Monthly Archives: August 2009

God Waits

I’ve considered the topic of waiting in my past three random thoughts; each time from the perspective of our learning to wait with grace. But we must recognize that God also waits, and because he waits, we too wait for the ultimate resolution of our human weaknesses.

2 Peter 3:8-13 (ESV)
8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness,
12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!
13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

And consider too lesson of the waiting Father:

Luke 15:11-32 (NASB95)
11 And [Jesus] said, “A man had two sons.
12 “The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’ So he divided his wealth between them.
13 “And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living.
14 “Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished.
15 “So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.
16 “And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him.
17 “But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger!
18 ‘I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight;
19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.” ’
20 “So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.

 

 

 

Note that the Father saw him … the implication is that he was looking for him; waiting for him.

Yes, we live in a seeming perpetual state of waiting for something.  We are always waiting to finish the week, to meet Mr. or Mrs. Right, to find the perfect job, to figure out the perfect words, to be released from pain, or discouragement, or some other weakness.

And yes, we don’t really like waiting – maybe because it implies something is imperfect in our lives?

But, somewhat ironically, waiting brings gifts from God … especially as we learn to respond in hope and humility, and with character. In fact, waiting itself should be embraced thankfully as a gift from God that shapes our lives.

Do we hope in the one who will come through? The only one who can deal with a world that is broken? And with lives that are broken? Or do we hope in ourselves or others, short circuiting the work of God by embracing things that will ultimately fail.

Do we humbly submit that we are not the center? God is. Do we get that God, in order to graciously bring salvation to all he designs to save, waits too?

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Waiting: With Humility

Continuing with some generally random thoughts on waiting (at which I am not all that adept at doing) Ben Patterson reminds us in Waiting that do to it well we must cultivate two basic characteristics: HOPE (the previous post) and HUMILITY (the topic today).

Cultivating Humility

Ungracious waiting, which. to be honest, usually shows up looking like “angry waiting,” almost always grows out of a lack of true humility. To be blunt, gracious waiting requires that we understand that we, or our plans, or our desires, or our pain, or our “needs” are NOT at the center of the universe.

I think we often wrestle with waiting because we want to be in control. In fact, a mark of one who does not wait with humility is a demanding attitude towards God and others. we often insist that God respond in some way:

  • We insist that he make known to us the plan, or we grouse, because we have important things to do.
  • We stipulate that he must answer our questions, or we go into a funk, pouting and whining..
  • We demand that God make things right immediately, or at least on our timetable, or at least before we get bored, or run out of money, or …
  • We often require that he do it in a manner acceptable to us!

And we tend to be this way because we, and what we need, are what is important and he seems to have forgotten that. We can’t understand why God thinks we need to wait longer. OK, we (I) may not want to believe this is true of us, but our behavior so often betrays us.

But maybe (probably) there is a bigger picture – a larger story – and our waiting may have to do with things about which we are not told. We might not even be the center of the story after all.

Consider Job. He experiences suffering, pain, and emotional distress far beyond what most of us will ever face. He finds himself wishing for death and finding that even that must wait, even as he waits for God to explain himself. He asks God “why?” (asking why is not a sin), yet he is NEVER told the reason for his loss or the reason for his waiting – which was more about God and his dialogue with Satan!

Yet Job becomes quite arrogant, or more nicely put, self-centered. As Patterson says, “The great temptation of suffering (waiting for it to go away) is to let your pain become the whole world and to start believe that all that ever was, is, and will be, is your private hell

God finally has to confront Job with truth that he is sinning in his waiting. He is less than gracious. He is arrogant, he is selfish, and he is self-centered. He has been humbled, but he is not waiting in humility. I’ve been there!

Why might God make us wait?

  • Our spiritual growth, development of character as we wait.
  • Our deepened understanding of God, of truth, of his plan, his purposes, and his greatness – especially when he finally acts to end our waiting.
  • Deepening our perspective as we begin to take our eyes off ourselves.
  • To remind us of our dependence on Him

Job 38:1-39:30 (NASB95)
1 Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said,
2 “Who is this that darkens counsel By words without knowledge?
3 “Now gird up your loins like a man, And I will ask you, and you instruct Me!
4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding,
12 “Have you ever in your life commanded the morning, And caused the dawn to know its place,
13 That it might take hold of the ends of the earth, And the wicked be shaken out of it?

