There’s something about having to wait that challenges each of us, and the way we wait tends to be pretty revealing. Neil seems to wait patiently for elevators. Why not? We can’t make them come any faster. I tap my foot, turn in circles, and punch the button again and again. I multi-task in the kitchen. Why not? It is possible to do three things at once. Just watching Neil do kitchen chores slowly and sequentially drives me mad.
Kim Driscoll recently asked a group of disciples how well they waited. The question was intriguing to me. Uh-oh. Does it matter? She was reflecting on Abraham and Sarah and how deeply difficult it must have been to have to wait so long for God to fulfill his promise of a son. They did not wait well, as we all know, and Ishmael was the result. There just came a point when they had waited so much longer than they ever imagined they would have to, that taking matters into their own hands seemed the only way forward. And moving things along… doing something… forward motion…seemed the unquestioned necessity.
Since I flunked Kim’s question quite badly, the idea of waiting has become a new lens for me as I look at the Scriptures. Where do people… and why do people… have to wait, and what tends to happen when they do? So far, I have one observation to offer. It seems to be that it is when God’s people have to wait that they get into trouble. They turn to idolatry.
Think about the golden calf scene in Exodus 32. Why did they turn to idol building after all they had seen God do to free them from Egypt? Because Moses had been up on that mountain so long! They weren’t expecting him to stay up there for forty days. They panicked. They couldn’t stand waiting for him another day.
Once in the Land of Promise, it was when the rains they needed were delayed that the people turned quickly to idolatry, building asherah poles and sacrificing to other gods, just in case those gods might come through faster that the One true God who had brought them there.
On the road to Emmaus, Jesus made the claim that all the Hebrew Scriptures spoke of him, so it is fair to ask what these stories teach us about being his disciples. What are you getting tired of waiting for? Where are you tempted to bail on waiting for God to come through?
Waiting accentuates our helplessness, and God seems committed to revealing just that. Only when we know ourselves to be helpless do we fully experience his grace and glory. We wait for it.
The people of Israel couldn’t part the Red Sea. They couldn’t bring water from the Rock. Joshua couldn’t take Jericho without weapons. Gideon couldn’t defeat thousands with just a few hundred men. They couldn’t bring rain to the Land of Promise. The disciples of Jesus couldn’t save themselves in a storm, or feed five thousand people with one boy’s lunch. They couldn’t bring their beloved Rabbi back from the dead. They were helpless, and then God put his glory on display.
Let me suggest that, as people whose hearts are inclined to wait badly, God has given us a way to practice the sort of helplessness which is helpful.
Sabbath. It is still one of the Ten Commandments. Right up there with the ones we consider the biggies, like not committing murder or adultery. Why do we give ourselves permission to completely ignore this one?
Sabbath is like an enforced helplessness. It is a rehearsal in the waiting God continues to require of us. It is a practiced alternative to taking things into our own hands. On the front end, it hurts. Leaving my to-do lists alone. Trusting the universe will continue its forward motion without my intervention. Demonstrating that it is God who sustains me and not my own efforts. Sabbath is like the scary free fall of faith, in microcosm. And it is good for our hearts to practice. It gets easier.
There is no legalism here. No one way to observe it. But Sabbath still matters. We need the challenge to impatience and idolatry it offers. We need the practiced dependence it requires. And we need rest! We need God! And most of the time we are moving to fast to answer his call to be with him. This is the silver lining of the Sabbath cloud… the profound security of his presence… stopping long enough to see the love in his eyes. These help us to wait in larger ways.