In the Bible it is written: “Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.” This text in Psalms 27:14 is repeated encouragement to wait on the Lord. What does it mean to wait on the Lord? Why should one wait on the Lord? What are the fruits of waiting on the Lord? These things are very important, yet are not commonly understood.
We might be tempted, as many are, to think that waiting on the Lord means to stop all activity, quiet ourselves, empty our minds, and focus our attention on God with a sort of blank stare. This might come from the idea of pausing, or of being still, which might describe someone who is waiting. However one can pause without waiting, and also be still without waiting. The concept of waiting is actually very much different from this initial conception.
The Hebrew word translated wait here is qavah defined by Strong as “to wait, look for, hope, expect.” Consider that mere idleness, stillness, empty quietness … this is not the same as waiting. Mere inactivity … this can as well describe death. Doing nothing, seeking nothing … this is not necessarily waiting. If we are waiting, we are waiting for something, something we expect. Waiting implies anticipation, expectation.
One can see this in the context of John 5:3*: “In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water.” Imagine the painful souls in a desperate, sickly crowd, longing for healing. They stare breathlessly down into the pool of Bethesda, scanning its smooth quiet surface, straining, focused, waiting for the angelic disturbance. It is a posture of expectation, of hope. This is not mere idleness and quietness and focus. In waiting there is a belief that produces expectation.
Consider also Isaiah 5:1-7, where this word qavah appears thrice (in bold here), and clearly brings out this idea: “… My wellbeloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill: and he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard. What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes? … For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant: and he looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry.”
So, to wait on the Lord is to look to Him in expectation, to anticipate that He is about to do something. What is it then that we are to be expecting, as we wait on the Lord?
Well, simply put, it is reasonable to expect anything from God that is consistent with His nature. We should expect God to do anything and everything that He has revealed to be His will, or that is to be implied from His nature or His general character. Has He made a promise? He will certainly keep it; God is faithful, dependable, and reliable. He will do what He says He will do.
So, to wait on the Lord well and not be ashamed or disappointed, we must wait on God to do things that He is actually going to do. Otherwise we might wait in vain, to our own hurt and confusion. To avoid this, we must pursue God in order to know Him well, as He is, and not merely presume that He is as we wish for Him to be.
For example, when we are in a fix and we don’t know what to do, well-meaning brothers and sisters may encourage us to wait on the Lord for divine direction, encouraging us ask God to speak directly to us, and to wait before Him until He gives us some explicit direction or special revelation. This sounds reasonable enough, if we see living the Christian life like a soldier blindly taking orders from a commander. Yet is this God’s paradigm? Is it necessarily implied from the nature of God, that He gives supernatural direction and revelation to those who request it, quiet themselves, and listen?
Many will point to the story of Elijah hearing the still small voice, and reason that God is often speaking to us all in a very subtle manner. They claim that unless we have emptied ourselves of all activity and thought — stilled and quieted ourselves, as it were — that we might miss God when He is trying to speak to us.
The thought that God is always up there trying to speak with us, whispering to us to guide us through life, may at first tickle the itching ear. It is comforting to hear that we are always on God’s mind, yet the thought that He may be trying to guide us and that we are too busy to hear Him is not found in Scripture. Elijah did not hear a whisper in the Spirit but a literal voice, and that is something one cannot easily miss.
The truth of the matter is this: when God speaks, people listen. You cannot fail to hear when God speaks to you. No one else ever has, and you won’t be the first. It is a lie of the enemy that we must empty our minds in order to hear God speak. The enemy also wants to speak with us, and for us to think it is the Voice of God.
Let us be clear: if we need direction we should ask God for wisdom. (Ja 1:5) If we do happen to need divine revelation or supernatural direction in our particular situation, God will see that we get it. However, for the most part, God does not lead His children directly like this. He is not so much a Commander giving orders as a Counselor raising up judges, (1Co 6:3) and a King raising up friends. (Jn 15:14-15) God’s call is for us to grow into His likeness, to work with Him and through Him as well as for Him. (2Co 6:1) He is much more interested in our heart and Christ-like nature than in our earthly comforts or in what tasks we accomplish. His ultimate purposes are often better served by calling us to be like Him … and then letting us struggle with what that means in our current situation … than by delivering us from distress or handing us step-by-step directions on how to execute His program.
Is there then any actual promise, literal or implied, of getting special direction or revelation from God by sitting around and asking Him for it? I know of none. Rather, He says, “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye.” (Ps 32:8) He does promise to teach us His way and guide us along it, but this appears to be more often by a turn of His eye than by explicit, supernatural revelation; it is evidently very different than merely giving us paint-by-the-number instructions. We have no godly example, command or promise that would lead us to think any other way. To wait in mental passivity for special divine revelation from the spirit realm is actually one of the easiest ways to play directly into the hands of the enemy in his war with the saints.
