The Christian Life is a Waiting Life

Promises, by definition, require waiting.

If I approach my friend and promise him a coffee tomorrow, my friend needs to wait. His confidence in receiving that promised coffee will draw from the strength of our friendship and his understanding of my trustworthiness.

On the other hand, if I walk up to my friend and hand him a coffee, there’s no waiting required. My friend might need to find cream and sugar, or to express gratitude, but he does not need to wait. The gift is in his hands.

Christianity rests on promises from God to his people. Therefore, waiting is an essential part of life for those who follow Jesus.

Many Words for Waiting

So many words that are foundational to the Christian life imply waiting: patience, endurance, steadfastness, hope, faith, and trust. I’m sure the list could go on.

Waiting for God has been a central part of relating to him since the early pages of the Bible. Consider the call of Abram.

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1–3)

After his commands, all of God’s verbs to Abram are in the future tense. A bit later in the story, Abram learns that God’s promises to him extend way past his lifetime. That’s serious waiting!

Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” (Genesis 15:12–16)

But God’s call to wait extends far beyond Abraham. It is so central to a believer’s experience that we find it all over the Psalms.

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
for my hope is from him.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my salvation and my glory;
my mighty rock, my refuge is God. (Psalm 62:5–7)

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
And he will redeem Israel
from all his iniquities. (Psalm 130:5–8)

In 1 Thessalonians, Paul includes waiting in his short summary of the Christian calling.

For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. (1 Thessalonians 1:9–10)

Similarly, when Paul explains the way that God’s grace sanctifies God’s people, he writes that grace teaches us to wait.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ (Titus 2:11–13)

Once I started to think about waiting as a fundamental Christian task, I realized that it is everywhere. (See also: James 5:7 and 2 Peter 3:11–14.)

God is Patient

In learning to wait, we are becoming more like our patient God. We are more fully reflecting his image.

Notice all of the “waiting” words included in how God describes himself to Moses on Mt. Sinai.

The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6–7)

As the perfect image of his father, Jesus also was (and is) patient.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1–2)

May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ. (2 Thessalonians 3:5)

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:15–16)

How to Wait

If our calling to wait is clear, it isn’t particularly easy. I don’t know many people who enjoy waiting or who would claim to be good at it!

That passage in Hebrews 12 (quoted above) provides great instruction on how to become more patient. We will be able to run the race with endurance by looking to Jesus, who undertook his task with endurance. Jesus serves not just as an example, but as the one who provides the power to change. Patience, after all, is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).

One of the best ways we can grow in patience is to ponder what we are waiting for. We look forward to new heavens, a new earth, a new body, and an existence without the curse of sin. That is all glorious! And, best of all, we will be with God, face to face. God’s dwelling place will be with his people (Revelation 21:3).

Our ability to wait is strengthened by the magnitude of the glory for which we wait. I can stay in place far longer for peach pie than for a paper clip.

So as we meditate on heaven and on God himself, we strengthen our own weak, impatient hearts. We build up patience and endurance in the midst of hardship. And as we ponder God’s very precious promises, we grow our ability to do that most Christian of all things, to wait.

Post credit | Photo credit


God May Postpone Your Relief for His Glory


The beginning of Exodus overflows with the oppression of God’s people. The Egyptians employed slavery, torture, and murder to keep the Hebrew people under foot.

But God’s compassion is equally evident in those chapters. It’s striking to read how God identifies with his people.

During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew. (Exodus 2.23–25)

Then the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land…” (Exodus 3.7–8a)

The details of this story are familiar. God enlists Moses and Aaron in his rescue mission, and by the end of chapter 4 they have traveled back to Egypt from Midian. They are ready to confront Pharoah.

Because God is in control and cares for his suffering people, we might expect Pharoah to fold immediately. God snaps his fingers, and the Israelites drop their bricks and follow Moses out of town.

But that’s not how the story goes. In fact, Pharoah makes his slaves’ lives worse because of Moses’ intervention (Exodus 6). God told Moses that he would harden Pharoah’s heart, and it happens before our eyes.

Why is this? Why doesn’t God give immediate relief to his people?

God is the Lord

When we investigate the Biblical text, we see God is motivated by a concern for his glory.

Before God brings the first plague against Egypt, he tells Moses he will harden Pharoah’s heart. This message isn’t new, but this time we hear God’s design in the hardening.

