What does it really mean to "wait upon the Lord"? I understand that God is sovereign and knows what's best for us. I was recently reminded through a devotion in Streams in the Desert that, "If we have completely entrusted something to God, we must keep our hands off it. He can guard it better than we can, and He does not need our help." I guess I'm confused about "godly inactivity", waiting quietly to hear from Him, versus the whole idea of taking active steps of faith into the unknown and watching Him work it all out, like the Levites stepping into the Jordan. How do I know whether I should be "sitting on the bank of the river" listening for God or taking the steps of faith to move forward just trusting Him? Sometimes we're faced with challenges that seem to demand an immediate response, so how do we slow things down to figure out which "waiting" to do?
GREAT question. One I’ve wrestled with my entire Christian journey. I’m still waiting for THE ultimate answer. Until then, I’ll share what I’ve learned.
Because of space, I edited the scriptures you referenced, but the word typically translated “wait” in many Bible translations (including the ones us used) usually means one of two things: 1) Stop what you’re doing and wait, or 2) Look to God with trusting anticipation that He is going to come through, that he is involved in your life. In regard to our relationship with God, the second appears most often. Isaiah 40:31 is probably the most popular example, “Those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength.” In verse 31, the NIV translates “wait” as “hope.” Psalm 130:5 (which you also referenced) uses both “wait” and expectant hope, “I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope.”
In my humble little opinion, when the Bible uses the word “wait” (especially “wait on the Lord), it’s encouraging faithfulness and perseverance in the face of life’s trials. However, my suspicion is that what you’re really asking is, “How can I know if I’m running ahead of God or making rash decisions that may make a mess of things?”
If that’s your question, here are a few observations:
1) Sometimes we’re given a clear time-line. In Acts 1:4, the resurrected Jesus told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem UNTIL they received the Holy Spirit. They were anxious to do something with this Good News, but Jesus knew they had to be equipped first.
2) Sometimes we get conflicting messages that cause us to freeze in indecision. In Acts 21:4, as Paul was making his way to Jerusalem, some well-meaning believers, “through the Spirit,” urged Paul not to go. Yet, Paul had already been told by Ananias that he was going to suffer for Christ. In fact, six verses later, in Acts 21, it says that a man named Agabus approached Paul, took Paul’s belt, bound Paul’s hands and declared that the Holy Spirit had told him that he was to suffer. Put yourself in Paul’s shoes. Both groups were claiming insight from the Spirit. Should he wait until the message was clear, or go ahead and head to Jerusalem, trusting that God would be with him? He chose the later.
3) Sometimes God encourages us to use the spongy mass in our craniums to make logical, informed decisions. This weekend, my church is moving to two services on Sunday. I’ve not received a mystical message from God to do it. We’re making that move in order to meet some logical and logistical needs. We’ll “hope in the Lord” for good results.
4) Sometimes well make mistakes. But, how do we really know what is and what is not a “mistake?” The standard answer is, “You’ll know by the results.” However, if we’re honest, what we mean is that our decisions are right or wrong depending on how “successful” the result was as measured by the world’s standards. It’s important to note that God’s measures of success are not always ours. In his gospel, John consistently uses the phrase, “it was not his time” in referring to certain things Jesus did. The implication was that God had a perfect time for bringing about what Jesus was sent to accomplish. From the world’s standards, that time would have been the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Jesus would have been made king for sure, had he allowed the passion of that day to sweep him toward an earthly throne. Yet, God’s perfect time resulted in rejection, torture, and death.
Speaking for myself (and I suspect for many others), we tend to be paralyzed by our analysis of situations and God’s call on our lives not because we haven’t heard God’s starting gun go off, but because we’re waiting to be assured that if we do run the particular race set before us, everything is going to turn out “ok;” whatever that means. In your question, you referenced the Levites stepping into the Jordan (Joshua 3). God gave them the instructions and even the time-line, “Go, do it now.” God described the results, “The water will stand back in a heap.” But, in order for them to see the mighty words of God, they first had to put their toes in flood-stage level waters. My suspicion is that too many of us want to see the waters recede and dry land to appear before we put our toes forward into a dangers or uncertain situation.
This is probably an over-simplification, but much of the work of God through believers is crippled by our tendency to respond to his calling with, “Ready, Aim. Ready, Aim. Ready, Aim.” We may make some mistakes, but I believe a lost world is waiting for us to live, “Ready, FIRE!” and hope in the Lord to clean up our heart-felt and loving attempts at faithful obedience. Said another way, “It’s easier to steer a moving car.”
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