22 February 2017
Matt Rutter writing on waiting.
A few weeks ago Tracy and I were on our annual New Years retreat learning how it might work with a new arrival and trying to engage with God in our different ways. I was in the library there feeling like God was saying something about faith. I looked around for the book that came to mind – John Ortberg’s ‘ If you want to get out of the water you have to get out of the boat’. The next week I listened to Hope’s podcast and found that that same weekend, Rob Scott Cook preached at Hope on the same passage – Jesus walking out on the lake, and inviting Peter onto the waves.
Rob talked about 2017 as being a year for hope – in the face of the storms of life. It got me thinking about waiting.
Ortberg in a chapter about waiting in that brilliant book quotes theologian and author Lewis Smedes:
Waiting is our destiny as creatures who cannot by themselves bring about what they hope for.
We wait in the darkness for a flame we cannot light.
We wait in fear for a happy ending we cannot write.
We wait for a not yet that feels like a not ever.
Waiting is the hardest work of hope. [my italics]
Stretched but strong?
We know the passage well – ‘but those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint’ Isaiah 40,31
Lots of translations render the word ‘wait’ as ‘hope in’. Waiting, remember, is the hardest work of hope. Strong’s concordance says the word used for ‘wait’ derives from a word relating to a rope – stretched yet strong, enduring the pressure.
I wonder what you’re waiting on?
I remember aged 17 sitting with my Dad in the lounge. We were talking about my future. I answered that I wanted to be an aid & development worker. ‘Go for it’ was his response. That’s what I’ve had my eyes on since, straining to connect with a notion of calling that might after all be misplaced, but I’ve never been able to shake for long. I’m 40 now and I’ve never really felt anywhere near living what feels like a ‘calling’.
I have for better or worse been waiting on something that’s not arrived. I feel stretched – I don’t know about strong – but I do know that strength comes when the waiting is focused, as Isaiah says, on the Lord.
Be a wait-er
Can you remember the last time you were served by a really good waiter or waitress? What made them good?
A good waiter is attentive without being overbearing – friendly and comfortable with themselves and us. Quickly responsive – even anticipating what we might want before we ask. They remember what we’ve asked even if it’s unusual and deliver just what we’ve asked just when we want it.
When I’m feeling low or hopeless I often remind myself of the invitation to be a wait-er. I literally picture myself approaching God at His table. I remember the invitation to be a wait-er who’s not passive, but always looking to respond to the requests of the One we serve. We remember what He’s said and do it. We often come back to Him and ask if there’s anything we can do.
We don’t retreat into endless thinking about our own dinner – we’re focused on the pursuit of making sure our Lord is pleased with His.
Are you a good wait-er? Has He been waiting for a while for you to come to Him? Are you responding well to His requests of you?
Waiting can be weighty.
There are lots of problems with waiting. The biggest one for me is this. What happens if the thing we’re waiting for never comes? What if we’re mistaken – we’re sitting on the wrong platform waiting for a train that’s not going to arrive.
Apart from the fact that ‘what if’s?’ don’t tend to be questions that originate from heaven, and apart from the invitation to be a wait-er – I also wonder if waiting is quite a different reality than we think.
The Hebrew kavod translated in the Old Testament ‘the glory of God’ comes from the root which means – weight.
We feel the tension of un-met hopes, like a rope stretched. We choose in the struggle to live as a wait-er to the King. And we find – extraordinary mercy – glimpses not necessarily of what we’re waiting for, but of the weight of the presence of our present God, his weight in our waiting.
Don’t forget the image Jesus painted of God – standing, poised on the garden gate, looking out day after day– looking longingly into the distance and waiting, waiting, waiting for the day his precious boy might turn for home.
We’re all, no doubt, waiting. It’s not easy. But if we’re walking in the right direction we’re certain of arriving home, all the while carried by the weight of our waiting Father God.
As David wrote, “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. 14 Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.