But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart that I may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 7:3, NASB)

And what’s the purpose of these signs and wonders?

The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the sons of Israel from their midst. (Exodus 7:5, NASB)

God wants the Egyptians to know that he is the Lord. He says he will accomplish this for Pharoah when the Nile turns to blood. (Ex. 7:17)

Instead of an immediate release, God will bring Israel out through great judgments (Ex. 7:4). These plagues will bring glory to God by showing the Egyptians (including Pharoah) that he is the Lord.

Do you feel the tension? As the plagues stretch on, Israel is still in slavery. They still have backbreaking work and unreasonable quotas in front of them every day. I can imagine the people asking, “How long, O Lord?”

Waiting and Faith

God’s deliverance for Israel doesn’t follow our timeline. But this isn’t an issue only for his ancient people.

Consider the young woman struggling with chronic pain. Or the teenager overwhelmed by depression. Or the middle-aged man trapped in a soul-sucking job or a loveless marriage. These people of God cry out for relief. They get no answer and God seems distant and uncaring.

But the beginning of Exodus teaches that God’s compassion isn’t bound to time. He can be full of love and “slow” in providing relief. Before Moses returned to Egypt, it had been 40 years since Israel cried out to God. But Israel had probably been under Egyptian rule for hundreds of years.

God is vitally concerned about his glory, about humanity recognizing him for who he is. This includes the people around us, observing us as we wait for deliverance. It also includes we who wait. Waiting on God is the essence of faith.

We shouldn’t be surprised. After all, Jesus didn’t get relief when he requested it. He didn’t get relief at all. The greatest display of God’s glory (the cross) involved God refusing relief to his own son. God was glorified in not showing compassion to Jesus so that his compassion could be multiplied to the nations.

As you ponder God’s delay, as you wait for his answer, remember that he is with you. He will glorify himself in your waiting.

Thanks for reading! If you’re interested, you can follow me on Twitter, subscribe to this blog by email (see the box on the upper right part of the page), or follow my blog’s RSS feed here.

Photo Credit: Máté Holdosi (2013), public domain

On Patience (part 4): How to Grow in Patience

In this series on patience, we have seen a definition of patience and have observed that God the Father and Jesus are both perfectly patient. We now arrive at the question many ask right away when considering patience: How can I grow in patience?


We should first mention that Jesus is not only an example of patience, but He is the perfect example of patience. However, as with all virtues that we see in Jesus, having an example is not enough. We can watch a pole-vaulter set a record for jumping height and marvel at the example without having the ability to even jump half as high. We need more than an example, we need the power and ability to change.

Patience is listed as a fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22. What does it mean to grow in a fruit of the Spirit? First, it means that we are seeking a fruit of the Spirit, not a fruit of effort, will, or insight. Following Paul’s argument in Galatians 5 seems to indicate that growing in the fruit of the Spirit depends upon “walk[ing] by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16). We should not deny that this takes our effort, but it must be effort that humbly and completely relies upon the Holy Spirit.

There is a passage in Paul’s letter to the Colossians which bears great similarity to the passage in Galatians 5 on the fruit of the Spirit. It will shed some light on our thinking about patience.

12 So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. 14 Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. 15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. (Colossians 3:12–17, NASB)

Note here that Paul locates the organ of patience as the heart. (Indeed, all of these virtues flow out of the heart in the Pauline/biblical worldview.) When we discuss the heart, we are dealing with our wills, desires, emotions, and reasoning, all rolled into one. Let’s look back at this passage above more closely to break Paul’s instruction down, term by term. How do we put on this “heart of…patience”?

  • Forgive others—See v.13
  • Let the peace of Christ rule—See v.15. I take the peace of Christ to refer to peace with God. Because Jesus was crushed for our iniquities, we are no longer enemies of God.
  • Let the Word dwell—See v.16. The word of Christ should not just rule, it should dwell richly within us (the body).
  • Community is important—See v.16 again. This is a group project.

A passage in James will also help us:

7 Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. 8 You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. 9 Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. (James 5:7–9, ESV)

In this passage, patience is directly connected to the work of the Lord. The farmer, when he waits patiently, waits for the Lord to intervene and send rain. With the reference to God as the Judge (v.9), we learn that our patience must be connected to trusting God to set all things right in the judgment day. This theme is repeated in many places in the Bible, with a majority of such passages connected with temporary suffering.

Surely I have only scratched the surface when considering how one can grow in patience! What Biblical advice would you add? Please add to the conversation in the comments.

