Advent week IV,
by the Rev. Jay George
Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. – James 5:7
Waiting. Nobody likes waiting. Lines. Traffic. Doctor’s office. The way the other line in the bank drive-through always moves faster. Stuck behind the guy who can’t count to ten in the 10-items-or-less lane at HEB. Waiting. For the bus. For the show to start. For the file to download. For the other shoe to drop.
Someone, somewhere on the Internet (that infinite universe of meaningless statistics) has estimated the average person spends 45 to 62 minutes a day waiting. And we hate it. Waiting drives us crazy. So we fight it. Rushing, running, planning, speeding, doing. GPS in the car. Double windows at the drive-through. 4G networks for cell phones. Overnight shipping. One-minute meals. Instant gratification. Waiting time is wasted time, and none of us can afford to waste even a minute.
So what do we do when God asks us to wait?
Like the pregnant woman for childbirth? Like the farmer for the precious crop?
We do what we do when anyone else asks us to wait. We fight it. We rebel. We argue and whine and refuse. When God asks us to wait we respond by doing. We transfer our busy-ness from the life of the world into the life of the Kingdom.
“See, God, see how much I’m doing? Do you see it all? Worship and choir and Sunday school. Small group and Advent wreath and that less-than-$20 gift for the poor. Bible study and prayer journal and contemplative meditation (but I’ve only got 30 minutes, so we better hurry). You want me to wait, Lord? Here. Then you take charge of the Christmas pageant this year. No? Then get out of the way, I’ve got stuff to do.”
God says wait. Instead, we do.
And our doing becomes our undoing, because we can never do enough. But at least we feel better, having contributed our busy little part to doing nothing.
We fight God’s call to wait because we mistakenly define waiting as worthlessness, as waste, as doing nothing. But what if we’re wrong? What if waiting, God’s waiting, isn’t about doing nothing, but doing the right thing?
Farmers wait. They wait for rain. They wait for crops to grow. They wait for the harvest. But no one confuses a farmer’s waiting with doing nothing, because as they wait, they do what they know how to do. They do what they can, knowing God will do the rest.
Expectant mothers wait. They wait for contractions. They wait for labor. But you can’t confuse a pregnant woman’s waiting with doing nothing. Pregnant women wait, doing what they can do, while God does the rest.
God’s waiting is an active waiting. It requires not that we do nothing, but that we do only what we can do. Waiting actively means not trying to do God’s work for Him. It requires that we know our limits. Which, in turn, requires slowing down and listening.
We actively wait by leaving the results up to God — the grade, the award, the promotion. We actively wait by not doing. Look at your calendar and the list of opportunities you have to do things over the next two weeks. Take one thing, one measly item, from your calendar and pray about it. Only start from the negative: “Lord, I am not going to do this unless you tell me to.” Then wait. This is not how we usually operate. We usually start from the positive: “I’m doing this unless I hear from you…”, and then we don’t listen. Start with not doing. Listen. If God leads you to do that one thing, go do it. But keep your heart and mind and ears open for how God wants to use you in that situation. If God wants you to do something, he surely has a reason for it.
Advent is a time of waiting. Let it be a time of active waiting. Farmers do. Mary did. When she did, God broke into the world in a new and unexpected way. May it be the same for us.
You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. – James 5:8
The Rev. Jay George is the church planter for Grace Church, San Antonio. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.