When our children were little, my husband and I learned that it wasn’t always a good idea to tell them about an upcoming event until it was nearly time for it.
If the event was a happy one, we’d get dozens of questions a day. How many days? What will we do? Can’t we do it sooner?
If the event was not one they were looking forward to, we’d get questions as well. Do we have to? Can’t we put it off?
With that in mind, I wondered why God promised Abraham a son without telling him the promise would be so long coming to fruition. Or why He had David anointed king so long before David came to the throne. Or why He told Adam and Eve about a coming Redeemer without letting them know He wasn’t coming for a few millennia. Or why we have no idea when His promised return will occur.
Doesn’t God know how torturous it is for us to wait? Besides the big-picture waiting, we often have to wait for a mate, financial provision, test results at the doctor’s office, and so one. How do we navigate waiting on a large or small scale?
I think first of all, God wants to grow our faith by our waiting. He doesn’t delight in torturing us. “He knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14). But we need to trust in His timing. He sent the promised Messiah “in the fullness of time.” Hundreds of threads came together to form the perfect time and setting for Jesus to be born. We don’t always know the details behind a wait, but we can trust God has good reason for it. One reason for the wait for Jesus to return is found in 2 Peter 3:9: “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.”
I think God also wants to grow our patience. As a parent, I can’t hide all coming events from my children until I am ready for them to know. Waiting for Christmas or a birthday or a special occasion can stretch a child’s limits, but they need to be stretched. They need to learn delayed gratification and patience in waiting. So do we.
I think God also wants to teach us to live in light of His promise. When we know someone is coming or something is going to happen, we plan for it and around it. For example, Abraham’s expectation of Isaac shaped his decisions. Abraham sometimes made wrong decisions, trying to manipulate circumstances to accomplish God’s will instead of waiting for God’s timing. Mary and Joseph’s lives were changed forever by the news that Mary would bear Jesus. 2 Peter 3:11 says, “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness.”
God also wants us to wait in readiness. When I was old enough to babysit my siblings, my parents would give us an expectation of when they’d return. If they planned to be home by 5, guess when we’d start getting the house picked up and in order? Around 4:45. If we knew exactly when Jesus was going to return, imagine how many people would live for self all their lives and “get right” just before He came. Jesus told His disciples to “be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks” (Luke 12:36). Jesus promised, “Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes” (verse 43). But the servant who lived self-indulgently and mistreated others would be severely punished (verses 45-48). Peter tells us. “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers” (1 Peter 4:7).
God also wants to give us hope. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 tells us to encourage (some translations say comfort) each other with the hope that He will someday come for us. That hope isn’t a flimsy wish, but a confident expectation. When we get discouraged with our world, it helps to know this isn’t all there is.
Waiting also creates anticipation. Half the fun of Christmas is getting ready for it. Graduation, wedding days, having children all come with years of excited anticipation before them. There is an almost delicious joy when something you’re waiting for finally comes to fruition, a joy that wouldn’t have been quite the same without the wait. And when the wait is for something less joyful, the time can be used in preparation as well. Before I had surgery a few years ago, I read a book about fear and anxiety in the days leading up to it. Though the time was difficult and challenging, it increased my faith and dependence on God.
God knows just what to tell us about upcoming events, good or bad. As one old song says:
If we could see, if we could know, we often say,
But God in love a veil doth throw
Across our way;
We cannot see what lies before,
And so we cling to Him the more,
He leads us till this life is o’er;
Trust and obey.
That first Christmas, “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight (“O Little Town of Bethlehem” by Phillips Brooks). Finally, the “fullness of time” came at just the right moment. Now we wait for His second return, and Peter tells us. “Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation” (2 Peter 3:14-15a).
How does God want us to wait? Not like Abraham, manipulating circumstances. Not like those who forgot or denied His promise or did their own thing. But like Anna and Simeon, in hope, expectation, anticipation, relying on His promises, busy about His business.
The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him (Lamentations 3:25).
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope (Psalm 130:5).
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