Waiting on God

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Isaiah 25: 6 – 9

Revelation 21: 1 – 6a

John 11: 32 – 44


As twenty-first century people we are used to the instant. We are people of action. Now action is important but it can be disastrous if we have not spent time in preparing for the correct action. But that takes patient labour. Not so attractive to we post-moderns.

We are also people who are used to and enjoy being entertained. We sit back passively and watch the spectacular. That means when the truly spectacular and significant occurs, we tend not to know how to respond other than as though we were being entertained.

Our passage from Isaiah describes something spectacular, even astounding.

Isaiah8 he will swallow up death for ever.
Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.

This is a wonderful depiction of what God is going to do.

8 he will swallow up death for ever.
Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.

Sometimes, as Christians, we have a sense of guilt in that we feel we don’t attend church often enough, don’t pray enough, don’t do enough works of service etc. But the thing is, the truly important things are things God does, not us. In learning to respond to what God does lies a key to spiritual growth and freedom in our faith.

Not us. God. The truly significant things are done by God – wherever and whatever we are in the equation.

Is there any place for us in this action of God? Yes – 9 It will be said on that day,
Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

 The ministry of waiting (closely allied to waiting upon God in prayer) is one we as post-moderns find puzzling. It is a willing suspension of knee-jerk action and an engaged response to the spectacular – and neither of these are our natural comfort zones. Yet the Scriptures make it abundantly clear time and time again, that we should all make it a priority. Our natural inclination is to make a decision and act.

God says, “Wait on me.”

“But God, it’s clear to me that this needs to be done and soon!” – “Wait on me.”

“What, Lord? You want inaction when so many ignore you entirely?” – “Waiting for me and on me is not inaction. It is active listening. It is acknowledging that I am Lord, that the timing I have in mind is crucial. Waiting on me is listening prayer.”

  • The sacrifice of Cain was probably the first example of somebody acting on a good idea without waiting to find out what God wanted. It was rejected by God, and of course we know the rest of the story. It ended in the first murder.
  • The Tower of Babel is a good example of an energetic people who did not wait on God, who thrust their energies into what they thought would be their significant life’s work without waiting on God. It ended in confusion and an abandoned project.
  • The big one was the Israelites remaining in Egypt once the drought that forced them there in the first place was over. God had told them that he was giving them the land of Canaan, not Egypt. But they stubbornly remained in Egypt and it ended in over 400 years of slavery.

Our Isaiah reading captures great blessing upon God‘s people and it is all initiated and carried out by God. And our part today is not too different from that of God’s people then: – 9 It will be said on that day,
Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

Waiting is always difficult. It is especially difficult to wait on God because we want to get on and do stuff. We like guidelines and we want to put them into practice.


The initiative of God in the Book of Revelation is captured in these immortal words, 2And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
‘See, the home* of God is among mortals.
He will dwell* with them;
they will be his peoples,*
and God himself will be with them;*
4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;


In reading this you get the strong sense that you are a spectator, that it has very little to do with you. It is a massive intervention of God in history, initiated and carried out by God. We might think that all we can do is watch and wait. But is that entirely true?

I’d like to give you a small example from my own experience of how to respond to the spectacular, not as someone who is being entertained, but as someone who is attuned to waiting on God.

When we were at uni, Faith’s parents came down to visit her. We all drove off to watch a sky-diving competition and were parked at a vantage spot in their car. We were each standing out of the car just next to our open doors and watching when one man’s parachute simply didn’t open. He landed with a huge thump on his side about 100 metres from us.

But there’s the thing. We didn’t gasp or shout. We all spontaneously broke out in prayer for the man as he came candle-wicking down.

You might say that was action, not waiting. Well, if you’d known Faith’s Dad, you’d know that he was someone who spent hours in prayer. He waited on God for a great deal of his time and so was ready with the appropriate response to the spectacular. It certainly wasn’t the response of someone used to being entertained. It was an appropriately engaged response to the spectacular, instant and powerful.

The man lived, by the way, in spite of hitting the ground at over 120 kph. When I visited him in hospital to tell him that God had saved his life, all he could say was, ‘Don’t let anyone tell you that parachuting is dangerous.’

It is what God does that is more important than what we do. Any attempt to cling on and want control is unthinkable at times like that. Ours is to respond to what God is doing.

If we focus on what we naturally want to do, thereby exerting our control in the face of God whose place it is to be in charge, we miss the boat altogether.

This is so crucial to remember as we move forward as St Peter’s in the wake of our Parish Review.  It would be so easy to light on a good idea and go flat out to implement it.

