Waiting on the Lord can be hard for two reasons. Bad theology, the first reason, is what I wrote about previously here at Christianity.com. The second reason has nothing to do with bad theology though. In fact, you can have very solid and robust beliefs about God, man, sin, etc. and yet still find it tough to wait. That’s because sometimes the waiting doesn’t end.
Recently, my family of six made a 1,200-mile trek to Texas and back to visit relatives there. We live in Indiana and have four children, so these trips are both exhausting and fun. But there’s also sadness in these trips, because it is the only time we get to see my mom, who at just 63 years old has advancing Alzheimer’s disease and is slowly fading away from us.
We have, of course, prayed for her healing and believe God has the power to heal if he so chooses. But God hasn’t healed her. I don’t believe that’s because of any lack of faith or prayer in those of us who love her. Nor is it because of any lack of power or goodness in God. I believe that God both loves her (and us) and has the power to heal her.
Yet, in his inscrutable wisdom, God has not healed. And this terrible disease continues to take its course with mom’s mind and body, reminding us that we live, as do all human beings, in a world still waiting for redemption.
Every person reading this has probably faced (or will face) a similar situation. Sometimes, God mercifully answers our prayers. We wait, and it’s hard. But it’s only for a season, and then the burden lifts—the answer comes, or we get the guidance we’ve asked for, or he supplies the provision we need—and we feel assured in a fresh way that God is there and that he hears and cares.
But much of our waiting is life-long. We sometimes struggle with unanswered prayers not just for months, but years. We carry burdens over decades. We endure what appears to be the unchecked and unhindered advances of sorrow, sin, and suffering in our lives, in our world.
Though we pray, the answer doesn’t come. The burden doesn’t lift. The cancer, or Alzheimer’s doesn’t go away. Sometimes we just keep on waiting, and waiting, and waiting. What then? What do we say of this?
The Story Isn’t Over
I certainly don’t fathom all the mysteries of God’s providence. But this much I think we can say. We still haven’t reached the end of the story. We’re still waiting. And while this might initially cause us to doubt our faith, if we know our Bibles well, we see that our experience matches up with the reality Scripture portrays.
In fact, the New Testament uses the language of waiting to describe the characteristic mode of living for believers in Jesus.
We wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. (1 Thessalonians 1:10)
Through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. (Galatians 5:5)
Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:20-21)
We are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13)
Perhaps the most poignant passage of all is in Romans 8, where Paul talks about how the creation itself longs for its freedom from corruption and decay and how we, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for the redemption of our bodies. (See Romans 8:19-25.)
Longing. Groaning. Waiting. This is quintessential New Testament faith. This, in fact, is the gospel story writ large on the canvas of the history of the world.
Think of it like this. The gospel tells us that Jesus himself faced suffering and death on the cross and then waited until that first Easter morning to be raised from the dead in his glorified humanity. And he is called the firstfruits of the resurrection. The firstborn from the dead. He’s the first, not the last. The final resurrection hasn’t happened yet. New creation has begun, but it is not yet complete. We’re still waiting for it.
In a way, the whole created world still lives in the shadow of Good Friday and Holy Saturday, as we wait for the final resurrection morning. But unlike the disciples who didn’t know he would rise, we actually know the end of the story! The day is coming when Christ will fully establish His kingdom and make all things new.
Waiting in Hope
And so, we wait; but not as those who have no hope. For even in the midst of the drudgery, death, and decay of our fallen world, we know the story’s grand finale. And like King Théoden in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, who “rode through the Shadow to the fire, and died in splendor…”
“Out of doubt, out of dark, to the day’s rising
he rode singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
Hope he rekindled, and in hope ended;
over death, over dread, over doom lifted
out of loss, out of life, unto long glory.”
…so can it be said of all who suffer and even die as they long, groan, and wait for the Lord.
Brian G. Hedges is the lead pastor for Fulkerson Park Baptist Church and the author of Christ Formed in You: The Power of the Gospel for Personal Change and Licensed to Kill: A Field Manual for Mortifying Sin. Brian and his wife Holly have four children and live in South Bend, Indiana.
 J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (London, HarperCollins Publishers, 1995)p. 954. This quote is from Book Six, Chapter VI.