I bumped into a tired old paperback on a neglected couch-side shelf this week. Its yellowing pages and faded cover picture a man kneeling at a stool, head in hands. Its title is Waiting on God, by Andrew Murray. Flipping it open I scanned a few lines and realized this was the book I needed though it wasn’t the one I had actually been looking for.
It is not merely a book on prayer but on its correlative: waiting. I appreciate Murray’s distinguishing the two. He says “there may be much praying with but very little waiting on God. In praying we are often occupied with ourselves, with our own needs, and our own efforts in the presentation of them. [Yes! This is precisely my experience!; something’s missing] He goes on: In waiting upon God, the first thought is of the God upon whom we wait...”
Have you ever noticed how God inexplicably supplies just what you need when you need it? It was no ‘fluke’ that I happened upon this old book I had yet to read. I couldn’t even remember at first where I had come by it. But I have been frustrated with my ‘prayer life’ for a long time. It has been an ongoing plea: ‘Lord, teach me to pray.’ I see the need; there’s no want of opportunity to intercede! And since communication is a backbone of relationship, obviously prayer is basic to a believer’s life. Why then the disparity between what I know to be true and the way I pray?
Could it be I have not learned the value of waiting on God? Seems everywhere I turn of late I find a lesson on waiting. I read King Saul’s story this week—you remember the incident where his impetuousness lost him the kingdom? His enemies were gathering on his borders in formidable numbers—“like the sand on the seashore”. His own troops numbered mere hundreds and had neither sword nor spear to face 30,000 chariots and 6,000 horsemen and troops! (I Sam.13) Desperately Saul waited for Samuel to come and officiate at the burnt offerings and peace offerings. He needed God on his side! Unfortunately he had the wrong idea about God. He viewed the sacrificial system as a sort of good-luck charm—a means of gaining God’s favor and guaranteeing victory. Do I sometimes view prayer this way?
And when Samuel didn’t show up punctually, Saul panicked and took charge of offering the sacrifice himself in clear violation of God’s standards. His desperation revealed a heart out of sync with God’s heart.
Did he think all depended on him to do something?
Did he not realize that ‘the Lord will not forsake His people for His great name’s sake’. (I Sam.12:22) His calling was to ‘fear the Lord and serve Him faithfully with all [his] heart’ (I Sam.12:24) but fear of his enemies outranked his fear of God. So he failed to wait to see how God would choose to act. His kingship was revoked.
When we face impossible situations and impending crises our hearts’ devotion becomes transparent. Have you been there? I have. Panic! Unless we have learned to wait for God, and in these times to know His heart, we will be unprepared in crisis to trust Him and fear Him only…We will be tempted to run ahead and do something, anything! to save ourselves (or whoever needs saving!).
In panic we will tend to use prayer like a magic bullet—devoid of faith, driven by fear, offering words, demands, desperate pleas, but not trust. Meanwhile God’s spirit whispers: “In quietness and in trust shall be your strength…” Is.30:15 And He waits to be gracious to us…He waits for us to wait for Him. Is.30:18
I’ve been struck lately by Jesus’ words: Without me you can do nothing. Nothing. What is the use of worry, of scurry, of meticulous ordering of my days—all belying my supposed dependence on Him. Unless I’m actively depending on Christ, abiding in Him, waiting on His direction I accomplish NOTHING. It may look like a something but He says it is nothing.
The stuff of waiting revolves around two deep convictions:
1) a deep sense of personal helplessness to accomplish anything of eternal value
2) a perfect confidence that God is willing and able to do beyond all that I could ask or even think! (Murray, p.20-21)
Without these I will be good at ‘busy’ but not so great at ‘wait’. Busy implies significance, being needed, being ‘somebody’. It’s a classic way of conforming to the world.
Waiting implies dependence, being in need, and being ‘nothing without Him’. It demonstrates I am not in control but He is.
I think that as we age this becomes more evident. Our bodies no longer do our bidding as they once did. We begin to need aids: seeing aids, hearing aids, walking aids, sleeping aids… As the outer man fades the inner man is given opportunity to grow strong, to deepen its dependence on the God who has sustained us all along. Before I lose all my faculties I would like to learn to wait on God.
As I began to read Andrew Murray’s book I came upon a card marking someone’s place. It bore my Dad’s handwriting, as he struggled to untangle the spelling of a familiar word…he was likely in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s when he read this book. (Yes, that’s where I’d gotten it. I’d tucked it in my suitcase on my last visit--a sampling from Dad’s bookcase.) The card he used as a bookmark and ruler for underlining was an ad for woodworking patterns—for a tractor and a model T, for a familiar looking loader and a dump truck. Dad made these things. Now he lives in a care home, incapacitated and unable to communicate, waiting on God to issue his call home. He can do little else.
“From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a god besides you, who acts for those who wait for him.” Is.64:4
[the verse by my kitchen sink]:
“In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly…but I, by your great love, can come into your house, in reverence I bow down toward your holy temple.” Ps.5:3,7
“My soul, wait thou only upon God: for my expectation is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation; He is my defense; I shall not be moved. In God is my salvation and my glory; the rock of my strength, and my refuge is in God.” Ps.62:5-7
If you have a few minutes more, consider this profound foreword to Andrew Murray’s book, Waiting on God:
Wait Thou Only Upon God
"Wait only upon God"; my soul, be still,
And let thy God unfold His perfect will,
Thou fain would'st follow Him throughout this year,
Thou fain with listening heart his voice would'st hear,
Thou fain would'st be a passive instrument
Possessed by God, and ever Spirit-sent
Upon His service sweet—then be thou still,
For only thus can He in thee fulfill
His heart's desire. Oh, hinder not His hand
From fashioning the vessel He hath planned.
"Be silent unto God," and thou shalt know
The quiet, holy calm He doth bestow
On those who wait on him; so shalt thou bear
His presence, and His life and light e'en where
The night is darkest, and thine earthly days
Shall show His love, and sound His glorious praise.
And He will work with hand unfettered, free,
His high and holy purposes through thee.
First on thee must that hand of power be turned,
Till in His love's strong fire thy dross is burned,
And thou come forth a vessel for thy Lord,
So frail and empty, yet, since He hath poured
Into thine emptiness His life, His love,
Henceforth through thee the power of God shall move
And He will work for thee. Stand still and see
The victories thy God will gain for thee;
So silent, yet so irresistible,
Thy God shall do the thing impossible.
Oh, question not henceforth what thou canst do;
Thou canst do nought. But He will carry through
The work where human energy had failed
Where all thy best endeavors had availed
Thee nothing. Then, my soul, wait and be still;
Thy God shall work for thee his perfect will.
Thou wilt take no less, His best shall be
Thy portion now and through eternity.
in Waiting on God by Andrew Murray