When We Wait For GodErwin W. Lutzer | August 28, 2005
Selected highlights from this sermon
God responds to our impatience by teaching us how to wait. We wait for justice. We wait for blessings. We wait for strength. We wait for guidance. We wait for final redemption.
We learn to wait for God.
After all, it is only when we wait for God that we’re able to do what is beyond our abilities.
Now since I’m going to speak on the topic of waiting on God, wouldn’t it be tragic if we didn’t begin by waiting on God? Let’s bow together in silent prayer. Ask God to transform your life today by His Word and by the Spirit.
Father, we throw ourselves before You today, confessing that there is no good in us except that which is wrought in us by You, because in our flesh there dwells nothing good. And therefore we pray in humility and brokenness, transform this wonderful sanctuary that others have built for us into a sanctuary of peace and understanding and transformation and honor to Your blessed name. Amen.
Most of us struggle with impatience. I am very impatient, especially when I have to stand in line. When you are at a bank or an airport and you have to stand in line, you always take the shortest line, which always turns out to be the longest line. Somebody ahead of you is either buying the bank, buying the airline, doing this huge transaction, and you just want to say, “Umpf!” In fact, it’s to the point that sometimes I deliberately choose the long line, arguing that it might in the end be faster than the short line, because short lines have disappointed me so often.
You miss a turn in a revolving door and you have to see a psychiatrist because you are behind schedule. Impatience is a part of who we are, and as a result of that, ultimately at the bottom of impatience with people and circumstances (Hear me carefully.) is impatience with God, because we do believe that He does control the events in life, including the long red light that I had to stand at today.
God wants us to rid us of impatience, and it can’t be done unless we learn to wait on God. God is telling us to idle our motors when we want to strip our gears. And God says, “Wait on Me. Wait.” But we’re not very good at waiting and God wants to teach us that, and I want you to take your Bibles and turn now to Psalm 37, which is a wonderful Psalm that many of you have read and been greatly blessed by, as all of us have been.
Notice in Psalm 37 that David begins (and I’m actually beginning at verse 3 because I want to make a point) and says, “Trust in the Lord, and do good.” Verse 4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord.” Verse 5, “Commit your way to the Lord.” Verse 7, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! Refrain from anger and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.”
Psalm 37 is a contrast between human manipulation and the human timetable, and God’s timetable. And the purpose of this message is to help all of us fit into God’s timetable, to get in step with what God wants to do in our lives rather than us running ahead of God and doing our thing, and then praying like everything that He’ll bless us in the process. This is a Psalm that is going to teach us to slow down and to let God be God.
Here’s the agenda for the next 20 or 25 minutes. We’re going to investigate five different things for which we should wait for God. And then at the end of the message I’m going to tell you how to wait, and we’re all going to leave changed and different. Thank you for joining us on the journey.
For what shall we wait? First, number one, we wait for justice. Isn’t that exactly what the text says that I have read? “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!” If you are the victim of evil devices and evil people, the answer to you from God is to wait, because you’ll notice it also talks later on about the wicked being cut off. And you’ll notice it says in verse 35, “I have seen a wicked, ruthless man, spreading himself like a green laurel tree. But he passed away, and behold, he was no more.” Wait on God!
Now we should do all that we possibly can to bring justice to every situation in life that is under our control, to fight on behalf of justice for the poor and for the marginalized. And we should do all that we possibly can within our power, but you and I know, because we’ve lived long enough, that there are all kinds of situations over which we have no control. We have no way to be able to bring justice either for ourselves or for others, and we fret. Notice that the text says, “Do not fret.” If you wait on God, your fret level will decrease because you’ll finally say, “God, I wait for justice from Your hand and not mine.”
You say, “Well, how long do we have to wait?” Well, to show you how God wants to develop patience in our lives, in Revelation 6:9 it says, “I saw the souls of those who were beneath the altar, and the souls of the martyrs that had been slain were crying, and saying, ‘O God, how long until you avenge our blood on those that are on the earth?’” And God says, “I’m giving you robes and you still have to wait a little longer.”
