I don’t know anyone who likes to wait. Whether it is waiting in line, waiting on a package to be delivered, or waiting for a prayer to be answered, waiting is not something we usually enjoy. What we sometimes forget is that there is a great deal of wisdom in waiting. This is why Advent is so important. Advent is a good time to learn about waiting because this season is all about waiting well. For the next few weeks we sit on the edge of our seats waiting for God to come to us in Christ and transform our lives with his love. In this process of waiting for Christmas, Advent teaches us lessons about why God sometimes makes us wait.
Many of us never learn the wisdom in waiting because waiting is not always fun. That’s why our culture is built around preventing this dreaded task – fast food, faster internet, faster delivery, faster service, call ahead seating, no waiting! We send a text and we love getting a text back instantly! We go on the internet and we love shopping and buying with one click. We can find a book we want and press one button and boom it is downloaded and so is our credit card! Recently the New York Times published an article stating that we will visit a website less often if it is slower than a close competitor by a quarter of a second. That’s .25 seconds! That’s way too long for any normal person to wait! We don’t like to wait! We want what we want now!
The other day I was running late and when I got to the office I realized that I forgot my cell phone charger and my phone had run out of juice. I rushed frantically to see if some-one had a charger I could borrow. I finally found one and I plugged it in. But here was the problem. I needed to leave the office soon with my phone and I had to have it charged at least half way for the rest of the day and I did not have a car charger. So what did I have to do? I had to wait! I just had to sit there and wait. It was so frustrating! And this was just a phone!
We don’t like to wait. We think it is a waste of time. We are always rushing to the next place or the next thing. We don’t like being held up.
This carries over into our spiritual lives. We want instant answers to our prayers. We want God to respond quickly to our needs. We want God to provide for us within our time frame and schedule. We have everything figured out, right? Everything makes sense to us. Why doesn’t God just act? Let’s get on with it, right?
Maybe you are without a job and you have been praying and praying for one and there is no response. You have interviewed, searched, and searched some more and there is nothing.
Maybe you are praying to meet the right person to develop a romantic relationship with and all you meet are duds! Or maybe you are in a relationship with someone and you have prayed and prayed for him or her to make a commitment, to show signs of wanting to marry, but there seems to be no chance of that happening.
Perhaps you need to make a really important decision about your life and you are searching for a sign, something that will tell you which way you should go, and you have come up empty. You keep looking and you can’t seem to find anything from God.
Perhaps you have been praying for the ability to lose weight and get in better shape but it doesn’t seem to be any easier and you can’t make progress.
Maybe you are in a funk in your life. You’re unmotivated, sad, maybe even depressed. You’ve asked God to give you a new spirit, more energy, and joy but you still can’t seem to get off the couch.
Perhaps you are lonely, wanting to meet new people and you have been praying for God to bring new people in your life but nothing has changed.
I am sure many of you are wondering what is taking God so long to answer, to act, to move on your request! You have prayed persistently and faithfully. The Bible says, “Ask and it will be given you, seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be open to you” (Luke 11:9). You have asked until your throat is sore and you have knocked until your knuckles are bloody and yet there is still no answer! You are getting discouraged. You think, “Does God not like me? Does he not care? Is God angry with me?”
This may be hard for some of us to believe but it is be-cause God cares for us and loves us that he often makes us wait. God always has good reasons for making us wait. Once we recognize these reasons it is easier for us to accept that waiting on God is not a waste of time. You see, this is why God is rarely in a hurry. He is usually slow in the way he operates. Regardless of how fast we want God to go, he will not go at our pace. He always has a good reason why he goes about things the way he does. We just don’t see it because, well, we are not God!
So why is God so slow? Why does he so often make us wait? Discovering why God makes us wait is a game changer. It will become more important to you than anything you are waiting on God to give you right now. That may sound crazy because you feel so desperate for God to answer you but, trust me, knowing why God is making you wait will make all the difference in the world to your faith, relation-ships, and purpose in life.
One of the most important reasons God makes us wait is revealed through John the Baptist. John the Baptist was an interesting guy. He was the child of Mary’s cousin Elizabeth. If Rambo had been a prophet he would have been John the Baptist. John lived out in the wild. He wore camel hair and ate locusts and wild honey. But instead of carrying weapons to bring peace and justice to the world he carried words of warning and preparation. Crowds would go out into the wild and listen to him preach sermons with his hair on fire. Some would take him seriously. Others thought he was just entertaining. The truth is that God had called John to do one thing: tell people to prepare themselves for God to enter their world in the person of Christ.