17 “Have the gates of death been revealed to you, Or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?

36 “Who has put wisdom in the innermost being Or given understanding to the mind?

Another demonstration of our lack of humility is when we attempt to make things right in our own way and time – probably because he isn’t meeting our demands above. There are a few illustrations in Scripture like,

  • Abraham and Sarah taking Hagar as a surrogate rather than waiting for God’s promise to be fulfilled.
  • Moses knowing he was to be deliverer and taking matters into his own hands by murdering the Egyptian.
  • The Children of Israel waiting for Moses to come down from the mountain so they took to making a Golden Calf as their God.

How often do we, as well, arrogantly to take things into our own hands? I’ve come across the these lately:

  • A Christian young man who is tired of waiting for his soul mate, for his sexual fulfillment, so he arrogantly takes away the virginity of a young woman.
  • A Christian man who cheats to get a promotion for which he has been waiting far too long (in his opinion).
  • A Christian wife and mother who tires of being neglected by her husband, her kids, her friends. God isn’t changing them so she goes looking for “life” in another man, arrogantly damaging all around her.

We would be wise to learn to “wait, in prayer” rather than take things into our own hands.  Eugene Peterson call this a “disciplined refusal to act before God acts.” Yet, so many times say “AMEN” in our prayers and run away before God has a chance to reply. Or we pray, but forget that listening to God is far more important that giving Him your idea of how he should act.

But what about our happiness!? In our marriage, with our kids, with our friendships, in our jobs, or lack of jobs does it ever occur to us that we might have to wait to be happy?  We may not be at the center, and remembering our first point we have hope – there is more to life than “now”.

A final thought. (I think it comes from Patterson). Our arrogance and self-centeredness and demandingness may actually cause us to miss that which would end our waiting. Remember the Pharisees who were waiting for Messiah but missed it because Jesus wasn’t what they wanted.

“What we become as we wait is at least as important as the thing we wait for”


Waiting: Random Thoughts on Waiting with Grace

So. I’ve confessed that waiting is difficult for me.  Now, what must we do to be able to wait with grace?  I’m indebted to Ben Patterson for putting words to my thoughts In order to wait with grace we must cultivate two basic characteristics: HOPE (this blog post) and HUMILITY (future blog post)

Cultivating Hope

Luke 2:21-38 (NASB95)
21 And when eight days had passed, before His circumcision, His name was then called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.
22 And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord
23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”),
24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
25 And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him.
26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.

27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law,
28 then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said,
29 “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, According to Your word;
30 For my eyes have seen Your salvation,
31 Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 A Light of revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.”
33 And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him.
34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed—
35 and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
36 And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years and had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage,
37 and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers.
38 At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

The thing to here is that there has been little, if any, revelation from God since the end of the prophet’s writings in Malachi. There had been no distinctive revelation from God for 400 years. The people of God had been waiting since the Fall and then there was even more silence!

In those 400 years there developed various groups of Israelites:

  1. Pharisees – self-righteous, legalists, who followed rules that they made up. They determined to make up the rules. They determined what messiah would be like and who he would like, and they filled their lives (and others) with self-righteousness and put their hope in their rules.
  2. Sadducees – just decided that it wasn’t worth the wait. Basically they bought into the current world thinking and found no use for things like a messiah, or spirituality … (no resurrection).
  3. Essenes – a group of mystics and ascetics that still believed in God, but they pulled away and put their hope in their escape from culture, from life.
  4. A believing remnant of Jews who still looked for Messiah … they had hope that he would come. Of this group we are introduced to Simeon and Anna.

It seems that Simeon and Anna were faithful, they didn’t give up hope even though they continued to wait. The indication is that they were waiting in hope. More than merely maintaining a “wishing” hope, they had a “faith” hope that acted upon the promise given:

  • Simeon (v. 25) was looking (i.e., active waiting) for the Consolation of Israel (a title for Messiah). And the Holy Spirit chooses him to see the Messiah and bless him.
  • So too with Anna – she was (v. 38) among those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem (i.e., the coming of Messiah!)

