"Wait," Jesus said to His disciples when teaching them how to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4). Waiting is still prerequisite to receiving the Holy Spirit, either initially or repeatedly.
We're not attuned to waiting, though. We expect to get our glasses in an hour, our pizza in 20 minutes, and our oil changed in 10 minutes. We have express lanes, express mail, and jiffy markets. Fast-food restaurants were timed in Pittsburgh and the winner took forty-six seconds to serve a hamburger, fries, and a soft drink. The loser, a slow three minutes.
The danger is that the lure of quick and easy will seep into our time with God. But God longs for us to show Him we desire the Spirit enough in our lives to wait for Him.
Waiting is focused desire
"Be filled with the Spirit," wrote Paul to the Ephesians and the verse could as accurately be translated, "Keep being filled with the Spirit." Again and again we need the refilling of the Spirit, and the Holy Spirit always responds anew to those who wait.
Adam Clarke says the Hebrew word kavah, which we translate wait, means the extension of a cord from one point to another. This is a great metaphor. God is one point, our heart is the other; and the extended cord between both is our strong desire. Waiting is going before the Lord with an earnest desire and looking to Him until He fulfills our desire.
Waiting in prayer
Perhaps the biggest hindrance to our waiting is the unconscious thought that we can make it without the Spirit's help. At our church dinner honoring graduates last spring, I looked at some hand-lettered signs the decorating committee had placed around the room and laughed when I read one that said, "I could not wait for success, so I went on without it." How foolish, I thought, to fail to take the time for the necessary details that success requires.
Then the truth hit me. Now I often quote a slightly modified form of this sign to myself as a warning: "I could not wait for the Holy Spirit, so I went on without Him." That thought brings me up short. Is that what I really want to do when I'm tempted to proceed without an assurance that I've tarried until I've been imbued with power from on high? That assurance may simply be a peace, a strong confidence, a knowledge that God has heard.
Waiting, keeping the cord of desire arising from our hearts to God, is not easy to do. I'm so easily distracted even when I strongly desire God's answer. Just recently I was seeking the Lord's help for some work I had to do. The Holy Spirit was helping me pray when the doorbell rang. I started for the door and heard the UPS truck. I knew the driver had left a package outside my door.
At that moment I had a choice, I could have shown the Lord I was truly waiting on Him. But, I thought, I'll just bring the package in and then continue praying.
I was surprised to see that the package was a dress I had ordered and I almost succeeded in putting it aside. But, no, it wouldn't hurt just to take a peek at it. By the time I looked at the red dress and decided it was too large, the Spirit of prayer had gone. The hunger to know God's answer, to hear Him speak, had been deferred by a minor interruption. It was almost as if the Spirit, who is very sensitive to our desires, read from my actions, "She doesn't want Me as much as she said." I realized I had lost an opportunity to demonstrate to the Holy Spirit how very much I wanted Him.
"They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength" (Isa. 40:31). But waiting requires that we forgo other things to show the Lord that He is the desire of our lives.
Waiting beyond prayer
Too often when we leave the place of prayer, we also leave our dependence on Him and allow that cord of desire to break. In His time, He will work; He will do all we trust Him to do. But our waiting must continue beyond our prayer time. Eventually we'll be able to look back and say, "Jesus led me all the way."
Sam Pollard, a twenty-fouryear-old missionary in China, was going to have a ten-day meeting. He preceded this meeting with days of prayer and at the end of that time, God promised him thousands of souls.
Pollard did have his thousands —but not until he was forty. Sixteen years later, a whole tribe, thousands of people, welcomed his message, and in God's time, Pollard had God's answer.
Our ability to wait for God in our prayer closets determines our ability to wait for Him out of our closets. Unless we know God has heard our prayer and we're enabled to rest our faith on His promise, we will fail to wait later. Our real determination to wait, to trust God, will show up first in our prayers.
An evangelist was coming to our home for Sunday dinner and as I prayed for the Lord to make our visit profitable, I knew He had granted my request. Dinner time was almost finished, though, and the conversation had just been usual chit-chat. As I carried in the dessert, I cried with what John Wesley referred to as his "inner voice." "But, God, I know You heard me. Please help us." Somehow over dessert we began discussing answers to prayer. It was after 4 o'clock before we stirred from the table. I doubt that any of us will forget that afternoon as we shared past answers to prayer.
