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.