Monday, October 12, 2009

To Wait, To Hope

I remember when I first studied the Spanish word "esperar" and learned that two of its meanings were "to wait” and “to hope."

This caught my attention because it occurred to me that there is a direct relationship between waiting and hoping.

When you wait for something you generally have a hope tied to that waiting, else you probably wouldn’t wait for it. Your hope is that the outcome of your waiting will be positive or beneficial.

Of course, people wait for negative outcomes to happen as well, but I realize as I write that this type of waiting is more associated with "worrying,” an activity Jesus warns against, saying “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. (Matthew 6:34).

But back to the positive/hoping kind of waiting: when I think of it, for some reason my childhood visits to Disney World come to mind; in particular waiting for rides in lines that zigzag back and forth until you finally arrive at the spot where it’s your turn.

My favorite ride was the go-carts and it’s no surprise that the cues for this one seemed, at least to me, always to be the longest!

But you know what? The longest lines were probably for the Space and Thunder Mountain roller coasters, but because I was more excited for the go-carts, that one seemed a lot longer, probably, dare I say, definitely, because I wanted it more.

And such it is with our lives: the desires we hold most dear seem to take the longest to be fulfilled. Sometimes they don’t actually take longer, but only appear to do so because the strength of our desire makes us all the more impatient.

There are many dreams we all want out of life, but the ones we want the most are more often at the forefront of our minds and thus require more patience than the smaller desires that more easily slip out of our thoughts.

During so much of our lives God is teaching us patience, teaching us to wait on Him, using these times to prove to both Him and ourselves that He indeed is the number one priority in our lives, that He is more than enough, and that we could live on and actually be fulfilled and content in Him without even getting the things we are hoping and waiting for.

This is not to say that God doesn’t want us to have desires. He actually promises through a Psalm of David, “Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart” (Psalms 37:4).

But it’s in the space in the “in-between,” in the waiting, that we find our struggle and where our faith is tested. Will we actually continue to delight ourselves in the Lord as we wait on these desires that burn so hotly in our hearts?

Abraham experienced such a test. God had promised Abraham that from him would rise a great nation (Genesis 12:2), as many people as the dust of the earth (Genesis 13:16)! When he received that promise he was childless and would remain so for many years.

In fact, from the initial promise to its actual fulfillment in the birth of Isaac, Abraham waited more than twenty years! According to the Holman Bible Dictionary he was 75 when he received the initial promise, and Isaac was actually born when he was 100! And, mind you, his wife Sarah had passed out of her child-bearing years during that span!

Meanwhile, during their many years of waiting both Abraham and Sarah began to lose faith that they would ever have children; their hope diminished so much that Sarah gave him Hagar, her servant, to have a child for him.

It was at that point in their waiting for God’s best that they settled for second-best and in so-doing another group of people came of Abraham’s posterity that would actually become the enemies of the offspring God had originally promised.

Wow, just writing about this one decision and how it affected the entirety of all subsequent world-history is mind-boggling! This was of course the will of God, but it occurred during a lack of or a break in their faith during a time of waiting and hoping.

Yes, Abraham and Sarah lost hope, and therefore were unwilling to wait any longer. How many times have we all done the same? What we must learn from their example is to continue to hope in the Lord’s promises, to be willing to steadfastly wait on them, no matter the length of delay or how circumstances decry the fact that what we’re waiting and hoping for will occur.

How long will you wait for what you’ve asked God for, dear one? Even as I ask the question I know that every person reading this blog is waiting on God for something. And some of those desires are felt desperately. Can you still wait? Can you still hope? Can you “esperar”?

But back to Abraham: even though he and Sarah had compromised in having the child Ishmael through Hagar, God still fulfilled His promise and gave them Isaac. However, as already pointed out, losing their faith had long-term consequences and created short-term problems as well.

Looking to the scriptures one can see all the problems that occurred between Sarah and Hagar as well as between Ishmael and Isaac, and this is why the Lord’s will was to send Hagar and Ishmael away, because they were not part of the initial promise (Genesis 21).

As we consider Abraham and Sarah’s crisis of faith, let’s not be without mercy toward them. Almost every one who is reading this blog has experienced many crises of faith. Let us remember that Abraham was STRONG in faith and is considered the FATHER OF OUR FAITH. If he faltered in his waiting and hoping on the Lord, how much more could we?

So I ask again, in what way, dear one, are you compromising in your faith in terms of the thing(s) you are waiting and hoping on God for? How are you settling for second best when God has something greater for you in store if you’ll only continue to wait and to hope?

Moving on from Abraham, let us now consider Joseph whose early life began with amazing promises through two dreams he had that showed his family members bowing before him (Joseph’s story is found in Genesis 30-50). These dreams, along with the favor his father Jacob showed him, would lead him to believe that he would be the prince or patriarch of his family.

But this favorable outcome was much farther down the road than he would have liked as he was first sold into slavery by his own jealous brothers, then forced to toil for years in the Egyptian Potiphar’s house as his slave, only to be betrayed by Potiphar’s wife and subsequently put into prison for yet more years, punished for crimes he never committed.

