“I’m so sorry,” my dear Uncle Bill sighed apologetically. “Something seems to be wrong with the projector. I guess we can’t watch the next several carousels of slides.” He was clearly distraught with his failed attempts to fix his faulty equipment. Groans of very real disappointment echoed around the crowded living room.
Only a few of those groans were dripping with sarcasm.
You see, not everybody sitting in the dark that evening appreciated my elderly uncle’s beautiful and educational bird slides…all 3000 of them. I suspect my bored husband did not. He wasn’t the only one.
Another of my uncles, the ornery one, caught Kenny’s eye and, warily looking around, pulled the projector bulb from his pocket! Triumphantly, he stuffed it quickly out of sight—before he was caught red-handed. He winked at Kenny in wicked delight at his chicanery.
No one thought to check the bulb. My relatives are Audubon Society members, not handymen. The evening lecture was over.
Yes, I come from a long line of bird-watchers. And, yes, I am proud of it. It’s in my DNA, I’m certain. My kids don’t have a chance. And over the years, though he may not readily admit it, Kenny has reluctantly morphed into one too.
So when a majestic bald eagle flew right over my car last week, I gasped in awesome wonder and unspeakable joy as I watched it soar out of view. I felt its graceful flight so near was a special gift just for me. My heart was racing. Immediately, Isaiah 40:31 popped into my mind. I smiled. It’s a real bird nerd’s verse.
Later, in the waiting room, not so patiently waiting for my Ophthalmologist, I was once more reminded of Isaiah 40:31. Now I am not a rocket scientist, but I am just smart enough to figure out that, just maybe, my wise Father was prompting me to meditate on Isaiah 40:31 for a reason. So I did. And I had an hour and a half that morning to do so. I hope you don’t mind if I share with you.
“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.” (ESV)
As I sat waiting my turn, I glanced about the sunny and comfortable room. Others were waiting for the doctor as well: some restlessly snoozing; some tersely thumbing through magazines; some irritably watching CNN; some fidgeting impatiently in their chairs. Nearly everyone, at some level, was annoyed. People don’t like to wait.
In our busy lives, there’s simply no space for waiting. It’s not in the schedule. I scan the grocery lines for the shortest one and often skip around when the grass looks greener at the next checker. I want to scream when someone ahead of me in the ten-items-or-less-line has thirteen items and thirty-three coupons…and then needs a price check. I want to lose twenty pounds in five minutes and I want to master Spanish in two. I don’t like to wait for my air conditioner to cool things down or for my morning shower to warm me up. I want everything faster. As a culture and that includes me, we don’t like to wait.
Not even on God.
Yet, we are invited by Isaiah to do just that, to wait on the Lord.
Max Lucado says in the article, Wait While God Works, “Take a moment and look around you. Do you realize where we sit? This planet is God’s waiting room.
“The young couple in the corner? Waiting to get pregnant. The fellow with the briefcase? He has resumes all over the country, waiting on work. The elderly woman with the cane? A widow. Been waiting a year for a tearless day. Waiting. Waiting on God to give, help, heal. Waiting on God to come. We indwell the land betwixt prayer offered and prayer answered. The land of waiting.”
When Isaiah wrote these words, the discouraged nation of Israel was suffering a lengthy period of great misery under the rule of tyrannical Assyria. He pens chapters 40-48 to comfort and encourage his people who have all but given up hope, thinking God has forgotten their misery. Isaiah 40:31 is a kind of payoff verse to a long litany detailing God’s colossal power and supremacy over everything. Isaiah describes the vast ocean and the massive mountain peaks and reminds Israel that their God is bigger. He considers the planet’s most powerful leaders and whispers, “Your God is stronger.” He points to the man-made gods their enemies worship and cries, “Your God is real!” Isaiah is seeking to convince the captives of God’s desire and ability to rescue, restore, and keep the promise of verse 31.
This “waiting” Isaiah mentioned is so much more than the “you just need to gut-it-out, suck-it-up, be tough, and hold on” kind of waiting. It wasn’t so much about what God’s people could do or should do at all; it was all about hoping in, trusting in, and depending on their God who would and could do what He said He would. That’s a very different kind of waiting—waiting with expectancy for the only One who can rescue and save and help. He is at work.
C.I. Scofield’s definition sums it all up. “To wait upon God is to be silent that He may speak, expecting all things from Him, and girded for instant, unquestioning obedience to the slightest movement of His will. That is waiting upon God. All the spiritual senses alive, alert, expectant, separated unto Him, His servant and soldier waiting. It is not the waiting of an idler; it is not the waiting of a dreamer. It is the quiet waiting of one who is girt and ready, one who looks upon life as a battle-field and a sphere for service, who has one master and but one to whom he looks for everything, from whom alone he expects anything.”
That is biblical waiting. How are you doing with that? How am I?
