“I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.” This is a mixed bag isn’t it? “The Lord turned to me and heard my cry” are comforting words, but that “I waited patiently” part doesn’t give much comfort at all. None of us like to wait, and when we have to, rarely do we wait patiently.
There were great shouts of rejoicing and jubilation on the day the Rumburg Household discovered the Chipotle Mexican Restaurant app for your phone that enables you to pre-order and pay for your overstuffed burrito, skip the always long line, show up at your designated time, walk in, go straight to the front, be handed your burrito and nearly walk back out with nary a stop!
I have to admit…I’m not a very patient person. But then again, not many of us are. Yet so often we are left to wait. Wait on restaurant food, wait on traffic, wait on our toddler children to pick up their toys and get into the bath tub. We wait on doctor’s appointments, for test results, for the hoped for remedy to finally kick in. We wait and wait and wait. And as we wait, we are left to grow increasingly impatient.
I am not a very patient person, but the thing I am most impatient about is waiting on God. I want God not only to hear my voice when I cry out, but I also want God to respond, quickly. And when the response I want doesn’t come, I wonder when or if God will pull me out of my desolate pit, out of my miry bog, and set my feet on a rock, and make my steps secure.
Being patient… Waiting on God… that’s hard. Really hard. Maybe it’s too hard.
The culture we have crafted for ourselves today doesn’t help our inability to be patient. As I mentioned—I have a phone application that can get a piping hot burrito into my hands in minutes. I have a pass for my car that permits me to skip through toll-booths on the turnpike. I have a device that can instantly put me face to face with people anywhere in the world. I have a spray bottle with a chemical solution that releases the wrinkles in my shirts so I don’t have to iron them!
We live in a society that says patience in no longer necessary, but yet it is necessary. It is perhaps more necessary now than ever because so often we are in a desolate pit. So often all we see is a miry bog. So often we are left feeling that our feet will never again be set on solid rock. It all fills us with dread, discouragement, and fear; or worse, complacency and lack of will to thrive.
It is in these times when we need the kind of patience the Psalmist speaks of— but the patience the Psalmist talks about is not a passive, lazy, or listless existence. It’s not even of desperation and despair. Rather it is one of faithful response and action.
So the question becomes then… If we are not willing to wait five minutes for a burrito, then how are we ever going to be patient enough to wait on God to pull us up from the pits of difficult days, from the miry bogs of our lives, and place our feet on solid rock?
This psalm shows us what waiting patiently on God will bring forth in our lives. In fact, when we take the time to really explore this psalm, and other scripture narratives of those who waited patiently on God, we will start to understand that waiting patiently on God often becomes a spiritual discipline.
God calls us to be patient, to wait, but to still work and minister, still pray and persevere, still worship and give thanks and praise. For when we do, when we wait patiently for God we will begin to see that God is present and that God is undoubtedly at work drawing us up from our desolate pit, our miry bog, working to place our feet upon a rock, and make our steps secure. God calls us to wait patiently on God. But what God does not call us to do is “wait on time.” For waiting on time is the complete antithesis of waiting on God.
The third Monday of January is set aside to acknowledge and honor the birth of one of the greatest leaders, teachers, philosophers, scholars, and ministers the world has ever known. We use this day to remember and reflect upon the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It is a day off from school or work for some. It is a day to look back upon a dream. And it is a day to see how one man lead a movement to help an entire race, and all of humanity, be lifted out of a desolate pit and a miry bog.
Dr. King was certainly a man who found himself in a desolate pit of racial inequality. Dr. King was certainly a man who was caught in a miry bog of hate and murder, along with his African American brothers and sisters. But he was a man who trusted and had faith in God, and because he did, he had a new song put into his mouth, a song of praise to God. Dr. King was certainly a man who said to God, “I delight to do your will O my God; your law of compassion, love, equality is written on my heart.” And assuredly, because Dr. King delighted to do God’s will, he was willing to wait on God. But we was not willing to “wait on time.”
I’ve used that phrase twice now. “Wait on time” was a phrase King used to describe a concept that he implored God’s faithful to not do. Permit me to let Dr. King himself explain what he meant by sharing with you a somewhat lengthy excerpt from King’s sermon “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.”
I want to share with you his exact words because they are far more powerful to hear in their entirety than in summation. For they are timeless words of reality and revelation, and deserve to be heard again and again. Dr. King preaches these words…
“The hour has come for everybody, for all institutions of the public sector and the private sector to work to get rid of racism. And if we are to do it we must honestly admit certain things and get rid of certain myths that have constantly been disseminated all over our nation.
One is the myth of time. It is the notion that only time can solve the problem of racial injustice. There are those who often sincerely say to the black man, and his allies in the white community, ‘Why don’t you slow up? Stop pushing things so fast. Only time can solve the problem. If you will just be nice and patient, and continue to pray, in a hundred or two hundred years the problem will work itself out.’
There is an answer to that myth. It is that time is neutral. It can be used constructively or destructively.
And I am sorry to say this morning that I am absolutely convinced that the forces of ill will in our nation, the extremists of our nation— the people on the wrong side— have used time much more effectively than the forces of goodwill.
And it may well be that we will have to repent in this generation. Not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say, “Wait on time.”
Somewhere we must come to see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be co-workers with God.
And without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation.
So we must help time and realize that the time is always ripe to do right.”
Waiting patiently on God and waiting on time are different. To wait on time, as Dr. King says, brings forth only appalling silence and indifference. It brings forth only more dread, discouragement, and fear. It brings forth compliancy and a lack of will to thrive.
“Wait on time” people are not patient people, but rather they are listless people who think the world cannot or should not be changed.
“Wait on time” people are willing to let injustice continue by ignoring it.
“Wait on time” people are ok with inequality by claiming it doesn’t exist.
“Wait on time” people are not people of faith or people who trust in God. Rather they are people who live in fear of the work God is doing through people like Dr. King, and faithful believers who are willing to be co-workers with God, and who want all people to be lifted out of their desolate pit and miry bog.
But those who can wait on God, who are faithful and trusting in God, who are willing to be co-workers with God, they are the ones who have heard God’s call for their lives to help the human progress toward equality and justice— they are the people who know that the possibility of equality and justice for all, of being lifted out of the pit and bog of poverty, oppression and being pushed to the margins, isn’t just a dream, but God’s intent for all God’s children.
There are times in our lives when each and every one of us has found ourselves stuck in a desolate pit and a miry bog. And when stuck in a desolate pit, in a miry bog, being patient and waiting on God to respond is the hardest thing to do. We want out, and we want out now.
But we must not forget that getting out of that pit and bog is not just for God to do for us. It is for us to do with God. We are inspired by, mandated by, scripture: To delight in doing God’s will. To not restrain our lips. To not hide God’s saving help. To not conceal God’s steadfast love. To speak of God’s faithfulness and salvation.
This does not come by “waiting on time”, by “waiting for the wheels of inevitability.” We are to be co-workers, co-creators, with God, to make possible, for all, the opportunity to stand on solid rock again. This comes by being patient but open to God’s will being done, through our words, our actions, our ministries.
So let us not “wait on time.” Waiting on time is a destructive use of time. Rather, let us wait on God, while being open to the truth that while we wait, “the time is always ripe to do right.” Amen.