The command to wait on the Lord is found extensively throughout the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, it is more about waiting for the Lord’s providential care, but most New Testament references relate to Christ’s second coming. In all cases, it is about waiting expectantly and with hope. Fundamental to being able to wait is trusting God’s character and goodness.
Waiting on the Lord is something the godly do. It’s about holding on tight, hoping with expectation and trust, knowing that our Lord is not making us wait just to see how long we can “take it.” There are times when God will delay His answer, and we will at times wonder why He seems so reluctant to intervene in our affairs: “I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God” (Psalm 69:3). But, knowing the Lord, we trust that He will come at the perfect moment, not a second too soon or too late.
Waiting on the Lord necessitates two key elements: a complete dependence on God and a willingness to allow Him to decide the terms, including the timing of His plan. Trusting God with the timing of events is one of the hardest things to do. The half-joking prayer, “Lord, I need patience, and I need it RIGHT NOW,” is not far removed from the truth of how we often approach matters of spiritual growth and the Lord’s will. To wait on the Lord produces character in the life of the Christian in that it involves patience (see James 1:4). Waiting involves the passage of time, which is itself a gift of God.
The word wait in the Bible carries the idea of confident expectation and hope. “For God alone my soul waits in silence . . . my hope is from him” (Psalm 62:1, 5, ESV). To wait upon the Lord is to expect something from Him in godly hope, “and hope does not disappoint” (Romans 5:5). We wait on the Lord in a way similar to how we wait on the arrival of out-of-town relatives, with loving anticipation of seeing them again. All creation eagerly awaits God’s restoration: “The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed” (Romans 8:19). Those who wait for God to keep His promises will not be disappointed.
Waiting on the Lord involves being at rest in the Lord. Psalm 23 provides a lesson concerning being still. Sheep will not be at peace near rushing water, but they will lie contentedly by “still” water, and that’s where the Good Shepherd leads us (Psalm 23:2). The words “He makes me lie down” can be translated “He causes me to rest.” When we, like sheep, are still, we are resting in the Lord and trusting our Shepherd.
Being still means we have ceased from following our own agenda or ingenuity; we have stopped trusting in our own strength and willpower. We are waiting upon the Lord to exchange our weakness for His strength (see 2 Corinthians 12:9). The apostle Paul had a “thorn in the flesh,” and, as he gains spiritual insight, he understands that the affliction is a protective suffering meant by God to keep him from sin. As a result, the apostle is content to rest in God’s grace. God does not remove the thorn; He gives Paul a place to be still in the bearing of it. Paul learned to be still and wait on the Lord.
To wait on the Lord is to rest in the confident assurance that, regardless of the details or difficulties we face in this life, God never leaves us without a sure defense. As Moses told the panicky Israelites trapped at the Red Sea by Pharaoh’s army, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Exodus 14:14). The heavenly perspective comes as we focus not on the trouble but on the Lord and His Word. When it seems God has painted us into a corner, we have an opportunity to set aside our human viewpoint and wait upon the Lord to show us His power, His purpose, and His salvation.
When we don’t choose to wait on the Lord, we solicit trouble for ourselves. Remember how Abraham and Sarah did not wait on the Lord for their child of promise; rather, Sarah offered her maid, Hagar, to Abraham in order to have a child through her. The account in Genesis 16 and 18 shows that their impatience led to no end of trouble. Any time we fail to wait on the Lord and take matters into our own hands—even when we’re trying to bring about something God wants—it leads to problems. When we “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33, ESV), we can allow God to work out the rest of the details.
This doesn’t mean we sit idly by as we wait on the Lord to act on our behalf. We should not spend our time doing nothing; rather, we should continue to do the work He has given us to do. Psalm 123:2 says, “As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a female slave look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, till he shows us his mercy.” That is, we should look to God with the constant anticipation and willingness to serve that a servant shows to his master. The idea of waiting on the Lord is not like waiting for the dentist in the waiting room (thank goodness!). Rather, the sense of waiting on the Lord is somewhat akin to what a waiter or waitress does in a restaurant. Our attitude and actions should be as those of a waiter anticipating and meeting the requests of the one he’s waiting on. Our waiting on the Lord is not biding our time until we finally get the service we’ve been waiting for; it’s filling our time with service to the Master, always on our feet, ready to minister.
The command to wait on the Lord means that we are to be near Him and attentive so that we may catch the slightest intimation of what He wants for us. We naturally think of ourselves as self-sufficient. We turn here and there and expect help from our own ability, from friends, or from circumstances. But in the spiritual life, we are taught to distrust self and depend upon the power of the Holy Spirit.
Waiting on the Lord involves the confident expectation of a positive result in which we place a great hope—a hope that can only be realized by the actions of God. This expectation must be based on knowledge and trust, or we simply won’t wait. Those who do not know the Lord will not wait on Him; neither will those who fail to trust Him. We must be confident of who God is and what He is capable of doing. Those who wait on the Lord do not lose heart in their prayers: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (1 John 5:14).
Waiting on the Lord renews our strength (Isaiah 40:31). Prayer and Bible study and meditating upon God’s Word are essential. To wait on the Lord, we need a heart responsive to the Word of God, a focus on the things of heaven, and patience rooted in faith.
We should not despair when God tarries long in His response, but continue to wait on Him to work on our behalf patiently. The reason God sometimes waits a long time to deliver is to extend the goodness of the outcome. “Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him” (Isaiah 30:18, ESV).