“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.” Psalm 130:6
I sat in the doctor’s office and grew more frustrated every minute I waited past my appointment time. “Why do they schedule me for 2:00 if they’re not going to call me back before 3:00?” I fumed in my head. I had things to do, important things, yet there I sat seething inside and impatiently flipping through a 3-year old issue of People magazine. After I was finally called back, it was another 45-minute wait in a lovely paper gown before the doctor breezed into the room. I am a pretty patient person most of the time, but long drawn out waits really do me in. Whether we’re waiting for an appointment, for a job to open up, or your kid to come back home, or waiting for a long and painful season to end, waiting is hard. I think what makes it hard is how we wait.
Genesis 16 tells us the story of Sarah, the wife of Abraham, who was unable to conceive a baby. In the Ancient Near East, children were the mark of a man’s strength and a woman’s worth. A woman who could not bear children was disgraced in that time and culture. And as a woman who battled infertility for seven years, I can tell you the cultural disgrace was nothing compared to the agony in the heart of a woman with empty arms. To add to her despair, the Lord had promised them that Abram would be the father of a great nation (Genesis 12:2). Twelve years had passed and there was still no baby. Tired of waiting, Sarah determined Abraham should father a child with her handmaid, and when Hagar learned she was pregnant, everything went sour. Sarah was jealous, Hagar was arrogant and Abraham was caught in the middle. God permitted this act, but assured Abraham that this son, Ishmael, was not the heir He had planned. Sarah did have a child some thirteen years later, Isaac, who was the child of the promise. There was tremendous tension between the two half-brothers. The conflict between Ishmael and Isaac still rumbles today in the constant battles in the Middle East, all because a woman grew impatient with God.
By contrast, look at Joseph, the great-grandson of Abraham and Sarah, who was betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused of rape and thrown into prison. While in prison, “The warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in prison . . . because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did” (Gen 39:22, 23). One day, he thought he had found his ticket to freedom. He interpreted the dreams of two of his fellow prisoners, one of release and one of death. The cup-bearer who got the better interpretation promised to speak on Joseph’s behalf, but forgot his promise upon his release. For two more years, Joseph remained in prison. But the Bible gives no indication of resentment or despair on Joseph’s part. In his youth, God had made promises to Joseph in dreams that showed him lifted up in a position of authority and status, and Joseph trusted the Lord and was sure those promises would prove true – which they did. When the cup-bearer finally remembered his promise, Joseph was released at just the point in Egyptian history that he could be used by God to save his family and the entire Israelite race – the people from whom our Savior, Jesus Christ would come.
You see, how we wait is as important, if not more so, as the act of waiting itself. And whether we wait patiently or impatiently has everything to do with our vision of God. For Sarah, God was not trustworthy and she took matters into her own hands to force God’s promise to come to fruition. But Joseph believed God to be faithful and trustworthy, a God of His Word. Joseph waited for God to act on his behalf and in the waiting he faithfully served and ministered right where he was – in a prison. He did not continually query the jailer to learn how close his release was. He didn’t sit and sulk and become embittered. Sarah failed to trust God and the result was disastrous – and has kept the entire world in turmoil ever since. Joseph trusted in God and as a result, his family was saved from famine, and salvation came to the entire world through one of Abraham’s descendants – Jesus Christ.
Our key verse comes from Psalm 130, a cry for the Lord to rescue and redeem His people Israel. The Psalmist says “my soul waits for the Lord,” and this is not just aimless waiting, it is from a Hebrew word that means “to hope in, to look for, to expect (emphasis added).” It’s the difference between waiting with doubt and fear of disappointment and waiting for something you are certain will come. Notice that the Psalmist twice says he waits “more than watchman wait for the morning.” Have you ever gone outside before dawn, while the night was still black to see the sun rise? Would you have been out there if you didn’t think the sun would actually come up? We watch for the sunrise because we know it will come, and when it does it will be a glorious sight. The watchman stood guard through the night, scanning the inky horizon, knowing that when the first rays of light hit, he could go home to rest.
When we are in a position of waiting, whatever we may be waiting for, we must adopt the attitude of the watchman and trust that when the waiting is over, the sun will shine in a glorious light and our rest will come. We must follow the model of Joseph who waited, confident that what God had promised him would come to fulfillment, and in the waiting gave himself to serve and minister wherever he was.
The biggest difference between Sarah and Joseph was that Joseph knew God to be trustworthy and Sarah did not. Sarah assumed that God had forgotten them and had forgotten His promise. Joseph knew that God had not forgotten him and He would be faithful to His promise. Perhaps it was a hard-won lesson that Sarah passed down to her great-grandson, but it was a lesson that brought God’s salvation not just to a family, but to an entire nation and to the entire world.
So I ask you, what has God promised to you? Do you trust Him to fulfill that promise? Then spend your waiting season serving wherever God has placed you for the moment, and know that when the waiting is over and the promise comes, it will be more glorious than you ever imagined.
Holy Father, it has taken me many, many years, but I am slowly discovering that You never forget your promises. You are forever faithful, even more dependable than the sunrise! Amen.