Sermon Illustrations on Waiting
In his excellent book, An Unhurried Life, Alan Fadling describes the challenge of experiencing God’s presence, even in the relatively slow world (in comparison to our own) of the fourteenth-century:
It is said that fourteenth-century philosopher and theologian Catherine of Siena once asked the Lord why he seemed so present to his people in the time of the Scriptures but seemed so absent in her own time.
God’s answer is as true today as it was then: [God seemed so present to people in biblical times] because they came to Him as faithful disciples to await His inspiration, allowing themselves to be fashioned like gold in the crucible or painted on by His hands like an artist’s canvas, and letting Him write the law of love in their hearts.
Christians of [Catherine’s] time acted as if He could not see or hear them, and wanted to do and say everything by themselves, keeping themselves so busy and restless that they would not allow Him to work in them.
Taken from An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus’ Rhythms of Work and Rest by Alan Fadling Copyright (c) 2013 by Alan Fadling. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
Keeping a Sense of Humor
As we wait, it is critical that we keep our sense of humor in the fullest meaning of that word. When laughter goes, so does hope. When God reaffirms his promise to Abraham and Sarah, he restores not only their faith, but their ability to laugh as well. One goes with the other. Only the laughers can believe. Only the believers can laugh. The only thing worse than waiting is waiting without laughing.
Living out our Belief in the Sovereignty of God
Because the results of God’s sovereignty are delayed, waiting remains an act of faith. We believe results will occur one day. By waiting on God, we affirm our belief in his providence. We trust his timetable. We hope in heaven. Waiting on God is inseparably bound to our belief in the sovereignty of God to bring about the good he promises.
…Waiting is often the application of many other, more abstract, biblical qualities of character. Hope, for instance, requires waiting. Faith is all about waiting. Patience and waiting are yoked together. Trust requires delayed gratification. In fact, run down your mental list of the fruit of the Spirit and see if waiting doesn’t play into every single one of them (see Gal. 5:22–23).
Triumph and Failure in the World of Faith
Triumph and failure always go together in the wait of faith. They are the head and tail of the same coin. Show me a person who has had no struggle with waiting, whose faith has known no swings between victory and defeat, and I’ll show you a person who has never really trusted God with his or her life.
To wait on God is to struggle and sometimes to fail. Sometimes the failures teach us more than the successes. For the failures teach us that to wait on God is not only to wait for his mercy, but to wait by his mercy. … The success of our waiting lies not in who we are, but in who God is. It is not our strength that will pull us through to the end, it is God’s amazing grace and mercy.
Martin Luther King, responding to criticism from Southern White Pastors with respect to Civil Rights Activism:
Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your 20 million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; . . .
when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she cannot go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she’s told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; . . .
when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking, “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “Nigger,” your middle name becomes “Boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; . . .
when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”—then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.
Martin Luther King, Letter from a Birmingham Jail, http://www.stanford.edu/group/King/frequentdocs/birmingham.pdf.
The Virtue that Lies Beyond Heroism
God intended man to have all good, but in . . . God’s time; and therefore all disobedience, all sin, consists essentially in breaking out of time. Hence the restoration of order by the Son of God had to be the annulment of that premature snatching at knowledge, the beating down of the hand outstretched toward eternity, the repentant return from a false, swift transfer of eternity to a true, slow confinement in time. . . .
Patience [is] the basic constituent of Christianity . . . the power to wait, to persevere, to hold out, to endure to the end, not to transcend one’s own limitations, not to force issues by playing the hero or the titan, but to practice the virtue that lies beyond heroism, the meekness of the lamb which is led.
Waiting & the Coronavirus Pandemic
With the global coronavirus pandemic in spring 2020, life stopped. Overwhelmed by the threat of a disease we couldn’t stop and for which we didn’t have the hospital capacity, everyone moved work and school into their homes. We were told our children would be back to school in three weeks. By then we’d flatten the curve and life would go back to normal. But as the months passed, as children didn’t return to in-person classrooms in the fall, the waiting for “normal” to return seemed like riding a rollercoaster of depression, anxiety, fear, and listlessness.
We could only wait. There is a type of waiting where you remain walled off—you distract or numb yourself to move through time faster. You turn in on yourself. You fill up on salty chips, Netflix-bingeing, online political debate, or conjuring up imaginative vacation plans—anything to take you away from your own lack of control, your own unknowing.
There is another type of waiting where you lean into the pain to more deeply experience a peace that passes understanding. This is the sort of waiting we see Jesus do—leaning into his identity as a beloved son, feeding on the Word of God so that it nourishes his very body. This is the deep work of waiting, and while it feels barren, it strips us of our comforts so we can see what we’re actually feeding on. It’s a gift to feel our hunger pains and, as children, to expect God will feed us.
Taken from A Spacious Life: Trading Hustle and Hurry for the Goodness of Limits by Ashley Hales Copyright (c) 2021 by Ashley Hales. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
Waiting is More than In-Between Time
Waiting isn’t an in-between time. Instead, this often-hated and under-appreciated time has been a silent force that has shaped our social interactions. Waiting isn’t a hurdle keeping us from intimacy and from living our lives to our fullest. Instead, waiting is essential to how we connect as humans through the messages we send.
Waiting shapes our social lives in many ways, and waiting is something that can benefit us. Waiting can be fruitful. If we lose it, we will lose the ways that waiting shapes vital elements of our lives like social intimacy, the production of knowledge, and the creative practices that depend on the gaps formed by waiting.
