“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” –ESV
“Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.” –KJV
From many pulpits it has been proclaimed that we “wait on God.” Whether it is a spouse that we are waiting for, a direction for our career, an answer to prayer for a loved one, or a big life decision. We are constantly instructed to wait. So young teenagers put on purity rings as they wait for their spouse, and college graduates pass on job offers as they wait, and married couples renew their lease on their apartment waiting on an answer to buy a house. Waiting is the name of the game.
But what if that wasn’t Biblical? What if this whole concept we have developed of “waiting on God” wasn’t what God intended at all? Yes, I realize there are numerous verses about waiting on God but I think the English language doesn’t do us any justice here. Let me take you to a few other verses that use this same word wait (qavah).
“And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.”
“Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day.”
“Wait on the Lord, and keep his way, and he shall exalt thee to inherit the land: when the wicked are cut off, thou shalt see it.”
“Ok…” you say, “why do you bring these up?” I will tell you. This word “qavah” has two meanings. There is both the literal and figurative meaning to the word. We have words like this in English that we use CONSTANTLY. For example, the word hot. When we say, “That pan is hot.” We understand that it is the literal meaning of the word and the pan has a high temperature and we could get burned if we touch it. However, when we say “That girl is hot!” we aren’t worried that if we touch her our skin will get burned (maybe our hearts) but that she is attractive. That is the figurative use of the word.
So what is the literal meaning of the word translated “to wait?” It actually has the idea of a rope (see here). A rope has many strands that are pulled/twisted together which gives it strength. A strand by itself is not adequately strong but when they are all twisted together they can hold much more weight! The literal meaning is implied in verses like Genesis 1:9 where things are gathered together or bound together.
So what is the figurative meaning of the word? That is found in all the other verses translated “to look” or “to wait.” It gives the idea of hoping for or waiting for something. In this case it is we who are waiting, or looking for God.
Now, when it comes to words with figurative and literal meanings there is always a connection (even if a faint one) between the two meanings. We can see that with the word hot, cold, dead, etc. But for some reason churches have not been pulling the connection between the two meanings of the words. Instead “waiting” on God has turned into a pause in life until we get an answer. Waiting on God has been giving the idea that we aren’t complete or capable until God reveals something new to us. With this view we have been setting up kids for failure. Think about the situation of waiting on a spouse. To me, I always got the impression that in my waiting for my future spouse I’m not complete until I have her. My life is missing something and I have to wait on God for my wife until I can be effective for God. We are neglecting the literal meaning of the word when we do that and are losing out on some tremendous Biblical teaching.
Waiting on God is not a pause in service but a preparation. What if we took the literal meaning of waiting and applied it to the figurative? What if we thought of that rope and tried to determine the strands of it? Instead of waiting on God to do something while we twiddle our thumbs, we can be actively adding strands to that rope. I think that is much closer to the meaning of the word “to wait.” Those verses in the Psalms are talking about waiting on God but they are also talking about actions. Lead me in truth, teach me, and keep his way are all actions. There are things to be done while we are waiting! The strands of the rope? I see that as learning the truth of God, praying, reading, actively doing what you can where you are now, attending church, witnessing to others, etc. There is so much we can be doing while we “wait on God” but that is often neglected as we are told to just wait.
What will this preparation do for us? Well it will keep our focus on God for one thing. But it will also prepare us so that when God says “ok, go!” we are ready and able to do the next thing he has called us to do. God has something for each of us to do in our lives at this very moment. It may just be a preparation step and learning more about Him, it may be witnessing to friends and family, it may be taking a younger person out for coffee and conversation, but there is something we can all do right now! We should be adding strands to that rope so when God gives us the next task, our rope is ready to handle the load and will not break under the pressure. “Waiting on God” is not an excuse to stop working and it isn’t a declaration that we aren’t able to be used of God. Instead it is the active step of preparation and involvement service in where He has us RIGHT NOW.