Another time I had told a friend I would pick her up at work, bring her to my home, and take her back to work after lunch. She was not a believer, and I prayed and waited before the Lord before going to get her that day until I knew He would bring good from our visit. Again, it was not until we were on the way back to her office that the conversation turned to her spiritual needs and I knew God was answering. God is never in a hurry, but He is never late.
How I know I'm waiting on God
I use a couple of simple tests to determine whether I'm waiting or worrying. The Psalmist said, "My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him" (Ps. 62:5). On my prayer calendar, today's quote is from E. M. Bounds: "It is comparatively easy to wait upon God; but to wait upon Him only, is, I suspect, a difficult and rare attainment." When I'm waiting on God alone, I don't get upset if my plans are changed or my expectations are not met.
That is test number one. If I'm upset because of conditions I can't control, then I'm not waiting on God alone. This is a sign that I should return to God, and in His presence commit the new situation to Him, and once again, return to my waiting.
A friend had gone to many interviews looking for a job. One day after months of looking, she was again turned down. She said to me, "If God had given me a job with a salary paying many thousands, we would have said, 'Isn't God good!' But God is just as good in His refusal." When we hang on to faith during disappointment, something within us deepens. Superficial piety gives way to spiritual growth.
Test number two is my level of activity, which will sound like a paradox. On one hand I'm doing nothing; on the other, I'm doing everything I can. Waiting does not mean inactivity; it means persevering. It means we exercise self-control to do whatever is necessary to express our strong desire. The root word for "passive" and "passion" is the same, meaning "to endure." While waiting, the heart is both passive and passionate, refusing to act on its own but passionate in looking to God.
Paul wrote, "And the Lord direct your hearts into . . the patient waiting for Christ" (2 Thess. 3:5). The Greek word for patient waiting is hupomone, and in ancient secular literature, there's a story of a soldier who was decorated for his hupomone or his patient waiting. This soldier had not sat in his rocking chair patiently waiting for the battle to end. He had been on the front lines and had held steady in the thick of the battle.
I often find the most difficult period of waiting is the time beyond prayer. I can wait in prayer trusting God to help me in my writing, for instance. But to continue waiting beyond prayer, I must be faithful in what I do with my time. I must keep trying to write even if it seems that what I'm doing is a waste. Sometimes my words don't make sense even to me. But when I practice hupomone, patiently waiting, I keep writing, not because I think I can write, but to keep that cord of desire intact.
God asks us to patiently wait—to wait on Him in prayer and then maintain a focused desire even beyond prayer. "Though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come" (Hab. 2:3). Though He tarries, wait for Him. The Holy Spirit will surely come.
The Wisdom of Waiting
Why are we called to wait?
God gives more promises to those who wait than to any others except those who have faith. (Waiting is actually a form of faith.) The following verses are only a few of the promises to those who wait on the Lord.
"None that wait on thee shall be ashamed" (Ps. 25:3). Those who wait are promised freedom from shame.
"Wait on the Lord; be of good cheer and he shall strengthen thine heart. Wait, I say, on the Lord" (Ps. 27:14). Refreshing strength for those who wait is again promised in Isaiah 40:31: "But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint."
God exalts those who wait! "Wait on the Lord, and keep his way, and he shall exalt thee to inherit the land" (Ps. 37:34). How are we to wait?
We are to wait for some definite fulfillment of a promise. The disciples were not told simply to wait, but to wait for the promise of the Father (Acts 1:4).
We are to wait patiently. "Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him" (Ps. 37:7). "The eyes of all wait upon thee; and thou givest them their meat in due season" (Ps. 145:15).
God is watching for those who are waiting on Him expectantly. "Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God, until that he have mercy upon us" (Ps. 123:2).
Those who wait have a great longing. "My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning; I say, more than they that watch for the morning" (Ps. 130:60).
God asks that we quietly wait "It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord" (Lam. 3:26).