Advent – An Invitation to Wait on God

Lectionary readings for the first Sunday of Advent (Cycle B). Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37
Click for complete Advent calendar (Cycle B) and guidance on using the lectionary.

“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!”—Isaiah 64:1

Waiting is one of God’s immensely sweeping invitations. To wait expectantly and with open hands requires a relinquishment of control that gets at the roots of our motivations, fears and idols. It is where we learn that God isn’t a genie; and happiness is not a matter of God meeting our expectations. While we wait, we sense the naked vulnerability of trust. No matter how disciplined, organized and prayerful we get, we never outgrow God’s invitation to wait. The learning curve is life long.

You would think with years to practice we would get the hang of it. But many of us would rather get our teeth drilled than wait. Advent is the season to keep learning and practicing this discipline that is challenging for us all. It is an opportunity to see the good fruit waiting can produce in our lives.

Unearthing What is in Our Hearts

Years ago when people communicated by snail mail, I was waiting for what only can be called a “love letter.” Every day I would go into the front hall to pick through the assortment of bills, cards, advertisements and letters the mail carrier brought. Did I mention that I did this every day? Day after day? Each passing day it became harder to wait. My heart did flip flops. My stomach ached.

One day as I flipped through the stack of mail, I hit a bonanza. I had seven letters from dear friends on various parts of the globe! But rather than being elated, I was increasingly disappointed as I saw each return address. Throwing the letters on the floor, I knew my expectation was turning the good moment that had been given to me into a bad moment. But I did it anyway.

Waiting unearths what is really in our heart. It exposes what happens when our expectations go unmet. When my husband, Doug, was out of work for a year, when our house didn’t sell for a year, when we moved to Chicago leaving our sixteen year old son with a car and credit card to finish his junior year… each second seemed a life time of waiting. But the waiting did something. It exposed a control streak a mile wide as well as a begrudging heart. I rue all the good moments I morphed into bad ones as I clung to my demands of what God ought to do.

Growing in Discernment

Waiting is a central, unchangeable, universal fact of life. The homeless are waiting for somewhere to go. Refugees are waiting to return home. Tracts of humanity wait for lasting peace or rain or medical resources or disaster relief teams. Children wait for birthdays. The elderly wait for their savings to run out. Commuters wait in traffic. Wait. Wait. Wait some more.

Many of us get so frustrated with waiting that we’d rather make a quick decision and pick up the pieces later than hang around in limbo and wait for clarity to come. Doing “something” feels so much better than doing nothing. But waiting is not doing “nothing.” And doing something is not always better than waiting!

When an autistic child reacts in a hysterical manner, the most important thing for the teacher to do is to just stand there, still and waiting. The teacher is not to do something; she or he is not to step in. It is best for the teacher to wait and watch for what is really going on. By contemplating the child, the teacher may become aware of what precipitated the crisis. Rushing in to fix things too quickly distorts the pattern and perspective in the moment. Acting actually blurs a teacher’s discernment. Clarity comes through patient waiting in the now.

Waiting Produces Patience

Patience is a characteristic of God and a fruit of His Spirit. You would think we would want it as much as we want love, joy, and peace, which are better known fruits of the Spirit. But I don’t. I resist the particular conditions required to grow the fruit of patience. It’s embarrassing how often I beg God to “do something” so I don’t have to wait and let patience grow. As Henri Nouwen writes, “Impatient people are always expecting the real thing to happen somewhere else and therefore want to go elsewhere. ”

It is some comfort that my all too human plea for God to “do something” is found in the mouths of countless others in Scripture, including those who speak in the passages from the first week of Advent. Isaiah cries out, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence—as when fire kindles and brushwood and fire causes water to boil!” (Isaiah 64:1, 2) And the Psalmist pleads, “Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel…Stir up your might, and come to save us! Restore us, O God, let your face shine that we might be saved.” (Psalm 80:1-3)

The Holy One could vindicate his presence. He could answer us at once and then we wouldn’t have to wait. So why doesn’t He? Perhaps because the growth and development of patience in our lives is more important to him than we realize!

Crucible of Transformation

One of the main reasons God doesn’t always answer us immediately is that waiting is God’s crucible of transformation. Waiting is how God gets at the idols of our heart. Waiting addresses the things we think we need besides God to be content: money, comfort, expedience, success or control. It creates space to learn more about who God is, to receive his purposes into our lives, to move past our resistance and say our deepest yes to him.

The season of Advent is full of people waiting everywhere. Elizabeth is waiting for a baby. Zechariah is waiting to speak. Simeon is waiting to see the salvation of Israel. Anna is waiting on God’s promise. Israel is waiting for God’s promised prophet to come. Mary is betrothed and waiting to get married.

Then, after years of waiting, in one breathtaking moment an angel greets Mary, and says, “Greetings, you are highly favored!” And when Mary hears God’s plan for her, she responds to God’s invitation with “I am the Lord’s servant…May your word to me be fulfilled.” Her “yes” brings God to us in person – in Jesus. All that waiting had a purpose!

In that moment human ears hear what the human soul has been longing to hear throughout the ages. God has kept his promise. The woman and her offspring—young and innocent, without a scrap of worldly power—are here. Through them the forces of evil in our world will be defeated! They are our guarantee that waiting is worth the while. God hasn’t forgotten us. He is faithful. The Holy One comes through. In Jesus all God’s promises are “yes!”

Speak to Your Heart

So, too, our waiting has a purpose. Every moment of every day is meant to lead us out of the darkness of self and into the light of LOVE. Waiting makes us look like Jesus. It can produce purification, character and the listening wisdom that brings discernment.

