It’s the four-letter word we most dread to hear. Speak it in a group of high-powered deal makers about to sign on the dotted line and watch their jaws drop. Whisper it in a fast food lane and watch old ladies react in horror. Yell it out to your kids on Christmas morning as they are about to rip into the wrapped packages and see them turn and look at you with disgust.
It’s a cringe-worthy four-letter word and it may surprise you that Jesus uttered it. And since he did, I will too. Here it comes: “Wait.” Jesus told his disciples to wait. “While he was with them, he commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the Father’s promise” (Acts 1:4).
We need training in waiting. Fortunately for us there is a place where we can go to hone this skill. You may have been there. I was recently. The appointment was at 9:45 a.m. I thought I might show up early and get lucky. So at 9:20 a.m. I tapped on the glass of the receptionist’s window and announced my presence. She greeted me and promptly announced, “Have a seat and wait here and the nurse will come get you when we’re ready.”
She slid the glass closed and I imagined her sending word to the doctor: “Mr. Brown is here early. Let’s reward him for helping us get ahead of schedule!” I imagined that while I waited in the waiting room.
I looked around while I waited. There was one young wife with her husband. She kept hacking while she waited. I was glad she was waiting with her hacking on the other side of the room.
There was one woman in her later years with her father who was in even later years than she. At one point he got up and shuffled to the door, opened it with great trouble, and then started to shuffle down the hallway. I was amused by this thinking, “Ha-ha…he’s a wise old man. He’s making a run…or shuffle…for it while he can. What if he gets lost?” Another patient was alarmed by this and told the daughter, “He’s heading down the hallway.” She got up and walked at a somewhat quicker gait than her father and eventually brought him back to his seat where he…waited.
At 9:45 a.m. the door opened, a nurse appeared, and called someone else’s name. At 10:20 a.m. she reappeared and called me back where she took me to a smaller room where I sat on the table and waited. I waited until 10:35 a.m. That’s the time the nurse practitioner finally saw me. Not that I was watching the clock while I waited.
We don’t like to wait, do we? Raise your hand if, like me, you get in the “10 items or less” checkout line and, when it doesn’t move, start counting the number of items in the carts in front of you. You find 11 and want to report the person. Why? Because they’re making you wait one item longer than you should have to.
“Wait” is a four-letter word. Just utter it to someone in a hurry and record the response you get. We are a people who are used to being on the move. To us, waiting is equated with waste. One estimate suggests that some people spend a year or two of their lives waiting in line. We have to be doing something so we just look at our mobile devices. We read. We text. We email. We work while we wait.
But God prefers that he work while we wait. He has trained his people in the art of waiting throughout Scripture. Abraham had to wait for Isaac. The Israelites had to wait forty years before entering the Promised Land. Joseph had to wait for his dream to be fulfilled. Mary had to wait to give birth to Christ.
And the disciples had to wait in Jerusalem. But while they waited and while God worked there was something to do. Waiting in the Bible has to do with paying attention to God, watching to see what he is doing, and when his people are given a green light they move.
To wait is to pray. Gathering to wait and pray are the two primary activities of a faithful church. Reread that sentence and answer this question: if we looked at most churches today in our fast-paced society, would we say that these two activities were the primary activities of the modern day church?
Possibly not. The reason is that, as one modern day theologian penned in song, “the waiting is the hardest part.” Waiting is the hardest part because there are things that need to be done in the world and we think we need to get about the task of doing them.
Could it be that to wait is contrary to our nature because it confronts our desire for control? When we wait we feel as if we have no control. Which is exactly where Jesus wants us. Peter was probably champing at the bit to start witnessing. Andrew was ready to invite someone else into this movement. James was ready to lead the church in Jerusalem. But just because Jesus had instructed them for forty days was not enough to carry out this mission.
They needed the power to do so. And power comes through waiting. “…but they 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.”
Have you been asked to wait on something today? A job? A healing? A spouse? Has Jesus asked you to wait before doing something? Before a move? Before accepting a job? Before marrying that person?
Not everything God has in store for you will happen quickly. Some things require that we wait. It may be a week. It may be, as in the case of the Israelites, forty years. It may be, in the case of the disciples, forty days. But while you wait, God is working. And he wants you to be ready. He wants you to have renewed strength. He wants you to soar like eagles. He wants you to run the task ahead and not be weary.
All you need to do is wait and pray. Funny, isn’t it? Both are powerful. And they are both four-letter words.
Question: How can learning to wait increase your spiritual power?