Psalm 27:14, “Wait for God; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for God.” When a bible passage repeats a phrase, that’s usually a signal to pay attention. So I thought we’d pay attention to those words. “Wait for God.” This is a Psalm about waiting. Lent is a season of waiting—we gather every week, for the next month, to prepare, to wait, for Easter.
I don’t like waiting. I think that’s probably a human thing. I was making chocolate chip cookies last week, and I know it’s not a good idea to eat the raw dough, but I just couldn’t help myself. I couldn’t wait all of those twelve long minutes for the cookies to bake in the oven. So I ate a clump of dough. Then another clump. And another. And, well, I’m sure you know how it goes. My stomach didn’t feel great. I should have just waited, but sometimes twelve minutes seems like forever.
The worst part of waiting is knowing that you can’t do anything about it, about getting what you want. Impatience doesn’t make things happen more quickly. Like when you apply for a job or school, and you have to wait for weeks, even months. And, there’s nothing you can do about the waiting.
I’ve been waiting forever for the next season of Stranger Things. I think it’s been something like three years since the last episodes. And there’s nothing I can do about making that show drop sooner rather than later.
Waiting can also be more serious, with more at stake, like when you’re waiting for the results from a scan, from the radiologist, or when you have to wait on bloodwork—those results that mean everything to you or a loved one, in terms of what your life will look like. And all you can do is wait. Like all the people huddled in bomb shelters in Ukraine, in Kyiv and elsewhere, underground, waiting.
I remember how my students in prison would talk about their life of waiting. The saying, in prison is: Do the time, don’t let the time do you. You have to do the time, you can’t let the time do you. My students would explain how hard it is to live in prison for all those years, if you’re always thinking about life on the outside—either those years before arrest or those years in the future, after getting out. Instead, they would say, you have to stay focused on the present, on what to do with today, not tomorrow, not next month or next year.
To wait means to attend to the present, to make the most of what you have, to the possibilities in the now—to pay attention to all the life that happens while you wait.
All of this pops into my mind as I think about that verse from our Psalm: “Wait for God; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for God.” To wait and be strong, to take courage, to trust in God—the presence of God as a shelter, as a place of rest and restoration, of comfort and strengthening.
This Psalm is a prayer, a poem—and the writing of it becomes a way of waiting, the lines of the Psalm as reminders of God’s promises, of entrusting our lives to God’s care as we wait.
Abraham also knows about waiting. In our passage from Genesis, God makes a promise but tells Abraham that he’ll have to wait, and nothing about the waiting will be easy. We get a window into the difficulty of the waiting in verse 12, when he falls asleep and dreams something like a nightmare: “As the sun was going down,” it says, “a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.” During the night, anxiety about the future takes over his sleep. Panic consumes his time of waiting.
Jesus also knows about waiting. He knows what it’s like not to get what he wants when he wants it. In our passage from Luke’s Gospel, Jesus looks toward Jerusalem, and cries out with a longing for peace, for the end of bloodshed. “How often,” he says, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings” (Luke 13:32).
We usually don’t talk about Jesus as someone who doesn’t get what he wants right away. We don’t think about what it must have been like for Jesus to live a life of waiting, of having to endure time, to undergo the discipline of patience. But that’s what he does—he learns how to wait, to be where he is, without grasping, without rushing.
He sits on hillside, looking toward Jerusalem, a city full of people he loves, and cries into the wind, “How often have I desired to gather you to me, like a hen holds her chicks close to her.”
Jesus falls in love with the world, and wants the world to love him back, but has to wait. Jesus offers care without coercion—a desire to hold close those who need the warmth of God’s love, and a recognition that he can’t, he won’t, force them to do anything, so he has to wait. On the hillside outside of Jerusalem, Jesus shows us the patience involved in loving this world, in wanting what we want, yet without coercion.
The Christian life is a commitment to this kind of love and care, this kind of waiting for God to do only what God can do. Which doesn’t mean that we do nothing in the meantime. Waiting is not doing nothing—at least not the waiting we hear about from the Psalmist. Instead, waiting is an opportunity to attend to what we have, to who we are, to love what God has given us, to care for this life before us, with an openness to what God might do in this moment.
This is our second week of Lent, a season of waiting for Easter, waiting for new life, waiting for a different world, for God to transfigure all things, for the redemption our lives, to be changed from glory to glory.
This week, as I try to sort through what I’m supposed to be doing while I wait, I keep on returning to another verse from the Psalm we read, verse 13. “I believe that I shall see the goodness of God in the land of the living.” There is hope here in this verse, a stubborn hope, a call for us to devote ourselves to a posture of watchfulness, because the Psalmist knows that there is goodness, here, in the land of the living, that the goodness of God is here, even in the waiting. There is so much to notice, all around us—today, this week, this month, this season.
“The goodness of God in the land of the living.” That’s the work of hope. To believe that there is goodness, and that God has made us part of that goodness, that we have been sent into this world as signs of that goodness, and that others might be waiting for us to bring a bit of hope, that we might provide a little goodness, that our lives might testify to the goodness of God, here, in the land of the living.