Hope

God In Our Waiting

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Paul once said he had learned the secret of contentment, but he never had to shop at a grocery store. Everyone has their hang-ups, and this is one of my many. Every time I walk through those automatic doors and grab a shopping cart (or “buggy” where I’m from), I know I’m entering a minefield of frustration and impatience.

It's like the engineers who designed the shopping carts didn't consult with the engineers who designed the width of the aisles to allow two shoppers to pass with ease. Some shoppers seem to think their carts are holograms and can be walked through as if they were immaterial. As I shop, thoughts run wild in my head:

Why do five people need to be looking for spices the moment I need to be? Who had the bright idea of putting water pitcher filters in the hardware section? Who goes through self-checkout with 35 items at DMV-level speed?

My shopping experiences sometimes morph into moments of inner rage. I don’t want to be this way.

I want to be grateful I get to shop for food at all, with little concern about having enough to pay for what I need.

I want to see people as God sees them, but then someone forgets how to use their credit card in front of me. It’s a trivial example of a deeper reality of my humanity.

Waiting is not easy.

ALREADY, NOT YET

Paul wrote, “For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out” (Rom 7:18). Many theologians have ascribed Paul’s reflections here to the Christian experience. Regardless of what Paul specifically meant in this instance, the sentiment itself could describe how Christians often feel.

We are thankful for the gospel’s promise of adoption and grace extended toward sinners like us (Eph 1:5-6), but we are discouraged when our flesh continually presumes on the riches of his kindness (Rom 2:4). We love the thought of receiving “new wine,” but this old wineskin of a body seems to be the wrong place for it (Mk 2:21-22). We live as a “new creation” right here and now (2 Cor 5:17), but a day will come when we are made new, indeed, sinless (Rev 21:5).

Here lies the already-but-not-yet reality of the Christian life, and the answer is not very satisfying: wait.

Why does God make us wait, specifically as it relates to the presence of sin in our lives? Isn’t he aware of how much we hate waiting? Hasn’t he seen us on the interstate or getting off a plane? We’re living in a push-notification, fast-food, tweet-able, convenience-store world; isn’t it about time he catches up with the rest of us and stops the waiting already? Hasn’t it gone on long enough?

Our microwaves and two-day shipping services have conditioned us to believe that waiting is wasting. But God never wastes our waiting.

LEARNING THROUGH WAITING

In fact, it’s only through our waiting that God can teach us certain aspects of himself. There is a reason God has not eradicated the reality of sin yet in us. To make us wait is not to punish, so much as it is to demonstrate and instruct. There must be something redemptive about waiting, as difficult as the tension might be, for God to deem it necessary for each of us.

Psalm 130 is a window through which we see the goodness of waiting and the “okay-ness” of the already-but-not-yet tension that marks Christian living. This psalm is recognized by Bible scholars as one of the seven Penitential Psalms. It's found right in the heart of the Songs of Ascent, a collection of laments, praises, and prayers that frame a sort of “pilgrim’s progress” toward right worship of God.

There's an emphasis on both the individual and communal aspects of sin and penitence. Therefore, this psalm has something pointed to say both to the Church at large as well as to the individual Christian when it comes to sin and hardship and how they relate to our waiting. In particular, it offers four reminders for the person facing sin and hardship.

1. God meets our misery with mercy (Ps. 130:1-2)

Our Father loves us too much to shield us from being brought to the depths. He is not like the over-protective parent who works tirelessly to keep his children free from struggle. We cannot know we are empty until we truly feel it. He will never coerce us into the wrong decision; rather he knows that it is in the depths that his children abandon all attempts at quick fixes and self-help, and turn their gaze upward.

This first stanza is the first of three instances where the Psalmist uses both “LORD” (Yahweh) and “Lord” (Adonai) to describe God. “Yahweh” was considered too holy of a name to speak when referring to God, and “Adonai” was often used in its place.

But the two names have specific and differing points of emphasis regarding the character of God. “Yahweh” is often used in Scripture to point to the covenant faithfulness of God toward his people, while “Adonai” is often used when describing the power and sovereignty of God.

In verses 1-2, God’s faithfulness (Yahweh) and God’s power (Adonai) remind us that God is both faithful and sovereign in hearing our prayers. Our prayers do not fall on apathetic ears or into incapable hands. He is attentive to our cries for help from the depths of our sin. He mercifully ordains our misery, that he might display his power and faithfulness to us.

2. God meets our confession with forgiveness (Ps. 130:3-4)

One of the main reasons many Christians struggle with confessing wrongdoing is that it is simply humiliating. We feel more exposed than the Emperor with his new clothes, like a tabloid will be telling the world in bright and bold letters what we have done.

But as the psalmist recognizes, we are all exposed in the end. Why should we fear confession when we have all fallen short of God’s glory (Rom 3:23)? In verses 3-4, God’s faithfulness (Yahweh) and God’s power (Adonai) remind us that God is both faithful and sovereign in spite of our personal sins.