You say, “Well, that’s a long time to wait.” Yes, it is a long time to wait, but we’re talking about patience, and we’re talking about faith and a just God.
Here in America we have a number of different courts. You have a lower court that makes one ruling that may be overturned by a higher court, and eventually it may work its way up to the Supreme Court. And you and I need to be absolutely convinced that every unanswered justice on Planet Earth will eventually appear at the Supreme Court of the Universe. And that wicked man and that injustice will be addressed so that throughout all of eternity we will sing, “Praise and honor to Him; just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of saints.”
My question to you today is, "Are you willing to wait for God?" That’s the question because, listen, a person who waits on God is a person who believes that no good is really accomplished in this world unless it is God who does it. And God may do it through His people, but it has to be wrought by God Himself. So we wait for justice.
We wait for special blessings. You’ll notice it says in verse 9, “Evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.” And notice also the same idea in verse 34 when I read, “Wait for the Lord and keep His way, and He will exalt you to inherit the land; you will look on when the wicked are cut off.” Wait for the Lord and keep His way, and He will exalt you.
In the Old Testament the way in which you were blessed is you inherited the land. God promised Abraham the land, and later on it was divided among the tribes. You know that history. And land was very important. There was a direct connection between God’s blessing and the land. There was a direct connection between God’s blessing and whether or not you had a good crop, or whether or not you had lots of sheep and goats. In the New Testament that does not apply in the same way, but it does apply this way. We all want to be blessed, don’t we? “Oh that You might bless us indeed and that Your hand might be upon us.” And we all seek God’s blessing.
Now God has already wondrously blessed us in Jesus, but there are times when we say, “You know I really want to live a life that is blessed by God.” You cannot do it unless you wait for God. You have to wait for God.
There are two examples of waiting for blessing in the Scripture. Remember the story of Jacob and Esau. Esau was the older son and yet God says that the elder (the oldest son) will serve the younger. He’ll serve Jacob. So what do Jacob and his mother do? They plot and they plan and they trick Jacob’s father, and they work this plan, and they end up lying and they end up splitting the family apart for 20 years with bitterness. Why in the world would you do that? God promised him the blessing. If he had simply waited, God would have brought it about in His own way, in His own good time, but Jacob was out of step with God. His mother, Rebecca, was out of step with God, and they said, “We’re going to accomplish this according to our own way and according to our own timetable,” and they paid the price. They would not wait on God.
A positive example is David. God says, “David, I’ve anointed you to be king, and I have rejected Saul.” You’d think then that David would want to overcome Saul. On two opportunities he had the privilege of killing him if he’d have taken it, but he wouldn’t do it. He said, “I’m not going to put forth my hand and touch the Lord’s anointed. I am going to wait for God to give me the kingdom.” And for 10 long years David was pursued by Saul to the point that David actually became insane. He allowed saliva to run down his beard. He joined the army of the Philistines, of all things (the enemy). And you know that evil people can drive you insane. They can because all of their view of reality, you see, is skewed, and you begin to wonder, you know, “Am I the insane one, or are they insane,” and they can really catch you off balance. And Saul did that to David. But David said, “God, if you’ve given me the kingdom, I will wait for the kingdom. I will wait on You,” and he got it in God’s time, not his. So second, we wait for special blessing. Don’t force the hand of God.
Third, we wait for strength. Here I’m turning to another passage that you need not look at. I’ll simply quote it to you because it’s very familiar. Isaiah 40:31 says, “They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”
Waiting on God! It says in Psalm 27:14, “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” Dozens of times the Bible tells us to wait for God.
