Waiting and the Mercy of God1
Recently, Sheree Phillips wrote a transparent and helpful post on the struggle of waiting for God. If you're like her (and me), then you probably have an aversion to waiting for just about anything. And the reality is that if you're a Westerner, you're probably just like us in this way. It's no new revelation that with our culture-wide embrace of fast food, fast cash, and the fast lane we simply can't stand waiting on things to happen. We are used to "getting things done" and when we can't change our circumstances it tends to make us uneasy, if not irritable and angry. So waiting reveals our hearts.
Now there's nothing inherently wrong with a desire to see things happen. In imitating our Creator and Redeemer God, we should want to see tasks eliminated, projects completed, and problems solved. We are called to actively pursue this in the various vocations we find ourselves in. Where we run into trouble is when this conflicts with the plans and purposes of God for our lives...and I believe this is often the case. You see, God has redemptive purposes for our waiting. In fact, I believe God uses waiting to reveal His mercy towards us. If you love mercy (and you absolutely should!), you should also embrace waiting.
I want to briefly look at two passages that show us why this is. The first is Lamentations 3:22-33. To me, this is one of the most remarkable passages in all of Scripture. Here, in the midst of perhaps the darkest book of the whole Bible, Jeremiah rehearses the unchangeable love, goodness, and mercy of God. And it's with these wonderfully ever-present qualities of God in mind that he articulates specifically how "the Lord is good to those who wait for Him" (v. 25). No matter what crippling or constraining circumstances we as God's people are in the midst of, God is good to us as we wait on Him to act on our behalf. But exactly how God is good to us in these moments is what strikes me about this passage.
In verse 27, Jeremiah says "it is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth." Yoke-bearing was a picture familiar to the ancient Israelites, which clearly illustrated to them someone carrying a heavy burden. A similar modern-day expression is when we say that someone is "carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders." So Jeremiah is saying that there is a season of life when it is a good thing to suffer burdensome circumstances. In fact, he says that when we do, "there may yet be hope" (v. 29) as if the burdensome circumstances are necessary to bring us to a place of wellness. When God ordains seasons of difficulty, we can trust that there is a good purpose for them, and the very fact that we are going through them should bring us hope of deliverance (see v. 26).
Jeremiah wants us to know that when we are bearing the brunt of life's troubles, waiting on God with faith reveals to us the goodness and mercy of God in our eventual deliverance. It is good in a way that ought to bring hope. This is because God uses struggle-filled waiting in the midst of tumultuous times as a means of delivering us from evils that would befall us without it. So this kind of faith-filled waiting is a gift of His mercy to us. When we experience these trying seasons we should embrace them as God's will and meekly submit to Him with patience and trust (see vv. 28-29a), knowing that he is using these very circumstances to bring about our merciful deliverance, just as He did with Israel in the years following the writing of Lamentations. Faith-filled waiting on God reveals His mercy towards us.
And we see this even more profoundly in 2 Peter 3:8-13. The first thing Peter does here is remind us that God's timeline is not the same as ours: "with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day (v. 8)." God exists outside of time. He created time. So for Him, the distance between the time when Jesus walked on the earth and now is like the distance between today and Friday for us. God is on His own timeline, and it is profoundly different from our own. One of the ways we can begin to embrace waiting is by cultivating an understanding that His timeline is the standard, and that it ought to shape ours.
And when we do this, we will experience real hope in His mercy toward us. You see, the Bible reveals to us that God's "calendar" if you will, only has a few days on it. After Creation and the subsequent Fall, there is a real sense in which the entire Old Testament is looking forward to "that day" when God would redeem His people and judge the rest of the world. And "that day" began when "the fullness of time had come, [and] God sent forth His Son...to redeem those who were under the law" (Gal. 4:4-5). All of history up until this point (which, from God's point of view, was like a few passing days) was leading up to this moment when Jesus came to save his people and, as the faithful Jews were waiting for, judge the world...but something glorious happened.
Another blog post awaits an explanation of how the Old Testament did not clearly distinguish between the time of God's great salvation and the time of the great Judgment Day, which we now know will come when Jesus returns. But suffice it to say for now that almost all faithful Jews in the Old Testament era believed it would happen all at once (which is why Jesus' disciples initially believed he was going to bring political deliverance from Rome). But it didn't. No, God ordained a time of mercy in between Jesus' comings for the world to be reconciled to Him. And in this time (which we are still in!), Peter says that we should patiently wait for Jesus' Second Coming (the next day on God's cosmic calendar), even as we follow him in bringing the day about (see v. 12).
And it's Peter's motivation for faith- and hope-filled waiting that strikes me about this passage. In verse 9, he reminds us that "the Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness [He's on His calendar, not ours!], but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." God has ordained this time between Jesus' comings as an expression of His mercy towards us so that we will experience salvation from His coming Judgment. This is ultimately why we should patiently wait for Him, even as we struggle through the very difficult circumstances of our lives in this broken world. Faith-filled waiting entails seeing God's mercy as the very basis for our wait.
Are you in the midst of difficult circumstances? Are you perhaps in a season of very challenging times? I'm sorry. The difficulty of our struggles can at times be very overwhelming. This should make us long for deliverance from them, yes, but ultimately for deliverance from sin in Heaven. And God wants you to know that these circumstances are the very means that He is using to accomplish this ultimate salvation that He secured for you at the cross. He wants you to know that He has grace for your faith as you wait for Him to fulfill His promise of final salvation towards you...on His timetable. In fact, the wait itself is evidence of His mercy towards you because He knows that only through these circumstances will you be safely brought home to Him.