Still Waiting? Try “Waiting on the Lord”

November 2, 2013

Yesterday I suggested that “waiting for” sets the church up for spiritual temptation, either to divert from The Main Thing or to give up altogether. I suppose congregations that are in an interim period between pastors face these temptations, and that is why it is a good thing to be led by a skilled interim pastor during such a phase. But churches waiting for the wheels of Presbytery Process to grind are also challenged to keep going in the meantime, but how?

We often ask the question, “What are we waiting for?” but perhaps the better query would be “What are we waiting on?” What prompts this line of inquiry is the KJV/NASB translation of Isaiah 40:30, “They that wait upon the Lord will renew their strength . . .” In Hebrew, the word means, “wait in focused anticipation.”

In a time of prayerful discernment—slowed by “process” or thwarted by obstacles—God declares that we will find strength by waiting on the Lord. A period of forced inactivity or rest is disquieting to an athlete who is itchy to get back to his or her daily workouts. But forced rest is also the opportunity to strengthen the mind, the motivation, and the mettle for future competition. I think about my baseball hero, Giants catcher Buster Posey, who was out for one year with a severe ankle injury. He returned to help San Francisco win the World Series in 2012. Was he ready? You bet! But only because that entire year was programmed to help him regain his strength and light the fire in his belly.

In the same way, a congregation on the ecclesiastical disabled list has the opportunity to gather its resources and its inner strength for the moment when the gates are lifted and the King of Glory beckons it forward again.

But what do I mean by “waiting on the Lord”? I’ve found it helpful to observe a really good wait-staff at a local restaurant. A fine waiter focuses his attention on the customer and has learned to read non-verbal signals of satisfaction or need. The really good ones don’t even have to ask, “Is everything all right here?” or “Do you need anything more?” They just know and unobtrusively minister the dinner graces that make such a meal memorable.

What would it look like for us, as individuals and congregations in an ecclesiastical holding pattern, to wait on God? To wait in focused anticipation in this context means actively cultivating—at all levels of the organization—a renewed intimacy with our Savior and a commitment to follow in Christ’s footsteps. It means taking the time to review our doctrine and to revive ministry skills. It means keeping an eye on what God is looking at, never losing sight of the people around us who need Jesus, and standing ready to respond to their spiritual, emotional, and physical needs.

Think about the severe conundrum faced by the Lutheran Church in Germany during Hitler’s rise to power. Much of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s frustration was directed at his own church, which was so enamored of the Chancellor that it capitulated doctrinally. Bonhoeffer, seeing the official church compromise its core beliefs in order to remain legitimate in the state’s eyes, kept his focus on training new pastors. His way of waiting on God was to form a secret seminary, invest in the lives of future preachers, and to respond to the faulty theology that was undermining the church’s witness. Even imprisoned, his writing kept him focused on The Main Thing and left for us a grand legacy of spiritual reading.

The test of our effectiveness at waiting on the Lord is our readiness, when the time is complete, to move forward in strength and conviction. It is a sign of great faith when a church and its leaders can keep moving toward The Main Thing in every way possible, so that when the restrictions are lifted, they are in place and ready to go with the next step in mission. That goal, generically speaking, is to manifest the Kingdom of God where we are, to proclaim the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and to make known the mysteries of his will to this generation.

On a personal level, waiting on God when life seems up in the air is a particularly strengthening faith discipline. In some sense, I feel I have been waiting for seven years, but only if I think in terms of waiting for: waiting for a new pastoral call, waiting for a stable teaching contract, waiting for the PC(USA) to reclaim its orthodox heritage.  But all along, moved by circumstances into a quiet lifestyle, God has been strengthening me inwardly. And though I might not have been aware of it during those seven years, the spiritual workout this represents has prepared me for whatever is to come, even this week. No matter what direction the Lord wants to propel me, I am assured as one who has been waiting on the Lord that all will be well and I will be effective and ready. So bring it on, Lord!


5 Responses to “Still Waiting? Try “Waiting on the Lord””

  1. Viola Larson Says:

    Mary you write many encouraging and thoughtful blog posts; this is the very best. Thank you, may we all wait in the manner you have stated. The Lord’s fruitful and unending blessings upon you.

  2. Bruce Pope Says:

    Ur cookin on all 4 burners! P.S. “The Eternal Now” The bliss of the animals lies in this, that, on their lower level, they shadow the bliss of those-few at any moment on the earth-who do not “look before and after, and pine for what is not” but live in the holy carelessness of the eternal now. George MacDonald (Sir Gibbie. Chapter 2)

  3. emd5542 Says:

    Revmary, you are an unrelenting voice for God’s truth. Your blog is but one instrument. My prayer is that your voice will continue unimpeded for decades to come as is the Lord’s pleasure. Thanks be to God. Eleanor Duffield

  4. Paul Says:

    Is it a learning from Bonhoeffer to conclude that disengagement from an errant institution is necessary in order to be about the business of the Main Thing?

    • Jodie Says:


      The differences between the State Church under Adolf Hitler and the one of many denominations represented by the PCUSA cannot be overemphasized. Just because it was clear to Bonhoeffer that it was necessary to disengage from the Right Wing State Church of NAZI Germany (even members of the German military had grave doubts about Hitler’s Party and his leadership) does not mean that we should all be giving ourselves permission to declare everyone we disagree with theologically and ideologically as anathema. We should also give allowance to the possibility that we are the ones who are in the wrong, slim as those chances may be. So no, it is not a learning from Bonhoeffer that disengagement is “necessary”.

      If anything should be learned, it is that it is always possible to remain joyfully faithful to Jesus Christ, with honor and dignity, no matter what is going on around you, and no matter how bad your personal circumstances can be.


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