I remember the night well. I was sat in Deeside Christian Fellowship Church in Aberdeen, Scotland – It was 2006 and I was part of the Senior Youth Fellowship (SYF) group, sitting at the back-right of the dimly lit hall. One light shone brightly, illuminating the gentleman speaking at the front. He shared his experiences of many years on the mission field in southern Italy and my heart was stirred.
Overseas mission and the life of a missionary had always fascinated me. I grew up hearing the incredible true stories of great men and women of faith, such as David Livingstone and Jim & Elisabeth Elliot, who gave everything to spread the love of Jesus to those who had never experienced it.
As a family, we often hosted missionaries who visited the UK, even my own uncle spent a number of years on the mission field in Brazil.
As soon as I was old enough, I signed up to participate in short-term mission teams. Firstly, around Scotland, then further afield in countries across Europe. Barely a year went by through my teens and twenties when I failed to spend time as part of a short-term missions team.
So that night, at just nineteen years old, when God whispered into my heart His call on my life to overseas missions, I welcomed His purpose with great anticipation. I would daydream about where God might send me and I very nearly quit university the following summer, ahead of my second year, to go to Bible College instead.
But that was not God’s intended path. As the years passed by, my expectation dwindled and I began to doubt what God had said, or indeed, if I had already missed my opportunity.
I was working as a Physics Teacher in a respected high school when, in 2010, I was approached by my Pastor and invited to join the staff team at church. With an invitation into full-time ministry, I recall thinking that I must have misunderstood God all those years previous… Yes, that must have been it. He had surely called me into full-time ministry, but not overseas mission.
Having then been appointed as Operations Manager, I thought I had made it. I was working in full-time ministry – living my dream! – so I considered it time to settle down, start a family, live locally and serve the church for the rest of my days.
I didn’t feel I had compromised in any way; after all, I hadn’t disobeyed God. I was, I believe, in exactly where God wanted me for that season. But that’s just it. For me, it was only to be for a season.
My time working for my local church moulded me, inspired me, grew me, challenged me, and matured me, more than I could ever truly articulate and I’m so grateful for that season. The opportunities I had to overcome challenges, develop strategies, and implement ideas was invaluable. The wisdom and leadership I sat under was an incredible privilege. This role permitted me to build on the experiences and knowledge I had gleaned from my Souled Out days (shared about in Adventure Awaits: Designed for Adventure), and also prepared the way for opportunities still to come.
And yet, throughout my four years on staff I was given several opportunities to co-lead short-term mission teams and my heart for overseas mission was stirred again.
Then in 2014, God began to transition me into a new season; one that would indeed lead me overseas. “This is it!” I thought. And off I went to New York City.
I initially signed up for four months in NYC as part of the Metro World Child internship program but hoped that an opportunity would arise to allow me to stay long-term. As it happens, an opportunity did arise; three opportunities, in fact. Yet my spirit was not at peace with any of them. It didn’t make much sense to me at the time, feeling that the ‘overseas’ part of my calling finally had a check in the box, but I followed God back to Aberdeen nonetheless.
“I’m only back for six months,” I assured everyone. “I’ll be back in the States by the end of the year.” And as month by month passed, I was no closer to returning State-side. Was that it, I wondered, was that my calling to overseas mission fulfilled? Had that been all that God had called me to? Had I waited a decade to receive a four-month stint abroad?
I began to spiral. By the end of that first year back in Aberdeen, as I turned 29 years old, feeling dejected and forgotten by God, I hit an all-time low.
What now? Where now? Was it all over? Had my life ‘peaked’ and it was all downhill from here? Had I done something wrong? Had I made the wrong decision? Should I never have left NYC in the first place? Had I just been chasing a fantasy; the romantic idea of ‘overseas mission’, and not really counted the cost of all that that would entail?
The truth is (and it’s much easier to see it now in hindsight) that what was to follow would inevitably be some of the most difficult months of my personal and spiritual life to date, yet they proved absolutely essential in the preparation for what was still to come.