As I said in the email that accompanies Day One, our Archdeacon, Sarah Moss, said these words that rang in my ears: ‘Preference based churches die.’ When we don’t wait on God, and instead strike a good idea and run with it, we miss what God wants. It ends in tears.

We absolutely have to develop our ability to wait on God. It is so tempting to tell God what, how and when he should have done what we think is the correct thing. “God this is what I prefer, that is what she prefers. We have a compromise plan that should work well. We’re going for it!”

Let’s  have a look at the exchange of words in the Gospel reading and see if these tendencies to tell God what to do, emerge.

John’s Gospel:

We start with Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus:

Mary32When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ – Mary has got to the point where she realises only God can do anything useful, but she’s not quite there. She tells God how he should have done things. “I know better than you, Lord! If only you had got here earlier we wouldn’t be in this mess.”

Mary, for all her reputation as someone who wanted to be sitting at the feet of Jesus while her sister Martha bustled around, insists she knows better than Jesus.

What of the Jews?

The Jews37But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’ The religious leaders are placing their preferences on Jesus. “You should have stopped this man from dying!” (the implication of course is that if you really were such a hot shot you would have prevented this death.)

No waiting here. Instant judgement and criticism for not acting.

What about sister Martha, who has a reputation for doing, not waiting?


Martha39Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.’ “Hang on Jesus. Not that way; and I’ve got a good reason why you shouldn’t do it that way.”

“Jesus that sounds like a good idea, but actually it’s not. He’ll be rotten by now!”

All the major players know better than God. Jesus didn’t ask for anyone’s opinion but they all have one! No wonder verse 35 tells us, 35Jesus began to weep!

So if we step back and wait for God, let God have free reign, what qualities do we need?

Well the first thing we need is trust: have faith in God.


Faith40Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ One of the reasons I want to sort things out with my rationality and then implement my solution when I think the time is right is because I trust my own judgement before I trust God’s. Waiting and listening to God is difficult because it always minimises my sense of self-importance. It teaches me to prioritise God.

The second thing we need is obedience: obedience to what God wants.


Obedience41So they took away the stone.

The first step to solving any problem is faith and the second is obedience. The breakthrough came when the people listened to Jesus and rolled away the stone at the entrance to the tomb.

Did all go smoothly? Of course not. At first things were a bit awkward. No-one had experienced this before, least of all Lazarus, the primary beneficiary of God’s way of doing things.

It’s awkward at first – 44The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth.

But they don’t run away. They wait, and God takes away the clumsy awkwardness. – Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’   Freedom comes from waiting on God.

Of course these passages are selected because All Saints Day is celebrated today. Christian celebration of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day stems from a belief that there is a powerful spiritual bond between those in heaven (the “Church triumphant“), and the living (the “Church militant“).

This bond signals something. It’s not a static depiction of what is. It points towards that wonderful day when Christ returns to earth, bringing the New Jerusalem with him, thereby uniting heaven and earth. It’s a reminder that Jesus is Lord both of those in heaven and those on earth.

And can we speed this process along? Can we hasten that union with our loved ones who have gone before us and whom we miss? Can we bring heaven to earth?

  • We can if we pray, “Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”
  • We can if we are prepared to wait and pray. The last prayer in the Bible, in the second to last verse in the bible: Revelation 22: 20 The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” And then the last prayer in Scripture: Come Lord Jesus!

 One of the most difficult things to learn is to “let go and let God.” But the Scripture is plain. Whether it is in seeing the fulfilment of being reunited with loved ones again, or whether it is in seeing the glory of God manifest at St Peter’s in a church that is rich in worship and  reaching out with the Good News – both carried out in a manner that experiences God’s hand of blessing – what is prior, what needs to happen first, is  a wholesale and sustained waiting on God.

Waiting in prayer

  • When I let go of trying to control God, and instead learn to hear him in prayer
  • Trusting God
  • When I learn to trust God


Obeying God

  • When I learn to obey God with whatever it is that God might want

… then I can’t but help experience the blessing of God in abundance. Yes, it might be awkward at first, but soon, what Paul calls, “The glorious liberty of the children of God.” (Romans 8: 21) will make itself known. This is the joy of learning to wait on God.


Let us pray:

Dear God. Grant us the patience and the trust in you to wait persistently upon you in prayer; to willingly suspend our desire to rush to action, to arm ourselves with the mind of Christ so that when you act we are able to respond with you in that which you are doing, rather than be caught off guard as unsuspecting spectators. May our habit of prayer arm us against undue activity as well as undue passivity. We ask these things in the name of Christ our Lord. Amen.