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What to Do While You Wait

“For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.” (1 Pet. 3:5–6)

I’m an expat. Our family has lived in Dubai for almost 20 years. My husband is the pastor of an evangelical, English-speaking church, and it’s been a joy to watch as people from all different backgrounds grow in the faith and come to know Christ in this majority-Muslim country. It took time, but a country that wasn’t my own now feels like home.

Still, I’m often waiting. My children are grown and live in other countries, so I’m tied to my calendar, scheduling when I’ll see them again. This type of waiting is exciting, but others are excruciating: Waiting to see what will happen to a family member diagnosed with dementia. Waiting for loneliness or depression to end. Waiting for difficult circumstances to change. Life is full of waiting. Often there’s pain in the waiting, but for the Christian, there’s always hope.

Sarah, the wife of Abraham the patriarch, lived a life of waiting. She was the ultimate expat. She waited for her travels to come to an end, for a place she could call home, and for a child to call her own. She didn’t have an easy life.

When God called her husband, Abraham, to leave his country, family, and religion behind, Sarah obediently went with him. She, too, left everything. She left the way of life she knew. Together, they were sojourners, living in tents, in lands not their own.

Regular travel brought constant change and danger, including famine and potential enemies on every side. And Sarah no longer had little pagan gods to manipulate into providing her food and safety. Her husband worshiped the Lord, the God Most High, the One who made heaven and earth. This big God was now the only One to whom she could turn. She couldn’t control him. He did things his way. Was he a God she could put her hope in?

Waiting for the Promised Son

God called Abraham out of his country into a land he would show him. God said he would bless Abraham, making him into a great nation. He promised that in Abraham’s offspring all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 22:18). But there was one problem: Sarah was barren. They had no son to produce grandchildren. How would Abraham become a great nation with no heir? Sarah would have to wait on the Lord to fulfill his promise.

The Lord promised that Abraham’s offspring would inherit the land. But Canaan’s environment was as hostile as its people and as barren as Sarah’s womb. When famine hit, Abraham took Sarah to Egypt. Fearing for his life, Abraham led Sarah to deceive Pharaoh, telling his men they were mere siblings. So Pharaoh took the beautiful Sarah into his house. Imagine Sarah’s fear. What could she do? How would God fulfill his promise with her in the hands of another man?

Life is full of waiting. Often there’s pain in the waiting, but for the Christian, there’s always hope.

Abraham jeopardized Sarah and the promise, but the Lord rescued her by afflicting Pharaoh and his house with plagues (12:17). Abraham received riches and Sarah was given back to her husband. The Lord had done it. So back to Canaan they went with more sheep and donkeys and camels. And more waiting on the Lord to give them the promised son.

After 10 years in Canaan, Sarah took matters into her own hands. She decided on surrogacy. Turning her husband’s leadership on its head (“Abram listened to the voice of Sarai,” 16:2), she convinced him to take her servant Hagar to produce an heir. In language eerily like the fall of Adam and Eve, Moses tells us Sarah “took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife” (v. 3, emphasis added).

Hagar’s pride swelled along with her belly, and “when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt” on Sarah (v. 4). Sarah responded by blaming her husband and abusing Hagar, chasing her away. But God came to Hagar’s rescue in the desert. Sarah had tried to do things her own way. She selfishly reasoned, “It may be that I shall obtain children by her” (v. 2). Now Hagar had a son, and still Sarah waited for the promised one.

Another decade of waiting went by. Sarah had gone through menopause. Her 90-year-old womb wasn’t only barren—it was dead: “The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah” (18:11). But the Lord came again to Abraham and within earshot of Sarah told him their waiting was soon to be over. “The Lord said, ‘I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son’” (v. 10). Could it be true? Was the hoped-for son soon to come?

Surely not. Sarah laughed to herself at the thought of a worn-out woman, married to an old man, bearing a son. It’s impossible! She had waited, but the Lord hadn’t opened her womb. There was now no chance of conceiving. She should have rejoiced at God’s promise, but Sarah’s hope seems to have died along with her womb. Yet her lack of hope didn’t thwart God’s plans. The Lord confronted Sarah through Abraham, saying, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old? Is anything too hard for the Lord?’” (vv. 13–14). Sarah denied her laughter even with the Lord’s question ringing in her ears.

With only a year to wait, Abraham and Sarah once again took matters into their own hands. This time, Abraham gave his “sister” to Abimelech. To save his skin, he endangered the wife for whom he should lay down his life, and Sarah went along with the scheme. But God came to the rescue again. He intervened to save his people and protect his promise, vindicating Sarah’s honor in the process.

Finally, the time came when Sarah’s waiting was over: “The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him” (21:1–2, emphasis added). Abraham was 100. Sarah was 90. God had made them wait. He’d put them in circumstances that made the birth of a son impossible. But here was Isaac, the promised son, life from Sarah’s dead womb. Sarah’s empty arms were finally full. God had said. God had promised. God had spoken. And now Sarah’s laughter of doubt turned to laughter of joy for the baby nursing at her breast. Truly nothing is too hard for the Lord.

Hope in God

I wonder what you’re waiting for. The degree or dream job? Meeting the right man? Double lines on a pregnancy test? The diagnosis or the cure? The pain to go away? Your loved one to come to know Jesus? The dreary cloud over life to vanish? Waiting is difficult. Like Sarah, we’re tempted to do things our own way. Instead of going to Scripture to remind ourselves of God’s promises, we doubt his goodness. Rather than go to the Lord in prayer, we’re pulled down into despair.

Sarah waited for decades. She faced difficulty and danger—and she dealt with her own sin. But God is faithful to fulfill his word to his people. He is the God “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Rom. 4:17). This is the God whom Abraham and Sarah left kindred and country to worship. He’s the God who sustained them through famine and danger and dysfunction. The One who creates out of nothing is the One who promised them a son. And God keeps his promises. He is a God on whom we can wait.

