I am an impatient person. I do not like waiting. I get annoyed by slow drivers in fast lanes. I audibly sigh when I get into a long checkout line. Even when I do weddings, I warn the bride and groom that if they are fifteen minutes late, I will ask guests to leave.
Those are trivial situations, yet I still find it hard to wait. There are bigger, much more important issues that I have waited for as well. I have waited at the end of a church aisle for my Bride to walk down. I have waited in the hospital for my child to be born. I have waited an agonizingly long time for God to reveal His will. I have waited and continue to wait for my family to come to faith. For each, I have waited long past the time when I thought my requests should have been answered. For many serious requests, I am still waiting.
I take comfort in seeing that people in the Bible, like Abraham, grew impatient too when their prayers and promises didn’t materialize as they’d hoped. God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations. And then there was silence. Nothing happened for eleven long years. Abraham’s wife, Sarah, was barren and well past her childbearing years.
After more than a decade of waiting, they both assumed that perhaps they needed to act on their own to fulfill the promise of God. So, Abraham took Hagar, Sarah’s servant, and had Ishmael. For a while, they thought the promises would now come true through Ishmael.
Thirteen years later, God told them Sarah would bear a son, Isaac. They had waited so long with neither of them believing God was going to do it now. Abraham was decidedly unenthusiastic at the proclamation. After he audibly laughed and inwardly doubted, Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!”
Abraham had figured out a way to have heirs on his own. The thought of waiting, being wholly dependent on God, was not part of his plan. He wanted God to bless what he had done, rather than wait for what only God could do.
That is what I often do. I do not like waiting. I want to act, to figure it out, to know with certainty what is going to happen. And then I want to move ahead. Abraham wanted God to bless Ishmael so he could have descendants through him. God had something different in mind, something that unfolded to Abraham over time — something impossible in the eyes of man.
Honestly, often I want Ishmael too. I want the thing I can figure out, that I have control over, that does not require waiting and trusting.
What do we do when, like Abraham, our waiting for days turns into months, which turns into years, which turns into decades? Do we turn our heart away from God, who seemingly never delivered what we are waiting for? If that happens, could it be that what we are waiting for is more important to us than God?
What is happening in our waiting? Is it just an empty space between our prayers and their fulfillment? No, in our waiting, God does his deepest work.
God is sanctifying us and teaching us to trust Him. Sometimes we get what we are waiting for, and we rejoice and are grateful. Other times, we never see that fulfillment on earth, and we are drawn closer to God as we continue to seek him. Remember Hebrews 11? Many of them did not see the promises made to them fulfilled.
We need to remember that God has not forgotten us. It is not that our requests are unimportant. He will answer them in his own time which is also always the best time for us. He sees what we cannot see; He knows the potential dangers and snares He is protecting us from. While we are waiting, God is with us. He aches with us, cries with us, comforts us. He meets us in our pain and uses all our struggles for our good. One day, we will thank Him for everything that He gave us, and denied us, on this earth.
As much as we struggle with the idea, waiting is good for us. It is painfully easy, however, to grow weary and take matters into our own hands because it is taking too long. It is tempting to look for Ishmael, to provide for ourselves, to meet our desires our own way. It may feel like we are simply finding another means to an end, but God is in both the means and the end. We need to not shortcut what God has for us. Do not give in to disillusionment. Do not settle for Ishmael when God has Isaac for you. Isaac was the son of laughter and promise, the fulfillment of all God had said. Isaac was worth waiting for.
Isaac requires faith. It is scary to let go of a sure thing and wait for something that may not materialize. We are afraid we will be left with nothing, wondering why we waited at all. We may reason that something is better than nothing, and so we are satisfied with Ishmael. It meets our needs. But Ishmael will never fulfill us because Ishmael is what we do in our own strength. And we have no ability to satisfy our deepest desires. We need God to do that. He may do it through miraculously fulfilling what we asked for, or He may do it by denying what we asked for and giving us more of Himself. Either way, we will find joy because we have Him.
What is your Ishmael? What are you tired of waiting for and tempted to take into your own hands? What are you afraid to let go of because it seems that something is better than nothing? What are you trusting God for?
Do not settle for what is humanly possible; wait for what only God can do.
The great goal of the sacraments, the bread and the cup, is for us to experience again grace. It is about knowing and enjoying God in Christ. The final joy in any truly Christian discipline or practice or rhythm of life is, in the words of the Paul in Philippians 3:8, “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord”. Jesus said in John 17:3 that the goal of eternal life is to “know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent”.
That is why I love baptisms and Communion services. They are opportunities to remind us of the grace of God and His work in our lives. It gives us a chance to reflect, rejoice and recommit ourselves in our pursuit of Christ as we await His return.