Faith and hope go together, as Hebrews 11:1 makes clear: Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. In other words they believed God! He said Messiah would come, and like others that passed the word down from generation to generation, they believed it, they actively put their hope in that promise from God. They had not given up when it took a while, they didn’t put their hope in other things that might seem to give life meaning like living a life of duty rather than grace; or giving up on God all together like the Sadducees.

They had hope because God is trustworthy. They knew the promise, believed it and lived it as if it was true. And they saw Jesus! They did see Messiah as promised, despite the long wait.

“Winter” ended and Christmas came to use the Narnia metaphor.

Today we still wait for Jesus to make all things right. And we are called to put our hope in Jesus:

1 Peter 1:10-13 (NASB95)
10 As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries,
11 seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow.
12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look.
13 Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

We are called to put our faith, our hope, in the one who is trustworthy and we wait for Him to bring things promised to fruition in His time.

One writer says that many of us don’t even fix our hope partially on God’s grace. For some Christians it seems that heaven is actually plan “B” – the backup plan; If what I am trusting in now doesn’t alleviate the stress of waiting, then I’ll hope in Him. And I will try something else if I get tired of waiting for God to act. When I’m unwilling to wait for his perfect time, I will tend to put my hope in something else that I believe will end the waiting. I’ll fall face first into the scum that our enemy Satan holds out as the answer to deaden the pain of waiting and/or I will seek a short-cut to end the waiting.

If we wish to learn to wait graciously – we must first learn to hope well and let it affect the large and small issues of the life we now live. We must learn as believers to hope actively in the one thing that matters – that Jesus is at work in the world, that he will return, and that the redemption begun will be completed.

This will help us not only in the big things like finding a job, or a spouse, or a home; but also the little ones. How much easier it will be to wait in line, to wait in traffic, to wait for a slow moving toddler, when I realize that my meaning and value is not ultimately tied to how fast I live my life, how much I get done, or how well I save 2 minutes on my commute. I hope in the return of the king who will value all things rightly.

The first rule of waiting is cultivating hope in the one who is trustworthy even if he doesn’t do things on our timetable!

Philip Brooks was pacing around the room, agitated at the seeming slowness of the work he was doing when he finally concluded that “Philip Brooks in a hurry, but God is not”. And he began to graciously wait.


Waiting: A Confession

MPj04118310000[1]I don’t do waiting very well. I hate to have to be on pause. It would appear that many of my fellow humans don’t like it much either. Depending on the day and my humanness I can be just like so many others:

  • Give me a line at Starbucks and I get antsy.
  • Let the person at the head of the line at the grocery market need a price check and I’m almost beside myself!
  • The store is out of the CD I want NOW … and I get frustrated.
  • The internet runs slow today … I’m fuming.
  • We have to wait for our parents to stop talking after church and we are storming … (actually that one probably doesn’t apply to me anymore).

I actually did a message on the topic a couple years ago after re-reading Ben Patterson’s book appropriately entitled Waiting.

I think that some of the problem comes from our society and culture – not always bad. We Americans have become used to excellent service, efficiency, and speed. And sometimes when we have to wait the “demanding bug” hits us and we, far too often, ungraciously let everyone know how it is – eye-rolls, shrugged shoulders, harrumphs, bah-humbugs, all the way up to temper tantrums and anger displayed at everyone around us, or turned inside where we churn up the stomach acid.

There are other times of waiting that might be far more serious. Times when we wait for God to fix things, to make things right.

  • A childless couple waiting for a child
  • A single person waiting for “the one”, or at least a meaningful “next”.
  • The waiting of the chronically ill, those chronically in pain, for health, or something to take away the pain.
  • The waiting of the lonely for a place where they belong, a friend who is truly a friend.
  • The waiting of students, the young, to get on with life and be done with education and training.
  • Men and women who long for the breakthrough that will take them out of seemingly dead end careers.
  • Those in unhappy and unfulfilling marriages for relief, for redemption, or even escape.

Even as Christians we don’t always handle these well; we don’t always handle them with grace. We know that the Scriptures say that God will make all things new, that he will work together for all things for our good, but so often we grouse and complain, roll our eyes heaven-ward, with a huge sigh and (at least a few of us) wonder “why”?” Why is life not working the way we thought? Why is it taking so long for ______? Why does life seem so dead, empty and why do we have to wait for God to fill it? Why does evil seem to reign in my life, in the world ; in so many places – why do we have to keep waiting for God to set things right.

