The season of Advent is a time three-fold longing: we remember the longing for the Messiah to come, we long for His Second Coming, and we long for Him to come to us in our lives today. For me, the past few years have been an extended period of longing, as my family and I wait for the Lord to show us where to go next. It has been a difficult season, but the Lord has taught me three things about waiting.
Lesson #1: Even the Called Wait
The first was from a letter by John Newton, the 18th Century slave-trader turned Anglican priest who wrote Amazing Grace. While explaining the signs that one is called to the ministry, he writes:
[The third evidence of] a proper call, is a correspondent opening in providence, by a gradual train of circumstances pointing out the means, the time, the place of actually entering upon the work…. If it be the Lord’s will to bring you into his ministry, he has already appointed your place and service, and though you know it not at present, you shall at a proper time. If you had the talents of an angel, you could do no good with them till his hour is come, and till he leads you to the people whom he has determined to bless by your means. It is very difficult to restrain ourselves within the bounds of prudence here, when our zeal is warm: a sense of the love of Christ upon our hearts, and a tender compassion for poor sinners, is ready to prompt us to break out too soon; but he that believeth shall not make haste. I was about five years under this constraint; sometimes I thought I must preach, though it was in the streets. I listened to everything that seemed plausible, and to many things which were not so. But the Lord graciously, and as it were insensibly, hedged up my way with thorns…I can now see clearly, that at the time I would first have gone out, though my intention was, I hope, good in the main, yet I overrated myself, and had not that spiritual judgment and experience which are requisite for so great a service.
If Lord had the great John Newton wait 5 years for a ministry opportunity, then I am in good company.
Lesson #2: Meet with the Suffering God While You Wait
Next, I came upon this quote in Henri Nouwen’s Discernment:
In our mostly active lives and fast-paced culture, waiting is not a popular pastime. It is not something we anticipate or experience with great joy. In fact, most of us consider it a waste of time. Perhaps this is because the culture in which we live is basically saying, “Get going! Do something! Show you are able to make a difference! Don’t just sit there and wait.”
How do we wait for the promise to be fulfilled? We wait with patience. But patience does not mean passivity. Waiting patiently is not like waiting for the bus to come, the rain to stop, or the sun to rise. It is an active waiting in which we live the present moment to the fullest in order to find there the signs of the one we are waiting for. A waiting person is a patient person. The word patience comes from the Latin verb patior, which means “to suffer.” Waiting patiently is suffering through the present moment, tasting it to the fullest in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us. When we know that we are God’s beloved and we are free to live in the house of love, all patience is co-patience— suffering with the suffering God, thus suffering and compassion that give birth to new life.
So even if I accepted the fact that I need to wait, I can’t just be resigned to it. As Victor Shepherd says, “You need to wait on the Lord, but don’t wait around.” I mustn’t flee the unpleasant present to dwell in a future I hope for. No, Nouwen urged me to live fully in the now, patiently searching for whatever hidden thing that may be revealed. Happily, I don’t wait alone – my suffering Lord waits with me.
Lesson #3: Undertake the Duties of the Season
Finally, on a day I was particularly frustrated about having to wait, I encountered this gem in C.H. Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening (The morning reading for December 1st):
Winter in the soul is by no means a comfortable season, and if it be upon thee just now it will be very painful to thee: but there is this comfort, namely, that the Lord makes it. He sends the sharp blasts of adversity to nip the buds of expectation: he scattereth the hoarfrost like ashes over the once verdant meadows of our joy: he casteth forth his ice like morsels freezing the streams of our delight. He does it all, he is the great Winter King, and rules in the realms of frost, and therefore thou canst not murmur. Losses, crosses, heaviness, sickness, poverty, and a thousand other ills, are of the Lord’s sending, and come to us with wise design. Frosts kill noxious insects, and put a bound to raging diseases; they break up the clods, and sweeten the soil. O that such good results would always follow our winters of affliction!
How we prize the fire just now! how pleasant is its cheerful glow! Let us in the same manner prize our Lord, who is the constant source of warmth and comfort in every time of trouble. Let us draw nigh to him, and in him find joy and peace in believing. Let us wrap ourselves in the warm garments of his promises, and go forth to labours which befit the season, for it were ill to be as the sluggard who will not plough by reason of the cold; for he shall beg in summer and have nothing.
While I’m not sure that I fully agree that the Lord is the author of all suffering, I do believe He is visiting this particular winter season upon me, for my ultimate good. Comforted by this, in the meantime I am to stay close to Christ and do what I can now to prepare so that when the spring thaw comes I will be ready.