On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate waiting? I’d put it at about a 3. There are worse things in life (cleaning up projectile vomit, parents?) but waiting is still low on the totem pole. However instant society has become, you still wait all the time, at the DMV, the grocery store, a traffic light, etc. That’s why binge-watching Walking Dead on Netflix is such a revelation; no waiting to see the next episode!
When it comes to your spiritual journey waiting can be a good thing. Isaiah 40:31 gets blasted on one of those idyllic pictures at the Christian book store in the KJV “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.” A quick search shows that waiting on God is a huge theme in the Bible (i.e. Proverbs 20:22, Psalm 27:14; Lamentations 3:25 among others).
You can ignore it and pretend discipleship is as instant as your Keurig coffee in the morning or you could embrace waiting and learn how to relate well with God in the meantime.
To that end, I have three suggestions for you from the book of Habakkuk.
Uh…I know. Right now you’re trying to remember Habakkuk. If you ever learned the books of the Bible then you remember his name but have you ever read his story?
Habakkuk was a prophet and a fantastic example of how to wait on the Lord.
Habakkuk the Complainer
Habakkuk’s three chapters start with a complaint. He wanted to know why he kept crying out to God but God did not seem to hear him.
“How long, O Lord, must I call for help but you do not listen?”
Apparently, Habakkuk asked this question many times. He looked around his city and saw injustice everywhere. The rich were getting richer and the poor were getting poorer. “Conflict abounds,” he said. Bad circumstances were all around him. The Law of God supposed to ensure justice in Israel he called “numbed.”
Habakkuk’s response is instructive. He took his complaints to God.
Habakkuk trusted God enough to complain to Him. If you do not trust how someone will react to negative information how do you approach them? Cautiously? Carefully? With a little sugar-coating? Habakkuk does none of the above. Rather, he appeals to God drawing on what He knows of God’s character.
My life has seasons when it feels as though injustice, death, and disease reign everywhere. Maybe yours does too. You didn’t get that job you were hoping for. Sickness invades. Death visits your family. Do you wonder where God is in all of it?
I used to think that if circumstances in my life were not perfect then God must be angry with me. After all, God controls everything, right? But I’ve grown to believe that the bad times, stressful times, relationally chaotic times can be used to draw me toward God. I’m not convinced that God causes all these things but I know that He uses them all to remind me to trust. Am I willing to come to Him when things get crazy? Maybe even to complain?
Habakkuk the Waiter
After his first complaint and answer from God, Habakkuk has a completely different problem. He hates God’s answer. Habakkuk complained about the lack of justice in Israel. God said not to worry because the Babylonians were coming to clear that up. This was terrible news so Habakkuk complained a second time.
Habakkuk not so gently to reminded God of his purity and holiness especially compared to the wickedness of the Babylonians as if to say God cannot use such filthy people. Could he?
And then he stopped and sat down:
I will stand at my watch
and station myself on the ramparts;
I will look to see what he will say to me,
and what answer I am to give to this complaint.
How long did Habakkuk wait? Unfortunately there is no indication in the text of how long he waited. We can skip to the next line and read God’s response declaring the Babylonians have a target on their back too. But in jumping ahead so quickly we do not get the experience of God Habakkuk had.
The break between when Habakkuk sat down on the wall of the city and when God answered is full of tension. From Habakkuk’s earlier statements, I take this to be a regular practice and prayer in his life. We do not know whether it was a day, a week, a month or even a year but we do know that Habakkuk waited.
Have you ever had to wait on something? It’s like that time between a job interview and receiving a response from the HR person. There’s tension. You hope and maybe even dream a bit. You get excited, nervous, or afraid. Expectations run wild. Why aren’t they answering? Did I do something wrong? Is God going to answer at all?
That’s what Habakkuk experienced as he waited for God.
Trust is forged through the fire of events we do not like.
Habakkuk the Worshiper
However long Habakkuk had to wait eventually God responded. In short, God said He would take care of the Babylonians, too.
Habakkuk’s faith was rewarded. He learned that God would not let injustice run rampant in Israel or Babylon.
His response is some of the most beautiful poetry in the entire Bible and almost no one knows about it so I want to give you just a little bit.
Lord, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord.
Repeat them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.
Isn’t that the prayer of every waiting believer? “Repeat them in our day…” One of the compulsions that drove me to pursue spiritual formation as a course of study was that I did not see God in my day. Did He still work miracles? Did He still make amazing and dramatic changes in people’s lives? I didn’t see it. Some days I still don’t but I trust, pray, and ask God to still do great things.
He finishes with this gem:
I heard and my heart pounded,
my lips quivered at the sound;
decay crept into my bones,
and my legs trembled.
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
to come on the nation invading us.
Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.
Even in the end Habakkuk had to wait for God. Your situation is not so dissimilar. Neither is mine. We are all just waiting for Jesus to come back, ultimately. Things will never be completely right until God keeps this promise. And so, in spite of the injustices we see, we wait just like Habakkuk.
Because we trust Him.