I can think of few people who waited like that more often than Joseph. We all know his story by now, don’t we? But I want to remind us of one small scene. Remember when Joseph correctly interpreted the dream of his fellow prisoner, the butler? Remember how the butler promised to tell Pharaoh about Joseph’s unfair imprisonment when he was restored to his position in the court? Well, he did, but he did so two years later.
“Two years! Twenty-four months of silence. One hundred and four weeks of waiting. Seven hundred and thirty days of wondering. Two thousand one hundred and ninety meals alone. Seventeen thousand five hundred and twenty hours of listening for God yet hearing nothing but silence.
“Plenty of time to grow bitter, cynical, angry. Folks have given up on God for lesser reasons in shorter times.” (Lucado)
Joseph didn’t. Called to interpret Pharaoh’s unsettling dream, he gave all the credit to God for easing Pharaoh’s mind and telling him its meaning. Joseph came out of being in prison “bragging” about God. Waiting hadn’t destroyed his faith; it had deepened his faith.
“And you? You may be infertile or inactive or in limbo or in between jobs or in search of health, help, a house or a spouse. Are you in God’s waiting room? If so, here is what you need to know: while you wait, God works.
“My Father is always at His work, Jesus said.” (John 5:17 NIV
“God never twiddles His thumbs. He never stops. He takes no vacations. He rested on the seventh day of creation but got back to work on the eighth and hasn’t stopped since. Just because you are idle, don’t assume God is.
“Joseph’s story appeared to stall out in chapter 40. Our hero was in shackles. The train was off the tracks. History was in a holding pattern. But while Joseph was waiting, God was working. He assembled the characters. God placed the butler in Joseph’s care. He stirred the sleep of the king with odd dreams. He confused Pharaoh’s counselors. And at just the right time, God called Joseph to duty.
“He’s working for you as well. ‘Be still, and know that I am God’ reads the sign on God’s waiting room wall…You can be still because He is active. You can rest because He is busy.
“What if you give up? Lose faith? Walk away? Don’t. For Heaven’s sake, don’t. All of Heaven is warring on your behalf. Above and around you at this very instant, God’s messengers are at work.
“Keep waiting.” (Lucado)
Don’t run ahead, don’t fix things on your own, and don’t try to control your circumstances alone. Don’t whine or throw a temper tantrum. Wait.
God is stronger, bigger, and He is real. He is good. He is faithful. He is gracious. He is glorious.
And He’s never late.
Now what about the four blessings of waiting for the Lord that Isaiah mentions? I want to get to my eagle!
The text says that those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength. Renew literally rendered means to change. It denotes a change of garments. They shall lay aside their strength and put on, as a cloak, the strength from God, exchanging their frailty and weakness for His strength and greatness.
The problem is getting rid of any notion of our own strength and allowing God to clothe us with His own. Practically, if the people of God trust in Him, they shall become strong in faith: able to battle with their spiritual foes; to attain victory over their sins; to carry out their mission on earth; and to rightly handle life’s disappointments and trials.
The next blessing for those who wait is, “They shall mount up with wings as eagles.” Please excuse my nerdy moment here. A little eagle talk. In ancient times, eagles were revered as mighty warriors, known for their courage and strength in perilous and raging weather, soaring about the storm to safety. The eagle is the only bird that can fly so high, it is gone from sight. All day, on massive wings, it enjoys the great serenity of the upper atmosphere, reveling in the higher realm of light above the fray, alone with God.
It seems God rarely uses a man greatly he has not first isolated. This man realizes he has been separated to God, that the wings of his soul have learned to beat the upper air and that God has shown him unspeakable things. Often, like the eagle, he must go alone. That is the calling. (Schofield) But what joy to sail the heights above, communing with the Almighty! Our souls belong up there, near to the throne. It’s where we really get to know our Father.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. (Colossians 3:1)
The third and fourth blessing for those who wait seem a bit anticlimactic after spiraling above the clouds like an eagle. But we do need to come back to earth. You see, we go up simply so we can better serve down here. Without learning to be alone in the quiet with God, we cannot touch those around us with the power of God. We must run and walk down here, but we will be weary and faint unless our souls continue to meet with God.
Sometimes our days require us to sprint, but more often, our days are hours of just walking, doing the mundane, everyday tasks of an ordinary existence. It is planning dinner, cleaning the toilet, taking a child to practice, sitting in a waiting room. Over and over. Again and again. It is exhausting. Often it is the hum drum, common life that tries and tests us the most. But we can “not faint” under the monotony, strain and stress of the trivial annoyances of everyday living “only on the condition that we have been waiting upon God. The man who does that will be a reservoir of sweetness, quietness, and power.” (Scofield)
And that’s the kind of “man” I want to be. Sweet, peaceful, and strong. Don’t you?
I guess we all need to become better “waiters” on the Lord in His waiting room. He is always at work. He will keep His promises. My hope is in Him, not in me.
So whether I am feeding my birds, waiting at the DMV, or making the beds once more, as I wait for the Lord to accomplish His plans for His kingdom, my soul can gratefully soar and I can faithfully serve my wondrous King.
Sounds like a good plan, don’t you think?