Time taught me that those four months in New York City was a dry-run – a dress rehearsal, if you will – for a much greater purpose further down the line. It had been a test of my obedience, a gauge by which to measure my faith, and an opportunity for God to reveal Himself in new and exciting ways.
Over a decade before, that naïve nineteen year old lacked life experience, spiritual disciplines, leadership skills, and faith, among (many) other things, to step out back in 2006. But the thirty-year-old me that finally saw the fulfilment of that dream had since been shaped and challenged by a number of different roles and relationships, developed spiritual disciplines and deepened her walk with her Father, honed leadership skills in an array of situations and seen countless evidences of God’s guidance and provision during that waiting period.
Perhaps you can relate a little to my story, or maybe you have waited longer than I. In fact, it is highly likely you are waiting for something right now, whatever that may be; a promise to be fulfilled, a desire to be met, an online order to be delivered… Waiting is part of life. Everyone has to wait. It is not something we particularly enjoy doing but it plays a vital part in our life-long adventure with God.
You see, it is in periods of waiting that we learn valuable lessons that will prepare us for what is still to come. Lessons in trusting God to do what He has said He will do. Lessons in releasing promises to God to act in His way and timing, and not interfering ourselves. Waiting is a lesson in trust and obedience. And it can be a very challenging lesson to learn.
Throughout the Bible, men and women of God endured periods of waiting. Some did it well, others… well, not so much.
Abraham and Sarah waited decades for the promised son who would father a nation.
Joseph waited years in a dark prison cell, forgotten by men, but not forgotten by God, who promoted him at just the right time.
Anointed as a humble shepherd boy, David spent his twenties being hunted by the jealous king, Saul, waiting for the day he would be crowned himself.
Even Jesus Christ spent 30 years preparing and being prepared for his three-year ministry here on earth.
No-one is exempt from waiting, and very few of us are very good at it. But if we take our God-appointed purpose seriously, we must also learn to welcome and appreciate periods of waiting. Just like when we are faced with challenge, our attitude towards waiting will entirely change our perspective and approach when we consider our circumstances with a Kingdom mentality.
I once journaled, “I just don’t know what God is calling me to do. He’s placed so many dreams in my heart but I struggle to connect the dots.” What I failed to realise at the time was that it was not my job to connect the dots. God would do that in time (and He did) in a way that far exceeds anything I could orchestrate myself (and He did that too!)
Often in times of waiting, the future that you once pictured for yourself can begin to look hopeless. But in those moments, we will find that our battle is not against the circumstances themselves, or the time we have to wait, our battle is against hopelessness.
When our hope rests in our Sovereign Father, it makes waiting all the more bearable. Hope in God, that is faith, energises us to keep going; it causes us to charge forward, regardless of the challenges we face. Hope in God never disappoints, because God does not disappoint.
When the Son of God, Jesus Christ, died on the cross, those around him thought that the end had come and that the promise that He would save the world had been lost. Jesus had long foretold of His death and resurrection (John 2:18-22, Matthew 12:39-40) and it had been no secret, either: “The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.”” (Matthew 27:62-64)
The promise had been foretold, and, in hindsight, we consider three days not much of a wait at all. But in the meantime? When we are in the midst of waiting, uncertain of what will happen next, it can feel like an eternity, can’t it? And that is when our faith is tested the most.
The meantime; a terrible and wonderful thing. We have an intense dislike for the meantime, do we not? On the surface, nothing happens. Nothing exciting or noteworthy, anyway. The media portrays the highlights of a sporting event or music concert, and kindly cuts out the uneventful bits in between. In life, we tend to only share the good bits; the exciting moments that are worth talking about. We don’t, ordinarily, share with our friends about how we dressed in the morning, the route we drove to work, or how many loads of laundry we worked our way through at the weekend. Yet these things are all important too, and there is a reason why we do them.
