Thriving (and Single) Part 1: Waiting
Earlier this year, I was asked to teach a seminar on the topic of singleness. I decided to call it “Thriving (and Single)” and I was pretty adamant about the word “single” being in parenthesis. To be honest, I prefer to write and teach about other topics. While it’s true that I am following Jesus as a single person, it’s not the place I would start when talking to people about my life in God. The axis of my relationship with him has never been my marital status but my eternal status in his family.
In the seminar I taught and in this series of blogs (which is based on those notes), I’ll be sharing a little about my life as a single person. But mostly, I want to tell you what I’ve learned about following Jesus, because whether you’re single or married, life in Jesus is rich and full. Over the next three blog posts, we’ll look at waiting, feasting, and participating as means of sharing in Jesus’ life and fullness. Whatever your marital status, I hope there’s something here that helps you enjoy all the riches that are yours in him.
And now, on to Part 1 of this series…waiting.
Before I say anything else about waiting, I should probably confess: I think it’s the worst. When I warmed up my lunch in the microwave today, I grabbed my phone to distract myself from the painful ordeal of waiting two minutes for my food to get hot. Waiting with anything other than barely-contained impatience does not come naturally to me.
I don’t think I’m alone in this. We live in a culture where convenience is worshipped and any delay in gratification stretches our patience. Waiting feels like a waste of time. A waste of resources. A waste of potential.
But when we read the Bible, we find a different perspective on waiting. Scripture teaches us that God values the waiting process and uses it to mature us. Waiting on God is active, fruitful, and rather than a diminishing of resources, it is a place where we are well supplied.
This might be a good place to mention that waiting isn’t just for single people. Even after the question of marriage is settled, we might find ourselves waiting to hear from God about children or jobs or a house or a better job or a bigger house or more children. There’s always something.
Theologian Hans Urs Van Balthasar says, “Patience is the basic constituent of Christianity…the power to wait, to persevere, to hold out, to endure to the end, not to transcend one’s own limitations, not to force issues by playing the hero or the titan, but to practice the virtue that lies beyond heroism, the meekness of the lamb which is led.”
Waiting is not the prerogative of single people, but the calling of all Christians who are looking to God for some future good. So, how do we wait well? What does that look like? As it turns out, the people of God have been practicing this discipline for a long time. Let’s look at a couple examples from Scripture.
When Abraham was 75 years old, God made a promise to him. God told Abraham, who had no children at the time, that he would have a great number of descendants. Even though Abraham was pretty old when God revealed this, it wasn’t until 25 years later that the son God promised, Isaac, was born.
How did Abraham find faith to keep believing God’s promise at 75, 80, 100 years old? What sustains a person through a long wait like that? Here’s what Paul says in Romans 4:
"Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why ‘it was credited to him as righteousness.’ The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.” (Romans 4:18-24, emphasis mine)
Paul says that Abraham did not lose heart as he waited because he believed God. And as he believed God, three things happened: Abraham’s faith was strengthened, he gave glory to God, and it was counted to him as righteousness. Wow…those are some major benefits! Could we experience something similar as we wait on God? Let’s look at each effect that Paul notes and consider how we can tap into the same resources.
Abraham’s Faith Was Strengthened
At first, the picture is bleak. When Abraham looks at his body, it’s obvious he can’t make anything happen. Romans 4 says he “faced the fact that his body was as good as dead,” which is Paul’s rather blunt way of telling us that Abraham was under no delusions about his own potential. He was aware of his limitations, and yet he was confident in God’s power.
Paul also tells us that Abraham faced these facts “without weakening in his faith” and that he “did not waver in unbelief.” If you’ve read the Book of Genesis, though, you might wonder if those descriptions are a bit flattering. After years of waiting, Sarah came to the conclusion that God did not intend to bless her with children and suggested that he might give Abraham descendants through her servant, Hagar. Abraham agreed and Hagar became pregnant, which led to all kinds of trouble for their household.
