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How God Uses Our Waiting

I’ll admit it. I don’t like to wait.

“Does anyone?” you might ask. You’re probably right, especially in our fast-paced society filled with immediate app notifications and financial incentives for restaurants and retail stores to shorten wait times. A disdain for any delay appears normal—even encouraged.

However, my struggle with waiting seems hardwired in me. My personality tends toward getting things done, and I love the feeling of a completed to-do list. I’m biased toward action.

Not waiting is even in my last name. “Vroegop” is Dutch. Many last names of the wooden-shoe folk mean something practical: Shoemaker (maker of shoes), Bakker (baker), DeYoung (the young), Meijer (steward), and Vander Molen (from the mill). Vroegop literally means “early up.” It still makes me smile. My forefathers could have chosen from any number of last names, and they decided to identify our family as early risers—Mark Early-Up. We don’t wait to start our day.

Unfortunately, pastoral ministry made my anti-waiting inclination worse. I gravitated to verses about life stewardship and calling. When I read Don’t Waste Your Life, it captivated me with a passionate vision to make my life count for God’s glory. But in the process of not wasting my life, I was wasting my waiting.

The last few years surfaced a glaring deficiency in how I thought about and practiced waiting. Out of desperation, I explored what the Bible says about waiting, specifically the command to “wait on the Lord.” While I still have a long way to go, I’ve been discovering how to live on what I know to be true about God when I don’t know what’s true about my life.

By God’s grace, I’ve seen waiting isn’t a waste. Here are four principles to keep in mind when gap moments—those times we have to wait for answers to prayer, or on other people—present themselves.

1. Embrace the tension.

Waiting is uncomfortable. The gaps of life challenge our desire for control. That’s probably why waiting is universally disliked. Uncertainty, delays, disappointments, pain, and a sense of powerlessness create tension.

The gaps of life challenge our desire for control. That’s probably why waiting is universally disliked.

One of the Hebrew words for waiting expresses this. Qavah combines tension with a sense of anticipation or looking ahead. The word’s origins are connected to the twisting or stretching of a cord—tension is part of what it means to wait.

Many of us are surprised by waiting’s tension. The discomfort makes it seem like something’s wrong. We waste a lot of waiting because we resist or resent the sense of powerlessness. Therefore, the first step is embracing—even normalizing—this conflicting feeling. Instead of being alarmed, escalating our emotions, or resisting the feelings, it’s helpful to welcome the tension as a normal part of waiting.

2. Avoid the ditches.

We often waste our waiting through unhelpful or sinful responses. Our lack of control can create a knee-jerk reaction. The strong desire for change leads to several ditches:

Anger: Waiting and anger go together. Sometimes it looks like an obvious blow-up, but other times it can settle into a low-grade frustration. Sinful anger is our attempt to regain control through rash action. Waiting makes us vulnerable, and in anger we can try to fill the vulnerability gap by forcing change—regardless of the consequences.
Anxiety: If anger takes action, anxiety embraces overthinking. Rather than blowing up, we turn inward with a mental and emotional churning that’s exhausting and debilitating. We try to think our way out of our limitations.
Apathy: Anger demands change. Anxiety wants to think. Apathy stops caring. It’s responding to disappointments, delays, and unfulfilled dreams with the self-protective posture of “I just don’t care anymore.”

Knowing these ditches in advance helps us avoid our all-too-common responses to the frustration of waiting and keeps us from wasting these seasons.

3. Name your expectations.

I love the rendering of Psalm 40:1 in The Message: “I waited and waited for GOD.” Most translations read, “I waited patiently for the LORD.” But there’s no word for “patiently” in the Hebrew text of Psalm 40. The word for “wait” (qavah) is simply repeated, and I find that helpful.

Think of patiently waiting simply as a doubled waiting or waiting longer than what you expected. It’s difficult—in the back of my mind, I have an assumption of how long something should take. When my expectations collide with my experience, waiting becomes a problem.

One solution is to name our expectations. We can specifically call attention to what we might not even realize is causing an emotional reaction: “I would expect that . . .” This allows us to evaluate if our assumptions are reasonable and to set our potential waiting moment in the right context. Even more helpful, naming our expectations empowers us to commit them to the Lord.

4. Focus your heart.

Our struggle with waiting often involves a focus on what we don’t know. Our loss of control, sense of uncertainty, and internal discomfort can become a fixation.

Psalm 27 ends with a command to “take courage; wait for the LORD” (v. 14). But the psalm begins with a focus on who the Lord is: “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (v. 1). It’s instructive that the psalmist calls to mind what he knows to be true about God. Waiting highlights what you don’t know, but you do know who God is. The Bible reveals that to us.

Waiting on God means I learn to live on what I know to be true about God when I don’t know what’s true about my life. It means focusing my heart on who God is, what he’s like, and why he can be trusted—even in the tension-filled uncertainties of life. I’ve developed a list of “The Lord is . . .” verses that help me wait.

Waiting on God means I learn to live on what I know to be true about God when I don’t know what’s true about my life.

I don’t know if I’ll ever love waiting. The tension is uncomfortable. Frankly, I’d rather have quick solutions and easy answers. But the more I’ve studied what it means to wait on God, the more I see the value of the gap moments. They provide an opportunity to renew my trust in a God who loves me and cares for me and whose ways are always good.

While I wait, I can focus on his trustworthiness, not on my expected timing. The waiting may not be easy, but I’m not wasting it nearly as much as I used to. Mr. Early-Up is learning that waiting is far more valuable than I ever imagined.

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