your strength. In fact, your waiting will give birth to a strength you never knew you had, and a faith that will move mountains.
5. GOD IS TRAINING YOU FOR FUTURE SERVICE
1 Timothy 4:7-8
Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.
Waiting is God’s way of training you for future ministry. Melva told me last week how long she prayed for someone close to her to come to Christ. Now, do you think this lady has a prayer ministry? Do you think she might have a degree of faith that perhaps others do not?
I am an impatient person, always have been. Years ago I was almost constantly angry that God took too long to bring about what He'd promised me. Through a series of long, painful losses, including financial, relationships and ministries, I have learned some of the lessons of waiting patiently. And my faith is now far stronger, and my wisdom is now far deeper, because I have suffered and been forced to wait! I'm still in training, not perfected, but not wanting to sit extra exams!
HOW ARE WE WAITING?
John Piper said, "Patience in doing the will of God is not an optional Christian virtue, because faith is not optional and impatience is the fruit of unbelief. This is no minor skirmish!”
How you wait is a bigger deal than you think! Whether you wait for the Lord’s goodness is not open to debate, and is beyond your control. But how you wait, the attitude with which you wait, is of paramount importance! So how does God want us to wait for Him?
1. WAIT ACTIVELY
When God says wait, He doesn't mean sit down and twiddle your thumbs…
Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!
Wait is qawa in Hebrew, and it literally means to bind, to gather or to wait expectantly in hope. It is not a passive, but rather an active word. The inference is that you don't stop what you are doing, you don't sit and sulk, you keep on serving, keep on giving, keep on trusting, you have courage and hope. You keep on doing what you are doing with as one commentator said, “As if expecting new measures of help.”
So if you are waiting expectantly for the Lord, don't stop! Keep living, keep trusting Him, keep rejoicing, keep learning and keep waiting actively because He will never let you down!
2. WAIT PATIENTLY
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!
It is tempting when we are waiting to not be patient, but God calls us to patience. This applies even if other people seem to be prospering, even if bad guys seem to be doing well while you suffer! Patience is a fruit of the Spirit , and I have found that the more patient I am the quicker I learn the lesson and the faster my answer comes.
Patience is a virtue that carries a lot of wait… WAIT! So wait patiently!
3. WAIT WITHOUT COMPLAINT
Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,
When you have to wait longer than you like, are you shining as you wait or are you a black hole of misery? If you're like me, you find it hard to wait without complaining… ,
For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.
No, if you're like me, you don't wait in silence real good, you like to have a moan.
Now look, if you're expressing your anger, your frustration and your complaints to the Lord, He can handle it. He's big enough and has heard it all before. David often did this in the Psalms, and trust me, God is big enough to handle it! My advice to you is rant , rave, tell God what you think. Then get over it. As I said, if you get this wrong you have the joy of sitting the exam again, and again. So if you need to blow off steam, feel free. But let me remind you it doesn't impress God one bit.
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
Faith impresses God, not our rants, not our anger and not our presumptions. And when you're done having your rant, humble yourself and pray and seek Him and then you have His attention!
4. WAIT WITHOUT DICTATING TERMS
Many people tell God what they want from Him, them get mad if He doesn't do what they want, when they want. Listen, faith is not telling God what and how He needs to do things for you! Faith is asking His will and obeying, even if it is contrary to what you want!
So if you are waiting, ask God for a word from Scripture and stop ordering Him around! I have found myself doing this at times. Something like God, I'm doing this right now and I order You to bless it, rather than Lord, show me what to do. If God gives you a Word from His Word, you can stand on that forever. But beware of claiming promises that He has never given to you. Let Him quicken a Scripture to your heart instead of you ordering Him to perform for you.
Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.
So don't tell Him what He needs to do for you, ask Him and trust Him without dictating terms. Want to see a real prayer of faith..
Look to Jesus… not my will but Yours be done!
5. WAIT WITHOUT RATIONALISATION
We humans are funny creatures… we can't just believe God, we think we need to give God an out, just in case He can't manage to keep His Word!