The same is true during periods of waiting. We are far more enthralled by the highlights that occasionally punctuate a season of waiting; highlights that illustrate to us that progress is being made, even when we fail to recognise it in the daily slog. But the daily slog is just as important – more so, even – because without the daily slog we would never have any highlights to share. The daily slog prepares us for those noteworthy moments.
We can also find ourselves cringing in the meantime, embarrassed by our apparent lack of progress or activity. We often make the mistake of taking matters into our own hands and generating activity, just to be seen by others to be doing something. Or else we abandon all resolve and just give up, losing sight of the goal that seems to be as far away from us as it has always been. Surely someone, somewhere dropped the ball on this, because otherwise we would see progress, right?
Well, that depends on where we are looking and on what our eyes are focused. If we are only looking at the big goal at the end of a long tunnel, we will inevitably get discouraged and want to give up. Hopelessness will defeat us. But if we learn to look for God in the miracles of every day; those small, seemingly insignificant yet God-ordained moments, we will see that progress is being made. Everyday we grow a little more, mature a little more, learn a little more, understand a little more. Every day that we wait is a little more bearable when we consider the greater purpose that is percolating, unseen; one that we are being prepared for. We are moving further towards a greater goal or outcome, whatever that may be.
In times of darkness, when confusion, discouragement and doubt threaten to overwhelm us, we need to remind ourselves of God’s faithfulness. We need to open our mouths and declare His unfailing goodness, even when we do not see it yet in our own circumstances. When we speak truth and shout praises to the One who loves us more than we could possibly imagine, our focus shifts and we gain a whole new perspective.
The beauty of an adventure is that there is no single, final destination. It is a journey. A journey full of twists and turns, never knowing what is just beyond that next corner. When we think of an adventure, we expect uncertainty and to wander off the beaten track. So why should life be any different?
The choice is a simple one: wait on God or wish that you had. But this choice is not just a one-off decision made on the day of promise, it is one that we have to make and commit to over and over again. Life is full of periods of waiting so learning to wait well is a skill that will make every season of life a lot more enjoyable. It may seem like an easy decision to take, but living out that decision when months, or even years, pass, can be far more challenging.
In periods of waiting, it can be very hard to ‘do nothing’. Often, the need to do something is just so strong. Even those around us – friends and family who know us well – may urge us forward. But if our own desires and their well-intended advice contradicts the peace in our hearts, we must not allow them to steer us off course. The truth is, we are not called to ‘do nothing’ while we wait. If we use the time correctly, waiting time need not be wasted time, but will prove to be invaluable.
A challenge I have faced repeatedly in my journey with God is dealing with uncertainty. I guess none of us can really be certain of what tomorrow will hold, but when God plants dreams and promises in your heart, it feels somewhat harder to wait for the fulfilment of that dream or promise, not knowing when or how it will happen.
I think we find it easier to suffer the time it takes for a personal goal or objective to be realised because we take steps toward it ourselves and the in-between time does not feel so difficult when we are active in our waiting. However, we can be active in our waiting on God’s promises too, even if we are to keep our hands off the promise itself.
Let me put it like this: during periods of waiting, do not seek to act on behalf of God. I cringe at the countless times I have (and sometimes still do) try to give God a ‘helping hand’ to make His promises a reality. However, we all know that God is perfectly capable of fulfilling His purposes all by Himself. In this sense, we really should ‘do nothing’. We wait so that we can appreciate that miracles are by the grace of God, and not by anything we can do ourselves.
But, while you leave God to work on His promises to you, you can be working on everything else! Serve, travel, meet new people, build friendships, read, delve deeper into God’s Word and strengthen your relationship with Him. The more you know Him, the greater your adventure will be because you will set aside the longing ache for your as-yet unfulfilled promise and begin to enjoy every day as God intended. You will receive fresh perspective to see His hand in every detail, and not just in the milestone moments you so desperately crave.
When we reflect on our lives, we most often focus primarily on the big milestones: a career change, an academic achievement, meeting your spouse, starting a family, moving to a new city. Or perhaps we focus more on the spiritual milestones: accepting Jesus as Lord of our lives, baptism, healing, freedom from a particular sin or addiction. But while we focus on the milestones, God is more interested in the faithful steps in between. He loves the process, more than the destination, because while we watch the changing circumstances around us, He adores watching the internal changes within us.
