Here I am in the midst of the Lenten season. I have been reading my Bible, trying to pray, avoiding social media, and really working hard to get myself into a routine that is conducive to good faith practice–that is, I've been working real hard to root our sin and draw closer to Jesus. It is necessary because I know myself and I know when I am off-balance my tendency is to let it affect everything in my life. I can still function, but it is not a robust functioning. It's more like a robotic, going through the motions kind of functioning devoid of joy and verve.
I mentioned in a previous post, Lenten Reflection #6, that I have been reading the Psalms and the Proverbs as part of my Lenten reflection. I learn something new every time I read the Psalms. They are without doubt one of my favorite books of the Bible for reasons I have mentioned elsewhere: they are raw with emotion and powerful naked humanity on display. DA Carson, in his book How Long, O Lord?, writes this about Psalm 6 in particular and the Psalms in general:
It is overwhelmingly important to reflect on the fact that this psalm and dozens of similar ones are included in Scripture. There is no attempt in Scripture to whitewash the anguish of God's people when they undergo suffering. They argue with God, the complain to God, they weep before God. Theirs is not a faith that leads to dry-eyed stoicism, but a faith so robust it wrestles with God.
David…does not display stoic resignation, nor does he betray doubt that God exists. Even when he feels abandoned by God, his sense of isolation issues in an emotional pursuit of the God who, in his view, is slow to answer. (67)
So this morning as I was reading my Psalms for the day and jotting a few thoughts in my journal, it struck me that frequently the Psalmists cry out to God, "How Long, Lord?" Well of course I have know it was there because I have read it before, but for some reason this morning it stood out to me like a rose on a thorn bush.
Psalm 6:1: "My soul is deep in anguish. How long, Lord, How long?"
Psalm 13:1: "How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?"
Psalm 35:17: "How long, Lord, will you look on?"
Psalm 79:5: "How long, Lord? Will you be angry forever? How long will your jealousy burn like fire?"
Psalm 89:46: "How long, Lord? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire?"
Psalm 94:3: "How long, Lord, will the wicked, how long with the wicked be jubilant?"
And if that isn't enough, this is only one way the Psalmists ask where God is at any given moment. Sometimes they are even more to the point, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Psalm 22).
Tough to figure out this God–this God who is 'playing hard to get' (R Mullins). I mean think about it, why would the Psalmist have to cry out, "Answer me when I call to you my righteous God?" (Psalm 4:1) if God is already active in this world and in our lives? Why do we have to ask God to answer us? It almost sounds like a parent scolding a child who stubbornly refuses to answer: Answer me when I am talking to you! The child of course, will not be cajoled into speaking until he is ready to speak and there is nothing the parent can do but wait….wait….wait….
"Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God. Do not forget the helpless." (Psalm 10:12)
I wrote in my journal this morning a few thoughts about this 'How long, Lord?' question I keep seeing in the Psalms. I have to be honest: I find this question the most frustrating of all the questions the Psalmists ask. You know why? Because there is literally nothing I can do to force God's hand or to open his mouth. I can pray. I can sing. I can offer myself daily as a 'living sacrifice'. Nothing. God opens his mouth when he is ready and until then…the righteous, the faithful–whoever they are–wait.
And it get's no better in the New Testament. I recall twice, at least, when I hear this question asked. One indirectly in Acts 1: "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" I take this as an indirect, "How long, Lord? How long?" The other time is more direct and is found in Revelation 6: "They called out in a loud voice, 'How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?'" Wow. Even New Testament people are not answered, always, directly or quickly.
I came to a couple of conclusions in my journal notes.
First, it seems safe to say that the people of God must wait. We wait a lot. I guess, however, that we are willing to wait. We must wait. What else is there to do but hope…and wait? (That's the last line of my favorite book of all time, The Count of Monte Cristo.)
Second, the people of God complain a lot while they wait. I don't see that God anywhere in Scripture ever faults his people for their anxious prayers or the words that make up the prayers. In fact, God seems to desire our prayers.
Third, I'm not sure what God is doing with all those cries. I think about Israel in Egypt for 400 years. Then the writer of the Exodus tells us, almost casually, "The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them" (Exodus 2:23-25). Really? He saw their oppression and looked on them? Meanwhile, Moses had to grow to about 80 years before the prayer was answered.
Fourth, read Hebrews 11. "These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised" (11:39). None of them?!? Seriously? Then in almost the very next breath he writes, "Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith."
Fifth, you ever just get tired of waiting?
This week has been Dr Seuss week at the school–perhaps all across the country. Each day we have been reading different Dr Seuss books and completing little projects to go along with the book. Tomorrow's book is Oh, the Places You'll Go. This is a great book, but for some reason I haven't been able to find my copy so I decided to look up a youtube version and let the kids watch it. I always preview these things and while watching it after school today, here's what I heard:
And IF you go in, should you turn left or right…
or right-and-three-quarters? Or, maybe, not quite?
Or go around back and sneak in from behind?
Simple it's not, I'm afraid you will find,
for a mind-maker-upper to make up his mind.
You can get so confused
that you'll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles cross weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place…
…for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or the waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.
Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for the wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.
On the one hand, it seems to be the thing about being a Christian. We spend a lot of time waiting. I don't think I wanted to wake up today and think another minute about waiting. I certainly didn't want to work on a Dr Seuss project this afternoon and think about waiting. I typically hate when Valentine tells her husband at the end of Monte Cristo that we have to 'hope and wait.' I hate waiting. I'm tired of waiting. I wish God would hurry up and make some kind of revelation about what he's doing or going to do or whatever.
On the other hand, we do seem to spend a great deal of our life waiting. Maybe that's because God thinks we need a lot of mid-course corrections. The trick, I think, is to press on through the waiting, through the times when we are seemingly standing still. Maybe when it seems we are standing still is when we are actually making the most forward progress. Maybe.
I don't think waiting is 'wasted space'. Or wasted time, for that matter. Waiting is waiting and we occupy our time with thoughts (think about Hebrews 11 again) and the business of the Kingdom and with creating space for God to move within us. Waiting is a way of unfettering ourselves from all that keeps us moving in the wrong direction. Waiting allows us to re-evauate, re-assess, and re-direct our lives or, better, to allow God to do so.
I don't know who said it or where it came from, but in the front of my Bible I once scribbled these words: Maybe what God is doing in you while you wait is more important than what you are waiting for.
Now, once again, I am undone.
Undone. And waiting.