One Saturday, a pastor texted to ask for prayer. He has been without a church for a year now and has exhausted all his savings. The opportunities to preach have been few and far between, and he has been unsuccessful in finding secular work.
My heart goes out to him and I’m praying diligently for him.
The next day, a friend asked for prayer for her pastor husband. He’s discouraged and would like the Lord to open up some new place of service.
Most of us have been there at one time or other.
Waiting on the Lord
Waiting on the Lord is some of the hardest work any of us will ever do. Psalm 27:14 brackets “be strong; let your heart take courage” with twin admonitions to “wait on the Lord.” It’s sort of a “wait on the Lord sandwich.”
Only the strong can wait on the Lord. When things get tough and hopes seem dim, only the courageous can “stand still and see the hand of the Lord.”
The scared and the immature will decide, “Something has to be done” and that “we can’t sit here and do nothing any longer!” They will act, even if running ahead of the Lord and working in the flesh.
Waiting looks a lot like doing nothing.
Only the brave and courageous can wait on the Lord.
(Only the Spirit of the Lord can tell the child of the Lord whether this is the time to “rise up and act” or to “sit there and wait.”)
The newly saved and recently called Saul of Tarsus learned about waiting on the Lord the hard way: he was forced into it.
After Saul was saved, we read that “immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God.” (Acts 9:20) (Note: Paul hedged this “immediately” in Galatians 1:16ff. He says he spent 3 years in Arabia before returning to Damascus and then journeyed on to Jerusalem.)
Saul was a powerful preacher. He had the Truth and he knew it. Evidently, what he was short on was kindness and patience, for wherever he preached fights broke out. “He confounded the Jews in Damascus” and “the Jews plotted to kill him” (Acts 9:22, 23). In Jerusalem, he “disputed against the
Hellenists” and as a result, “they attempted to kill him” (9:29).
Paul took no prisoners in his preaching.
He was not making converts but enemies.
That’s why the church at Jerusalem decided that, to protect this brother, they’d better get him out of town. “They brought him down to Caesarea and sent him (home) to Tarsus” (9:30).
The bright young rabbinical student had returned home.
What, we wonder, did Saul’s parents feel about this? I imagine the scenario went something like this…
“We paid good money for him to attend that rabbinical school in Jerusalem. And now, he’s home with nothing to show for all that education. We paid extra for Gamaliel to tutor him. And what did he do? Become a follower of the carpenter of Galilee who ended up being crucified by the Romans. And what does our son do? He keeps on following Him. And now, he’s back at home, living in his old room and making tents for a living.
They must have been embarrassed in front of their neighbors.
Saul was waiting on the Lord, not by choice but by necessity.
How long was this period? Writing in the New American Commentary, Professor John B. Polhill says, “The time span between Paul’s sailing to Tarsus and Barnabas’s bringing him to Antioch covered some ten years or so…These are often referred to as Paul’s ‘silent years.'”
In his biblical commentary on this period in Paul’s life, John MacArthur writes, “Several years had elapsed since Saul fled Jerusalem. (Acts 9:30) Apparently, he had been disinherited and forced to leave his home due to his new allegiance to Christianity. (Philippians 3:8)”
Whatever happened and however long the period was, we have every reason to believe Saul/Paul was faithful during this “shelf period.” We can say this because of what happened next.
Barnabas showed up
A revival had broken out in Antioch of Syria. What made this remarkable was that a large number of Gentiles were coming to Christ. (“Hellenists” or “Greeks” in context refers to Greek-speaking non-Jews, or Gentiles. See Acts 11:18.)
When the church at Jerusalem heard of the revival, they sent their number one encourager, Barnabas himself (his nickname “Bar-Nabas” has been interpreted to mean “Mister Encourager” by many a Bible student) to check into things. What he saw, Barnabas loved. “He was glad and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord.” We read, “For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.” (Acts 11:23-24)
One of the great sentences in this history of this small planet is Acts 11:25, “Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul.”
I can imagine Paul eagerly absorbing the news of the revival at Antioch, then breathlessly saying, “Give me thirty minutes to get my stuff together.” Perhaps he kissed his puzzled parents goodbye and was out the door.
The waiting period was over.
Few things are as exciting in life as knowing the waiting period has ended and you are now in the place God has prepared for you, doing the work to which He has called you, and that you yourself have been prepared–hammered, chiseled, forged–by the Master Himself for this moment and this place.
The Saul/Paul who began preaching in Antioch and beyond was a different person from the young whippersnapper the church at Jerusalem had had to protect. There was a new love and kindness in his words, a depth of compassion and understanding. Later, he was to counsel the church to “speak the truth in love.” (Ephesians 4:15)
Instead of driving people away and turning audiences into enemies, God used Paul to draw people to Jesus.
The waiting of God had done its maturing work in him.
Waiting is hard but can be most fruitful
As with Paul, the waiting period for most of us is usually comprised of many elements: hardship, barrenness, discouragement, unemployment, opposition, and soul-searching. Where is the Lord? What does He want me to do? Why am I being left in this God-forsaken out-of-the-way place?
Has He forgotten me?
Be faithful, child of God
In Romans 8, this same Paul wrote: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that is to be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18) He follows that wonderful promise with a comparison to nature. Creation longs to be restored to its promise, he says. “The whole creation groans and suffers the pains of child-birth together until now.” (Romans 8:22) Likewise, “We ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption, the redemption of our body.” (8:23)
We think of James’ counsel to his fellow disciples: “Therefore, be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth…You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” (James 5:7-8)
“They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles. They shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31).
Written by Joe McKeever… reprinted with permission