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Waiting on the Lord

By Stephen Green

First Published in Christian Voice April 2012

Psalm 27:14 Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.

Psalm 37:34 Wait on the LORD, and keep his way, and he shall exalt thee to inherit the land: when the wicked are cut off, thou shalt see it.

Proverbs 20:22 Say not thou, I will recompense evil; but wait on the LORD, and he shall save thee.

Most of us when thinking about the expression ‘Wait on the Lord’ assume that a great degree of patience is involved. We have scriptures in mind like this one:

Habakkuk 2:3 For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.

The importunate widow in Luke 18 kept on and on at the unrighteous judge asking to be avenged until he eventually relented. The Lord Jesus was teaching us not to give up in prayer, even though the answer may appear to be delayed. Even then the Lord went on to say that God will avenge the elect ‘speedily’:

Luke 18:7 And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? 8 I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?

We need faith when persevering in prayer. Many people spend a lifetime praying for their partner or for their children, for neighbours, for revival, and these prayers made importunately, or persistently, need faith and they need patience.

But let us return to the subject of ‘Waiting on the Lord’. Most studies on this subject emphasise the need for patience. The Lord is not limited to time and space, they rightly say:

2Pet 3:8 But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.

The studies speak of our unwillingness to wait, of us being in too much of a hurry, likening ‘waiting on the Lord’ to the time we might spend in a doctor’s waiting room, or at the bus station. Slow down, they say, and give the Lord time. Wait for the Lord’s reply. These studies are consistent with a version of Christianity in which the idea of doing anything about a matter except pray is greeted with surprise and even derision. ‘Leave it to the Lord’. ‘Be still’. ‘Do nothing but wait; He will answer.’

There are very few people like that in the Bible. The man who wrote the two psalms with which we opened, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, was a man of action. We read about what he did in the Lord’s service. So I believe there is more to this ‘waiting on the Lord’ than patience and quietude.

The Hebrew word translated ‘wait’ is ‘qavah’ which Strong’s dictionary says means ‘to bind together (perhaps by twisting), that is, collect; (figuratively) to expect: – gather (together), look patiently, tarry, wait (for, on, upon).’

The word translated ‘on’ is ‘el ‘el’ which is a ‘primitive particle, properly denoting motion towards, but occasionally used of a quiescent position’.

So these words have been well translated as ‘wait on’ in the KJV and many other Bible versions.

But waiting ‘on’ the Lord is not the same as waiting ‘for’ the Lord and this is where I think most of the studies have it wrong. There are two different meanings of the word ‘wait’ according to whether it is qualified by the ‘on’ or the word ‘for’. In that doctor’s waiting room or at the bus stop we are waiting ‘for’ someone or something, not waiting ‘on’ them.

I believe the analogy should not be the hospital, it should be the restaurant. In a restaurant there are waiters. Their job, we might assume from their name, is to wait. But they do not wait around. They are busy people. They are moving purposely from one table to another, taking instructions.

They say things like: ‘May I take your order Madam?’ ‘Are you ready to order yet, Sir?’ ‘May I bring you something to drink?’ ‘Would you like to see the desert menu?’ ‘Is everything to your satisfaction?’

Her Majesty the Queen has ‘Ladies in Waiting’. They are not waiting patiently somewhere on the off-chance that Her Majesty might grant them a request. They are servants carrying out orders, just like the waiters in the restaurant. They fetch and carry, lay out clothes, answer letters, take messages. They attend to Her Majesty’s needs. They do as she tells them.

So we see that to ‘wait on’ someone is quite different from to ‘wait for’ someone. Yes, those waiters are waiting for you to order. They are waiting for you to make up your mind. But their whole motivation is to wait on you, to be eager to take your instructions, so they can go away and fulfill your order, make it a reality and bring it back to you.

And that is exactly what Jesus taught in his parables of the talents. The Lord gives his instructions to his servants and expects them to do what he says. He expects to see results when he returns. In the word used in Luke 19:13, we are to occupy ourselves, and perhaps even occupy the land, as useful and faithful servants, just like the Levites who waited on the priests in the temple:

1Chr 23:28 Because their office was to wait on the sons of Aaron for the service of the house of the LORD, in the courts, and in the chambers, and in the purifying of all holy things, and the work of the service of the house of God;

Those Levites were about the Lord’s business, waiting on the priests for their orders. So I am suggesting that too much of today’s prayer lies in telling God our needs and too little of it is in listening out for instructions.

If we are really ‘waiting on the Lord’ we need to be like the waiters at the table. ‘Lord, are you ready to give me an order?’ ‘Where do you want me to go?’ ‘Lord, there is this situation, what should I do?’ Especially at a time when our nation needs to hear Christian witness and see Christian care for the needy, we should be willing servants, open to whatever our King wants us to do. Waiting on the Lord is not to be passive but busy.

To hear the Lord’s voice properly, we shall need to be keeping his way, as Psalm 37.34 tells us. Unless our mind is tuned in to the Lord’s mind, which means studying, praying and meditating his word in Scripture, we shall never hear his voice.

But when we receive the answers to those prayers, we shall need the courage spoken of in Psalm 27.14 above. The Lord will probably take us right out of our comfort zone and tell us to do something we have never done before. And as we carry out his orders he will strengthen our hearts and we shall see his victories over his enemies and ours, as Proverbs 20:22 implies, and the wicked cut off.