When we confess our sins, God clothes us with the garments of salvation (Isa 61:10). It is only through the way of confession that we come to understand being forgiven. And even more so, God allows us to go through the difficulty of confession “that [he] may be feared.” When we confess our sins, God will manifest his forgiving power in our lives, which will spark worship in our hearts.

3. God meets our hope with promises (Ps. 130:5-6)

Our only hope of being rid of the battle with sin once and for all is if God makes it so. It is hopeless for us to attempt in our own selves to finally eliminate sin. God must intervene, and therefore we must wait.

The psalmist says in our waiting for the Lord, we must hope. The way Scripture talks about hope is not the same way the world talks about hope. The world’s hope is frail. It's quasi-confidence, with little to bank on other than chance. I hope the Bears win tonight. I hope I have studied enough. I hope life slows down soon.

But the Christian hope is not a shot in the dark. It is grounded not in sheer luck, but in a person. And not just any person, but Yahweh and Adonai Himself. God’s faithfulness (Yahweh) and God’s power (Adonai) remind us that our hopes aren’t hanging in the air. God not only hears us and forgives us but he has also given us his Word to form our hope.

He is worthy of being trusted with our hopes because he will do what he says he will do. His Word itself is power (Rom. 116), and therefore guarantees it.

4. God meets our world with redemption (Ps. 130:7-8)

The hope we're guaranteed is redemption. God’s faithfulness (Yahweh) and God’s power (Adonai) are not only applied to us in an individual sense but in a communal sense as well. Jesus Christ is your personal Lord and Savior, but he’s more than that. He is also our shared Lord and Savior.

Sin has affected us not only as individuals but also as a community. The Fall ushered in a host of fault lines and distortions in our hearts and in our world. But through the cross, redemption is available to those who trust in him.

And, get this: it’s coming for the world God’s people live in, too. There is “plentiful redemption” available to the community and the nation of Israel, an inside-out “making all things new” that we await (Rev. 21:5).

AND NOW WE WAIT

Waiting isn’t easy. No one said it would be, not even Jesus. “I do not ask that you take them out of the world” (Jn 17:15).

Jesus’s plan for our growth is not escaping or fleeing—it’s going through the refining fire. It’s being exposed of our inabilities, confessing our need for God, trusting that his Word is worthy of our hope, and anticipating the work he intends to do in us and around us. It’s all bound up in the psalmist’s words: “I wait for the LORD, my soul waits.”

Perhaps our best shot at living a life of gospel witness is to choose the way of waiting. To slow down and ignore the shortcuts, to stay the course and fight our sin, to hold fast to his Word, and to endure in the world he is making new. Like watchmen in the black of night, we know our task during the dark is hard, but the dawn of morning is on the way.

The waiting will be worth it.


Zach Barnhart currently serves as Student Pastor of Northlake Church in Lago Vista, TX. He holds a Bachelor of Science from Middle Tennessee State University and is currently studying at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, seeking a Master of Theological Studies degree. He is married to his wife, Hannah. You can follow Zach on Twitter @zachbarnhart or check out his personal blog, Cultivated.

God Rest My Soul: Finding Rest in Service to the Master

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After a few minutes of scrolling through social media or flipping through the news, it’s easy to feel overcome by evil in our world. It attacks us on all fronts—politics, natural disasters, crime, injustice, disease—all the way down to our own sin-scarred relationships. As we leave the safety of our slumber each morning, we’re jolted to the reality that sin is not only present and  working to make us weary but is entirely against us.

In moments like these, Psalm 123 is a welcome reminder to our tired hearts. When faced with difficulty, these four short verses reminded the Israelites of their true hope and shifted their eyes to the Lord, their Master. We may not be on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, as these Israelites were, but the reminder that we are not our own is one we can find great hope in singing each day.

The Hands of Our Master  

Perhaps it seems strange that hope can be found in realizing we belong to someone else. Evidence of abusive leadership surrounds us. We’re familiar with jobs where management seems concerned only for themselves, or we’ve worked in environments of instability and poor leadership.

Yet even in these difficult environments, we can find hope. This is exactly what the Israelites did to bolster their strength:

Behold, as the eyes of servants

look to the hand of their master,

as the eyes of a maidservant

to the hand of her mistress,

so our eyes look to the LORD our God,

till he has mercy upon us. (Ps. 123:2)

Male servants looked to their master for direction; maidservants to their mistress. Servants looked to their master not only for work but for protection and livelihood.  The psalmist juxtaposes these cultural realities for Israel with their need to gaze toward the Lord their Master and his great mercy.

