Hoping and Waiting, or why Christians arenít Apathetic Cynics.

Ed Rademaker

Patient waiting is not one of this generationís strengths - not in our society, in any case. But then patience doesnít come naturally to fallen man in general. But unlike the world, the believer recognises that the immediate satisfying of our creaturely wants and needs is not the most important priority in life. He sees, instead, that it is to fit in with the will and plan of our heavenly Father, and so to glorify Him. This will inevitably involve waiting and hoping, both of which are expressed in the beautiful Psalm 130. In the first four verses the psalmist has spoken of his understanding of Godís deliverance from the depths of guilt and despair, through receiving His forgiveness. The appropriate response of the sinner to such grace is awe.

Then, in verses 5 and 6 we see an expression of strong confidence in God concerning the future: "I wait for the Lord, my soul waits." He feared God, but he was not afraid of Him. Rather, he longed for the Lord, waiting for Him, in a relationship with Him, and looking for His coming or presence. The Hebrew word for Ďwaití means "to look for with eager expectation, to wait confidently for." The psalmist had cried to the Lord, and he was now waiting for the Lord to answer. He trusted that God would not hold his iniquities against him, that there was forgiveness with the Lord. And so he set himself to waiting for the Lord to grant what he had requested. Perhaps the Lord had removed a sense of his presence and favour, as well; and now the writer was waiting patiently for that sense to be restored to him. In any case, he waited intensely, with an inner expectation, for he repeats the fact, "I wait for the Lord, I wait" i.e. my soul waits. This was certainly not a casual matter for him. It was patient, but not indifferent.

This is followed by a parallel statement, "And in His word I put my hope." God had made certain gracious promises, and the psalmist was placing his Ďhopeí on the Lordís fulfilling them. The Hebrew word here is similar in meaning to the word for Ďwait.í God had said He would do something in the future, and the author believed His word and fully expected the Lord to do it. We see from the last two verses that he had in mind the promised redemption that God would achieve for His people through the Messiah, the Lamb of God that would take away their sins. He believed God was able to do it. He believed God was desirous of doing it. He believed God would do it. He therefore pinned all his hopes on the reliability of Godís word for that.

Hope not wishful thinking

We gather from this fact that true biblical hope is not just wishful thinking, and hence uncertain; rather, it is the solid ground of a certain expectation of future realities. To hope in Godís word is to know with certainty in the present, that what God has promised will happen in the future. With such a firm hope it is quite understandable that the psalmist could wait patiently for Godís favour to show itself to him. Patient waiting and hoping go hand-in-hand. So we learn from this that hope waits patiently, confidently, and expectantly for the Lord to fulfil His gracious promises.

There are a number of reasons why it is important that we cultivate this hope that waits on the Lord. The first I would put to you is because God fulfils all His promises in His own good time. That God does fulfil all His promises is taught everywhere in Scripture. Joshuaís words to Israel in Joshua 23:14 are just one example, "Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed." God has graciously promised us many good things. He has promised to work powerfully in us as individuals through His Holy Spirit and Word, to change us, helping us to put off sin and produce the fruit of the Spirit. He has said He would build His church. He has promised that the man who fears the Lord and walks in His ways will be blessed. He has said, "Ask, and youíll receive; knock, and the door will be opened to you." And so many more such promises.

Now, we see all these promises, and by Godís grace we believe them. So we hope firmly in them, and we ask for them. But the problem is that so often we tend to expect God to give us what we ask for immediately - or at least, a little later today, or tomorrow. However, if it doesnít come quickly then we assume God hasnít heard, or Heís not going to give it - and we either get impatient or we resign ourselves to no answer. But faith recognises that it is entirely Godís prerogative to choose when and how He will answer our prayers. He has His own time schedule for working out his purposes in history and in your and my life. The great lesson we must learn in life is to submit ourselves to the will of God, and so Godís purpose for us, His children, is to teach us submission. Now, for various reasons, which are known only to Him, but some of which He lets us see in this life, He waits with giving us what weíve sought on the basis of His promises. And that means that we are forced to wait in hope. True faith accepts that Godís timing is perfect, and that He teaches us many good things by making us wait. Waiting tries, tests and refines our faith, exercises and builds our patience, trains us in submission and humility, and makes us all the more grateful and appreciative when the blessing comes. It also teaches us to persevere in prayer.