So why does God ask us to wait? We cannot always be sure, for His ways are far beyond our own comprehension. But, it may be because:
- He has lessons to teach us and attitudes to change in us before we can be ready for the next season.
- There are other factors in play that we are blind to (people, opportunities, circumstances) and God uses the time to prepare them and strategically place them for the next season also.
- He wants to see if what we have received on the mountain-top has truly been rooted in our hearts. It is very exciting to receive a word or promise directly from the mouth of God, but there is almost always a delay between the declaration of the promise and the fulfilment of that same promise. God uses that delay to test our faith to see if we really believe that He will do what He has said He will do. How we act in our period of waiting reflects what we truly believe in our hearts.
In that delay, that meantime, that in-between moment, we have choices to make. It is never a one-off decision to wait for the promises of God, but a daily commitment to hope for His best. So we choose to wait because:
- We believe that God is true to His Word and will do just as He has said He will do.
- We believe that what God has prepared for us is far beyond anything we could fabricate for ourselves.
- We want to walk in obedience to what God asks us to do and not simply opt for a life of comfort or ease.
But if you are waiting without praying and preparing yourself to receive God’s best for you, you are missing the point. Faith without preparation is void and is, therefore, just hope. We will go nowhere if we simply hope things will turn around. Instead, we must believe that they will, pray that they will, and prepare ourselves so that we are ready for when they do turn around.
Are you beginning to see the bigger picture? Can you enlarge your vision to see beyond your own, current circumstances? By trusting God, and developing a Kingdom-wide panoramic view, we can learn to embrace, value, and even enjoy periods of waiting (yep, I said it!) When we see the bigger picture, we appreciate that we need the meantime to prepare for future highlights. We recognise that time spent on our knees, in conversation with God and drawing closer to Him, will always profit us. We begin to anticipate the stronger, more peaceful ‘you’ that is being developed as we wait. And recognise this: when we journey through those desert moments well, we leave footprints that can lead others safely out too. Nothing is wasted in God’s great purpose, He uses every single instance for the greater good.
One of my all-time heroes of the faith is Jim Elliot, an American missionary who was killed, aged just 29 years old, by the very tribe of Ecuadorian Indians he was trying to win for Christ. His journal entries and letters to family members in the years leading up to his death provide evidence of his fierce faith and his desire to do the will of God in his life.
Yet on the face of it, his short life was, for the most part, the ‘meantime’. There were few highlights, as perceived by the world, and some may despair at his death thinking it to be a premature, tragic loss. But not Jim. Jim saw and celebrated those in-between moments; moments of preparation and communion with His beloved Lord. He faced many times of frustration and impatience, desperate to outwork the vision that God had laid on his heart, but his obedience and commitment to God’s way was stronger. He once stated, “Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.” Though Jim’s life was short, it was full. Full of laughter, of deep friendships, and of the joy of God.
That day, when Jim and four missionary friends were killed by the Auca Indians, in that moment, it looked like the plan had failed; that God’s call on Jim’s life would not be fulfilled. But God speaks nothing but truth. Proverbs 30:5 assures us that every word of God proves true; He is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
Less than two years later, Elisabeth Elliot, Jim’s wife, along with their daughter Valerie, and the sister of another missionary who had lost his life alongside Jim, moved into the Auca village. Through the love and testimony of these faithful women, many members of the tribe heard about God’s love for them and chose to put their trust in Him. The vision that God had given Jim for this savage tribe deep in the Ecuadorian jungle became a reality and Jim had been instrumental in paving the way. He had faithfully played his part and had walked in obedience to all that God had called him to do.
