THE WAITING ROOM
One of the most stressful times of life is to be in the ‘Waiting Room’. I recently had to visit the doctor. I arrived at the waiting room, let the receptionist know I was there, and sat down. If you’re like me in a waiting room, after 5 minutes you’ve got the opposite wall memorised. I don’t like to read magazines because then I escape wonderfully into another world and forget I’m there until the receptionist is standing over me saying, ‘The doctor is ready to probe you now!’ So I sit and stare at the wall and wonder if the doctor’s having a good or bad day.
It’s a lot worse in the waiting room of a dentist. When I was about 10 years old I had to go for my first tooth extraction in the dentist’s chair. The dentist might have been experienced, but I was not gonna go down easy! He had a needle in his hand, but that didn’t subdue me. My mom held me down. The dentist assistant was holding me down. The dentist was trying to hold me down with one hand while aiming with the other. I kicked and screamed so much the receptionist came to hold me down. I can’t even imagine the poor souls in the waiting room hearing the ugly torture being inflicted on a small boy, but I don’t doubt that the dentist lost some customers that day because of me.
When I was in high school I was pricked by one of my classmates with a needle that he had been using to prick others. I went to the doctor who put me on ARVs and I had to wait for a month to find out if my class mate’s little game had just put a death sentence over my head.
It’s stressful to wait.
I’m not there yet, but I can imagine that one of the worst waiting rooms is just outside the delivery rooms of a hospital. I picture anxious relatives pacing up and down the room wondering if everything is going okay inside.
Waiting for something can be extremely stressful. The cold feet, the busy and confused mind, the empty weight in the pit of your belly, the frustrated longing to ‘escape’ – all these are symptoms of a waiting for something important to happen.
I don’t know what you’re waiting for in your life. Maybe you’re waiting for the test results from the doctor to find out if you or someone you love has been cleared of cancer. Maybe you’re waiting to get the word from your boss about whether you’ll have a job come January or not. Maybe you’re waiting for ‘the one’ to marry. Maybe you’re waiting for the banks to finalise your loan so you can start the business you’ve been planning for years.
I don’t know what you’re waiting for, but in tonight’s message we’re going to be talking about what we do while we wait.
We’re going to be reading from Luke 1:39-56.
WHAT WE DO WHILE WE WAIT
I don’t know if you remember the context of this passage from the last time that I preached. At this time in history there was an eager anticipation of a soon-coming Messiah. The Israelites were again in a form of bondage – this time under the Roman Empire. And for four hundred years there had been no word from God. They were in a state of waiting. Everybody was waiting, everybody was expectant, something was about to happen
Finally, after such a long wait, God sent His messenger Gabriel to Zechariah to announce that he would be a father in his late years, and the father to none other than the eagerly expected forerunner of the Messiah.
My Dad used to run the Comrades. That’s a big race: 15,000 runners running 89km in under 12 hours. We would wake up super-early and drive my Dad to the starting line. We’d watch the race start, and then drive to the finish line where we’d wait for him to arrive. Those first few hours could be dull.
But about 3 hours after we’d arrive, there was a hugely exciting event. The commentators on the loudspeakers would get more animated. People would start running down to the fencing of the course. A buzz would rise and then the loudspeakers would start blaring Chariots of Fire. When that happened, you knew the awaited champion had just entered the stadium and was about to win the race.
John the Baptist was that herald whose arrival, just like the Chariots of Fire, announced the coming of the long-awaited champion – the One they had been waiting for so long.
Tonight I want to talk to you about waiting. There are three things you can do with your time while you wait – you can invest it wisely; you can waste it; or you can try and escape it.
It’s true that waiting is a part of life, an inescapable part of life. We don’t like to hear that. We live in a time and a society that could be characterised by the title: Instant Gratification Generation. We don’t like to wait for things. That’s why cellphones are so popular because at our fingertips we have games, movies, pornography, gossip, news, music, whatever can help us escape from quietness and dullness because we hate to wait.
But we have to wait. Action only comes after long periods of waiting. The question is: WHAT WILL WE DO WITH YOUR TIMES OF WAITING?
The Bible is full of examples of people who had to wait. I saw a sign this last week that said ‘Joseph waited 15 years, Abraham waited 25 years, Moses waited 40 years, and Jesus waited 30 years – If God is making you wait, you’re in very good company.’ And like that sign alluded to, the Bible is full of stories of people who had to wait.
At the age of 75, Abraham was promised descendants that would be numerous and powerful, and he had to wait 25 years for the fulfilment. While he waited, he learnt to trust and obey, he trusted the Lord and went where God called him to go. Joseph waited in service, then bondage, then prison for years before he was placed in charge of the future of God’s people. While he waited, he grew in his understanding of God’s will so that when the time came for revenge for all the wrong done to him, he recognised God’s hand in it and graciously saved those who had sold him. Hannah, the mother of who would become the great prophet Samuel, was a barren woman who prayed in the temple and waited years for God to provide her with a son. These are examples of Bible heroes who waited well. Their time of waiting was a time of preparation and allowing God to move and work in their lives until the fulfilment of God’s promises would come. But there are many examples as well of Bible villains who waited badly.
