Five Elements of Waiting on God: insights from the life of Joseph

When looking at the life of Joseph in Genesis 40-41, I noticed some striking aspects about the timeline of Joseph’s journey.

Joseph was sold into slavery at 17 years of age according to Genesis 37:2. By the end of Genesis 41, Joseph is 30 years old (41:46). Two years pass between the end of chapter 40 and 41 (41:1), so roughly 10-11 years of Joseph’s life were spent in Potiphar’s house or in prison. It is likely that the majority of that time was spent in prison. Many of us grow tired waiting a day or two, or a week, or a month for God to show tangible answers to prayer. We wait for a response but grow tired when our waiting stretches for months or even years. If you are in that place take comfort from Joseph’s life. His descent into suffering left him in a holding pattern for nearly thirteen years. I’d like to share five elements of waiting on God that we can see from the life of Joseph and throughout Scripture. While his list is not exhaustive, I do believe that these elements are critical to us actively waiting on God.

  1. Waiting on God means believing God is still our God. Joseph’s words to the chief cupbearer and the chief baker help us see that even though he suffered he did not give up his faith that YHWH God is still God. This theme is echoed in the psalms: “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation” (Psalm 62:1-2, ESV). In seasons of suffering we are tempted to put ourselves or other people or things into the place only God deserves. Certainly we need trusted friends and other resources during these times but we must hold onto the reality that God is still the King even in our suffering.
  2. Waiting on God means actively calling out to God. We cannot take for granted the power and vitality found by pouring our hearts out to God in prayer. “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry” (Psalm 40:1). When we call out to God, He draws near to us, even in the times of long waiting or extended suffering.
  3. Waiting on God means drawing strength from the Lord. Like a seed planted in the soil whose roots extend deep before any green breaks the soil’s surface, or like a dormant fruit tree draws nutrients before any fruit graves the limbs, so in our spiritual lives we must draw upon the strength that God gives. This is perhaps even more true in the extended times of suffering or waiting. We cannot make it without God’s strength. “Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:30-31).
  4. Waiting on God means moving forward by faith even when we cannot see. We must move in obedience to what we already know and not do nothing. Joseph did not sulk in some hidden hallway or back room of Potiphar’s house or the prison when he suffered. Instead, we see that he stepped forward, eventually rising to responsible positions in both places. Wallowing in self-pity does not lead you there. Rather we must live out what the Apostle Paul wrote to an early church: “for we walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).
  5. Waiting on God means letting God build perseverance and maturity into us. An athlete who wants to become stronger must work to the very edge of their ability in order to move beyond that. The same is true with a pianist or an engineer or a businessperson. It is a life principle that growth comes through stretching ourselves. That same principle applies to life with God. We will not grow spiritual muscles or produce greater fruit for God in our lives without being stretched in our discipleship. The Apostle James writes about that truth this way: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4). Joseph experiences a transformation of perseverance and maturity that arises because he has actively walked with God in the midst of his suffering and waiting.

Joseph waits on the Lord and we see God do a new work in Joseph’s life. So, too, in our lives God will do new things in our lives as we wait upon Him in the midst of our seasons of suffering.

Waiting on the Lord: Living with Hope in the Land Between

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One of the most pervasive themes in the psalms is waiting.

In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you
and wait expectantly. (Psalm 5:3)

Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord. (Psalm 27:14)

We wait in hope for the Lord;
he is our help and our shield. (Psalm 33:20)

Lord, I wait for you;
you will answer, Lord my God. (Psalm 38:15)

I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry. (Psalm 40:1)

The waiting described in the psalms is not some abstract waiting, but waiting that is focused on a person: the Living God. Unlike generalized “waiting for the world to turn” or “waiting for a miracle,” waiting on the Lord is based upon what we know of who God is – His character – and what God does – His activity.

Waiting on the Lord says, “I know who God is. I know what I’ve seen God do in biblical history, in other human lives, and in my own life. Because of that, I wait for God to meet me and act in my life.”