These are the obvious general reasons why God would make you and me wait. But He also has His particular reasons for each of us according to our particular weaknesses, problems and needs. Not everything we ask for will be good for us at this point in our lives. So God, as a wise and loving Father, withholds some legitimate blessings from us until we are able to handle them. Perhaps, if He took you out of those financial difficulties now you would stop depending on him to supply your daily needs. The same could go for those physical/health difficulties. Perhaps, if He took away your particular sinful weakness without you having to struggle hard and long with much praying, to get out of it, you might become proud and self-reliant, and judgmental of those who do struggle and stumble. So hope says, "I want or need this blessing badly, but I know God knows best for me when and how to give it. So I will ask, and keep asking patiently and respectfully and earnestly, always leaving Him the right, which is His, to do as He pleases."

Wrong reactions

However, it will always be a struggle for us to approach things consistently in this manner, because we naturally sinfully tend to impatience and fretfulness over the things in life which are problematic and beyond our control. One reaction to having to wait will be to grumble and complain. Another will be to become anxious and fearful. When we do that we must recognise that we are no longer trusting Godís power or judgement. We actually wish we were in control, because we think we would do a much better job of things than God seems to be doing. We would never think of putting it that way - but that is in effect the message we are conveying to God, and to others who see our impatience and anxiety.

The second reason why we must cultivate this hope that waits on the Lord is because we tend to run ahead of God and do things in our own strength.

When things donít go the way we want and when we want, or when other people donít act the way we desire them to, we can not only fret and complain, but actually tend to try to manipulate both the circumstances and the people roundabout us. We end up scheming and planning and trying to orchestrate and manage everything. The amazing thing is that we can even be doing this with the conscious desire in this way to serve Godís interests. We try to get people to change, wanting them to see things our way or to act in a certain way. There is nothing wrong with that. We may even be right about the needed changes that we desire to see. And so we pray for each other for change. We encourage and exhort one another for change in the way God has said we should. But, what happens when we donít see any change; when we meet with resistance, or when change is extremely slow in coming? We tend to get impatient, donít we. And if we havenít settled it firmly in our hearts and minds that God is in control, and that He is building His church, and that He has given us legitimate means for building one another up, beyond which we may not go - our reaction will be to try to force change, to force growth, to manipulate, to use emotional bribery or blackmail. We will cry, weíll pout, bluster, rage, act hurt or offended - we will do all in our power to get them to do what we want, to say what we want, believe what we want. When we do that we are running ahead of God, operating in our own strength, and God will not bless it. The means He has given us for ministry are His Word and prayer. We must use the Word to bring about change for the good in the lives of our loved ones, the church and society. We must pray for such change while we minister the Word, remembering all the while that God the Holy Spirit is the One who will do the changing and not us, and in His time and way.

As soon as we think we can change people, we will try to. But that is where we start to leave God out of the picture, and we risk ending up in failure and frustration. So the third reason is because we can tend to become apathetic and cynical.Having tried to bring about change and seeing no visible results for the good, we conclude that people will never change, and prayer doesnít work - God mustnít want to bless His church or certain people with godly growth, so we give up on them, thinking "Whatís the use?!" Apathy and cynicism are twin brothers. The one says, "Who cares anymore about trying to do good? Itís not worth it." And cynicism says, "Yeah. It doesnít work. I tried, and all I got was trouble for my efforts. People wonít change. The church wonít change. Things will never get better. So donít bother trying. I certainly wonít! And if anyone thinks differently they are just naive idealists who will soon enough find out the reality, and change their views." I have heard or seen that attitude at work, to varying degrees, in many in our churches over the years. I will guarantee that it has come about by people running ahead of God, trying to change things and minister in their own strength, trying to manipulate people and circumstances, but finding that doesnít work, and so concluding that things are a lost cause. The problem is that they have not been waiting patiently on the Lord, nor hoping in His word. If you are apathetic or cynical, drifting along aimlessly, uncaring, rather sitting back observing critically, instead of mucking in out of love and concern for others, having given up hope of change in Godís people; or if you are anxious, discontented, frustrated or bitter, then you are operating largely in your own strength and on your own time-table, not Godís. You need to sit down and take stock of things as they really are. Whose world is this, after all? Whose church is it? To whom do the people in your life belong? To whom do you belong? We need to say to one another, "O Israel, O people of God in the Reformed Churches of New Zealand, hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with Him is full redemption." Let us always wait patiently, confidently, expectantly for the Lord to do his work in us, fulfilling His promises to and in us in His time and in his way. Hope in His word, and not in the efforts of man or in anything created. Keep praying and working, waiting and watching for Him to do it. As surely as the morning comes after a long night, so will the Lord do all He has promised us.

Mr Ed Rademaker is the Minister of the Reformed Church of Foxton.

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Faith in Focus /NZ Reformed Church / gmilne@ihug.co.nz / revised July 1999 / Copyright 1999