Waiting doesn’t mean you are doing something wrong. It doesn’t mean God hasn’t heard you. It is not a waste of time. God is at work making you into a person with the character and integrity you need in order to participate in his dream for this world. You are in a moment where you can develop a discerning heart, contemplating evidence of the unseen hand of God and growing in trust.

So speak to your heart this Advent season. Say as the Psalmist did, “Patiently wait for God alone, my soul! For he is the one who gives me confidence.” (Ps. 62.5) As we wait expectantly and with open hearts, the Holy Spirit gets at us and gives us grace—grace to wait and to see when God answers our prayers, not if.

© 2014. Adapted from Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Invitations from God, InterVarsity Press, 2011.

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How has God used waiting in your own life to bring clarity needed for true discernment? Where are you waiting on God this Advent season?

Adele Ahlberg Calhoun

(M.A., Gordon –Conwell Theological Seminary) is a founding board member of the Transforming Center and teaches regularly in our Transforming Community® experience. She is currently copastor (with her husband, Doug) of Redeemer Community Church in Needham, MA. A trained spiritual director and former missionary, she is the author of Spiritual Disciplines Handbook and Invitations from God—both of which are Transforming Resources published by InterVarsity Press.
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Psalm 46

8 Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields[d] with fire.
10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

Adele Calhoun above: “It exposed a control streak a mile wide as well as a begrudging heart. I rue all the good moments I morphed into bad ones as I clung to my demands of what God ought to do.”

Adele, per Psalm 46 above, we are not surprised when God says things better than we do.

“Be still, and know that I am God;” says God.

We are not supposed to be still all of the time, but we are supposed to know that God is God all of the time! The Centurion’s faith, that Jesus admired, was like that.

I’m glad you posted this, though we don’t really have an invitation to wait on God. God does his good will whether we wait for His timing or not. We are supposed to trust Him in His timing, when our own good sense of timing does not address a particular issue.

I have to say that too many parts of your “Spiritual Disciplines Handbook” are at odds with the correct idea of waiting on God that you touch on here. I hope to speak with you on this item more seriously and thoroughly after Christmas, depending on whose timing prevails! ; )

Thanks and Salt, Jason

[…] – Adele Ahlberg Calhoun in Transforming Centre eReflections, November 24, 2014: Advent – An Invitation to Wait on God […]

[…] – Adele Ahlberg Calhoun in Transforming Centre eReflections, November 24, 2014: Advent – An Invitation to Wait on God […]

[…] Transforming Center: Advent- An Invitation to Wait on God […]

Thanks a lot for these words. May the Lord give me the grace to wait on Him. I say as Peter when many disciples departed Jesus, probably for their lack of patience. When Jesus asked Peter, “You do you want to leave too, do you?” He answered, “Lord to whom shall we go?You have the words of eternal life.” Waiting is too long, but I pray that my option will be Him….Thanks

This is so timely for me today. We are with our youngest son & daughter-in-law, who have turned from the Lord. Seeing our 6 & 7 year old grandsons know nothing about the Lord & having no interest in Him is heart breaking. My only hope is in the knowledge that God loves them more than me, and that it’s His love that will draw them back. The waiting is hard, even knowing that the Holy Spirit is at work in their lives.

In a culture (and often church) whose God has become convenience, this is a timely piece and a powerful reminder of God’s gift of waiting!! I am becoming increasingly disheartened by the trappings of Christmas consumption. Though I rarely comment, I often read these meaningful articles!!

These reflections are a powerful ministry to those of us who are serving others in and through the local congregation.

Wonderful post. Thanks so much.

Thanks, Biz, for your encouragement that eReflections are indeed an meaningful to those who are ministering in the trenches. It means a lot and encourages US to keep on keeping on!

Thank you for this reflection. I have often noted how much waiting there is in the Bible and therefore it must be important in our faith journey. This definitely does not make it easy though.
2 questions occur to me to be asking … what am I waiting for? [this may not be clear or as clear as I think] … and what is God waiting for me to be waiting for?

Indeed I do agree with your observation and what wonderful questions to ponder in Advent. Thanks for sharing.

Thank you…just what I needed to hear today. Especially the last statement – not if, but when God answers.

What an on-time Advent word this morning. Thank you for this reminder and clear new insights into the need and purposes and rewards of waiting. It really slowed my mind down and helped me to refocus my days through a better perspective.

I have found that all of life is waiting for something….for improvement, for relief from suffering, for changed circumstances, for the coming of Jesus. The words that keep coming to me in prayer are “let go,” of the outcomes, the expectations, the fear. God is teaching me that I have alot to learn about what trusting him really means. I have found my trust wanting, and his allowing me to be in situations of wait, is teaching me that. Not always easy or pleasant, but necessary for sure. Oh for grace to trust him more (in the waiting). Thanks for this post Adele. It ministered to me, as all the posts from the transforming center do!

I am five years deep in the waiting on God for clarity and movement for my husband and I in ministry. I just said to my husband last night that it feels like God is not answering our prayers because he is mad at us. Of course this is not true and my husband also said it was not true, but sometimes the waiting can be lonely and dark. It is a vulnerable time where, yes, idols of the heart are exposed. Sometimes the waiting is a time to learn how to live without the idols, which takes a change in habits, while learning a new dependence on God. A timely article…Thank you.

[…] Rev Adele Ahlberg Calhoun recently wrote, […]

…why…WHY?…WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY? must we wait so loooooooooooong?
I’m tired
I’m without hope
I want to quit
Is it good, as Job said, that God takes so long…just to prolong my suffering>

I am waiting with you tonight, Ferdiand.

I wait with you as well Ferdinand.

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