This sort of waiting is hopeful waiting. Hope is “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.” Hope is fixed on the future but affects the way we live now. Hope is both an anticipation and an arrival at the same time. Waiting on the Lord is hopeful because we can both rest in God in the present and trust in God for the future.

But what does it look like to wait on the Lord? Does it mean we simply stop everything and sit around until God does something? No. Waiting on God is active. We continue with our lives, doing our best to walk in God’s ways, witness to God’s character, and fulfill our responsibilities as best as we can. In the midst of that, waiting on God gives us hope that transcends our circumstances as we look for God to work in our lives.

Here are three specific ways we can wait on the Lord with hope:

  1. First, we wait on God by reading His word. The psalmist says, “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope” (Psalm 130:5). Waiting with our hope in God means we both hope in His Word and live by His Word. As it says in Psalm 119:166, “I wait for your salvation, Lord, and I follow your commands.” The word of God gives us perspective and understanding so that we can move forward with God as we wait. Reading it regularly and transformationally helps us meet God and live with character in our waiting.
  2. Second, we wait on God in prayer. Prayer is simply talking to God—calling out to God—in the midst of our lives. Prayer is particularly important in times of waiting because we both need to express what is happening in our lives and wait upon God to speak to us. The regularity of calling out to God in prayer while waiting helps us give voice and give ear to God: “In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice” (Psalm 5:3). As the psalms show us, prayer is a lifeline in the midst of waiting.
  3. Third, we wait on God by watching for Him. Transformational reading of Scripture changes us internally and prayer makes us attentive, but what then? From this new vantage point, we want to be watchful for God. We attentively consider these questions: “what is God doing?” and “where is God at work?” It is of minimal value if we read the Bible and pray each morning but then zone out from God for the rest of our day. “I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning” (Psalm 130:6). To wait on the Lord in hope means we watch with expectation for the appearing and involvement of the Lord.

Lord, I wait for You.
There is so much happening in my life and the world today.
Give me eyes to see You and ears to hear You as I wait upon You in my life.
I trust You and I rest in You today.

New Year: Questions for growth, reflection, and prayer

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Many of us make resolutions for growth and change in the New Year. Unfortunately, statistics show that most of these resolutions do not hold for long or really make much long-term change. I believe this is in large part because we do not include the Living God in this process of resolution, and also because we do not let our resolutions penetrate deep enough into our vision for the year and the transformation of our will. The following series of questions are intended as a tool for reflection upon the previous year and resolution into the coming year.

Reflecting back:

What am I most thankful for from the past year (5-10 items)?

How have I most seen God at work in me or around me this past year (3-7 items)?

Who am I closest to in my life and how has that proved true this past year (2-3 items)?

In what ways am I experiencing a lack of resolution from this past year in my personal life, my relationships, my endeavors, or my life with God (2-3 items)?

What must I confess to God or repent over from this past year (2-3 items)?

Gather all these responses up in prayer before God, concluding with the Lord’s Prayer.

Looking forward:

What am I most looking forward to in this coming year (5-10 items)?

What do I sense are my greatest desires or needs for growth with God this year (2-3 items)? What are the practical means by which I will pursue that growth daily, weekly, or monthly?

Who do I want to become this new year?
What must I let go of in order to grow in this way (2-3 items)?
What must I grab ahold of in order to grow in this way (2-3 items)?

How are my relationships helping or hindering my growth with God or my development as a person (2-3 items)?
What relationships must I prioritize and how will I practically do this daily, weekly, and monthly in this coming year?

In what ways do I sense God is inviting me to serve Him by serving others this year (3-7 items)
How will I do that practically on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis?

Gather these responses up in prayer before God, trusting His providence for your life, relinquishing control of your life, and yielding your will actively to the Holy Spirit for strengthening. Conclude with the Lord’s Prayer.

A Prayer to Know God More

I want to know You, Lord my God.
In the majesty of Your power,
the splendor of Your holiness,
and the wonder of Your love—
I want to know You.

I want to see You, Lord my God.
Though no eye can truly see You and live,
though creation displays Your fingerprints for all to see,
show me the mystery of Your glory—
I want to see You.

