*This is Part 2 of a blog post I originally wrote for Beauty for Ashes back in December…
One of the things I love about God is the surprising ways He gets our attention and speaks to us. The ways He gently taps me on the shoulder (or whacks me upside the head, as the case may be – usually depending on how hard-headed I’m being at the moment!) and says, “Hey, My child? This is from Me to you today,” can never truly be pigeon-holed. Through His Word, through the loving and truth-filled counsel of others we trust, and through the gentle leading of His Holy Spirit. Through birds building a nest outside the backdoor, through Christmas music (which can be played ANYTIME, in my humble opinion), through the pages of a good book or the dialogue of a movie.
I was reading in Romans 8 the other morning, verses I’ve heard hundreds of times. I’ve been spending a lot of time with The Message version, simply because reading it there makes it seem like I haven’t heard it hundreds of times. Take a peek, starting in verse 19…
Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens. All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy. Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.
For some reason, that phrase “we are enlarged in the waiting” jumped out at me. Here is what I wrote in my journal after reading that:
HOW am I waiting for You? Am I enlarged in the waiting process? Or am I diminished, focused only on myself? WHAT am I waiting for? You? Or for something I’ve grasped so tightly in my own fist that my eyes are constantly focused downward, inward – instead or upward and outward?
I knew the answers to those questions almost immediately. I’ve been far more diminished in the waiting process than enlarged. Far more focused inward, on myself. I have rarely been able to say that “the longer I wait, the more joyful is my expectancy.” See, for the past two years, my husband and I have been trying to start a family, so far unsuccessfully. I had no idea when we jumped into this season of life what a roller coaster of emotions I was getting ready to ride. Hopes raised, then crashing down again. Monthly reminders of ‘not this time.’ Thyroid medication. Negative pregnancy tests. I have, way more than once (or twice or seven or eight times), grown plenty ‘tired in the waiting.’ I have, ashamedly, felt much, much more diminished in the waiting than enlarged. But here it is in Romans, telling me that, when I’m tired of waiting in the land of ‘meanwhile,’ God’s Spirit is right there alongside me, helping me along. Let’s just take a moment and be really grateful for that, because y’all, sometimes waiting is just plain HARD. -My dog, Piper, just about giving up on waiting for me to take her for a walk-
We have been reading a devotional for Advent each night before going to bed. This Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, we lit the candle of Hope, or Prophecy. Hope is a thing that lives in the meanwhile, in the not yet. Here’s a little excerpt from one of the readings:
Waiting is like living in the meantime. It is like knowing but not knowing. It is how one waits that matters. God’s clock is wound a different way. Time is different. Waiting, not hurrying, is one of God’s characteristics. This waiting God often tells the human that waiting is the appropriate posture. Many years before the birth of Jesus, the Old Testament prophets were writing and talking about waiting for one who would be like a light for the darkness. Those to whom they spoke were weary with impatience. They wanted the Messiah now. They yearned for God to be on their clock. For years added to more years, through the events of history, through priests and poets, God said, ‘Wait.’ That same note is sounded in the prologue of John’s Gospel. Those who gave ear to the preaching of John the Baptist heard him say, ‘I am not the light, but I come to tell you about the light that is yet to come’ (John 1:8, AP). Dissatisfied with his lack of urgency, the listeners pressed him to say more, but John could only say, ‘I am not he.’ So anxious were they for a Messiah that the masses tried to crown John the Baptist as the Messiah. Again, God’s message was ‘wait’… The Advent season, a period of four Sundays before Christmas Day, is a time of waiting for the Christian. This is an awkward season because it is most difficult for us to focus on the preliminary dimensions of the Christmas story. We had much rather go directly to Bethlehem without hearing anew the words of the prophets or John the Baptist. Advent does not give us permission to rush to the manger. It says ‘wait.’ ~Joe E. Pennel, Jr., The Whisper of Christmas
Waiting “is an awkward season.” And all the people said amen! I’ve asked myself, and God, time and time again ‘how do I even begin to be at home in the land of hoping and meanwhiles and waiting and not yet?’ And here He comes, faithful God that He is, showing up again in the words of Psalm 131 (with a few of my own comments thrown in):
God, I’m not trying to rule the roost, I don’t want to be king of the mountain. I haven’t meddled where I have no business or fantasized grandiose plans. (Oh, but I have meddled and fantasized and wanted to be king of the mountain.) I’ve kept my feet on the ground, I’ve cultivated a quiet heart. Like a baby content in its mother’s arms, my soul is a baby content. (But I haven’t been content or always had a quiet heart.) Wait, Israel (Lauren…insert your name), for God. Wait with hope. (Wait. With. Hope. Oh help me, please!) Hope now; hope always!
There it is. That’s the secret to living in the land of meanwhile and not yet. Waiting with hope. Here’s what I journaled after reading that Psalm:
What is my hope in? Hope in God never disappoints. He will always come for us. He has come as a baby in the manger at Christmas. He is coming for us now – in so many ways, if we open our eyes to see. He will always come for us.
God used the movie “Taken” to speak this very clearly to my heart a couple of years ago. It’s the one where Liam Neeson basically wins the Dad-of-the-Year award by rescuing his daughter from sex-trafficking kidnappers. At the tail-end of the movie, Liam Neeson’s character has tracked down the kidnappers and his daughter (that’s not really a spoiler. It’s Liam Neeson…you knew it was going to happen). He breaks into the room where the guy (a Saudi prince, I think) is holding his daughter with a gun pointed to her head, kicks his butt, and rescues her. (The details are really better watched than described.) She looks at her dad (and this is where I started crying) with disbelief and shock, still half-dressed and dazed from the drugs she was given, and says, “You came for me?” And he simply looks back at her and says, “I TOLD YOU I WOULD.” Like there was never a question in the world. Like the outcome was already decided from the moment she called him for help. It was just a matter of time. I was pretty much a sobbing wreck from that point until the movie was over. Because here’s what God was telling me, loud and clear, in that moment: “If I told you I would come for you, then I. Will. Come. For. You.” That’s it. End of story. Our God will always come for us. No matter what the land of meanwhile seems to be telling us. We can wait with hope because ours is a God who will always come for us. Romans 8:31-39 says it brilliantly:
So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us – who was raised to life for us! – is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture: ‘They kill us in cold blood because they hate you. We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.’ None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing – nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable – absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.
Oh Lord, may we learn to wait with hope…