June 17, 2021

Painfully Waiting

associate pastor

associate pastor

Ken Rathburn


“… but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”  – Isaiah 40:31

Off and on, for the past sixteen months, I have experienced almost daily pain courtesy of a sizable plantar wart in the precise middle of the ball of my left foot. Over that period, I visited the dermatologist more times than I can count, each instance with little or no discernible progress. I sought a second opinion from a podiatrist who told me to just stay the course. It’s a small thing to be sure—both physically and compared to the ailments of so many others—but this tiny nuisance caused significant challenges. Activities with my family have been a struggle. Navigating the stairs has been quite an ordeal. Treatments had to be Mondays so I could walk normally by Sundays to lead worship. The treatments (well, really their aftermath) have been excruciating, turning me into a hobbled wincer with every single step. The alteration to my gait brought back and hip pain. But with all of that, the largest challenge has surely been the lack of control I have felt. I have gone through bouts of sadness, perhaps even depression, wondering how long this would continue. Would this ever actually end? Might this just be the way things are for me going forward? There was no way for me roll up my proverbial sleeves and fix the problem. All I could do was follow the treatments and wait on the Lord.

Waiting is difficult because it so often feels like the opposite of doing something. It is the time—the painfully long time— that stands between us and whatever it is we want. As children, we cannot wait for Christmas morning and birthday parties. As teenagers, we feel like we wait forever to finish high school, but then can’t wait to get out of college. As adults, we struggle to wait for our next vacation. We all wait(ed?) for Covid to end and for life to return to normal. But what if every time we waited we did so in a Biblical way?

The Bible has a lot to say about waiting, and it is not what we might expect. Instead of telling us to hurry up and get on with it, the Bible speaks of waiting on the Lord as a virtuous discipline that builds godly character. “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 27:14, see also Psalm 31:24). God’s Word also promises that God will reward our waiting in the end. “Wait for the Lord and keep his way, and he will exalt you to inherit the land; you will look on when the wicked are cut off.” (Psalm 37:34). When wronged, we are to wait instead of taking matters into our hands. “Do not say, ‘I will repay evil’; wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you.” (Proverbs 20:22). Even when God seems not to hear our prayers, we are to keep waiting. “I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him.” (Isaiah 8:17). No matter the situation, we are to wait on the Lord and trust in his faithfulness to keep his promises. “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope.” (Psalm 130:5) And ultimately, we wait for the return of Christ in glory to make all things new in our eternal home. (Philippians 3:20).

If we’re honest, we have a hard time waiting because we have a hard time trusting God instead of ourselves. We might never say it in as many words, but we think we know better—that we know the best timetable and the perfect resolution to whatever it is we’re facing. That’s unfortunately been my attitude at times over the past sixteen months. But if we paused and thought about it even for a moment, we know that cannot be true. I once complained to my seminary professor about it, to which he asked, “Why would you expect things to go perfectly as you intend in while in this fallen state of embodied existence?” That’s seminary-speak for, “Get over yourself already,” and it’s wise counsel. We serve a God who is infinitely wise (Romans 16:27) and can do anything (Luke 1:37). He does as he pleases (Psalm 115:3). Rescued from sin and death in Christ, we are his people and he promises to work all things together for our ultimate good. (Romans 8:28).

Biblical waiting isn’t the opposite of doing something, but is the very definition of trust.

In the course of the last two months, ever so slowly, I began to heal. On Monday, in what seemed impossible to imagine just a few weeks ago, I was officially told it is gone. Praise the Lord. And yet, had God decided to prolong my discomfort and inconvenience, it would have somehow been for my ultimate joy. I learned a lot through this experience. While I already knew the Bible teaches that Biblical waiting is active, I now believe it in a deeper way. Biblical waiting isn’t the opposite of doing something, but is the very definition of trust. It means praying more. It means allowing others to help carry our burdens. It means helping to carry the burdens of others as they wait. It means believing that God will work everything out, perhaps not giving us what we want but always what we need. It means trusting the perfection of his timing, especially when it is quite different from our own.

In the end, throughout this life, we all are waiting all the time. Our Lord promises that he will descend in glory with the cry of the archangel and the sound of the trumpet (1 Thessalonians 4:16). And on that Day, all our painful waiting will come to the most dramatic of ends. But until then, no matter our battle or struggle, may we spend it waiting on and trusting in our blessed Lord.

Waiting for his glorious return,

Pastor Ken