In times of waiting, it can be easy to slip into a dreamlike state where your body is firmly in the present, but your mind and heart have gone ahead and are endeavouring to live prematurely in your Promised Land. But we must guard our minds and not allow ourselves to drift too far into the future, that we miss out on the present. Even while we wait for God’s promises, there is a life to be fully embraced and lived out every single day. Be fully present wherever you are right now. It may not be where you want to be, or what you would like to be doing, but when we walk in obedience to where God has placed us at this moment instead of always wishing each day away, we learn to see God in the mundane and life becomes an adventure!
In a particular period of waiting a couple of years ago, I decided that I would embrace every opportunity that came my way (providing it was Biblical, of course!) This became one of the best decisions I could have made during that season. I was still waiting for a greater promise, yes, and it remained in the back of my mind. But that waiting period became fun and enjoyable because as I walked through the door of one opportunity, the next door flew wide open, and I embraced the adventure.
God surprised me in so many ways in that season; reminding me of dormant gifts within me that had not been used for a while, giving me the honour of ministering to hundreds of people over a period of months, meeting new people and allowing Him to direct my next steps. Opportunities I could never have imagined were lined up before me, one after the other. He used these opportunities to heal wounds in me, and used the people around me to speak words of encouragement and affirmation over me. I refused to let my doubts, or my fears, or my uncertainty hold me back and keep me ‘stuck’ in my waiting period. Instead of focusing on what I did not yet have, I celebrated what I did have! I invested my time, my gifts, and my experience into what was directly before me, and the waiting period felt far less tormenting than it may have done otherwise.
Sometimes we forget to live while we wait, but it is absolutely essential that we do. Life does not wait. It doesn’t hit pause until we have everything we are waiting for. For some, waiting can even become an excuse to not do anything at all; to simply ‘play it safe’.
“When I earn enough money, I will…”
“Once I am married, I can…”
“If I get that promotion, then…”
We cannot let waiting become a habit, or we will never live the full and abundant life that God desires for us. He is not some disimpassioned God who wants us to play it safe and just sit, waiting patiently for Him. He wants us to take risks, to embrace change, and to welcome opportunity as we take every step fully trusting in Him.
But I believe God speaks promises over us long before He fulfils them for a number of reasons. We can never fully understand the mind of God while we remain here on earth, but the Bible gives us some ideas:
- He proves Himself to be faithful. By speaking out a promise in advance, He shows Himself to be faithful and true; that His promises are all part of a greater plan, and not some luck that we simply fall into by accident.
- He gives us a focus and incentive to be intentional about our preparation. It is much easier to prepare if we have some idea of what we are preparing for. I believe God allows us to glimpse what is up ahead to pique our interest and encourage us to prepare well.
- We value the fulfilled promise more when we have had to persevere through the wait, and fight our doubts to receive it. We rarely cherish something that falls quickly into our lap, but when we have invested time, money, energy and tears into something, we appreciate its worth.
- We seek God more in the wait because we desire the end product, but through that we develop our relationship with God Himself. God greatly desires a relationship with us. He longs to speak to us, reveal Himself to us, and demonstrate His great power. Our wait, our problems, our struggles only encourage us to draw even closer to Him. As our relationship with Him deepens, the trauma of the wait diminishes and the more equipped we are to maintain that relationship once the promise is fulfilled.
It is as we wait on God that our faith is often tested the most. Who do we truly believe God is? Do we really trust His ways and His timing? Will He come through for us like He has said He would? Through the wait we learn to depend on what God has spoken, and not on the circumstances we see around us. As we wait for the fulfilment of promises, it does us no good to lean on our own understanding.
It can be easy to become discouraged as we wait, but in order to keep moving forward, we must remain focused on who God has called us to be and what He has called us to do. Do what your hand finds to do. Continue to sow into all the good things you are currently doing. You can also begin to prepare yourself today for the vision that God has placed in your heart. Consider what books you could read, what Bible passages you could study, and what people you could learn from in order to be that bit wiser, that bit stronger, that bit more prepared. Invest in yourself and in the gifts God has given you, so that when God does call you forward, you are equipped and ready to follow.
