Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.
One of the things that gets us in trouble more than anything else is impatience. There is a story in 1 Samuel 13 about the impatience of King Saul. Saul was faced with the threat of a mighty Philistine army. He had been instructed to wait for Samuel to come to him before he took any action, but he got impatient and pressed ahead on his own. His actions had long term consequences.
1 Samuel 13:5-15
The Philistines assembled to fight Israel, with three thousand chariots, six thousand charioteers, and soldiers as numerous as the sand on the seashore. They went up and camped at Micmash, east of Beth Aven. When the men of Israel saw that their situation was critical and that their army was hard pressed, they hid in caves and thickets, among the rocks, and in pits and cisterns. Some Hebrews even crossed the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead.
Saul remained at Gilgal, and all the troops with him were quaking with fear. He waited seven days, the time set by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul's men began to scatter. So he said, "Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings." And Saul offered up the burnt offering. Just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived, and Saul went out to greet him.
"What have you done?" asked Samuel.
Saul replied, "When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Micmash, I thought, 'Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the Lord's favor.' So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering."
"You acted foolishly," Samuel said. "You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the Lord's command."
Then Samuel left Gilgal and went up to Gibeah in Benjamin, and Saul counted the men who were with him. They numbered about six hundred.
Waiting is hard. It makes us nervous. We feel unproductive. We feel compelled to do something! That is exactly how Saul felt. He had to do something, but he chose the wrong thing. There are some lessons that we can learn from Saul’s experience.
1. Impatience causes us to make rash decisions.
One of the corollaries to impatience is frustration. The longer we have to wait for something the more frustrated we become. Our frustration can turn into motivation to do something right now. “I can’t wait any longer!” When we act out of frustration, we live to regret our actions. As the old saying goes, act in haste, repeat at leisure.
2. The wise course of action is the wait on God’s timing.
Waiting is an act of faith. When we get impatient, we are really saying that we do not trust God. We begin to doubt that God is paying attention to our situation. That is dangerous territory. If we want our plans to succeed, we need to wait on God’s timing.
Many are the plans in a man's heart,
but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails.
3. Use our time of waiting to prepare for action.
Saul’s focus was on his enemy instead of on the Lord. The reason (possibly) that his army was beginning to lose heart, was that their leader was losing heart. He could have spent that time preparing his men for the challenge before him. He could have strengthened their resolve by turning their eyes toward the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Instead, he allowed the enemy to dominate their sight.
God never wastes time. When God calls us to wait, He wants us to use that time to prepare us for what is ahead. Active waiting is a time to sharpen our skills, focus our efforts, and seek God’s direction.
When I was in high school, I felt called by God to go into missions. I set my sights on attaining that goal. As I moved toward that goal, on several occasions, God put up a stop sign and called on me to wait. During my time in college, a dynamic speaker came to campus and challenged us to leave school and follow him into the mission field. God’s clear message to me was wait. When I finished my degree, I considered my next step toward my goal. God made it clear that I was not ready, so I was called upon to wait again. In seminary, God made it clear to me why He had called me to wait, because He was calling me in a different direction. Instead of missions, He was calling me into pastoral ministry. Even then, the call to wait was not over. Half way through my time in seminary the pastor from my home church contacted me and invited me to come home and be his associate, with the goal of stepping into his position when he retired. The clear message from God was wait. I declined and God opened the door for me to serve Him as an associate in a church in Minnesota. I could go on, but you get the picture. My point is that appropriate preparation is not a waist of time, it is essential. God is not in a hurry and we should not be as well.
There is a group of flowers that fall under the name of impatiens. I’m not sure why they were given that name, because nothing that I could find suggests that they are impatient. But maybe they can remind us of an important truth. If we want our lives to blossom and flower for Christ, we need to be patient. If we will exercise the faith to wait on the Lord, the outcome will be productive, fruitful, and beautiful.
I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear
and put their trust in the Lord.