Let’s face it–nobody likes to wait. But waiting is a part of life. Since I felt God calling me into the ministry when I was 14, I’ve been waiting to see exactly what that ministry would look like. In the following 12 years, God has begun to reveal some of the details about the ministry he has for me, but we still have not yet began the actual process of translating scripture, and won’t for some time. God has called us to serve in Bible translation with Wycliffe Bible Translators, but there are many steps in the journey before we can begin the process of translation.
Waiting can be frustrating at times. “God, why can’t I just ________? Why am I waiting right now? What am I waiting for? Why aren’t things happening when I thought they would?” But, through the years and even the past few months of waiting, God has taught me some valuable lessons about waiting that I’d like to share with you so that perhaps you might be encouraged by the thread of grace in your wait.
1. God’s timing is perfect.
It may seem cliche’, but it’s true. To quote one of my favorite Bible teachers in my church, David Wagnon, “We’re just not that smart!” You and I simply do not have see all the pieces in this grand puzzle called life. In hindsight, I’m very grateful that God made me wait for some things. Had God followed my timeline instead of his divine plan, I would not be married to my wonderful wife. I would not have been given this wonderful ministry. Frankly, my life would be a wreck! Galatians 4:4 says, “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son…” The Earth waited thousands of years for the perfect timing of the Messiah. Jennifer and I will get to the mission field exactly when God plans–not a moment sooner, nor a moment later. God is always right on time.
2. God is glorified most when things go by HIS schedule, not OURS.
Think about the Exodus. The Hebrews were rejoicing that God had finally freed them from the tyranny of their Egyptian masters. Then, while their backs are up against the Red Sea, here comes the Egyptian horde! Now, of course we know how the story ends. God parts the Red Sea and the Hebrews walk through on dry ground with the Egyptian army close on their tail. Just as the Hebrews clear the sea, God releases the waters and the Egyptian army is destroyed. (I’m particularly fond of the portrayal of this scene in the animated film Moses: Prince of Egypt.)
Now here’s a question you may have never thought to ask–couldn’t God have parted the Red Sea before the Hebrews arrived so that they could have just meandered through at a more leisurely pace without the Egyptian army breathing down their necks? The Egyptian army would have arrived just in time to see Israel safely on the other side of the sea with absolutely no way of pursuing them. (No doubt they would have been puzzled at how two million Hebrews crossed such a body of water!) God’s people still would have been saved, and they wouldn’t have had to face the threat of death. Why did God wait until the last moment, when it seemed there was absolutely no hope of escape? I think the answer lies in Romans 9:17, “For Scripture says to Pharaoh: ‘I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.'”
Our lives serve one primary purpose–to bring glory and honor to our Creator. For those like Pharaoh who spurn him, God gets glory in their perfectly timed and executed judgment. For those like Moses who seek his face, God gets glory in their salvation in his perfect timing. God gets glory when things happen on his seemingly impossible timeline! Have you ever experienced an Exodus moment, where just in the nick of time God provides exactly what you needed? That is God using you for what you were created–to bring him glory.
Faith does not operate in the realm of the possible. There is no glory for God in that which is humanly possible. Faith begins where man’s power ends. –George Mueller
3. God has placed you in this time and location in history for a ministry that only you can do.
Despite the fact that I am not yet in the process of translating scripture for a Bibleless people group, that doesn’t mean that I have not yet begun my ministry. One important lesson that I’ve learned over the years is that I am NEVER to wait to begin my ministry. It is true that I am waiting in a sense–waiting to move to Dallas to begin linguistic training, then waiting to move overseas and begin translation, and then I’ll be waiting to learn the language, etc. But, I am not to sit idly by and wish I could be doing ministry! Every time I share with individuals and churches about the need of Bibleless people groups, I am ministering–both as an advocate for the Bibleless and as an encourager to the church in America! That’s ministry, and it’s an awesome ministry! While it is true that I have not yet begun the next phase of my ministry, I cannot fall into the trap of thinking of my ministry as some future destination–it’s more of a journey with many different phases along the way.
God has gifted every single Christian with spiritual gifts that he intends for us to use wherever and whenever he has placed us. In that sense, we should never be “waiting” to serve, but rather look for opportunities to serve right where we are, even in the midst of the waiting. If you currently feel like you’re “waiting” to start your ministry, I encourage you to ask yourself this question: “What ministry opportunities might God be wanting me to take advantage of right here and now? Who has God placed in my life to whom I can minister? How can I use my spiritual gifts right where I am?”