I am not against patience. We need it when presenting petitions against the odds. But does not the Lord need rather more patience, sitting there at table waiting for his people to get off their backsides, stop their chatting and come across and say, ‘Lord, may I take your order?’

The Lord is looking for those like Isaiah to say, ‘Here am I Lord, send me.’

That is true waiting on the Lord, in my humble opinion.

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14 comments

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  1. Pat

    This is perfectly true that there is a big difference in the two of these, thank you for drawing this to my attention, I now know the difference. I just never thought on this before but I agree on what is said here.

  2. Stuart Wall

    Amen.

  3. Bob W

    I also recall David waiting for the ‘rustling in the trees’ prior to entering battle. The tactics may not be orthodox, the battle tactics wil involve planning in the waiting. The timing has to be His, there will be a moed ‘appointed time’. Then be ready to strike ! To make the most affect the timing has to be right. There is great benefit in wainting.

  4. Ian G

    Absolutely, and clearly expressed. I’ve met far too many ‘waiters on the Lord’ who were just plain idle.

  5. David

    Brother please remove the link in the comment above as it promotes the Mormon church!!!

    Thank you for this encouragement to wait upon the Lord.

  6. Michael Cuncannon

    A well thought out lesson. Something to think about and apply. Thank you.

  7. John Garratt

    Dear Stephen,
    I totally agree. I have been preaching for many years that waiting on the Lord is active not passive and used the analogy of a moving ship is easier to steer than a stationary one (even if going in the wrong direction).

    Yours in Jesus,

    John Garratt

  8. Graham Wade

    Dear Stephen
    I agree with your point. In the sense you consider it seems ‘wait on the LORD’ could be paraphrased:
    “Look to the LORD, patiently expecting His instruction, and then act upon that instruction” – like the waiter.This leads on to the question “How do we hear this instruction from the LORD?” God has promised to give it (Ps 32.8).

    Of course sometimes ‘wait on the LORD’ does mean WAIT in the sense of resting a matter with Him and letting Him deal with it (Ps 37.7).

    And sometimes ‘waiting for the LORD’ means ‘trusting in the LORD’ for strength to do the task ahead (Isa 40.31, 30.15). I have always assumed ‘trust’ here in place of ‘wait’.

    So I think there are at least three ways to ‘wait on the LORD’

    Graham

  9. lisa

    So amazing! Last night I was crying out to God & today, He has answered via the article & associated comments. I am a proactive person, but when seems to just stand still, then what do you do? What do you do when you’re waiting for instruction but it’s silent? When you are not getting the next instruction or order? What happens when other waiters are used & you are just waiting, pencil in hand?

    Last night, I believe God gave me Job 23:8-10 for those times when it seems you’re being overlooked & forgotten, even as you stand in the place He has led you. Verse 10 comforts me on the waiting period, “But He knows the way that I take (He knows where I am!!)”.

    Thanks for encouraging me to hold on & wait for my next order & instruction to arrive!
    God bless. Lisa

  10. PETER NG'OLA OWITI

    I get the point in its practical sense. Most of us think waiting is passive but you have clarified. I may add that going through the rosary as you wait on or praying or medicating are some of the things we can do as we wait on.
    Regards

    1. Stephen

      If you are Roman Catholic, dear Peter! But thank you for your comment.

  11. frank

    The essence of miacles seems to be timing.
    Joshua probably didn’t know anything about techtonic plates, the earthquake at Jerico would have happened anyway, but if he hadn’t turned up on cue with his trumpet, inspired by his faith, it wouldn’t have disuaded the locals to stop persecuting Joshua’s tribe. And it wouldn’t have saved his people. On the contrary, the jerrys would probably gone on more raids against him to secure funds for the restoration of the city.
    Never surrender to tyrants. If you’re not dead, it’s no use lyng down, they wont leave you in peace.

  12. Simon

    Thanks for your thoughtful message.
    Since January this year I have stepped back from ‘Church’ or ‘Doing Church.’
    Like others I know, we can become so busy that our focus is far from where it should be.
    I believe I am in a season of waiting and being still before the Lord; it’s a time of healing and change.
    So am I waiting ‘on’ or ‘for’ The Lord?

    1. Stephen

      Hi Simon,

      Well, I believe waiting upon the Lord is to expect him to show you what to do, just like a waiter, hovering at the table for his orders. You may have to wait for his orders, but you are expecting them to come.

      I sympathise with any need for healing, which may take time. Equally, in its context, ‘be still and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46:10) is to remember the majesty of God. I don’t see it as an encouragement to meditation and contemplation, although there is nothing wrong in those. The verse in full is: ‘Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth’.

      As to being busy, maybe the trick is to remember the Lord even in the midst of ‘business’. Or if we can’t, as General Sir Jacob Astley prayed before the battle of Edgehill: “O Lord, Thou knowest how busy I must be this day; if I forget Thee, do not Thou forget me;”

      Finally, I encourage anyone, everyone, to be in fellowship with other believers. As long as the teaching is not downright heretical, we all need the humility to listen and we all need the support of our fellows.

      The early church, ‘continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers’. (Acts 2:42)

      Just look at the context of the encouragement to meet together in Hebrews 10:25:

      Heb 10:23 Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) 24 And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: 25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. 26 For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, 27 But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.

      I hope that helps a bit!

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