Photo by Steven | Alan, Creative Commons License

On Patience (part 3): The Patience of Jesus

In this third installment of a series on patience (the first two installments are here and here), we will look at Jesus and the way He demonstrated patience. This is a valuable exercise, since Jesus shows us what the Father is like, and we have seen that God the Father is patient.

Yellow Chair

Was Jesus a patient man? Of course! Let’s look at some of the ways this is captured in Scripture.

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (Hebrews 12:1–3, ESV)

We defined patience earlier as waiting in the midst of suffering. This passage from Hebrews shows that Jesus demonstrated this kind of patience. He endured suffering from sinners, waiting in the midst of it. (Though the English word “patience” isn’t in this Hebrews passage, we connected the idea of endurance to patience in the first post of this series.)

Think about it. The man who was God endured hostility, abuse, and scorn on earth from His creatures. Jesus Himself says at His arrest, “Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53, NASB) The righteous, just retribution that Jesus could have given to those mistreating Him is unfathomable. And yet, He waited.

The example of Jesus’s patience is especially sobering for His followers. The reason that He waited and did not retaliate as He could was because of His mission, appointed by the Father and agreed to by the Son. Instead of doling out punishment, Jesus would absorb it Himself. Instead of crushing His enemies, Jesus would be crushed by His Father for the sake of His enemies.

Lest you think that Jesus’s unique mission makes this display of His patience anything less than an example, we read the following in 1 Peter.

18 Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. 19 For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.

21 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 22 who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; 23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. 25 For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls. (1 Peter 2:18–25, NASB)

The implication in verse 21 is that the patient endurance displayed by a submissive servant, which finds favor with God (v.20), was displayed perfectly as an example for us in Jesus.

We have seen that God is patient and we have now seen that Jesus was patient. We know that we are to be patient as well, so the obvious question is this: How do we get that patience? That’s the subject of the next (and last) post in this series.

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On Patience (part 2): The God of Patience

In a previous post, we defined patience as “waiting in the midst of suffering.” That may work for humans when we’re commanded to show patience to one another, but does it work for God? We know God is patient; does this definition fit for Him?

What evidence do we see of God’s patience in the Scriptures? In 1 Peter 3:20, we read of God’s patience waiting in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. We also read of God’s patience in Romans 2:4 (this verse is emphasized in the quote below).

Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. (Romans 2:1–5, ESV)

In this passage the patience of God only makes sense with His judgment in view (see verse 5). God’s judgment is righteous in punishing sin, and this is not just because a law is being broken. Our sin is not against a law, it is against God. It is an offense to Him. Thus, the patience of God here is connected to His suffering, if we think of His holy, righteous character suffering from the offense given by sin.

A quick note: I do not in any way mean to paint God as cowering, weak, or undone by our sin. But I do not think we can avoid the fact that our sin is offensive to God and that it is personal, not simply legal, to Him.

Patience as an attribute of God is not mentioned by name much in the New Testament beyond the passages surveyed above. What about in the Old Testament? There we find even fewer explicit references to God’s patience. However, we are told much about this aspect of God’s character by the way He reveals His name to His people.

Take, for example, Exodus 34:5–7 where God declares His name.

The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:5–7, ESV)

In fact, the part of God’s name we read in the ESV as “slow to anger” is written in the Septuagint with a Greek word translated “patiently.” God’s patience is so intrinsic to His character that He claims it as part of His name! That is incredible!

Let’s consider one more passage regarding God’s patience.

8 The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities. (Psalm 103:8–10, ESV)

We see that God’s patience is tied to His willingness not only to wait, but to turn his anger aside for a time. The patience of God the Father also opens the door for His mercy—see verse 10 above. Because God is just as well as merciful, we also see that the work of Jesus Christ is in view in this Psalm. In our next installment of this series, we will turn our attention to Jesus and the way He demonstrated patience.

Have you experienced the patience of God? Have you seen it in the Scriptures in places other than what I’ve listed above? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

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On Patience (part 1): Defining Patience

Would you call yourself a patient person? I’ve never met anyone who would. All Christians are growing in each of the fruit of the Spirit, but for most, the difficulty with patience is more visible and frustrating than with other fruit, like gentleness, for example.

Why is it that we struggle so much with impatience? What can we learn from this struggle, and how can we grow in patience?

