Waiting for the Lord Requires a Lot of Patience

EagleNobody—not children, not adults, nobody—likes to be told to wait.  “Wait” means there is something you want, and you want it now, but you aren’t going to get it now.  You never have to be told to wait for something you don’t want or need.  “I’m going to question your integrity and impugn your character, but not right now; you are just going to have to wait.”  No, there is usually an element of anticipation in the notion of waiting.  You want something, you want it now, but you can’t have it now.  You have to wait.

There are entire rooms just for waiting, and the only time you hear anything good about them is when someone didn’t actually have to wait. “I went to my doctor’s office today, and they took me right back into an examination room where the doctor saw me immediately.” Yeah, like that’s ever happened. Maybe if you walked in with a gaping wound or a severed limb. Otherwise, no.

Even the most patient of us have our limits when it comes to waiting. We’ll wait so long, and then we get fidgety, then frustrated, and at some point we feel we have to take matters into our own hands. And that’s never pretty.

It’s always intrigued me, then, when people put Isaiah 40:31 on plaques and coffee mugs and prints of soaring eagles.

Those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. (Isa 40:31 NRS)

We like the idea of having our strength renewed, flying like eagles, and having boundless energy—which I think is why this verse ends up on plaques and mugs and paintings. I wonder, however, if we even notice the waiting that is prerequisite to all these things, or, if we notice, if we fully understand the kind of waiting that’s involved.

These verses were written during the time of Israel’s exile in Babylon. The city of Jerusalem has been destroyed, the “elite” of Jewish society have been led off to captivity in Babylon, and Jeremiah has led a contingent of Israelite refugees to the safety of—and you have to savor the irony in this—Egypt. Those remaining in Canaan endure poverty and despair. “Comfort,” the chapter begins. “O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.”

The chapter goes on to speak of forgiveness and restoration, of the Lord’s strength and steadfastness, of his return to Zion in strength and glory. All the nations and their gods are as nothing compared to the Lord, Isaiah says.

The day is coming when all this will happen, so be patient. Wait for it.

I imagine that the original hearers of this passage expected to see its fulfillment in their lifetimes, but they didn’t. In fact, 400 years later, at the time Jesus was born, Israel was still waiting.

Actually, that’s not true. Most had given up waiting a long time before, and some were trying to force God’s hand. The Pharisees thought that if they strictly obeyed the Law, and got others to do likewise, that God would finally act. The Zealots thought that if they showed enough faith to stand up and fight the Romans against enormous odds, then God would repeat the victory of Gideon, defeating the many with a few. And, just as Jesus predicted, they were defeated and, once again, the temple and all of Jerusalem was destroyed.

The reason we are told to wait is that if we don’t, we end up trying to do what only God can do. In trying to force God’s hand, we end up making a mess of things.

400 years is a long time to wait and not give up. Quite frankly, you have to be a little nuts to still believe and hope and trust after such a long period of nothing happening. You are like Linus sitting in the pumpkin patch year after year, waiting for the Great Pumpkin while everyone else is collecting their Halloween candy.

But those who wait, who trust, who never give up no matter how dismal it gets—these are the ones who, when Jesus comes, will experience the kingdom of God, when the Lord makes all things—heaven and earth, everything and everyone within—new again.

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