Though we all know the feeling of waiting, outdoorsmen are among the most well-acquainted with it. Good fishermen are not those who are constantly catching fish, but those who know how to wait for the prize catch. Good hunters are not those who come back with a deer after every hunt, but those who know how to wait for the trophy buck.
But the best outdoorsmen are not those who simply wait on the prize, but those who have learned to be content as they wait. They are pleased to troll their boat through the glass-like water of the early morning. They have a quiet satisfaction in watching the morning routine of the woodland creatures. The joy of such outdoorsmen is not simply in the object of their waiting, but in the waiting itself.
And that is how the Lord would have us wait on him.
We all wait. We wait every day, in fact. But there are only certain things that would make us say with the psalmist, “My soul waits” (Psalms 62, 130). When the psalmist says, “My soul waits,” he is in a situation of waiting that has been prolonged and difficult. As a pastor labors faithfully day after day to see little to no fruit in his people, his soul waits. As a woman with chronic pain cannot find relief, her soul waits. As a businessman wears himself ragged with no apparent return on investment of time and money, his soul waits.
But, of course, the psalmist does not simply direct us to wait, but to wait on the Lord. His own fruitless attempts to change things have only proven his inability to fix his circumstances. He is stuck! So the only thing for him to do is to wait on the rescue of his God.
But as we said earlier about the outdoorsman, we are meant to have contentment in the meantime. Though our joy will be consummated with the arrival of the Lord on the scene, we are meant to rejoice in the Lord always (Phil 4:4), even while we wait. Waiting in the Psalms is never an easy, passive, idle thing. Waiting is always coupled with active faith in the promises of our trustworthy God.
In Psalm 62, for instance, as David waits on the Lord he repeatedly reminds himself of such promises. His inability to change the situation is not worthy of despair, because rescue comes from the Lord (v. 1). Even though his circumstances seem unstable, there is Someone he can cling to who will never be moved: the Lord, his “mighty rock” (v. 7). The Lord is a present “refuge,” a Mighty Counselor who listens as you “pour out your heart before him” (v. 8). And for those of us who are tempted to think that our sins are the reason for the Lord’s delay, we are reminded, “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. I wait for the Lord…” (Psalm 130:3-5a). The difference between biblical waiting and unbiblical waiting is not the presence of strong emotions (stress, grief, desire).
The difference is what you do with those emotions. Waiting with faith means presenting those emotions to the Lord, that he may meet you personally in them. Waiting without faith means refusing to be satisfied with anything except the object of your desire. Even good desires can become ruling desires, which then hijack our affection from the only One who deserves such praise.
I remember as a child wanting to kill my first deer so badly. The first time I saw a deer in the wild, my legs shook so much with nerves that the deer stand started to rattle. I went many times and waited many hours before I was finally able to get one. But looking back, do you know what I treasure most? Not the joy of the kill, the bragging rights, or the venison chili. No, what I treasure most is the time spent in the stand with my dad, waiting. While waiting, I learned to see nature through his eyes. While waiting, he taught me what it means to just be. And when I’d get tired of waiting, he’d let me put my head down in his lap and sleep, while he waited on my behalf.
Though not a perfect analogy, this is how we are meant to wait on the Lord. As we wait on the Lord to relieve our suffering, we learn to see our suffering through his eyes. By finding joy in him while we await answers to our prayers, our desires are purified of their idolatry. If we wait biblically – that is, actively and faithfully – in the end we find far greater treasure than the object we originally desired. We find the Lord himself.