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Waiting For The Lord

We are in a series on the Psalms. There are 150 Psalms and I am trying to preach on a few that will hopefully whet your appetite for the Psalms and help us discover them as tools for our faith.

The Psalms were the songs that ancient Israel sang in their worship. They have been a fountain of prayer, devotion, and worship for Jews and Christians ever since.

Today we come to Psalm 40 which begins with a personal testimony:

I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.

Part of the life of faith is patient waiting for the Lord.

When we are in distress, and cry out to the Lord to help us and the answer is not immediate, that is waiting for the Lord. If we have ever waited in a hospital room and nothing happens that is waiting for the Lord. When we are in need and ask the Lord to provide, but time goes on and the need continues, that is waiting for the Lord.

Anytime we want something to happen and we look to the Lord for it, we are waiting for the Lord.

The first verse, “I waited patiently for the Lord” is actually a weak rendering of what the Hebrew words say. Hebrews is the language in which the Old Testament was written. In the Hebrew the word “waited” is intensified. It appears twice, and reads “I waited, waited for the Lord.” It is more like, “I waited intensely for the Lord.” “I waited long and hard.”

The Hebrew word for “wait” can also mean “hope.” Waiting and hope are related. They are cousins. As Paul wrote in Romans, “…if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” (Romans 8:25)

But waiting patiently is not an easy thing to do.

Don’t confuse patience with passivity. Waiting is not passive. When we are waiting we are actually doing something, though we may not feel like it.

Another side to the word “wait” is that it is related to the word “watch”. When we are waiting we are watching. Waiting requires vigilance. We stay alert, watching, and aware of what is going on; praying.

When David was waiting for the Lord, he was hoping that the Lord would act. He watched what the Lord would do. He trusted that God would come through for him. And, as he goes on to say, his hopeful waiting was not disappointed. The Lord heard his cry.

Psalm 40 says, “Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him. Blessed is the one who puts their trust in him…” It takes trust to wait for the Lord. We have to trust his timing, his plan, his methods. And do you ever notice how it is often not our timing, our plan, or our methods.

There was a Christian leader who was known for his gentle spirit and incredible patience. But one day a friend walked into his study and found this man pacing back and forth, really agitated.

The friend was quite surprised that the usually patient person was in such a state, and asked, “What is the matter?”

The leader said, “I’m in a hurry, but God is not!”

When we wait for the Lord we wonder, “Can I trust you God? What is the point of all I am going through? Do you see what I am going through? How much longer?”

Waiting for the Lord means we trust him with the situation, the circumstances, and the outcome. And yes, trust, is very hard.

Waiting and hoping intensely for the Lord is valuable for our souls. It brings strength to us. There’s a blessing in the patient waiting, which is why David says “Blessed is the person who makes the Lord his or her trust.”

Waiting is harder for those of us in the modern world than perhaps it has been for any other peoples in other times because technology has sped up our lives. We don’t have to wait to get to another place. We can fly in a matter of hours. We don’t have to wait for a letter anymore. We can send and receive messages immediately with email or texting. We don’t have to wait to get to a phone or wait for messages. We carry a cell phone and bask in the immediacy of someone wanting to reach us.

What this has done is distorted our view of time. I get upset when it takes 5 seconds for the web site to come up on my computer. 5 seconds! I want the shorter line at the grocery store so that I can save three minutes. We now have billboards announcing the wait time in emergency rooms in terms of minutes.

Our world isn’t helping us grow anymore patient.

Could there be a value in waiting that is good for us? I know this, God moves in his own time and in his own way. Maybe waiting for the Lord has a purpose all its own. The work that God wants to do in us is as important as the things we wait for.[1]

We’ve been conditioned to assume that waiting patiently is automatically bad.

I’m not sure who Richard Hendrix is (maybe Jimi’s brother??), but whoever he is, he said this, and it is worth hearing, “Second only to suffering, waiting may be the greatest teacher and trainer in godliness, maturity, and genuine spirituality most of us ever encounter.”

We are taught and trained when we wait for the Lord because waiting grows patience. Waiting grows trust and trust is essential to living with God.

If we never had to wait, we wouldn’t need patience. What kind of people would that make us? Part of the problem of our modern culture is that as waiting gets shortcut we are becoming more impatient, and as we become impatient we become more demanding, arrogant, and angry. No wonder there is a little tension in the air these days.

Maybe God wants to do something in us through the waiting.

When it says in Psalm 40, “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire— but my ears you have opened…” we see something of what God does when we wait upon him. Our ears open to him so we can hear him. It’s like when you are on the waiting at a restaurant, your ears are open for when your name is called. You are listening. Waiting puts us in a place where we are listening for God.

If I may take a small tangent here, the Psalms are quoted more than 100 times in the New Testament and appear in all but two of the books of the New Testament. Interestingly the writer of Hebrews says this part of Psalm 40 is about our Lord Jesus Christ, and I always like to find Jesus in the Psalms.

The writer of Hebrews says:

Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:

“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; 6 with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. 7 Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll— I have come to do your will, my God.’”

Hebrews quotes this part of Psalm 40 and makes it the words of Jesus because Jesus came to be perfectly obedient to the Father, keeping every word of the law. He perfectly listened to the Father, and perfectly did the will of God. He lived these words.

We read in Hebrews, And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once and for all.” (Hebrews 10:10)

The sacrifice to end all sacrifices was Jesus on the cross. Our relating to God, our pleasing God, now, goes directly through the Lord Jesus Christ. In our waiting and trusting, we come to God through Jesus.

As the psalm goes on it goes from waiting patiently for the Lord, and praising God for coming through for David back to a prayer for mercy and help. David asks the Lord to “come quickly.” (v.13) What happened? Everything was good, but now we learn there are still issues.

But isn’t this how life often is? Life is not a single, straight line. Life is often ambiguous.[2] We are rescued by God, and then have things come at us that bring fear and even despair. We experience sorrow and joy often at the same time.

We move through one thing and another is waiting for us.

As the character from the original cast of Saturday Night Live, Rosanne Rosanna Danna (played by Gilda Radner) used to say, “It’s always something.”

It is always something.

And because it is always something, we are always turning to God, hoping in God, waiting for God.

A lot of the life of faith is one of waiting - hopeful waiting. It is trusting in what we can’t see, and don’t yet know. And this means we have to rely on God, who is greater and sees more and knows more than we do.

Psalm 40 ends in the same place it began. The last words are, “O my God, do not delay.” A song that began with waiting patiently for the Lord ends by asking God not to take too long. David prays for the Lord to hurry it up. “Don’t take too long, Lord. The sooner the better, as far as I’m concerned.”

I suppose we will always be waiting patiently on the Lord in one way or another.

But as we do, know that the Lord is doing something in us. In waiting for the Lord the Lord is teaching us about a life of waiting, of hope, of trust. He is training us, maturing us, and building up our faith. He is moving us closer to him.

I know this, if I am waiting for someone to do something for me, and I know that person to be faithful, trustworthy, and who I believe thoroughly loves me, it is easier to be patient. The Lord of Psalm 40 is none other than our Lord Jesus Christ who knows our need, and is our help and our deliverer, and does love us beyond our imagining.

“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31,32)

Who better to wait for?

Prayer: Lord we thank you that you are worth waiting for and that you are always working out your purposes in our lives. We confess how impatient we can be, so increase our trust so that we can receive all you have for us. Amen.

[1] Ben Patterson, Waiting, p. 11 [2] Walter Brueggemann, Message of Psalms, 131

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