Wait on the Lord and you’ll renew your strength. Physically? Yes, I think so. I think that it can be applied physically – to physical strength. I know a pastor who is a very good pastor and a very good preacher, but he continually is struggling with a disease. He finds it very difficult to walk. And one day when he and I were together and I was preaching at his church he said, “I am so tired tonight.” And I said, “Yes, I know that feeling too,” but I said to him, “Remember the Holy Spirit is never tired.” God is never tired 24/7. God is never tired! We are, but they who wait for the Lord renew their strength physically.
They renew their strength spiritually. You’ll notice it says, “Take courage and wait for the Lord.” You are facing something tomorrow that’s difficult, a situation at work that’s bursting upon you, and you are tempted to do the wrong thing because it seems to be the convenient thing. What you must do is to wait on God, and in the process allow God to work His will and to give you the courage to do what is right. “They who wait on God renew their strength.”
We also wait on God for guidance. If you want to turn back just a few pages from where you are to Psalm 25 (And how delightful it is for me to hear the rustling of leaves of the Bible from those of you who have one and bring it; God bless you.), you’ll notice it says in verses 4 and 5, “Make me to know Your ways, O Lord; teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation; for You I wait all the day long.”
Two examples – one from Scripture and the other from life! The Bible says that Joshua, when he came into the land, was tricked by the Gibeonites. Do you remember that story? They said, “We are coming from a distance,” and so they took moldy bread and they put it in their satchels, and they acted as if they were from a distance, because God said, “Don’t make a covenant with the people who are from the land.” So they came and they said, “Oh we came a long, long way,” and Joshua makes a covenant that he’s not going to kill them, that he’s not going to fight against them, that they are going to be able to live among them.” And those Gibeonites were a thorn in his side. But here’s the phrase you should always remember. It says regarding Joshua, “He asked not the counsel of Lord.”
It seemed so right. He thought that there are some things you don’t have to ask God about. I mean it’s clear. These people came from a distance. It’s perfectly legitimate for us to make a covenant with them, but he can’t see around corners, and God can. And those Gibeonites irritated the Israelites for generations because he asked not the counsel of the Lord.
One of the interesting things to me as a pastor is why it is that some people marry so unhappily. Most people when they are married don’t go down the aisle saying, “Pastor, we are here today and we are committed to misery.” Yet 10 years later that’s what happens. I think of a woman I knew who was counseled to not marry a certain man, and she said (quote), “I’m unhappy single. I might as well be unhappy married,” so she married him. Later on she learned that it’s much better to want what you don’t have than to have what you don’t want.
Young people, there’s something far worse than singleness. In fact, singleness is a great blessing, and we should preach in our churches about the glories of singleness, because God can use you in ways that those of us who are married couldn’t be used because we have other commitments. But the simple fact is that there are so many people who do not ask the counsel of the Lord. They may ask God to bless their marriage, but they don’t say, “God, I’m asking your counsel. I wait for You all day long.” Before the decision they don’t do that and look at where they end up.
A number of years ago when I was a teacher at Moody Bible Institute (and I’m glad to see some Moody students here today), I was having lunch with a student who had graduated several years previously. And he said, “I am going into medicine,” but he said, “It is so tough; it is so competitive.” He said, “This is my lifelong dream and I fear I am going to fail.” But he said, “In my anxiety I find I can’t study and I’m not sleeping well. I can hardly eat because of the anxiety.”
I said to him, “No problem. We can take care of that right here. That’s no difficulty.” I said, “What you and I are going to do is we are going to pray and we’re just going to take all this from your shoulders and transfer it onto God’s, and you tell Him that if He wants you to be a doctor, He’s going to help you get through. If He doesn’t, you’re satisfied with that equally because you’re interested in God’s will. We can take care of it right here.” He said, “No, I can’t do that.” He said, “If I give it over to God, what if God wants me to fail and not become a doctor?” Oh, so that’s the issue, huh? You want your will so badly that you won’t even turn it over to God and ask for His counsel. I don’t know what happened to him, but unless he changed his attitude he’ll never be happy because he doesn’t know what it is to wait for God.
