This command, to wait on the Lord, is found multiple times in the Old and New Testaments. It is important to understand its general and specific meanings.
In the Old Testament, people of God and individuals were told to wait on the Lord, most of the time meaning to wait on God's providential care. In the New Testament, waiting on the Lord often refers to Jesus' second coming. In most all biblical instances, waiting on the Lord is expectant trust and hope in God's movement and activity.
Though it sounds dull, waiting on the Lord is godly, robust activity. It's about setting aside your own abilities and skills and activity to trust God in His abilities and skills and activity. It's about timing – God's not yours. Be sure, God is at work. Sometimes we just can't perceive it. His loving activity and timing are for our best; even when we can't clearly see this, we take it by faith because we know God and trust His character.
Waiting on the Lord is the sum of depending on God and subjecting our will to His terms and timing. Waiting always includes time and patience. James 1:4 says, "Let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." This steadfastness is waiting.
In the Bible, waiting often includes a hope and a confidence in God—and an expectation that He will act on our behalf in His good timing (Psalm 62:1, 5). Paul wrote, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God" (Romans 8:18–19).
Waiting also involves rest. One of the most quoted passages, Psalm 23, references the rest God's people can experience when "He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. …" (Psalm 23:2–3). "Makes me lie down" can be translated as "causes me to rest." This occurs when sheep trust their worldly shepherds and when the people of God trust their heavenly Shepherd.
Often, our ability to trust God, to wait upon Him, and have confidence in His timing is tied to our willingness to set aside our own agenda, skills, abilities, and ingenuity. We trade our weakness for His strength (2 Corinthians 12:9).
One illustrative story from the Bible is when the Israelites were led out of Egypt, but then trapped against the Red Sea by Pharaoh's army. Some thought they would surely perish. Moses told them, "The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent" (Exodus 14:14). They were trapped, yet God wanted them to focus on Him and His deliverance, not the circumstances. It is the same, often, for us.
There are examples in the Bible, too, of those who failed to wait on the Lord. When God promised Abraham he and his wife Sarah would have a child, they got tired of waiting and decided to take matters into their own hands by having Abraham take a surrogate wife, Sarah's maid Hagar, and have a child. This account, in Genesis 16—18, shows the beginning of centuries of trouble.
As Christians, we should "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness …" (Matthew 6:33). Sometimes this means waiting quietly for God to answer. Sometimes it means moving forward in only ways we know are led by God, and sometimes it means continuing only in the activity He has blessed thus far. All the while, our eyes should be peering out to see God's work and guidance.
Waiting on God is not like waiting in a long line at an amusement park. We aren't waiting around with nothing to do until our desires are finally met. Rather, it's more like the way a high-class waiter watches to see the needs and direction of the people at a table she serves. We actively serve God and attune ourselves to Him while we patiently wait for Him to accomplish His plans. Psalm 123:2 puts it this way: "Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he has mercy upon us."
Our trust in God and anticipation of His loving activity in our lives shows Him (and others) our faith in His goodness. We set aside our own abilities and sufficiency for reliance upon Him.
"And this is the confidence we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him" (1 John 5:14–15).
Waiting on the Lord renews our strength (Isaiah 40:31). The more we draw near, know Him, and meditate on His goodness, the easier we can wait upon Him. Prayer and Bible study are the best ways to do just that.
Do not despair when God seems to be taking more time than you wish to act on your behalf. He knows. He knows best. "Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him" (Isaiah 30:18).
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