4. Slow down, be patient, and be thankful for this time in your life. It will soon be gone.
Our natural instinct when waiting is to try to find a way to make the waiting happen more quickly. But in so doing, we often miss a lot of important blessings that God has put in our wait. For instance, Jennifer and I are currently waiting to begin our training in Dallas, TX at the Graduate Institute for Applied Linguistics (GIAL). We had originally hoped to begin our training in July, but we have shifted our goal back to January in order to give us enough time to more fully develop our team of ministry partners. While I am anxious to get to PNG soon so that we can begin the process of Bible translation, six months is not a lot of time and it will pass quickly. I could look at this time as just a delay, or I could choose to see it as a blessing.
We have precious little time left here with our family, friends, and our church. Once we’re gone, it could be more than three years until we see many of those people again–and some we may never see again this side of heaven. We have counted the cost and we’re aware of the sacrifices, but perhaps it’s God’s grace that we be delayed a little while so that Jennifer can have our second little boy (Isaiah James Hill, eta Septwmber 22!) while we are here in Arkansas, surrounded by family and loved ones. Perhaps it’s God’s grace giving us six more months here with the family, friends, and church we love. Something tells me that there will be days ahead when we will long for a few extra moments with loved ones.
5. God uses times of waiting to strengthen us and mold us into the servants he needs us to be.
Think of the godliest people in the Bible. Who comes to mind? Moses? David? Jesus? Paul? Do you know what they all have in common? Every single one of them went through a long period of waiting to begin their ministry.
Moses waited 40 years in Midian before beginning his ministry of leading the Hebrews out of Egypt. Then, he wandered in the wilderness with them for another 40 years (because of their disobedience) and ultimately died in the wilderness without ever entering the Promised Land. According to II Samuel 5:4, “David was thirty years old when he began to reign” and he was probably about 15 when Samuel first anointed him king, which means that David waited 15 years to become king of Judah, and then an additional seven years to rule over Israel! Jesus himself didn’t begin his official ministry until he was 30! Paul waited over three years after his conversion to go back to Jerusalem (Galatians 1), and didn’t begin his missionary journeys for several years after that. I could go on…
Why is it that all of the godliest men in the Bible waited to begin their ministry? Of all people, why did Jesus himself wait so long? He knew exactly what ministry he was called to–couldn’t he have started when he was 20?
Hebrews 5:7-9 gives us an important–and startling–explanation:
“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him..”
Pay close attention to what you just read–Jesus learned obedience and was made perfect…Does that surprise you? Wasn’t Jesus already obedient? Wasn’t he already perfect? Here’s another surprising verse from Luke 2:40:
“And the child [Jesus] grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.”
Now it’s no surprise that Jesus grew–he was human, after all. But this verse seems to indicate that Jesus grew in wisdom, too. Jesus learned obedience, was made perfect, and became strong and filled with wisdom. Wasn’t Jesus already perfect? In the sense of “sinlessness,” yes–absolutely. Wasn’t Jesus already obedient? To the commands he had received at that point in time, yes. Wasn’t Jesus already wise? For his age, yes. But there were bigger commands and tougher temptations yet to come. Jesus had not yet been tested with the cross. Before he would be ready to endure the shame and agony of the cross, he had to endure the agony of a 40 day fast. Before he could perfectly obey his heavenly Father as an adult, he had to obey his earthly father as a child. Before he could fulfill his ultimate Ministry to the world, he had to be faithful in his immediate ministry to his family. Just as a good earthly father does not give his 5 year old son a 100 lb. load to carry, the Heavenly Father, out of his love, never gave his Son more than he could handle at that point in his physical and spiritual development.
So here’s the point:
If it was necessary for Christ himself to undergo 30 years of waiting, trials, and refinement to become the person that the Father needed him to be to endure his ministry and the cross, how much more waiting and refinement do you and I need! In our zeal, we are eager to do God’s will–and rightly so! But we can’t begrudge the times of refinement that God uses to develop us into the person that we need to be in order to carry out that will! God knows the type of character we need for the ministry he has given us, and he oftentimes uses the periods of waiting in our lives to prepare us. We may think we’re ready, but only God knows when we’re truly ready, for only he knows what the future holds.
So what is God trying to do in your life to prepare you for the next step? What character traits is he trying to develop in you? What sins is he trying to purge from your life? How is he teaching you to depend upon Him?
Waiting is not always pleasant, but perhaps if you look hard enough, you’ll see the thread of grace in your wait.