A person might wonder, does that whole mess not count as “wavering in unbelief?” Paul says it doesn’t, and I could think of a few reasons why. At that point in the story, God had not yet specified that Sarah would be the mother of the descendants he promised. It’s possible that when Sarah suggested a surrogate and Abraham agreed, the two of them thought they’d figured out God’s plan. However, there’s no indication that either of them asked God whether he approved of this course of action. I think their problem was impatience, rather than unbelief.
Lots of us can identify with that. When God makes a promise, he usually doesn’t reveal many details, and in our impatience, we like to fill in the gaps. It’s one of the many reasons we need regular communication with God. Otherwise, like Abraham and Sarah, we end up pursuing our own plans instead of His. God will probably not give us all the details we’d like, but he will tell us how to obey today. It’s a good idea to ask him often while you wait, “What does faith look like in my current situation? How would you like me to obey you here?”
It’s also worth noting that God is faithful to everyone who is affected by Abraham and Sarah’s poor judgement. God meets with Hagar, he blesses Ishmael, he gives Sarah a baby in her 90s, and he corrects Abraham. When Paul says that Abraham did not waver in unbelief and that his faith was strengthened, I don’t think he means that Abraham understood God perfectly at all times. Rather, I think he means that Abraham kept putting his faith in God and God enabled him to keep believing with increasing strength.
If we’re not looking to God, one of the things a long wait can produce is pessimism. Some of us are born leaning toward that perspective and for others, it sets in over time, often through a series of disappointments. Although I’m generally optimistic, there are times when pessimism is very appealing to me, because it feels like I’m being realistic and insightful. Maybe everyone else is happy and carefree, but that’s because they don’t know how bad things really are.
Pessimists usually think of themselves as wise, but their predictions are not rooted in hope. It’s the fool who says in his heart, “There is no God,” not the wise person (Psalm 14:1). The wise person believes in God. And if the God of the Bible is real, it would be unwise not to put our hope in him.
For most of Abraham’s life, there’s a big gap between what God has promised and what he is currently experiencing, but he doesn’t slip into pessimism. Instead, he gives glory to God, even before he receives what he’s been promised. Actually, when writing about Abraham and people like him, the author of Hebrews says, “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.” (Hebrews 11:13)
What was stirring up Abraham’s heart while he waited? Mostly, things that would happen after he died. He looked with confidence toward the future God had promised, and it changed his perspective on the present. It wasn’t receiving what God promised that produced this effect - it was hoping in God himself that filled Abraham’s life with worship.
Abraham Enjoys Right Relationship
The best thing about waiting on God is that we get to enjoy God himself while we wait. Paul tells us that God credited Abraham’s faith to him as righteousness, which means right relationship. This waiting period was fruitful for Abraham because, by faith, he met God in it.
Paul has some good news for us, too: this righteousness that comes by faith has been made available to everyone who believes God has the power to do what he says. That means all of us can experience what Abraham did while we wait. Like him, we can enjoy fellowship with God, vibrant worship, and ever-increasing faith.
How Would Jesus Wait?
There’s one more person whose example I want to consider. The verse below is part of a conversation Jesus had with his disciples about his second coming, and here’s what he says about the timing of those events:
“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” (Matthew 24:36)
This statement raises some big theological questions about how the Father can know something that’s hidden from the Son, and I can’t answer those. To me, though, it sounds like Jesus is saying that while he was living on the earth in a human body, the date of his second coming was hidden from him.
That means Jesus knew what it was like to wait on a promise and not know when it would be fulfilled. He told his disciples it would happen — this was his Father’s word, after all, and the Father always keeps his word. He just didn’t know exactly when it would happen.
Waiting on God is a way of identifying with Jesus. Hebrews 4 says that we do not have a high priest who is unsympathetic but one who has been tempted in every way that we are and was without sin. He’s in a good position to help us.
Like Jesus, and like Abraham who looked toward Jesus in faith, let’s determine to wait on God with full confidence in his word. We don’t know all the details, but we don’t have to. We know the one on whom we wait, and his faithfulness is strengthening our hope in the bright future he has prepared for us.