Briefly, here is the way I’ll approach the topic: we’ll first see that patience is discussed in numerous places in the New Testament and in the process we’ll assemble a working definition. We will then look at the patience of God the Father and the patience of Jesus. Following this, we’ll consider how to grow in patience and what our struggle with impatience reveals about us.

For now, let’s set the stage by considering an example. I know it sounds a bit hokey, but I think it will help if, as you read through this series of posts, you have an example in mind of a recent situation in which you were not patient. When have you lost your temper in the last week? Uncomfortable as it may be, store this in your brain and reflect on it.

The Greek word translated “patience” can also be translated as “endurance,” “steadfastness,” or “perseverance.” Let these instances in Scripture speak to you.

  • In Matt 18:23–35 (the parable of the Unforgiving Servant), patience shows up in verses 26 and 29 in the pleas of the debtors: “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” Note that the debtor has wronged the lender (by not paying on time) and so the plea here is for the lender to wait, to delay taking action (throwing the debtor into prison).
  • Romans 2:4 — “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” Note here that “patience” is parallel with both “kindness” and “forbearance.”
  • The meaning of patience can also be seen in Ephesians 4:2. For some context, here are verses 1–3: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” The phrase “bearing with one another,” which modifies the command to be patient, indicates that patience is a posture available when one is wronged.
  • In Colossians 1:11, “patience” and “endurance” are parallel terms.
  • In 1 Timothy 1:16, Paul talks about the patience of Jesus toward him in mercy. This is in the context of Paul calling himself the foremost of sinners. “But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.”
  • The theme of endurance and waiting comes out in Hebrews 6:11–12 also: “And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”

In an effort to define patience, what have we seen? This is by no means perfect, but here’s my working definition: patience is waiting in the midst of suffering.

Including the word “suffering” in that definition may give you pause, and I’d argue for a broad interpretation of “suffering” to make this definition work. But “waiting” alone seems insufficient. Even the patience displayed by God is because He has been wronged by His creatures. But that’s the topic for the next post.

Does this definition of patience match what you see in the Scriptures? What do you think patience looks like? I’d love to read about it in the comments.

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Impatience and Idolatry

If you want to grow as a Christian, it is crucial that you learn to examine your heart. The sins that we and others notice should be treated as symptoms of a heart condition, not the disease itself. Repenting of these sins of the heart involves identifying and destroying idols.

Usually idols are not inherently evil things but rather good things that we make ultimate things. I’ve read numerous questions over the years designed to help one identify his or her idols, and these can be helpful diagnostic tools, both for individuals and accountability partners. But in preparing for a recent small group Bible study, I ran across a tool I hadn’t seen before.

This Bible study focused on the topic of patience. In Colossians 3:12, we read that we should “put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience…” (NASB) This passage makes a clear connection between patience and the heart, and in preparing this study I had a chance to think more carefully about the practical outworkings of this connection.

When we’re tempted to impatience, it is because of a desire. Some person, situation, or limitation is between me and something I want. Since idols are often overdesires (desiring something so much that it becomes an object of worship), when we are impatient it is often an idol peeking out from under the corners of our heart. We worship the idol more than God, and we sin. We become angry, bitter, resentful, withdrawn, etc., because our idol consumes us and we refuse to wait on the Lord.

There is a helpful corollary to this, then: one way to hunt for idols is to see when you are tempted to impatience. Try to find the related desire that is not being fulfilled, and you won’t be far away from identifying an idol of your heart. Repenting of the sin and tearing down the idol are the next steps, but that should be left for another post.

Perhaps an example would be helpful. When helping my older daughter brush her teeth the other night, she was not working as quickly as I wanted. She was distracted and playful, despite my repeated commands to focus on the task at hand. I quickly became impatient, and while my impatience mostly rumbled beneath the surface, in my heart, it briefly boiled over into angry, short words with my daughter too. Her teeth eventually got clean and my daughter went to bed, but this was not a proud moment for me.

What was the problem? Instead of being happy with this opportunity to spend time with my daughter, I wanted to rest at the end of a long day. And when she didn’t obey? I wanted to be in control, and I thought I deserved her obedience. I was bowing down to the idols of comfort and control, believing lies instead of the truth.

Identifying these idols didn’t happen in the moment of sin, but it was a helpful exercise after the fact. And it has helped me in the days since this incident — by God’s grace, it has been easier for me to wait for and listen to and love my daughter.