Throughout my life there have been many periods of waiting; waiting for change, waiting for opportunities, waiting for the next step forward. But as I reflect on these times, I notice a pattern. The next step was revealed only after I had adjusted my attitude and surrendered my circumstances to God. At first, my prayers were full of angry words, frustrations, and asking ‘why?’. It took a long time to realise that I was so busy telling God how unhappy I was that I did not stop to listen and hear His response. But when I surrendered my circumstances to Him, He began to move.
One such occasion occurred shortly before I relocated to Germany. I was working in a social outreach project at the time and had initially only agreed to work there for six months, sensing from the start that it was only to be for a short term. But in my fourth month, I felt a burden to begin a childrens’ ministry in the local community. I did not want to begin something if I was only going to be present for a couple more months, so I committed to a further year in employment; the duration of the next full academic year.
For over a year I lived with a short-term mentality. Every commitment I made had the disclaimer, “if I’m still here, then I will….” or, “if I’m not gone by then, perhaps…” I sought not to distance myself from everyone and everything so much as I did not want to commit to anything I would not see through until the end. But by the following Spring, having faced challenges and frustrations both professionally and personally, I decided that living with this short-term mentality was unhelpful for both myself and my colleagues. I stopped using disclaimers and decided to be fully present in the season that God had placed me in.
“Ok, God,” I said, “if this is where You have me for now, I will be all here. I will stop living in limbo; neither fully in the present, nor fully in the next season. I will resist trying to make the next step happen, so it is up to You to act when that right time comes. I’m committing to ‘here’ until You move me ‘there’.”
I began putting down roots again, and, most significantly, decided to put my apartment up for sale. If I was to remain in my home city for the foreseeable future, then I would invest in a larger place that I could be comfortable in.
But a couple of months went by and my apartment attracted very little interest. A number of people viewed it, there were even some promising conversations about follow-up actions and further negotiation, but it didn’t budge.
Yet, it was only once my attitude had changed and I had surrendered my desires, my expectations, and my timing to God, that He began to move. My actions reflected my changed focus and I no longer sought to second-guess God’s timetable, but, instead, to fully embrace my present circumstances. I realised that God had not forgotten me or overlooked me. He had placed me there for that time and with purpose, therefore I should make best use of the time with those people, in that job, living in that city. My change in attitude changed my whole demeanour, and my remaining months there became far more pleasant and enjoyable.
Then, on the last day of that academic year, I flew to Germany to visit a friend for a much-needed weekend break. It was my first time stepping foot on German soil (admittedly, a country well down my travel bucket-list) but it was a cheap weekend break and a greatly anticipated reunion with my friend. There was nothing special about the weekend that I had chosen, other than that it being the most convenient for each of our schedules, but I also don’t believe that it is any coincidence that it coincided with the last day of that school year. It was there that God began to nudge me forward once again.
My change in attitude had been the catalyst for God to move in me once again. I changed my priorities and how I spent my time; I chose to invest in myself instead of wasting time daydreaming about what I wanted and sulking because I didn’t have it yet. I became intentional about my own spiritual growth. I fasted TV and movies that summer (a time-consuming hobby of mine) so that I could better invest that time. I dived into God’s Word, I read faith-inspired books packed full of wisdom and personal testimonies. I told God everything that I had been feeling: my hopes, my dreams, my doubts, my disappointments, my failures, and my regrets. God reminded me of the purposes He had created me for but I knew that I was not yet ready to enter into them. So becoming ready became my new goal.
Without rushing ahead or trying to second guess or take control, I simply began asking God, “what next?” And in the meantime, I continued to serve in my existing situation as best as I could.
In the months that followed, God actually used the non-sale of my apartment to direct me further and to finally confirm that a new season was imminent. Though I had initially envisioned this ‘meantime’ season would only last 6 months, it did, in fact, last a little over two years. But the growth and preparation I experienced in that time was absolutely essential in allowing me to step into all that God had prepared for me in Germany. I am unspeakably grateful for that meantime.