Waiting, God and Us
There are times, when we’re waiting on God to do something for us, when (sad to say) God seems to take forever. And there are times when God is waiting on us to do something for God, when (thank God) God seems to give forever.
God’s Decided To Heal Me Some Other Place
I know a woman who, after her diagnosis of cancer, prayed twice every day for God to heal her. A year later, as she entered her third round of chemotherapy, she said, “Well, it looks like once again, God isn’t on my schedule. I guess God’s decided to heal me at some other place, in some other time.” She had been given a level of faith, in that time, I have yet to reach.
God Just Sold the Cattle
In 1924, Dallas Theological Seminary almost went bankrupt. On the day it was to foreclose at noon, Dr. Harry Ironside, the president, held a prayer meeting in his office. That day he prayed a prayer he had often prayed: “Lord, we know the cattle on a thousand hills are thine. Please sell some of them and give us the money.”
As he prayed with some staff and faculty, a tall Texas oilman walked into the receptionist’s office and told the secretary: “I just sold two carloads of cattle in Fort Worth. I’ve been trying to make a business deal go through and it won’t work, and I’ve been compelled to give this money to the seminary. I don’t know if you need this, but here’s the check.” The secretary burst into the room where the men were praying and said to Dr. Ironside, “Harry, God just sold the cattle!”
Stay out of Those!
A very old man lay dying in his bed. In death’s doorway, he suddenly smelled the aroma of his favorite chocolate chip cookie wafting up the stairs. He gathered his remaining strength and lifted himself from the bed. Leaning against the wall, he slowly made his way out of the bedroom, and with even greater effort forced himself down the stairs, gripping the railing with both hands.
With labored breath, he leaned against the door frame, gazing into the kitchen. Were it not for death’s agony, he would have thought himself already in heaven. There, spread out on newspapers on the kitchen table were literally hundreds of his favorite chocolate chip cookies.
Was it heaven? Or was it one final act of heroic love from his devoted wife, seeing to it that he left this world a happy man? Mustering one great final effort, he threw himself toward the table. The aged and withered hand, shaking, made its way to a cookie at the edge of the table, when he was suddenly smacked with a spatula by his wife.
“Stay out of those,” she said. “They’re for the funeral.
In I Was Wrong, televangelist Jim Bakker describes the terrible depression he went through while in prison in the 1990s for fraud and conspiracy. During one of his lowest moments, he received an encouraging letter from a pastor friend, Bob Gass. Bob believed God was not through with Jim. It was his conviction that prison was part of God’s vision for Jim’s life. Later, Jim came to share that conviction. In the book he documents the remarkable changes that took place in his life as a result of those dark days in prison.
Part of Jim’s depression stemmed from the fact that he had a forty-five-year sentence, and he was unable to minister inside the prison. From his vantage point he was facing forty-five pointless, fruitless, wasted years of life. You can certainly understand why he was depressed. In his letter, Bob Gass made a statement that must have sounded like “preacher talk” to Jim at the time, but which later proved to be true. He wrote, “Waiting time will not be wasted time.”
How We Wait
Part of our experience of waiting is cultural, and how time elapses while we wait can vary from person to person and context to context. We wait differently and we have different expectations that are grounded in our specific cultures—from the cultural expectations about waiting in lines in Japan to a common practice in Uganda of arriving hours early to the bus stop each morning so that people can wait together as a community gathering.
But while part of our perception of duration may be linked to these cultural experiences of waiting, part of our awareness of duration is also a cognitive process that is wired into how our brains function. After a period of working with a particular device, according to computer scientist Ben Shneiderman, our brains begin to set expectations for how quickly it should respond.
If these expectations aren’t met, we move on to the next task quickly (often around the two-second mark) unless something calls us back. How we wait is a combination of technological expectations (how quickly we believe that our technologies should be working), cultural expectations (how the contexts in a society set up certain expectations about how people should wait according to their position within that society), and how our brains are able to pay attention while waiting.
At least as important as the things we wait for is the work God wants to do in us as we wait…
Picture a blazing hot forge and a piece of gold thrust into it to be heated until all that is impure and false is burnt out. As it is heated, it is also softened and shaped by the metalworker. Our faith is the gold; our suffering is the fire. The forge is the waiting: it is the tension and longing and, at times, anguish of waiting for God to keep his promises…
The Gap Between the Promise and the Fulfillment
It isn’t easy to wait. It demands persistence when common sense says “give up.” It says “believe” when there is no present evidence to back it up. Faith is forged in delay. Character is forged in delay. The forge is the gap between the promise and the fulfillment. As gold is purified and shaped in the white-hot heat of a forge, so we and our faith are purified and shaped in waiting.
The Waiting Room
So here I sit in the waiting room. The receptionist took my name, recorded my insurance data, and gestured a chair. “Please have a seat. We will call you when the doctor is ready.” I look around. A mother holds a sleepy baby. A fellow dressed in a suit thumbs through Time Magazine. A woman with a newspaper looks at her watch, sighs, and continues the task of the hour: waiting.
The waiting room. Not the examination room, That’s down the hall. Not the consultation room, That’s on the other side of the wall. Not the treatment room. Exams, consultations, and treatments all come later.
The task at hand is the name of the room: the waiting room. We in the waiting room understand our assignment: to wait. We don’t treat each other. I don’t ask the nurse for a stethoscope or blood pressure cuff. I don’t pull a chair next to the woman with the newspaper and say, “Tell me what prescriptions you are taking.” That’s the job of the nurse. My job is to wait. So I do. Can’t say I like it. Time moves like an Alaskan glacier. The clock ticks every five minutes, not every second. Someone presses the pause button. Life in slo-mo.