Along the same lines, we can look with joy at our master because he has shown us his good and perfect character. When we look to his hand, we turn to the hand that has provided for his creation since the beginning of time. He not only supplies for our physical needs (Ps. 104:14) but he revives our hearts by the daily bread of his Word (Deut. 8:2-3). The hand of our Master doesn’t demand anything he won’t graciously supply, because he is the source of strength in our lives (Phil. 4:13; 2 Pet. 1:3).

Like any good master, God not only supplies us with our physical needs and strength but also our safety. Israel was told repeatedly throughout their history not to find protection in their own strength but to rest in knowing that the Lord was with them (Isa. 41:10; Josh. 1:9). He is still this same refuge and strength to our weary hearts today (Ps. 46:1). Amidst a world of uncertainty and change, we can find hope that we are firmly held in the grip of our Father’s hand (John 10:28). If we are in Christ we have been sealed by the Spirit (Eph. 1:13), and we can be confident that the Spirit will carry his work of sanctification in our lives amidst the difficulties (Phil. 1:6).

As we meditate on being a servant of God, we free ourselves from the immense pressure to provide in our own strength and guarantee our own safety. Psalm 123 reminds us we were never meant to carry these burdens in the first place. We are the servant of our Master and it’s his provision and protection we should run to.

Looking to His Hand

The reality of our servanthood also gives us peace of direction. Our world is full of overwhelming choices. It beckons us to tone our bodies, increase our platform, eat organic, travel the world, and make more money. We can often feel guilty for all we can’t do and all we can’t fix.  Yet while the world spins with demands, we find peace looking to the direction of our Master.

It is God who “sits enthroned in the heavens” (Ps. 123:1). It’s his directing hand we wait upon. This humble recognition allows us to serve in the tasks God has given us today with faithfulness. We will still grieve over sin and difficulties, but when we look to our Master’s direction, we remember to lay aside our expectations to be the savior we will never be.

Instead, we can walk with faithfulness in the works God has appointed for us (Eph. 2:10), whether that be in taking up a client’s case or taking up a neighbor’s garbage. Looking to the Father’s hand gives dignity to our work, whether that work is preaching a sermon or wiping a child’s face.

Recalling the purpose of serving our Master redirects the heart to a higher perspective and shapes the heart’s posture. The difficult co-worker, the frustrating neighbor, or the needy children are no longer obstacles to our own anxious plans; instead, we can see them as the specific direction of our Lord. We can love her today, forgive them right now, and serve their needs this morning for our Master, who has asked us to.

The Master of Mercy

While we find hope in the God who supplies grace, protection, and direction—these would be nothing if our Master lack mercy. And it’s mercy that the psalmist cries out for and waits expectantly, “Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt” (Ps. 123:3).

Matthew Henry remarks on this verse that “God’s people find little mercy with men; but this is their comfort, that with the Lord there is mercy.” The mercy of God is not like the mercy of people. It is far greater! His mercy is our hope as we enter each day. The mercy of the Lord holds us during a day of battling the ornery, sinful will of a stubborn child; it’s our hope when we feel the sting of a friend’s words or when we feel the weight of sorrow as we turn on the news. And this mercy is our only hope when we stand face-to-face with the sin in our own hearts.

We are servants who have failed and servants who will fail again, but our Master is merciful. Mercifully, he provides for our life and breath, and he provided us with eternal life in his own Son (Eph. 2:5).  Not only does he give us direction, but he cares enough in his mercy to correct us and keep us from returning to the filth of sin (Heb. 12:6; cf. Jer. 5:10). He is merciful to protect us; more than that, he is merciful to forgive us. When we had nothing but rebellion to offer, Christ in his mercy forgave (Eph. 2:1-10; Tit. 3:5).

LOOKING TO HIS MERCY

Time and time again, the Israelites saw the sovereign provision and steadfast mercy of their God. Despite their utter revolt, their Master would have compassion, restore their fortunes, and gather them back to himself (Deut. 30:3). This song is the hope our hearts need to sing each day!

How has the Lord shown himself good today? How have we seen his faithfulness amidst our specific difficulties? Amid the sinfulness of our world, the answer is not in finding our independence, but instead resting as a dependent servant.

The weight of sin may bear down on us, but let’s lock our eyes on our Master’s hands. Let’s preach his unchanging promises to our hearts, search the scriptures for his faithful character, and commit to the tasks he has given us today.

Above all, let’s join the psalmist in not only waiting for mercy but actively searching for it. Let’s linger in the mercy that is great enough to provide hope for the darkness of sin inside of us and the world around us.

When our soul has had more than enough of conceited disdain (Ps. 123:4), we look to the hands of our humble Master whose scars hold our hope—and the unfailing mercy we need.


Brianna Lambert is a wife and mom to three, making their home in the cornfields of Indiana. She loves using writing to work out the truths God is teaching her each day. She has contributed to various online publications such as Morning by Morning and Fathom magazine. You can find more of her writing paired with her husband’s photography at lookingtotheharvest.com.