They that wait

The tension of endurance.

Wait. It has to be one of the more frustrating words in the English language. In Waiting for Godot Samuel Beckett wrote an enduring tale of two men waiting for the arrival of an enigmatic third character, Godot, who never appears. The word wait has become laden down with our feelings and fears of deferred hope, potential missed opportunities, anticipation, impatience and delay. Yet the bible talks frequently of waiting on or for God, and the positive results it brings. In the bible waiting comes across as an action, rather than the absence of action.

On Friday night I had the privilege of speaking to United Youth about Psalm 40 and unpacking a little of that scripture with them; coming at the passage knowing that the listeners were young forced me to look at it in more depth – it’s not enough just to tell them to wait on the Lord and assume they know the Christian jargon, we were going to need a definition of what that waiting entailed.

I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.
– Psalm 40:1-3 (ESV)

Waiting patiently. For me it generates images of being sat in the cold on a train platform in Darlington wondering if the train would ever come; I read patiently and visualise silence, with perhaps the occasional tapping of a foot. The English language just doesn’t seem to work here; God can’t want me to sit and stare at thin air and wonder what time He’ll do His thing, there must be something more. So off the shelf came the Hebrew dictionary to help shed some light on what it really means to wait on God.

The Hebrew that we translate as “I waited patiently” is qaw·wōh qiw·wî·ṯî, more literally translated it would be “in waiting, I waited”. Already the emphasis seems to change a little. Both of those words come from the same root word and that is qavah, the original meaning of which is to bind like a cord. Cue brain melt as I try to process what on earth waiting has to do with binding like the strands in a cord. As I read more I found another description that really unlocked it a bit for me; the tension of endurance. When a bound cord is pulled tight the strands tense and pull closer together, gripping each other as the tension increases.

There is nothing passive about waiting on God. When Isaiah says that those that wait on the Lord will renew their strength he’s not describing that moment of foot tapping boredom in a train station, he’s talking about the process of continual gripping together as we’re wound tighter and tighter to our saviour. While our modern definition of waiting may lend itself to inactivity in biblical terms it’s about action and process. The waiting itself gives weight to the result, it’s a vital part of what is going on.

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.
– Isaiah 40:31 (ESV)

The wait was never meant to be silent; David wrote that the Lord inclined and heard his cry and the only way that could possibly work is if he was crying out and making some noise. Waiting on God isn’t done with our feet up, it’s done in prayer, it’s done crying out because we don’t understand but we know He’s there, it’s done in passionate pleas and moments of awe. It’s not a one off prayer at the start of the waiting period but a constant and continuous appeal to our saviour and as we do so every cry, prayer and plea is binding us closer to God like the strands in a cord. The tension we feel only serves to grip us tighter and more closely to him.

Waiting on God is a state of prayer, expectation and anticipation. The very act of doing it binds us to Him; we place our trust and reliance on Him and create the environment through which He will be glorified. The waiting room is a place where relationship is forged and our strength is built up, the result of the process – the close intertwining of our lives with His – turns out to be far greater than any thing else we’re waiting for.

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Photo from Doug Wheller, used under Creative Commons Licence.

2 Comments

  • Huw says:

    Thanks Peter – very helpful. Yes, it’s interesting that we tend to think of waiting as this negative, vacuous thing… Thanks for the challenge on that.

    (Thanks also for the Godot reference – one of my favourite plays, believe it or not!)

  • Peter J says:

    Thanks, Huw! It was actually you who first told me about Godot. :)

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