In times of waiting, be wary of becoming disillusioned by your present circumstances. If we forget what we are waiting for and we forget the One who promised it, we will inevitably begin to search for our own solutions. Instead, we need to allow conviction and truth to guide us, even if our emotions take longer to catch up. We need to allow God’s voice and the peace that He gives to be our compass through the meantime.
Over the past fifteen years, my understanding of God’s promises has changed significantly. I once believed that God would act immediately after He had declared a promise; and when circumstances only partly matched what He had declared, I assumed I had misunderstood or misheard. Essentially, I adjusted the promise to fit the circumstances, instead of waiting for the circumstances to catch up to the promise. I found myself believing that, as I stepped into a full-time ministry role, that God’s promises for my life had been fulfilled – at the tender age of 23 years old. Oh, how wrong I was!
As my journey through life has twisted and turned since then, I have learnt that God speaks the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Yes, there are times when we perhaps misunderstand what God has declared, or we squeeze His words into a mould of our own desires. But what He says cannot and will not fail. If He says He will do something, you can be assured He will do it. In His own way, and in His own time.
Don’t be deceived, either, thinking that God has only one promise for your life. That is simply not true. Consider Abraham. God promised Abraham, in Genesis 12, that He would bless Abraham with a great family, through whom He would spawn the Israelite nation; God’s chosen people. Abraham’s descendants would also include King David, and Jesus Christ Himself.
But there was only one problem. Sarah, Abraham’s wife, was barren. Try as they did, she was unable to get pregnant. Years passed, decades even, and still they were unable to conceive. They waited, and they waited. How could Abraham possibly father a nation if he and his wife were unable to have children?
As they grew older and the likelihood of seeing God’s promise fulfilled grew faint, they took matters into their own hands. Sarah presented her own slave woman, Hagar, to her husband and suggested that they might have a child through her instead. And here’s the crunch: “…and Abraham listened to the voice of Sarah.” (Genesis 16:2b). Suggestions like this, perhaps once considered laughable, can begin to draw appeal the longer we wait; when we begin to feel like God has forgotten about us and His promises to us. If Abraham had only listened to the voice of God, he would have avoided the adultery he was about to enter into. But in that moment of weakness and frustration, tired of waiting for the fulfilment of God’s promise, he listened to the voice of his wife, who had sought to find a solution – to ‘join the dots’, if you will – her own way.
Inevitably, nine months later a boy was born to Abraham and Hagar, and they named him Ishmael. Abraham was now 86 years old, yet Ishmael was not the fulfilment of God’s promise to him.
As Abraham approached his centennial birthday, God reiterated His promise to Abraham: “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” (Genesis 17:4-8)
But how? How was this possible, with Abraham and Sarah both nearly 100 years old and long past child-bearing years? Only God. Only God could make His promise a reality. That is exclusively how God’s promises work; they are impossible without Him. But that’s the best part!
Nearly 30 years after God’s promise to Abraham, Sarah conceived (a human impossibility in her old age) and she gave birth to Isaac. Through Isaac, the promised son, the greater promise of the Israelite nation would be fulfilled. And through this birth line, the Son of God would be born as a man, the long-promised Messiah, to save the world.
This was God’s plan all along. He hadn’t forgotten, He hadn’t messed up, He didn’t need to come up with a Plan B because He had missed His window of opportunity. God knew exactly what He was doing.
Abraham and Sarah waited a long time to see their promise. In fact, they never really did see the entire promise fulfilled, for it was a promise that would be outworked in generations to come. Yet God did exactly what He said He would do. Along the way, He spoke other promises over their lives – the promise of a son, of a promised land, of numerous descendants – all significant steps towards a much greater purpose.
You may still be waiting to see that big God-given dream realised, but I can guarantee He is speaking smaller promises and working smaller miracles in your life, all in preparation for what is still to come. In 2013, I journaled, “I’m not 100% sure what God is calling me to yet, but I now realise that I don’t need to be 100% sure. I only need to trust God and follow His individual steps rather than trying to guess the end result and make my own way there.”
