“Hurry up and wait” is a common refrain among new recruits in the armed forces. Drill sergeants—those disciplined masters of expediency—make their trainees live by the motto: “Get where you’re going and get there now!” The results are long waiting periods and a lingering mood of impatient readiness.
Cross-cultural workers often experience a similar kind of impatient readiness when they first arrive on the field. That was true for my family and me. We had prayed and planned for our international relocation for years. We had filled out applications and doctrinal position papers. We read books and attended training. We endured countless emails and interviews. We heard God’s call and followed in obedience. We uprooted our lives and willingly changed addresses. We sold our home and gave away possessions. We kissed everyone we loved goodbye.
But God wasn’t doing miraculous things in our first few weeks on the field. God wasn’t doing anything grand and glorious immediately. We knew he most likely would. But as Isaiah said, the Lord operates according to his timetable, not ours. “His ways are higher than our ways, and his thoughts higher than our thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). Our responsibility is to wait upon the Lord (Psalm 25:5; 27:14; 37:1-7; 62:5-8; Isaiah 40:31; 49:23; Lamentations 3:25; Habakkuk 2:3).
Four Ways to Actively Wait on God
During that time of impatient readiness for my family and me, we had to learn to simply trust that this, too, was part of God’s perfect plan. Four ways of waiting on God we engaged in then are still relevant to our walk with God and the work he has given us:
- We wait in prayer
There is a battle that takes place when we pray. Paul’s admonition to put on the “full armor of God” in Ephesians 6:11-18 has direct application to preparing for the fight that happens when we pray. It is no accident that prayer is a core value of our sending agency, the IMB. Paul taught the believers in Thessalonica: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, ESV). There is never a time in which Christ’s followers are not under orders to be in prayer. This command is in force whether we are waiting for clarity of direction or waiting to see fruit from our labors. Our clear instruction is to pray at all times—especially when we are eagerly waiting for Christ’s Kingdom to advance. The priority while waiting for the unfolding of greater purpose, clarity, and fruitfulness in missionary endeavors is to wait in prayer.
Pray at all times—especially when eagerly waiting for
Christ’s Kingdom to advance.
- We wait without preconceived notions
Too often, we think we know what God should do in a given situation. Waiting on him, however, means we surrender all our preconceived notions. The apostle Peter was, unfortunately, an example of impatience and He showed us that disaster awaits when we take control of a situation with our limited understanding. Before his crucifixion, Christ warned Peter that “Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:31-32, ESV). Peter’s abrupt, self-confident reply was, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death” (Luke 22:33, ESV), to which Jesus responded, “I tell, you Peter, the rooster will not crow this day until you deny three times that you know me” (Luke 22:34, ESV). Things don’t end well when we depend on our own strength to tackle every obstacle. Even trained, equipped, and prepared missionaries—some with years of ministry experience—must fully repent of charting our own course, making our own decisions, and relying on our own conclusions. We must come in humble surrender to the Spirit of the living God and follow Jesus. His plans were set down before the foundation of the earth. We can trust him.
- We wait in faith
God is in control of every circumstance, and his will cannot be thwarted. “Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases” (Psalm 115:3, NASB). God is not stymied nor puzzled by our individual situations. We can rest assured that he is at work, bringing the greatest glory to his name and teaching us in the process. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, ESV). Knowing his divine sovereignty over every detail of life, we can trust in him even though the lack of tangible results from our labors may be discouraging.
- We wait with confident patience
While most of us cringe at the thought of learning patience—since we know learning it usually demands that we experience circumstances which try one’s patience—God does expect us to learn to wait patiently on him. “I waited patiently for the Lord and he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord” (Psalm 40:1-3, NASB). When we pray and seek God’s face our faith is strengthened and our confidence in God’s reign over the affairs of men is so empowered by his Spirit that we can quietly and patiently wait upon the Lord to bring about his purpose in sending us to the nations.
Gene Lee and his wife are self-supporting professionals serving as mobilized Christians with an IMB team in the Middle East after pastoring SBC churches in Texas, Georgia, and Tennessee for thirty-three years.
For more information about how to set a sustainable course for crossing cultures with the gospel, listening, and waiting, check out The First 30 Daze: Practical Encouragement for Living Abroad Intentionally.