The Bible says that we should wait for guidance. We should wait for final salvation. It says in Romans 8:23, “We ourselves who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for the adoption of sons.”
“We groan within ourselves and we should eagerly wait for the return of Christ,” it says in 1 Corinthians 1:7. Waiting for the return from heaven! Well, if we are not waiting for the return from heaven, we are waiting for the wrong thing. We want what we want when we want it, and God had better get on board. And as a result of that we run into all kinds of troubles and all kinds of wasted lives and decisions because we want something that God may not give us. Or we may be out of step with His timetable.
You say, “Wow! How long do we have to wait? It is said of Abraham (whom we are going to be studying in detail) in the book of Hebrews that he died without seeing the promises fulfilled. There are some promises that God won’t fulfill for us until after we are dead, after we see Jesus Christ. But we wait and we wait patiently, and as a result of that waiting we are absolutely convinced that the only good that takes place in our lives is the good that God produces within us. So what better way to spend our lives than to spend them waiting on God?
Now, let me give you some practical benefits. Waiting on God is a big time saver. It’s a great time saver because when you wait on God, God makes up for you the time that you spend waiting on Him. If you were to go to a library and look at all of the things that Martin Luther wrote (literally volume after volume, commentaries, translation of the Old Testament and translation of the New Testament), you just wonder how in the world he did it. I just look at it and I say he did it without a word processor. He had to write every line. How in the world did he do it? Well, of course, he didn’t have television, God be thanked! And he didn’t have some of the modern things. He didn’t have a cell phone, God be thanked. But Luther said, “The reason that I can be so productive is because I spend so much time in prayer.” That’s how you become productive.
There’s that old story of a man who was chopping down a tree. And he was flailing away at this tree with sweat running down his face, and somebody said, “You know you should sharpen your ax. The tree would go down more easily.” He said, “I don’t have time to sharpen my ax because I have to get all these trees down before noon.”
Waiting on God sharpens our ax. Waiting on God enables us to do things above and beyond our normal abilities because we begin to understand that it is what God does through us that is most important and not what we do for God. And we change the way in which we view reality. Waiting on God saves time. Waiting on God saves energy because there is a transfer of all the psychic energy, all the guilt, and all the burdens. The transfer is taken from our shoulders onto His.
The Bible says, “Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.”
You say, “Very nice, but how do we do it?” Well, don’t get impatient. I’m going to tell you.
How do we wait on God? Is it just passivity? Do you just simply sit back and say, “Okay, we’re just going to wait for God?” I’m going to wait for God to give me a job. I’m going to wait for God to get me through school so I don’t have to study. I’m just going to wait on God.
Let me give you three words and all three begin with the letter “S.”
First, seek God. There’s this remarkable statement in Hebrews 11:1. “Without faith it is impossible to please God, for he who comes to God must believe that He is,” and I love the translation that says, “And that He rewards those who diligently seek Him out.”
In evangelical circles we have this idea that since we found God through Jesus, God no longer has to be sought, and yet you read the Psalms and David is continually saying, “I seek Thee with my whole heart. I seek Thee.”
How do we seek God? Well, we seek God through His Word most assuredly because we read it and we meditate on it. We seek God by being with the people of God, and singing the songs of God. We put ourselves in the way of God, so to speak, and we seek Him in that sense. We seek God with our whole heart. Have you ever bowed in prayer and said, “God, teach me to seek You?” The first word is seek.
There’s a second word, and that word is silence. The Scripture says in Psalm 62:5, “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from Him.”
Let me give you a little window into my own life. The older I get the more I begin to realize that prayer isn’t just simply coming before God and saying, “Now here are my needs. Here are the things You need to bless.” Prayer is rather opening our soul to the Lord. There are times when I come before the Lord in prayer when I don’t say a word. I just simply say, “God, I am here and I just need Your presence for these silent moments. I have nothing to say. The problems in the world are so overwhelming. The needs are so great that unless You come and help us, we won’t be helped. Unless You do it, it won’t get done.”