We pray things like, if it's your will, Lord; not to truly be obedient to His will, but to give Him an escape clause just in case it doesn't come true!
When our reasonings differ from what God’s Word has revealed, we usually try to disguise our true motive. We rationalise, saying, Well, I can probably do without the promise, and we do this so we can pursue what we want to do rather than be obedient the the Word of the Lord. In essence we say, If God doesn't come through for me, then I'm not keeping my end of the bargain! That's right, the longer we wait, the more frustrated we get, we start to bargain with God!
How much better to have the faith and conviction of the 3 young men facing the furnace…
If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
They didn't rationalise , they didn't try and bargain with God, they just said, I'm believing, no matter what! If you're waiting for the Lord right now, can you say that too? Can you say whatever I see, whatever my friends say, whatever circumstances say, I'm believing Him, no matter what, and no matter how long!
6. WAIT WITHOUT SELF FULFILLING
For me, the longer it takes the greater the temptation towards self fulfilment of God's promises. You know what I mean. God is taking too long, and you just might help Him out a Little bit, right? The do it yourself project!
When Fiona and I go shopping, I often suggest that we go to different places in the store to save time. I tell her I'll meet her at a certain aisle. But this often doesn't work. I arrive, she's not there, so I get impatient rather than wait for her, I go looking for her. Meanwhile she arrives, finds me not there, because I'm out looking for her. She doesn't know whether to look for me or wait. It's a mess.
I'm a man of action, I get stuff done. I don't wait, I act, with Fiona in the store and with God. So I tell the Lord, “FORGET IT, LORD, I’LL DO IT MYSELF”
The classic example in Scripture of this is Abraham. He had the promise, he waited, and waited, and after 20 years, still no promised heir. Sure, he kept believing God, but Sarah came up with a great idea, one she thought of all by herself...
And Sarai said to Abram, “Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.
Rather than waiting for God, they helped out, and took matters into their own hands. They chose a servant girl, Hagar, to be a surrogate mother for Abram’s son. It was logical, it was helping God, and guess what… it was sin! And it's the gift that keeps on giving even to the present day. This “solution” resulted in a complicated family relationship because Abram’s seed through Hagar gave us the Arab nations. Their conflict with the Jews, Abram’s descendants through Sarai, keeps the Middle East in constant turmoil.
When you're hanging onto a promise that seems distant or impossible, a wise man resists the temptation to take matters into his own hands and do it yourself!
7. WAIT IN HOPE OR EXPECTATION
Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
Hope in the Bible is different to the way we understand it. I might say, I hope tomorrow will be sunny, I hope Queensland wins the State of Origin, but this is not what hope means in the Bible.
Biblical hope is a sure thing, a 100% safe bet. When the Bible says hope in the Lord, it means He will never, never, never let you down. When you wait with hope, it is the absolute surety that God will never leave nor forsake you.
But as for me, I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.
Over the next few weeks I want to explore what God really says about waiting. Many of you here are in holding patterns, waiting for the Lord, often angry, sometimes impatient, sometimes faith filled. God is speaking I believe to so many, but let me assure you of this. God is for you, not against you. God has a plan to prosper you, not harm you. He is growing something amazing in you. He has a hope and a future. He has a perfect way and today He is asking you to wait. To be strong, take heart and to wait for the Lord.
1 Peter 1:6-7
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
This is why adversity, and waiting patiently, is a bridge to a deeper relationship with the Lord. He allows your faith to be refined by fire—just as gold is—it is heated, and heated, so that every impurity, doubt, anxiety, and frustration bubbles to the surface. Then, when He answers your long awaited, desperate prayers, all of those hindrances to your trust in Him are removed, leaving only purified confidence in His holy ways.
Can you trust Him? Can you believe Him for the future He promises? Are you trying to manipulate Him or ordering Him to do what you want? All of this, however desperate you feel, however difficult the circumstances and however angry you become, all of it is sin!
Can you keep praying, keep believing, keep pressing into God while you wait expectantly? EM Bounds said, the severer the trial and the longer the waiting, the more glorious the result.
Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.