Sarah is named a hero of the faith in Hebrews. Is this surprising to you? It doesn’t mean she was a superhero. Her faith wobbled here and there. It even teetered on the brink. Like when she took Hagar and gave her to Abraham to produce the promised offspring. Or her reaction when the Lord said she would bear the promised son: “Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?’” (Gen. 18:12).

But Hebrews says, “By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised” (11:11). God put Sarah in a place where it was clear that, apart from him, there was no way for her to conceive. She tried but couldn’t make it happen. It was God who brought life to her womb. There were highs and lows in Sarah’s life, like in each of ours, but Hebrews confirms the basic direction of her life was Godward. For all her stumbles, she was ultimately, through a journey of many years, characterized by faith.

Instead of going to Scripture to remind ourselves of God’s promises, we doubt his goodness. Rather than go to the Lord in prayer, we’re pulled down into despair.

So take heart. God is utterly reliable as we wait, even when in the waiting he calls us to do things that don’t make sense. Imagine Sarah, 90 years old and pregnant. She belonged in the geriatric ward, not the maternity ward! But in the end, Sarah didn’t look at her age, her physical condition, or her husband. She looked to God’s promise and was given a son.

Peter uses Sarah as an example of a godly woman adorned not with external enhancements but with “the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Pet. 3:4). She’s the mother of all women who hope in God, all who “do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.” She showed her hope in God by living a faithful life day to day with a disposition of submission toward her husband: “Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord” (v. 6).

Sarah waited, doing good and fighting fear. And the God in whom she hoped was true to his word. Not even her sin could thwart his promises. The promised son was born.

Nothing Is Impossible with God

Thousands of years later, another promised son of Abraham was born. He’s the One through whom the blessing of Abraham extends to all families of the earth. Just like Sarah’s son, he was born in impossible circumstances, not from a barren womb but from the womb of a virgin. (Nothing is impossible with God [Luke 1:37]!) Conceived by the Holy Spirit, he’s not only the son of Abraham but the Son of the Most High. Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, who came to “save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).

Out of his great love, God sent his only Son. Jesus lived a perfect life and died for the sins of anyone who would repent and believe. God, who gives life to the dead, raised Jesus, showing he’d conquered sin and death. We put our hope in this preeminent, promised Son.

Our hope is even more certain than Sarah’s. She knew God was good. He had repeatedly rescued her. But we know God’s ultimate rescue: “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col. 1:13). Because Jesus is alive, we who believe in the promised Son hope with certainty that we’ll join him in the resurrection of the dead when he comes back to claim his kingdom.

Hope is for those who are waiting. As you wait, in what are you hoping? If your hope is in good test results, you can be seriously disappointed. If it’s in a person or a family, it could bring you to despair. If it’s in a career or your reputation, such hope can leave you exhausted. And even if these hopes come to fruition, will they finally satisfy?

Sarah didn’t hope ultimately in her husband or in making Canaan her home; she “hoped in God” (1 Pet. 3:5). Sarah knew she was a stranger and exile on the earth (Heb. 11:13). She was “seeking a homeland” (v. 14), but that homeland was above. Sarah “desire[d] a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called [her] God,” the God of a weak, flawed exile, for whom he has prepared a heavenly city (v. 16). With the eyes of faith, Sarah had hope for a secure future.

The hope that comes in the Son will sustain you until all waiting is over.

Like Sarah, we mustn’t set our hopes on the things of this world. God has “provided something better for us” (v. 40). The hope that comes in the Son will sustain you until all waiting is over. It’s “a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain,” where Christ is seated at the right hand of God, interceding for his people (6:19). We look forward to the city God has prepared, and one day Jesus will come and take us home.

This hope changes everything. When we’re tempted by the pleasures of this world, we can instead do good because we know God “rewards those who seek him” (11:6), and his reward is greater than all the treasures of this earth. Even when we give in to sin, we can repent, knowing Christ has paid for all our sin and one day we’ll “be made perfect” in him (v. 40).

When we’re threatened as exiles, we don’t have to fear what is frightening, because we know we’ll “rise again to a better life” (v. 35). God has prepared an eternity for us, face to face with him. When we encounter difficulties of all kinds, we can persevere, knowing God is faithfully preparing us for the heavenly city “whose designer and builder is God” (v. 10).

The Christian life is a daily battle to put God at the center. We get so bogged down with details, we forget that every day brings us closer to eternity. Every battle with sin gets us nearer to perfection. These bodies that struggle and are wasting away will one day open their eyes to glory. Even now, Christ is our life.

Hope That Doesn’t Disappoint

So, like Sarah, set your hope on God. Set your hope on the future the promised Son has secured for you. Look to Jesus in the Scriptures and cast your burdens on the One who will comfort you. Read about women like Sarah and take heart. Consider God’s “precious and very great promises” (2 Pet. 1:4). And dwell on Christ’s death and resurrection, growing your longing for him. Meditating on the things of heaven will bolster your hope on earth.

I love that 1 Peter is written to “elect exiles” (1:1). As an expat, I can relate to living in a place that isn’t my home. But whether I’m in the U.A.E. or the U.S.A., I’m an exile in this world. If you’re a Christian, you’re an exile too, traveling through a hostile world. In a letter written to a man named Diognetus from the second or third century, we read this description of early Christians: “Every foreign country is a homeland to them, and every homeland is foreign. . . . Their existence is on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven.”

Christians are those who look forward to a future home. Christ has secured its borders. Our only hope is in him, the Promised Son. Like Sarah’s, our hope is in the God “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Rom. 4:17). That’s a great hope indeed! “May [this] God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (15:13).

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