There was a man who was chiseling marble, and a minister walked by and said, “I wish I could chisel the hard human heart like you are chiseling this marble slab.” And the man said, “You can if you do it like I do it, mainly on my knees.”
Who is it that can change the human heart? Who is it that can take stray children and bring them back to the fold? Who is it that can overcome the blindness of the human heart and grant life? The only person is God. Therefore, why should you and I simply rush into His presence, give Him a list of dos and don’ts and then rush out. If we can’t be quiet even when we pray, how are we going to wait on God for the whole day? Sometimes, because of the busyness of life, because of the schedules, because of the thoughts and the anxieties, there are times when I have to be in God’s presence 10 or 15 minutes before my heart even begins to really subside and the anxiety and the stray thoughts begin to disappear so that I can just concentrate on God. And you do so in silence. You say, “God, what sins do I need to confess? God, what burdens do I need to give to You? God, what’s going on in my life here? What is it that I’ve not looked at that You are trying to teach me?”
And God does not talk to me in words, but there are ideas that come to our minds, particularly ideas that need to be surrendered by the power of the Spirit, and that can only be done in silence and it takes time. All of us say, “Oh I want to be holy but I want to be holy in a hurry.” It’s hard to be holy in a hurry. Like the song says, “Take time to be holy.”
The first word is seek. The second is silence between you and God. The third word, of course, is surrender. Surrender says, “God, what is there for me to do from Your loving hand? There is no manipulation and no desire to finagle events to have them come out according to my liking. I am Thine. Do with me as seems good in Thy sight.” And that’s when the transfer takes place.
Now let’s help ourselves here by remembering that when Jesus died on the cross, his death was a sacrifice for sinners, and He died in our place, and those of us who have trusted Him (and some of you who are listening to this message have not trusted Him), know that we are pinning our eternity on Jesus. My whole eternity is staked on Christ. I trust none other than Jesus. Now if we can entrust our eternal souls to God, why is it that we are struggling so much with tomorrow. Why cannot we simply say, “God, here it is?”
Do you remember that story that I told you years ago about the woman who had the very heavy suitcase? She was carrying it and she was so discouraged because it was so heavy. And a bus came along and she was very glad to pay the fare. She got in the bus and then after that she continued to hold up the suitcase in the aisle of the bus. Somebody said, “Put it down.” She said, “Well, I’m just glad that the bus is carrying me. I can’t expect it to carry my suitcase too.” Am I going a little fast for some of you? (laughter)
My friend, if you are a believer, you are on the bus. Put it down. Put it down. (applause) And I conclude with this. If you haven’t been taking notes until now you’d better pull out your pen right now. This is not my quote. I got it from somebody else. That’s why I know it’s good.
“What God does in us while we wait is usually more important than the thing for which we are waiting.”
“My soul, wait thou only on God, for my expectation is from Him.” And I say it one more time. The person who waits is absolutely convinced that any good that is done is a work that God Himself does, and that’s why waiting is the way to go.
Father, we ask in Jesus’ name, of You who are the reader of all hearts - You, Father, who know the thoughts and intents. You know, Lord, the areas of our life that we’ve kept from your sovereignty and grace. You know, Father, that we are people who find it difficult to wait – impatient, self-willed. In all humility help us to cast ourselves at Your feet and say, “My soul waits only on God.” Father, if what You do is all that is important, do in us that which pleases You, and teach us to wait.
Whatever God has talked to you about, would you talk to God about now? What is it that you need to do? Some of you have never trusted Christ as Savior. Your eternal destiny is dependent on where you are with Jesus. You could even do that while you are praying right now. Say, “Jesus, I embrace You as mine.” For those of you who know Him, are you willing to say today, “By Your grace, I am going to wait on You?”
You talk to God right now.
Our Father, like the eyes of a maid looking to her master, like a dog looking to his owner, so our eyes are upon You, from whence our expectation comes. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.