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.

Why the Psalms are Essential for Spiritual Growth

When people ask am what is a good place to start reading the Bible I often refer them to the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John), Paul’s letters known as Ephesians or Galatians, or the book of Exodus. Each of these books speaks of basic and deep truths about God and the revelation in Jesus Christ. But a quick next step for me is to encourage the inquirer to spend time in the book of Psalms. In fact, I have come to believe that the Psalms are essential for spiritual growth.

In the psalms, we learn how to connect with God through important spiritual practices of Scripture reading and prayer. The psalms are, first of all, part of God’s inspired word and, thus, reveal to us the character of God. As we read the psalms, we understand who God is and what it looks like to relate to Him. But the psalms are also the prayerbook of the Bible, teaching us how to hear God and respond to Him in prayer. The psalms bring together these two powerful resources—Scripture and prayer—like two wings that help us fly toward God in the spiritual life.

In the psalms, we also learn how to bring our whole selves to God. When you read the psalms, you will see both intellectual and emotional aspects of life brought into God’s presence. The thoughtful reflection upon the significance of God’s revelation in Psalm 119 sits right alongside the deep emotional heart-cries of Psalms 22 and 69. Not only that, but the entire range of human experience is captured in the psalms, from the heights of joy to the depths of despair. The psalmists are not afraid to bring fear, delight, shame, exuberance, repentance, and restoration into prayer with God. As we read and pray the psalms we learn that we, too, can bring our whole selves to God.

While there are many ways to read and pray the psalms, I would encourage two different approaches that I have found helpful. The first method is to read one psalm per day, while sometimes breaking up longer psalms into two or more days. After, or even while, reading the psalm, one can pray back to God all or portions of the psalm to God. If there is a verse that sticks out to you, stick with it in prayer. If the whole psalm captures you, then pray it all back to God. For example, the beloved Psalm 23 is an easy psalm to either pray verse by verse back to God, or to rest in prayer within one phrase, such as “he refreshes my soul.”

A second method for approaching the psalms is to read through the entire psalter over the course of one month, praying certain psalms in the morning and others in the evening. This is a common practice in many church traditions, perhaps most known through the daily psalm readings in the Book of Common Prayer. While this may seem like a lot to move through in a day, book-ending the day with the psalms helps us begin and end our day with God in prayer and Scripture. Many Christians recommend this approach to engaging with God in the psalms.

While there is much more that could be said, let me refer you to some of my other posts on the Psalms:

Crying to God from the Depths: learning to pray with Psalm 130

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.
(Psalm 130:1-2)

The word translated in Psalm 130:1 as ‘depths’ refers literally to the deep places of the sea. In Isaiah 51:10, for example, the prophet asks the Lord: “Was it not you who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep, who made a road in the depths of the sea so that the redeemed might cross over?”

Metaphorically, the use of ‘depths’ signifies a place of serious need and vulnerability. In English, we speak of being in deep trouble. Or we say that we’re drowning when we feel buried by the demands of life.

Thus we can easily relate to the cry of the psalmist as he prays ‘out of the depths.’

Think of Jonah’s story, where his descent into the depths of the water – and eventually into the depths of the belly of the great fish – symbolize the depths of his trouble because he disobeyed God. And so he prays:

“In my distress I called to the Lord,
    and he answered me.
From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help,
    and you listened to my cry.
You hurled me into the depths,
    into the very heart of the seas,
    and the currents swirled about me;
all your waves and breakers swept over me.
(Jonah 2:2-3)

There are times when we bring the depths on ourselves and there are times when others bring it upon us or circumstances beyond our control in a fallen world bring us into the depths.

God mercifully hears us with his ‘ears’.

The beauty of this psalm is that is shows us that are experience of the depths is not too deep for God. As it says in Psalm 139, verse 12, “even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.”

We can cry out to God from the depths. If rebellious Jonah can do it, then certainly we can turn to God in the depths of our rebellion and be heard. If adulterous David can do it, then certainly we can cry from the depths of our sin and be heard by God. If rejected Ruth can do it, then certainly we can cry out in rejection and God will hear us. If the enslaved Israelites can call out in Egypt, then certainly we can call to God from the depths of what binds us and God will hear us. I do not have enough breath to gather all the stories of men and women calling to God from the depths and finding God’s ears open to their cry. 

So, too, God hears our cry from the depths. And in hearing, He validates our cries and our suffering. His hearing tells us that our suffering within the depths is not meaningless. God has open ears to us and that is a sign of His great mercy. As one writer says: “The experience of God’s mercy leads one to a greater sense of God.”

So call out from the depths and let your prayers open the floodgates of God’s mercy of into the shallows of suffering.

What Are You Waiting For?

MP900442844When someone asks you, “what are you waiting for?”, a number of responses may jump to your lips:

  • “The start of the football season.”
  • “A response to that job application I sent in.”
  • “That special someone to come along.”

Waiting is a regular part of our lives, but it is not something we are always very good at.

Where are you?
In Psalm 130, the writer cries out to God from the depths (verses 1-2). For the Israelites, the depths convey a place of fear, confusion, or trouble. Pharaoh and the Egyptian army “sank Read More »