Why is it, as C.S. Lewis writes in Narnia, “Always winter, but never Christmas?” Why do we have to wait?

And when we have to wait longer than we think is right, we might just get angry, demanding, bitter. Maybe we yell at God, or others that represent him, or maybe we just get cold to God, or maybe we turn our back, or maybe we put on some mask of being content when inside we are seething.

Some however, seem to have learned to be gracious. Feeling the pain of their wait for God to do something, for God to bring justice, for God to make wrong things right, for the world’s hurts to be salved … somehow these people, by their attitude actually make the waiting of others seem easier, they seem to be people of blessing … people who actually seem to enjoy the wait!

I really want to be one of those people.


Garden Lessons

One of the small joys around my home at this time of year is that the dahlias are in full glory. I’m always amazed that they grow every year, and that they are so beautiful. I’ve gotten pretty good at caring for them since they are about all I can grow at my house.

There are some great object lessons and spiritual metaphors to be found in gardens. While some who really love their gardens, like @ciaodavis, could probably provide many more than I, (maybe she’ll add a few in the comments),  here are a few I thought about recently in no particular order.

  • I planted some gnarly little bulbs; really ugly, dirty, and brown. I purchased them based only the picture on the bag they came in so I had to exercise some faith. They have in fact grown to be what was promised; actually more beautiful than the picture. 
  • When you plant bulbs you have to trust that they are growing – even when it seems to take a long time for anything to happen. Waiting is a major spiritual theme. One with which I’m becoming significantly re-acquainted.
  • Plants and bulbs usually come with some instructions. Or you can read up in one of those great garden books how to grow them best. I usually cheat a bit. I didn’t plant them exactly as noted, used the wrong soil, probably over or under fertilize. These plants still grew. That’s grace. I don’t deserve what I got.
  • There is potential discouragement when investing in Dahlias. Forget to stake and tie them upright and the rain can beat them down, break the stalks, or ruin the blooms. Their beauty can lead to small children pulling them up for their pretty mommies. Slugs seem to really enjoy dahlia leaves and they leave their ugly marks. There’s a lesson here somewhere.
  • Plants take a bit of work … even if it just watering. If God doesn’t bring some rain, I have water. Get lazy and the plants just die. I can’t just let go and let God do it.
  • Dahlias, like all plants, and like life, have seasons. There’s the beauty of summer and fall, the dying back season, and the season of renewal. Just like our spiritual lives move through seasons of activity, beauty, recovery, rest, etc.
  • Dahlias are fragile (when planted in containers especially). They need to be protected and cared for in some seasons … like freezing winters that kill the bulb. Forget this and you get the joy of starting over with new bulbs from Costco. Sometimes we need to be looking out for, even protecting, those around us who might be weaker – even if they look strong at times.

Without Comment

From UnFashionable by Tullian Tchividjian:

Ironically, our culture’s rejection of absolute truth is stoking an unprecedented hunger for truth. In his book Surprising Insights from the Unchurched, Thom Ranier reveals interesting discoveries that highlight the contemporary thirst for truth. More than 85 percent of  the unchurched people Rainer surveyed said that a church’s theology and doctrine would be their primary consideration in  choosing a church. Not music, not entertainment, but theology–truth. New generations are thirsting for truthfulness, not trendiness (13).


Abandoning the Church?

Kevin DeYoung & Ted Kluck have written another excellent book about current trends. Why We Love The Church is a clear and concise response to the “current” trend of abandoning the church. As they did in Why We’re Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be, these guys bring reason and clarity to the issue. They acknowledge the problems of the organized church while holding it dear, not because it is perfect, but because it is God’s. Even as they defend the church they call for us to work to reform it into more of what it is called to be. For example, Kevin writes,

The answer to bad preaching (and no doubt that’s what we have in some of our churches) is not no preaching, but better preaching—preaching full of meat and marrow; preaching that manifestly comes out of the Scriptures and leads us back to them week after week; preaching that is unquestionably soaked in godliness and the presence of God; preaching delivered with passion and humility as from a dying man to dying men. When pastors preach like this, some will love it and some will not. But no one will have the right to label the sermon “a little talk” or “an inspiring oration” (176).