How difficult in his circumstances must it have been to continue to hope and wait on the Lord for the fulfillment of the dreams he originally had? Those dreams showed him together with his family, yet during this over ten-year span of time he was decidedly separate from them. At some point, one could speculate he would rather just return to his family and tend sheep than to return caring for any position of leadership among them. He probably just wanted to be free.

Yet during those years he must have maintained his faith in God, so much so that God’s Spirit stayed with him as God gave him the ability to interpret dreams as well as continued to provide favor for Joseph in Potiphar’s house where he was placed in charge of everything (until his betrayal) as well as in the prison where the warden put him in charge of all matters there.

As the years in prison went on Joseph continued in hope as he beseeched the cup bearer for whom he interpreted a dream to remember him to Pharoah. And even though the cup bearer forgot him for more than a year, when Pharoah later had his own dreams that no one in his court could interpret, per the cup bearer’s suggestion, Pharoah called him up from out of the dungeon to see if Joseph could indeed interpret his dream.

And guess what happened next? Before Joseph’s interpretation and counsel to the Pharoah as to what he should do had barely parted his lips, Joseph was rewarded for all his waiting and hoping and in single moment rose from the dungeon to become governor over all of Egypt, second only to Pharoah himself.

As with Abraham, God fulfilled the promise that he had given to Joseph in his youthful dreams, the promise that he would indeed be bowed to by his own family, and this did indeed occur when they came into Egypt to escape the famine that had been foretold by the dreams Joseph interpreted for Pharoah.

One must wonder during all that time in prison just how much Joseph questioned the initial dreams God gave him about others bowing to him and surely there were moments when he attributed them to his own mind and ego. I bet there were times when he even laughed at those dreams as much as Sarah laughed when the angels of God told Abraham she would have a child at 90 years of age (Genesis 18:12).

It can be hard not to laugh at the promises of God when circumstances are such that they seem impossible. But as the angel asked in response to Sarah’s laugh, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Genesis 18:14) I ask this question of all of us in our own difficult circumstances. Surely we all know the answer to this is no, but how many of us in the low points of life still hold onto the promises of God without wavering? How many of us are at the door of being called up out of the dungeon into something brand new?

Yet the times of waiting and hoping are those when our metal is tested, when what is at the core of our character is most brought to the surface. The points in our lives where things are hardest and seemingly unbearable we find what’s on the inside, be it good or bad, and it shines forth.

God is trying to grow us and to show us that when things are hard, He is still the same. He is still worth waiting on, worth hoping on. He is still more than enough.

God also revealed this pattern of proving mankind through times of waiting when He saved Israel out of Egypt and took them into the desert where there was no readily available food. There, He said to Moses, “…Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or no” (Exodus16:4).

Instead of immediately giving them the promised land which was teaming with food as it was called the “land of milk and honey,” the Hebrews would have to settle for manna each and every day out in the desert as part of a testing process to see if they could be content and obey God. If they could obey in such times of leanness, how much more could they during the times of blessing?

God wants to know that we love Him above everything else. The only way we can prove that to Him is to love Him above the thing(s) we are waiting and hoping on Him to perform, and to love Him even when those things we desire seem so far out of reach.

As the writer in Hebrews 11:32 points out, the time would fail him to tell of all the people who waited and hoped on God as recorded in scripture, but I would be remiss if I failed to mention David, who waited on God more than fifteen years after the time Samuel anointed him king until the time that he was actually crowned. Not to mention the fact that throughout those years many attempts were made on his life and he was living on the run in the wilderness (talk about Man vs. Wild or Survivorman!), biding his time. I bet he wasn’t feeling much like a king then. And yet, for all that time of waiting and hoping the promise was indeed fulfilled.

Just remember as you “esperar” (the Spanish word that started our article that means “to wait” or “to hope”) that God is the One that determines the times and seasons in our lives. We cannot force His hand; we can’t make Him do anything. If we try to take that control, we will only find negative consequences. Just ask Abraham about that. Certainly if he could have changed anything in all his life it would have been to wait on God to fulfill the promise of a child through his wife Sarah and not through Hagar.

All of us have had moments in our lives where we were waiting on God for something and we tried to take the reins and as a result messed things up royally. Let’s repent of those past errors in judgment and do our very best not to wrest control of our lives away from God anymore.

Let’s beseech Him to lead us and let us be willing followers of His leading. Let us also wholly commit to doing so no matter if our hopes and dreams are fulfilled or not, because in the end, this temporal present world will only remain as it is for a short while. We will either die before it changes or we will see the return of the Lord when everything will be made right. Either way, in eternity our earthly desires will seem small in comparison as the bliss of everlasting life overtakes the pain, tears and sorrow of this life.

So, let us continue to patiently wait and hope on the Lord in the meantime, knowing that He is faithful to fulfill His promises toward us and that waiting and hoping on Him is always worth it. Let us also remember that,

But without faith [it is] impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6).


Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD” (Psalm 27:14).

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