Wednesday, September 30, 2009

When Wisdom Says "Wait"

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight (1 Cor. 3:19).

The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant. Perhaps I can build a family through her (Genesis 16:2).

Our admiration is drawn toward those who know how to make things happen. People who make things happen get promoted and praised. Schooled in the world’s wisdom, we are inclined to be proactive, to take initiative. Knowing how to make things happen is an indispensable quality of leadership.

But sometimes in our drive to make things happen we end up making a mess. We run out of patience and we run over people. Our efforts to shake things up leave a trail of pieces that have to be put back in place. Maybe God never asked us to make things happen.

Sometimes wisdom says “wait.”


It looked as if Eliezer of Damascus would get it all. The estate, such as it was, would go to him. That didn’t seem like such tragedy to Abraham. Eliezer had been a faithful servant in Abraham’s household. Given that Abraham and Sarah had no children, it seemed only right that Eliezer would be the heir. Law and custom deemed in fitting.

But there was one thing that bothered Abraham about this, nagged at him and wouldn’t leave him alone. It was God’s promise. Abraham wondered at times if he had gotten it wrong, but he kept coming back to the same answer: No. He knew what God had said. God had said that Abraham and Sarah would have their own child. In fact, Abraham and Sarah would have a family that would in turn give rise to more families.

God confirmed the promise. “A son from your own body will be your heir.”

Great. Only one problem. Abraham and Sarah were old. Really old. Knowing this, Sarah decided to make things happen. She took the initiative, giving her maidservant Hagar to Abraham. “Perhaps I can build a family through her.”

In that culture what Sarah did made sense. It was legal, and what’s more, it was effective. Hagar conceived a son, Ishmael. The problem, however, is that God had never asked Sarah to build a family. That was never her job to do. Sarah made things happen and in doing so she made herself and Abraham miserable. She despised Hagar and the child she bore. What Sarah really made was a mess.


Few things are harder for us than waiting.

The wisdom of the age is informed by pragmatic concerns. We know what needs to happen. If we can see a way to obtain the desired outcome by means that are both legal and effective, then we should act. Not to act is to be passive and to be passive is to be weak. And, again, the wisdom of this world holds no place for weakness.

But maybe there are times when wisdom – God’s wisdom – says “wait.”

We need to be careful here because a falsely spiritualized kind of “waiting” can be used as a cover for laziness. Mixing our “waiting” with a little God-talk can be a way of avoiding responsibility or refusing to take a risk.

But rightly practiced waiting is a bold expression of trust. It is God’s wisdom, taking the spotlight off of our efforts and skills and plans. God shows our wisdom to be foolishness so that no one may boast. Holy waiting is the means by which we get out of the way and trust God to do what God has promised to do.

When we will not wait, it usually has to do with our fears, and fear is contrary to faith. Those fears lead us to take the wrong job just to get a paycheck, marry the wrong person just to avoid being alone, spend money we don’t really have because we don’t think a deal like that will ever come along again. Fear makes it hard to wait.

Are you taking actions today, making things happen, that are fear-driven? What would happen if you listened to the wisdom that says “wait?”

Give us the grace, O God, to wait on you and your promises. Grant us discerning minds and hearts that we might know when to act. Grant us courage to wait, guarding us from decisions and actions that are driven by fear and not faith. Amen.

1 comment:

Victoria said...

I am not sure if you created the term "Holy Waiting" or not, but it is brilliant. I am reminded of my own inpatience when I pray to God for something on Monday. Then again on Tuesday. Then again on Wednesday. If He doesn't answer by Thursday, I foolishly take matters into my own hands and act. I need to replace my inpatience with Holy Waiting.