The people of God had waited and waited and prayed and prayed for a Messiah to come bringing hope and healing to the world. They had longed for it. They were desperate for it. John the Baptist said that this Messiah was indeed coming and he would fulfill all the promises of their faith. But before he came John had a critical message to give to the world then and now. He gave the same sermon over and over. It was this: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near (Matthew 3:2 NIV). Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him” (Mark 1:3 NIV).
Repent is an old-fashioned word. We think it means to feel awful about the bad things you have done. Tell God and others you are really sorry and ask for forgiveness. We may think, “Okay, I get it. I just need to apologize to God and others for the bad things I have done. When I do then my prayers will be answered! I can get an apology speech ready in minutes!”
Hold on. That’s not what repent means. The true biblical definition of repent means to turn away from the things that are not good for you and follow God. There’s an old bumper sticker that reads, “God Allows U-Turns.” That’s what it means to repent. You may be thinking, “Well that’s what I’m doing, isn’t it? I’m praying to God and waiting for him. I’m turning to him to answer my prayer! We will get back to that in a second.
“Prepare the way, make straight paths for him.” The image here is one of cleaning your house for an honored guest. You clean every corner and crevice, making sure everything is spotless so the Queen of England would be pleased to stay there. What John is saying is that we need to make room for Christ in our lives. We need to clear the clutter out and make our heart a place that Christ is pleased to dwell.
What does this have to do with waiting on God and get-ting your prayers answered? Everything! We must get our hearts and lives right with God before we should expect God to answer us. Sometimes we pray repeatedly for things and we wait until we get frustrated. But the whole time we are frustrated it is God who is waiting on us because our hearts and lives are not right with him.
It could be you have prayed that your boyfriend would propose to you but your relationship is toxic and he is not a Christian. He does not share your values and he is dragging you down, yet you are asking God to bless your marriage.
Maybe you are looking for a sign from God about whether or not to write off a friend when deep down you know you are the one who needs to ask your friend for forgiveness for something you did in the past and you have never done it.
Maybe you are disappointed God doesn’t seem to be helping you get healthier when you are not making the life-style changes you need in order to get healthier.
It could be that you are waiting on God to snap you out of your sadness and funk when the truth is deep inside you know that this funk you are in is about the guilt you feel about a sin in your life you need to confront.
You may be praying to God for the right things but for the wrong reasons. It seems like a noble prayer to everyone else but you know it’s about your ego and pride. You need to look really hard at your motives and ask, “Why am I praying for this? Is it about God or is it about me?”
I think you see where this is going. If you are someone who has been waiting for God to answer your prayer and you are desperate you might want to take a serious look at your life, your heart, your motives, and the reason behind your prayers. This may not be the reason why God is making you wait. There are other reasons why God makes us wait. All I am asking is that as you wait you think hard about where you are with God. Take a look at this life-changing passage from 1 John 5:14-15 (NIV):
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And we can be sure we will have what we asked of him.
We can have confidence in approaching God with our prayers knowing he will answer every one of them. But our prayers must be according to his will. If our prayers are according to his will, we know he hears us and will answer us. This assumes one big thing; that our prayers are consistent with God’s interests and desires. If we find that our prayers are not, God will make us wait until they are. It is only when our lives are structured around God and his desires that our prayers will be what he desires.
The question is: is this prayer you want God to answer really what God desires? Has it been rooted in an active relationship with him? Will it serve not only your interests but his as well?
Here is something to think about: If you think you are waiting on God, he might be waiting on you. God might be waiting on you to look at your heart and come back to him. You see, God loves us too much to always give us what we want. God sees the big picture and so often what we want is not good for us nor does it serve the interests of God.
God doesn’t want you to make a huge mistake that you might regret the rest of your life. He doesn’t want you to go down a bad road because it is the convenient thing to do. He wants you to have life in all its abundance. He wants you to experience real life with him. He wants you to have the lasting joy that comes from being obedient to him. God always has our best interests at heart. I know many of you reading these words need to understand because you are praying for things and waiting on things that could have a drastic impact on your life. God is waiting for you to let go of it and put your focus back on him. Somewhere along the way you lost your focus on God and your prayers have been out of alignment ever since. He is waiting on you.
When I think of all of my prayers and all the times I have waited on God for things, I am more thankful for the prayers that God did not answer than the ones he did. My life and my joy is just as much a result of unanswered prayer as it is answered prayer.
For some of you this Advent season may not be about waiting; it may be about God waiting on you. Amen.
CSS Publishing Co., Inc., Mission Possible!: Cycle B sermons for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, 2014, by Charley Reeb