This post is not an academic one. The majority of topics I prefer to write on are academically inclined, but that’s not what I want to write about at the moment. I want to write on something that currently weighs heavy on mind: waiting on the Lord.
We have all heard ad nauseum pithy statements of wisdom that revolve around “waiting on the Lord.” However, most people have no idea how to do this. I would bet that most people don’t really understand what the phrase means.
What does it mean to wait on the Lord, and how do we do it?
Let’s break it down, beginning with the verb. Wait. What does it mean to wait? Merriam-Webster dictionary defines to wait as “to stay in place of expectation.” It also defines it as “to remain stationary in readiness or expectation.”
In both of these definitions, we see that waiting has to do with expectations. When we expect something we look forward to something, or we anticipate something. When we expect something, we have this sense that there is some state of affairs that should exist, should come to exist, or cease to exist. When we wait on something, we stay in a place of readiness for a state of affairs to come about or cease to be.
We wait on things all the time. We could be waiting on that job we really want, that spouse we dream of, or that new book on theology by Kevin Vanhoozer to be released. We might also be waiting on a time of suffering to cease, or an assailant to be brought to justice, or to finally just catch a break in life. We constantly find ourselves remaining in states of expectations for something to happen or no longer happen.
When we claim to be “waiting on the Lord,” we are claiming to be remaining in a state of readiness for a state of affairs, one in which the Lord has something to do, to either come about or cease to be. In other words, we remain in a state of expecting the Lord to do something.
Just as we constantly find ourselves waiting on certain things in life, we also find ourselves claiming to be waiting on the Lord for something; but what? As James reminds: “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). Any good thing we receive in life is a gift from the Father above, and it is from him that we should expect gifts and good things. Often times we find ourselves waiting on these good things from the Father.
I want to take a step back and flesh something else out before moving forward. Since waiting has to do with expecting, then it also has to do with hope. Hope is something that Christians—especially Christians—should be familiar with. Turning once more to Merriam-Webster, the verb hope is defined as “to desire with expectation or obtainment or fulfillment.” When we hope for something, we long and expect something with the anticipation of fulfillment.
Just to clarify, I am not claiming that all waiting is ultimately hoping. We might find ourselves in a boss’s office expecting, or waiting, to get fired, but I doubt that most of us are hoping for that. What differentiates hope from other forms of expectation or waiting is the element of desire. We hope for those things that we desire to come about.
When we are waiting on the Lord, I think we are typically hoping for him to bring something about or to end something. Again, both hope and expecting implicate waiting, but the former implicates desire. When we hope, or wait, in/on the Lord, we are expecting him to do something that we desire. But what exactly do we desire?
I am not going to spend a lot of time discussing what we desire; rather, I’m going to state outright what we should desire as Christians. We should desire for the Kingdom of God to come on earth as it is in heaven. Indeed, the Lord’s prayer that he taught his disciples encompasses all of the major states of affairs that Christians should hope for: our daily needs to be met, the deliverance from the time of trial, the forgiveness of sins, and for God’s kingdom to be on earth as it is in heaven.
So what does it mean to wait on the Lord? I think it means to hope in the Lord, and when we hope in the Lord, we cast a horizon of expectation made up of desired states of affairs. But these ideas of hope, desire, expectations, and waiting all have something in common: they are oriented towards the future.
When we wait or hope for something, we do so for something that is not yet. When we hope in the Lord, we desirously expect him to bring something about that he has yet to bring about. Had he already brought the object of our hope about, we wouldn’t call it hope; we would call it thanksgiving!
One last thing: when we hope in something, we trust that this something might actually come to be. When we hope in the Lord, we trust him to do something. Why do we trust him to do something? Because God has promised to do something and he is trustworthy. As Alister McGrath so elegantly puts it, “Hope is rooted in the trustworthiness of God.”
This does not mean that God has promised to meet every desire we have. Not all desires should be met! But God does promise to meet our daily needs, to deliver us from the time of trial, to forgive sins, and to establish his Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. And we rightly hope in him to bring these things about because he is indeed trustworthy.
Throughout the narrative of Scripture, God demonstrates time and time again that he is true to his word. When he revealed himself to Moses in Sinai, he revealed himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, invoking the promise he made to them. He then demonstrated his trustworthiness by leading Israel out of Egypt and into the land of Canaan.
Most importantly, God has demonstrated that he can be trusted by sending his Son, Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, through whom he has inaugurated the irruption of his Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, as he promised. This is the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise to the patriarchs, to Moses, and to Israel, and it serves as our foundation for trusting God to consummate his Kingdom on earth, thus making everything in the created order right.
In conclusion: wait on the Lord! Remain in a state of readiness, of desired expectation, that the Lord will do as he has promised. He may not give you that job you want or that spouse you dream of, but whatever he gives you is a gift—and a good gift at that, whether we see it that way or not.
Cherish and enjoy the circumstances that God has you in, no matter how difficult it is. As Paul says over and over in his letter to the church at Philippi: “Rejoice! Again, I tell you: Rejoice!” If Paul can say this while unjustly being imprisoned, surely we can do the same in our life scenarios.
We wait and hope in the Lord, and our hope is rooted in his trustworthiness.