I want to hear You, Lord my God.
In Your powerful voice that can shatter the cedars,
in Your still, small voice amidst the quiet wind,
and all the range of perception in-between—
I want to hear You.

I want to taste You, Lord my God.
As the Bread of Heaven come to give life,
I open my soul’s mouth wide to be fed on You,
and join the psalmist in tasting Your goodness—
I want to taste You, Lord my God.

So draw me deeper than I have ever been.
Infuse my ordinary life with Your extraordinary Presence,
that tasting, hearing, and seeing,
I might grow
to know You more.

The Weekend Wanderer: 5 November 2022

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like. Disclaimer: I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within these articles but have found them thought-provoking.


Bono on Morning Edition“Bono discusses his new memoir, ‘Surrender,’ and the faith at U2’s core” – Rachel Martin interviews Bono on NPR’s Morning Edition: “It was 1976. An Irish kid named Paul Hewson was trying to figure a lot of things out; his mom had died a couple years earlier, when he was just 14. Bono, as he was known, spent a lot of time at home, in Dublin, arguing with his dad and his older brother. But two goals kept him focused — to win over the heart of a girl named Alison Stewart and to become a rock star. And in the same week, he asked Alison out — (she said yes) — and he ended up in Larry Mullen JR’s kitchen for an audition. Two other guys were there — Adam Clayton and David Evans, also known as The Edge. The four of them would go on to become one of the biggest bands of their time: U2. And he is still married to Alison Stewart 40 years later. Bono writes about these foundational relationships in his new memoir, called Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story, releasing Tuesday Nov. 1. In it, he also delves into another core relationship: his spirituality. Though never a Mass-on-Sundays kind of Catholic, from a young age he was fascinated with mysticism and ritual – and Jesus.”


webRNS-Calvin-Butts3Calvin Butts, leader of Harlem’s historic Abyssinian Baptist Church, dies at 73″ – Adelle M. Banks at Religion News Service: “The Rev. Calvin O. Butts III, the senior pastor of New York’s historic Abyssinian Baptist Church, who followed in the footsteps of prominent Black ministers and paved his own path of leadership in education, health and political circles, died Friday (Oct. 28), his church announced. ‘It is with profound sadness, we announce the passing of our beloved pastor, Reverend Dr. Calvin O. Butts, lll, who peacefully transitioned in the early morning of October 28, 2022,’ the church stated on its website and on Twitter. ‘The Butts Family & entire Abyssinian Baptist Church membership solicit your prayers.’ Butts, 73, succeeded the Rev. Samuel DeWitt Proctor as pastor in 1989 after starting as a minister of the congregation in 1972. He became the church’s 20th pastor, according to the church’s website. ‘When we think about Dr. Butts we know that he served the community of Harlem but he served the wider community as well,’ said the Rev. James A. Forbes Jr., senior minister emeritus of Riverside Church, whose church was about two miles away from Butts’. ‘We have lost a great leader, one who really was a champion of justice and freedom for all.'”


D400-1839-085_Low_res_comp“6 ways to pray for our country during the election” – Katie Taylor at the World Vision blog: “How can we be more Christlike — in word and deed — during the 2022 U.S. election? We know a few things for sure: We’re called to love others (John 15:12). We’re called to pray for our leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-2). And we’re called to live in unity (Ephesians 4:3). In an election year, choosing love feels extra challenging when your environment often pushes you to pick one side and shun the other. How can we keep choosing to love rather than burying our heads under our pillows until Nov. 8? God sees our frustration and confusion. And He promises that when we pray, He’ll give us guidance and peace. ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4:6-7). It seems too simple. And sometimes our voices feel too small. But when we pray, we allow God to start growing our capacity to love each other as Jesus does — even people who are the most different from us. As we approach the 2022 midterm election, we’re humbled that God saw our anger, confusion, and prejudice and still loved us enough to send His Son to be our Savior. That perspective calms our frustration and calls us to prayer.”


