WAITING IS DIFFICULT, ISN’T IT? You drive up to the window at Wendy’s, but a number of cars are ahead of you, and you’re hungry. But you have to wait. A car accident ahead has slowed traffic to a snail’s pace. So you have to wait. You arrive at the airport and learn to your dismay that your plane is late in departing.
You have to wait.
Sometimes in our impatience we ask questions like these: Why doesn’t the bank approve our loan? When will I ever meet my future spouse? Why must I wait so long for the results of the medical tests?
Yes, waiting is not easy. Ruth Harms Calkins voices the concern of many of us in the title of her book, Lord, Could You Hurry a Little?
We see impatience—and the problems it brings—in the life of Saul, Israel’s first king. Saul had a lot going for him. He was tall and handsome, obedient to his father, and modest. And soon after he was crowned king, he courageously rescued the people of Jabesh Gilead from the threat of the Ammonites (1 Sam. 11). But then he went downhill. In fact he slipped so badly that he ended his life by committing suicide. No wonder Herbert Lockyer called Saul “the most pathetic character in the gallery of Old Testament men.”
When Saul’s son Jonathan attacked a Philistine outpost, Saul took the credit to himself, saying that he had attacked them (13:3–4). Then when the Philistines rallied, Saul’s soldiers panicked. Knowing they were outnumbered, the Israelites hid in dark caves and muddy cisterns, and some even broke rank and scurried across the Jordan River.
The prophet Samuel had told Saul to wait for him for seven days at Gilgal (10:8). But a solid week had gone by—and no Samuel! Imagine waiting an entire week for someone to show up, while enemy soldiers are breathing down your neck. As each day slipped by, army morale began to slide and more soldiers deserted camp. What should Saul do?
The sun rose on the seventh day, and still there was no word from Samuel. Think of the pressure Saul faced. His situation was desperate! More of his soldiers were leaving, and the Philistines, who outnumbered Saul’s troops, sat poised to attack.
Assuming Samuel wouldn’t show up, Saul panicked and went ahead and offered a burnt offering and a fellowship offering (13:9). And—ironically—just then Samuel showed up! Saul didn’t wait quite long enough. He gave up only minutes too soon.
When Samuel asked the king why he didn’t wait, Saul gave the lame excuse that since the Philistines were coming, he needed to consult the Lord (v. 12). Then he added, “I felt compelled.” Under the pressure of the moment, he felt he had no other choice.
Sounds right, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t a commander-in-chief do everything he can to retain his troops and seek the Lord’s help? Yes, but in Saul’s case, his actions, as Samuel said, were foolish. Why? Because his impatience led him to disobey the Lord.
The adage, “Good things come to those who wait,” extols patience. But many Christians, like Saul, would reword that saying to read, “Good things come a lot faster to those who don’t wait.” But by going ahead of the Lord, by disobeying Him when under pressure, we create problems for ourselves.
Saul’s soldiers were outnumbered (his troops had dropped from three thousand to six hundred, a loss of 80 percent), outmaneuvered (the Philistines were engaged in raids in three directions), and outequipped (Israel had no iron swords or spears). Saul was under great pressure. Then foolishly he ordered his troops not to eat anything during the day while they were battling the Philistines. Perhaps he didn’t want them to be distracted from the fierce battle. But this was an unwise command. With no lunch and no midday snack, his men were famished and exhausted. They were so hungry that when they slaughtered some of the Philistine sheep and cattle for supper, they didn’t take time to drain the blood (14:31), as required in the Mosaic Law. Saul’s impatience led him to pronounce this stupid command, which in turn caused his soldiers to sin. Impatience can do that; it can cause us to act foolishly and even to cause others to disobey God. No wonder God commands patience.
Unaware of this order from his dad, Jonathan satisfied his hunger by eating some honey that day. When Saul heard about it, he was appalled that his own son would disobey. So Saul prepared to put him to death. Thankfully Saul’s soldiers persuaded him not to kill his own son. Here was another foolish act by a man whose impatience showed he was out of touch with the Lord.
Are you facing a Philistine-like dilemma, a difficulty greater than you can overcome by yourself? Is your anxiety driving you to the point of despair? Saul shows us that the answer is not to be impatient, to go ahead of the Lord, to undertake some rash, foolish action without consulting Him.
Impatience is risky business. It can hurt other people; it can cause you to make unwise decisions; it can result in missing the Lord’s blessing on your life. What steps, then, can you take to keep from falling into the slimy pit of impatience?
FIRST, wait on the Lord’s timing. When you are tempted to be impatient with circumstances or people, simply tell yourself to wait. Numerous times the Book of Psalms urges us to wait on the Lord. David, no stranger to anxiety and disquieting times, wrote, “I waited patiently for the Lord” (Ps. 40:1). What happened as a result of his waiting? The rest of the verse tells us. God “turned to me,” David reported, “and heard my cry.” Then God stabilized his life (“he set my feet on a rock,” v. 2) and gave him joy (“He put a new song in my mouth,” v. 3).
But let’s face it. That’s no easy assignment! Yet waiting for His timing, waiting for Him without taking things in our own hands and going ahead of Him, is always the wise thing to do. As David’s son Solomon observed, “A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly” (Prov. 14:29), and “A man’s wisdom gives him patience” (19:11).
SECOND, trust the Lord’s sovereignty. Remember that because He is sovereign His ways—and timing—are best. Even in irritating or troubling circumstances we can rest assured that God can use those situations to His glory.
When pressure weighs heavily on you, turn the problem over to the Lord. Deliver your dilemma to Him, trust Him, and let Him guide and rescue you. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Prov. 3:5).
THIRD, reflect on the Lord’s attributes. Saul may have thought God had let him down. But he failed to reckon with several aspects of God’s character. Because God remains faithful, He would not let Saul down. Because God is all-powerful, He could meet Saul in his plight. Because God stands truthful, He would not go back on His word. Because God exercises mercy, He would not fail to meet Saul’s needs so long as he trusted Him.
The same holds true for us. Because of God’s many divine attributes, He will not leave us in the lurch. So, as Paul directed, let’s “be patient with everyone” (1 Thess. 5:14).
FOURTH, be filled with God’s Spirit. When controlled by the Spirit, we can exhibit the fruit of the Spirit, which includes patience (Gal. 5:22). The apostle Paul faced pressures of all kinds, but he endured them all with “patience … in the Holy Spirit” (2 Cor. 6:6).
Wait on the Lord’s timing.
Trust the Lord’s sovereignty.
Reflect on the Lord’s attributes.
Be filled with God’s Spirit.
Doing these four things will enable you to find “grace to help” in your “time of need” (Heb. 4:16). “After waiting patiently,” Abraham received what God promised (6:15). And we too can enjoy God’s blessings as we patiently wait on the Lord.
Yes, waiting is difficult. At times it may even seem like a terrible waste of time. But as Vance Havner opined, “He who waits on God loses no time.”