When the answers to our prayers seem to get delayed, our greatest temptation often becomes trying to help God out.
Texting someone and then waiting for their response can sometimes feel like agony. I imagine that sending letters with high-stakes content was similar, but the problem with phones is that the return message could come any minute. If it doesn’t, then I have questions.
Are they too busy to answer? Did they see it, and they’re specifically not responding? Are they upset? Let’s just say that they’re too busy to glance at their phone.
The “read receipts” only make matters worse.
The other person read my text at 9:34 a.m. in the year of our Lord 2020, but it’s now 9:47 a.m., and they still haven’t responded which probably means that the Spanish Inquisition is gearing up on the other end of the line.
The “typing awareness indictor” slaps an extra layer of anxiety on top of this heart-problem sandwich. The three little dots appear. Then disappear. Appear. Disappear.
The latent apprehension becomes fully fledged. Why do they keep erasing what they’re saying? Is it that bad? No, no. Don’t think like that. This could mean anything. Maybe they’re thinking really deeply about my comment/question. Maybe they’re writing ‘I hate you’ 50 times in a row. How many minutes are they going to spend typing? Are they rewriting War and Peace? Oh my gosh, just spit it out already!
The absence of all physical and social cues that a face-to-face conversation would have plays curious tricks on our minds. If a person sat back with a thoughtful look on their face, this time would hardly feel stretched.
Instead we stare into the glaring screen-light, waiting. Wouldn’t it be so easy to type “Nevermind” or “Hurry up”?
What Happens in the Aftermath?
In some ways, praying feels like texting. We know God hears the minute we speak, even before that (see Matthew 6:7-8). We know that he’s not too busy to respond right away, but then we wait…and wait…and check our wristwatch.
He may respond with “Here’s a promise, and it’s coming.” That’s even worse, in some ways. How long until this promised moment, job, child, church, relationship arrives? What if we can see doors closing as the time stretches on and God’s promise seems like it’ll never appear. We’d like God’s answer via first class mail, but instead he’s apparently sending it by wheelbarrow.
A lot has been said for the benefits of waiting. It reveals who we really trust and what longings have started to overtake our desire for God. It shows us who our truest allies are in this season, who will encourage us to trust God and who will push us to slap our own quick-fix on the problem.
On The Blazing Center, though, Stephen Altrogge asked a question that often burns inside of us during these times in our lives. “On a scale of 1 to 10, how serious of a sin is it to not wait on God?”
What’s the worst that could happen if I don’t wait for God?
Right at the beginning of Saul’s reign, he’s put in a bad situation where he asks this question. He’s fighting the Philistines, but he was told to wait until the prophet Samuel comes to perform a sacrifice to God for him and the army. He waits for a week. The prophet is nowhere to be seen. The enemy is advancing. Saul’s men begin to flee. Saul decides to perform the sacrifice in leu of God’s prophet and priest.
Of course, the moment he’s finished, Samuel shows up. Saul explains that he didn’t want to fight the Philistines without sacrificing to God, the people were fleeing and Samuel didn’t arrive when he said he would. Samuel, however, is having none of it, and apparently, neither is God.
“Samuel said to Saul, ‘You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you’” (1 Samuel 13:13-14, ESV).
Saul effectively lost his kingship with this choice. He would technically hold on to the throne for about 40 years, but the end was in sight from here on out, and he knew it.
He disobeyed a righteous command and was told that his career was effectively over. That seems so harsh, but that’s the Old Testament God. We Christians are living in New Testament times where Jesus forgives all of these sorts of things. He wouldn’t punish us for not waiting…right?
Does God Punish his Children?
Is not waiting when God puts up the ‘hold on’ sign a sin? Saul’s story would indicate that it is, and Joseph Parker, a mid-1800s minister and theologian, explains why. “It is at this point that so many mistakes are made, that men will imagine that the cause of God is in necessity, and will rush in a spirit of usurpation to do the work which God Himself has undertaken to be done by other hands. When will men learn to stand still, and in holy patience await the coming of the Lord?
“When will men give up the self-idolatry which supposes that unless they undertake to quicken the movements of Providence, the destinies of the universe will be imperilled [sic]? The worship of patience may be more accepted than the service of rashness.”
Rushing ahead into decisions without waiting for God to move is not the simple, ‘little’ sin that it may appear to be on the surface. As Parker pointed out, it is symptomatic of arrogance. When we refuse to wait, we are essentially saying, “Mr. Slow-coach of the universe can take a side seat now. We’ll manage God’s work better and faster.”
Refusing to wait on God is a sin that he takes seriously, but does he punish us for it? The answer is “No” as 1 John 1:9 clearly spells out, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
That said, God doesn’t promise to take away the consequences of our hasty choice.
We refuse to wait on God’s hand to move, and we may end up in tough places, in a job that seemed ideal on the surface and is anything but, in a marriage with someone who isn’t interested in submitting to Christ, in a new city where we have no church or believing friends.
“My greatest challenge in following Jesus Christ for over forty years,” Peter Scazzero wrote in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, “has been waiting on God when things are confusing. I prefer control. I understand why Abraham, after waiting eleven years for God’s promise of a son to come true, took matters into his own hands and had a baby the ‘natural way.’
“Birthing Ishmaels is common in both our churches and personal lives. ‘Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him’ (Psalm 37:7) remains one of the most radical commands of our day. It requires enormous humility.”
The Follow-up Temptation to Haste
Speaking of Abraham and Ishmael, their story also illustrates the most common temptation we face when we’ve dashed off to ‘help’ God get the job done faster and then discover that we’ve only caused ourselves and others a lot of trouble.
“Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, laughing. So she said to Abraham, ‘Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac’” (Genesis 21:9-10).
Trying to disown the fruit of our rushing is the most common tactic. That ruined relationship is really more the other person’s fault than mine, so I shouldn’t have to make reparations. God will look the other way if I declare bankruptcy to get away from these loans I shouldn’t have taken out in the first place. Surely God wouldn’t want me to stay married to a nonbeliever.
Once again, we don’t trust God to care for us in the best possible way despite how hopeless our situation looks.
If we’ve already rushed into a poor decision or tried to force God’s hand, we may have some unhappy results to contend with, but God wants us to come to him and trust him, especially with our bad mistakes. As James instructed the early church, “Let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing”, or as the NIV puts it, “Learn well how to wait so you will be strong and complete and in need of nothing” (James 1:4).
It’s never too late to start waiting on God’s hand to move, trusting him and growing in resolute faith that he will guide us.