re-wilding faith“Exodus 3-4: Call and Response” – James Amadon at The Ecological Disciple: “The power and potential of places that are not dominated by humans is especially important in our age. Modern, industrial humanity has been exceptionally good at domesticating almost anything it touches. To ‘civilize’ something, or someone, has been an unquestioned good, and so ‘wild’ places, people, and other creatures have been tamed or destroyed. This civilizing impulse has included religion and religious spaces – we have domesticated God by reducing theology to what serves modern humanity (when was the last time you heard a sermon on the purpose/future of creation?), by confining the divine presence to the built environment (such as churches and other ‘sacred spaces’), and by controlling access to divine presence or approval (think about how religious communities define who is in/out, saved/unsaved, etc.). Moses lived in one of the most civilized societies of his time, yet it was also one of the most brutal – a paradox that, sadly, repeats itself through history. Leaving the civilized world opened Moses to new possibilities for himself and his place in the world, and to an encounter with the wild God of creation, who can never be civilized (just read the bewildering story of Exodus 4:24-26). When I ask people where they feel closest to God, almost everyone says “Nature.” This makes sense because we are fundamentally part of nature, creatures among creatures. It is often the false ideologies of ‘civilization’ that makes us less at home in the world. We need to re-wild our faith, remembering that our relationship to God is connected to our relationship with our local land and waterways, and with the creatures that share our home. This is true whether we live in a condo in the city or a cabin in the mountains. Finding ways to connect with the wildness around us can also connect us to the wildness of God, who tends to show up in surprising ways in these places.”


131335“What Ancient Italian Churches Tell Us About Women in Ministry” – Photo Essay by Radha Vyas in Christianity Today: “The Bible tells us of the important place of women in the early church. Women were the first to reach the empty tomb and to proclaim the Resurrection (Matt. 28:1–10; Mark 16:1–8; Luke 23:55–24:10; John 20:1–2, 11–18). They contended for the gospel alongside Paul (Phil. 4:2–3), taught new converts (Acts 18:24–28), prophesied (Acts 21:9), had churches in their homes (Acts 16:14–15, 40; 1 Cor. 16:19), served the church (Rom. 16:1), delivered Paul’s epistles (v. 2), and were considered ‘outstanding among the apostles’ (v. 7). There is also a lesser-known visual record of women in ministry in Italy’s oldest churches. From around the time of the First Council of Nicaea down to the 12th century, Christians created depictions of women preaching, women marked as clergy, and even one carrying a Communion chalice, with which believers have always recalled Christ’s words ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’ (Matt. 26:28). Radha Vyas, a photographer and a student at Dallas Theological Seminary, takes us on a tour of this artistic record of women in ministry.”


jacobs-thomasmerton-2“Thomas Merton, the Monk Who Became a Prophet” – Alan Jacobs in The New Yorker back in 2018: “On December 10, 1941, a young man named Thomas Merton was received as a novice by a monastery in Kentucky, the Abbey of Gethsemani. Precisely twenty-seven years later, he died by accidental electrocution in his room at a retreat center in Bangkok, Thailand. He entered the monastery three days after Pearl Harbor; he died a month after Richard Nixon was elected to his first term as President. It had been an eventful time. Merton was a remarkable man by any measure, but perhaps the most remarkable of his traits was his hypersensitivity to social movements from which, by virtue of his monastic calling, he was supposed to be removed. Intrinsic to Merton’s nature was a propensity for being in the midst of things. If he had continued to live in the world, he might have died not by electrocution but by overstimulation….Merton lived the public world, the world of words and politics, but knew that living in it had killed him. (‘Thomas Merton is dead.’) He sought the peace of pure and silent contemplation, but came to believe that the value of that experience is to send us back into the world that killed us. He is perhaps the proper patron saint of our information-saturated age, of we who live and move and have our being in social media, and then, desperate for peace and rest, withdraw into privacy and silence, only to return. As we always will.”


Music: The Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, performing Ralph Vaughan Williams, “For All The Saints” (Sine Nomine), from A Vaughan Williams Hymnal