Samson waited for the deliverance of the Israelites that God said would come through him. While he waited he frequented brothels and pubs and got into selfish petty fights. Saul waited for the prophet Samuel to arrive to make sacrifices to God. While he waited he listened to the threats and gripes of the soldiers around him instead of God’s voice. These are examples of Bible ‘villains’ who waited badly.
The difference? The heroes sought God in their times of waiting, and the villains didn’t. Which camp do you fall into? GOD IS CALLING US TO SEEK HIM WHILE WE WAIT.
Let’s go back to the story of Hannah.
Hannah desperately wanted a child. Her husband had a second wife called Peninnah who had many children, and would often taunt and despise Hannah. Hannah knew the stories of women like Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and others who had been barren and then were made able to have children, so she knew that it might happen that perhaps one day she would have a child of her own. So she waited with eager expectation.
What did she do with this TIME OF WAITING? Did she spend her time formulating ways to get back at Peninnah? Did she run off and try to get pregnant with a different man? Did she give up on God? Did she stop going to Church and say, ‘Why should I? It never does me any good!’
No, the Bible says that she spent her TIME OF WAITING crying out to God and seeking Him in His temple. This resulted not only in God granting her a child, but also in a great outburst of praise and worship that revealed something very interesting about Hannah. I’ll read just a few verses:
“My heart rejoices in the LORD; in the LORD my strength is lifted high. My mouth boasts over my enemies, for I delight in your deliverance. There is no one holy like the LORD; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God...It is not by strength that one prevails; those who oppose the LORD will be shattered...He will give strength to his king and lift up the strength of his anointed.”
This outburst of praise shows us that Hannah sought the Lord in her time of waiting. And these verses are remarkably similar to Mary’s outburst of praise in Luke 1. Let me tell you, this beautiful fruit of praise comes from a tree rooted in God’s Word. Her heart was so saturated with the Word and the Spirit of God that when the breakthrough to her cries came she overflowed with glory to God.
The fact is we are in one gigantic waiting room. You know what it is to wait for your significant other to get ready to go out, your appointment’s for 7 and at 6:45 she’s still choosing her shoes. There’s a groan of, ‘Will we make it, how much longer will this take?’
There are longer term groans. I can speak about the groaning, eager wait to get married. “How much longer will this take? Will this waiting go on forever?”
Those who have tried for years to have children would know the groaning, the deep agonising in the wait.
But the Bible talks about a waiting which is a much longer, much deeper groaning:
Romans 8:18-27 “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed...We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently...”
This passage tells us that we’re all eagerly waiting for something. Maybe you’re most consciously aware of waiting for the doctor’s call, or the estate agent, or the bank. But even then there’s an eager waiting that exists in the world today, a waiting that so saturates the world that we are no more consciously aware of it than a fish is of the water it’s in.
Yet our spirits are painfully aware that creation is not as it should be. We’re in a constant, eager sense of waiting in this life. The question is, WHAT WILL WE DO WITH THIS TIME OF WAITING? How will we use our time?
I was impressed by Mary’s story, that she even in her young years was so saturated with God and His Word that when God started moving she overflowed with praise. Hannah did the same.
APPLICATION FOR LIFE
So how will we apply this to our lives today?
We will choose to wait on the LORD in our times of waiting.
My Hebrew lecturer at college was a bit of a nerd. While she was studying Hebrew she was a Mom of active children, as well as having a busy job. But she was determined to learn Hebrew, so she put all the Hebrew words and terms onto cards and she would carry them with her everywhere she went. If she was driving and the robot ahead turned red, she’d pull out her Hebrew cards. If she was watching her son play soccer, she’d have out her Hebrew cards reviewing while she watched. She was determined, and so she aced the language. And she has not just a knowledge, but also a passion for the language.
If we want to be growing in our relationship with the Lord, growing in our readiness to serve Him, we need to see our times of waiting as opportunities of growing. I can just picture Mary, when she went down to fetch water, going over the Bible lesson she heard that last Sabbath, trying to remember the passage she’d heard the Rabbi quoting from the Scriptures. As she kneaded the dough: singing praise songs or Psalms. That’s using times of waiting as opportunities for growing.
Why don’t we do the same: in our lunch hours at work have a few memory cards that we go over and meditate on. Driving home from work having worship music on the radio, not just for the sound but to use our driving as an opportunity to grow. As we’re preparing dinner, thinking about the One who called us and saved us and praying about challenges that we’re facing.
It’s only by using our times of waiting as opportunities for growing that we’ll overflow in praise and worship as people like Hannah or Mary did.
I’m going to end by quoting a well known passage from Isaiah. “...they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”