Do you enjoy waiting? Do you search for times of waiting during your day? For example, do you search out the longest line in the grocery store, hoping that you will end up standing behind someone paying in nickels? Do you arrive for your appointments on time, praying that a delay would keep you in the reception area for 20 minutes longer? Do you hope that your commute to work will involve bumper-to-bumper traffic and snail’s-pace progress?
I didn’t think so.
Waiting often brings with it a sense of frustration and annoyance. In this world of instant gratification, where high speed Internet is never fast enough, this can be frustrating. We seem to have an aversion to waiting, one we bring into all areas of our lives. Appointments should be on time, thing we have ordered should arrive in due course, wishes and expectations should be met whenever we choose it best. The motto for all who hate waiting is “We have places to go, we have things to do, so let’s get this show on the road!” All of this makes sense as we navigate this world of ours. But what about our life with God? What about our life of prayer? Could we actually be called to cultivate a discipline of waiting?
The Bible speaks a lot about the need to persevere in prayer. Perseverance grows in the soil of waiting. We persist precisely because the resolution to our prayers may not show up the moment after we pray. Perseverance in prayer means that we live with the prayer as part of our life, even in those moments when satisfaction does not come. Thus, Scripture calls us to ‘pray without ceasing’ or ‘always pray and do not give up.’ Yes, we are invited to be bold in prayer, relentless even, but this does not negate the call to bare our prayers day after day after day.
Think about it, to deny the call to wait in our prayers is to suggest that God’s presence is only found in the place of future satisfaction; it suggests that God is only with us when God gives us what we ask for. This is not the God whom Jesus reveals. Waiting reminds us about the grace of God which is the very atmosphere in which we reside in this moment. We do not pray as one crying to a faraway force, unconcerned with our life. We pray as one who resides in midst of the care-filled presence of our Lord.
Waiting, however, is not just about recognizing the presence of God. In waiting we offer, not just our prayers, but our entire selves. We take on the discipline of submission, emptying ourselves of our own will and desire in order to take up the will of God. The Quakers have a wonderful word to describe this: Indifference. In their book Discerning God’s Will Together, authors Danny Morris and Charles Olson write:
To say “I am indifferent” does not mean “I don’t care,” but rather, “I don’t value anything as much as I value knowing and doing God’s will.” It means that I am indifferent to matters of ego, prestige, politics, personal ownership, pride, favour, comfort, advantage, and so on. I am indifferent to everything but God’s will.
To be indifferent in prayer is to reach out for God’s presence before we reach out for a particular answer. To be indifferent is to recognize that God works on a time-table different than our own. To be indifferent in prayer is to persevere, daring to believe that delays are not denials and the silence does not mean divine absence.
Waiting can be hard and frustrating, but it is also an important discipline in our prayer lives. If you are in a time of waiting, be encouraged. Keep praying. Do not give up. Waiting in prayer doesn’t mean you aren’t praying correctly, or that God is not present with you. Yes, it can be frustrating and hard – that is something that Jesus knows – but the time of waiting can be a time for you to rely on the power and of God to uphold you. It is not wasting time; it is not sitting doing nothing. In waiting we are giving our souls the space needed to dwell in the presence of God. In waiting we live out the hope to which we are called; a hope rooted in the surety of God’s guidance, and reality of all God’s promises.