If waiting on the Lord then is not about getting special revelation or direction from God, where should our focus be as we wait on Him? What are we to be after? “Those that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” (Is 40:31) Waiting on God produces a result — always. This is actually His promise, as evident also in the text with which we began. Waiting on the Lord results in becoming strong and being encouraged.
Waiting on God is about being strengthened from within by the Spirit of God to do and to be what He has called us to do and to be. Because of God’s nature we expect God to enable us to do what He has commanded of us. In our expectation, in faith, He allows us to participate with Him in becoming like Himself; in waiting, in expecting by faith, we access His might which He has made available to us though Jesus Christ. (Ro 5:2) Because He is faithful, as we wait for Him — as we expect Him to transform us — we are enabled to work together with Him in the very process of becoming like Him. Growing into His likeness is a thing of faith in which we may actually participate with God, based on both a present reality, the nature of God, and His promise. This is what we should be after as we wait on Him.
The promise of God is not physical health, comfort, convenience, or anything of the sort. His best servants are “made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things.” (1Co 4:31) No; if we are in this for earthly perks, our hearts are in the wrong place, savoring this world (Mt 16:23), serving the creature rather than the Creator. (Ro 1:25)
What has God promised us? Wisdom to those who ask … expecting, believing, in faith. (Ja 1:6) To be filled with righteousness and holiness if we hunger and thirst for it. (Mt 5:6) Strength to obey Him, no matter what the circumstance: we never need sin due to lack of divine help. (1Co 10:13) He has promised to always be near, to go with us through whatever we face. He will never forsake us or abandon us. (He 13:5) He has promised that all who seek Him will find Him (He 11:6), the greatest treasure in existence.
This waiting on the Lord is knowing that His promise is as good as reality, and knowing this continuously, without extended interruption or lapse. (Ho 12:6) It is not a seasonal, opportunistic or rainy day thing. Waiting on the Lord is to be as natural to us as breathing.
There are times when God will bear long with us before coming through, and we will at times wonder why He seems so reluctant to intervene in our affairs. (Ps 69:3) Though God may respond quickly, do not necessarily expect this; (Lk 18:7) He will come at the perfect moment, and not a second too soon … or too late. (Re 15:3)
Why should one wait on the Lord? Because it is commanded, “Wait on the LORD, and keep his way.” (Ps 37:34a) Anything else questions the integrity and faithfulness of God; “He that believeth not God hath made him a liar.” (1Jn 5:10) This is not an option.
What are the fruits of waiting on the Lord?
We will be preserved from shame and confounding: “Let not them that wait on thee, O Lord GOD of hosts, be ashamed for my sake: let not those that seek thee be confounded for my sake, O God of Israel.” (Ps 69:6) “Yea, let none that wait on thee be ashamed.” (Ps 25:3)
We are preserved in integrity and uprightness: “Let integrity and uprightness preserve me; for I wait on thee.” (Ps 25:21)
Our heart will be strengthened, “Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.” (Ps 27:14)
We will be exalted: “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.” (Ps 37:34)
The Lord will be good to us: “The LORD is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him.” (La 3:25)
When we are oppressed and we wait on Him, God will deliver us. David reminds us, “Say not thou, I will recompense evil; but wait on the LORD, and he shall save thee.” (Pr 20:22) David is able to say this with integrity borne of experience: he has been there, done that, and it works. David had a promise from God that implied deliverance from His enemies in this life. For those who do not have such a promise, the pathway our Lord Jesus Himself chose to walk, even though our trial may last a lifetime, it will eventually — and certainly — be said of our case: “we have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.” (Ja 5:11)
Do not despair when God tarries long in His response, but continue to patiently wait on Him to work on your behalf. The reason that God sometimes waits a long time to deliver and justify one that waits on Him is to extend the goodness of the final outcome. “Therefore will the LORD wait, that he may be gracious unto you, and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you: for the LORD is a God of judgment: blessed are all they that wait for him.” (Is 30:18)
Finally, waiting on the Lord is simply good to do: “It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD.” (La 3:26)
Ultimately, we can be certain of one thing: at the end of the ages, when every secret thing is known, God will be no man’s debtor. No one will be able to point to any unfaithfulness in God. Your story will be known by the universe: and all will agree … that God was faithful to you.
Let us be persistent and faithful in this .. let it be our daily joy to wait on our God, to abide in Him and expect Him to be true and faithful. Our Lord comes for us at a time that we think not. Let us therefore abide in Him (1Jo 2:28), that we be “like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately.” (Lk 12:36)
“Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.” (Ps 27:14)
“My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him.” (Ps 27:14)