You see, there is fun and adventure and joy to be had on the journey too, not just in the end result. Don’t you enjoy the anticipation of wrapping a gift for a family member, excited to see the look on their face when they rip off the paper? Or the thrill of boarding a flight to a far-off destination for a much-needed break. The journey is much easier on the way there, than on the way back, am I right?
So what if every day was lived in great anticipation? Anticipation of what God is going to do today; of how He might act on your behalf, or what He might whisper into your heart? Are you paying attention to His work in the journey, or are you only waiting impatiently for the outcome?
The Israelites, the ancestral nation of Abraham, would one day enter into the Promised Land that God had set aside for them. However, their journey was anything but simple.
We have already considered how unlikely it seemed that a nation could spawn from Abraham in the first place. Then, through Isaac, was born Jacob; Jacob, otherwise known as Israel, fathered the Twelve Tribes; and those twelve tribes compiled the nation of Israel.
We then pick up the plight of the Israelites in Exodus, when God’s chosen people are so great in number that Pharaoh, the King of Egypt, fears they will rise up against him so he enslaves them. But God had not forgotten His people. He raised up Moses, an Israelite himself, to advocate for the Israelite nation and lead them safely out of Egypt to the land that had been promised to Abraham several hundred years earlier.
Exodus 13:17-18 reads, “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, “Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.” But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle.”
God led His people on a roundabout way. It wasn’t the quickest route, or the most direct, but He had a reason to do this: to prepare them for what they were yet to face. He cared for them too much to allow them to enter the wilderness without readying them for battle first. He knew what they would face on their journey to the Promised Land and He did not want anything to cause them to miss out on the great gift He wanted to give them. God was more concerned about their readiness, than sticking to a particular schedule.
And is that not true for us, too? God rarely takes us on the quickest, easiest, or most direct route to our Promised Land, but His timetable is more often dictated by our readiness, availability and obedience.
The Israelites wandered the desert for forty years, but the distance they covered should only have taken them eleven days (Deuteronomy 1:2-3). So, why the delay? Because they were not yet ready to enter into their Promised Land. Time after time, they failed to trust God; they disobeyed God’s commands spoken through Moses, and they complained a whole lot. They were so distracted by their existing circumstances that they failed to see with faith what was still ahead of them. They forgot what they were waiting for.
But God knew that if the Israelites could not trust Him in the desert, when things were tough and their own abilities could only take them so far, then they would not depend on Him in the Promised Land either. And we face exactly the same challenge. Until we learn to trust God in good times as well as the bad, we will remain in a season of waiting. It is not to punish us, or discourage us, but because God loves us too much to allow us to face situations we are not yet ready for. He uses times of waiting to draw us closer to Himself.
Before stepping into full time ministry, I was a High School Physics teacher. I absolutely loved teaching. It brought me such joy to see my students engage with what I was teaching and show an interest in my subject. My favourite time of the year, however, was the end of year exams. I know, I know, I sound like I take great delight in the stress of children… But that is not why it was my favourite time, honest! I liked these few weeks the best because I got to watch my students truly apply themselves as the exams approached. Those who had fooled around all year and taken a somewhat aloof approach to the class were now shaken into paying attention and desperately sought my help at every available opportunity.
I remember two boys in particular. They were a comedy duo; you never got one without the other. They were best friends and the class clowns in one of my fourth year classes. This particular class was hard work. The structure of the timetable that year had meant that, for these students, physics had been the most favourable option in a selection of unpopular subjects. Therefore, for the most part, they were disinterested in the subject and, therefore, disengaged.
As their Physics exam approached, these two boys asked if they could spend their free periods in my classroom, working through old exam papers for practice. Naturally, I agreed. One such period, they came in with a look of great confusion on their faces because there was a particular topic that had them baffled. No matter how much they had tried to figure it out for themselves, they concluded that they needed my help. Step by step, I took them through a practice exam question, using it to illustrate the misunderstood topic, until that dreamy look of comprehension dawned on their faces. That look, that moment, was why I became a teacher; to bring someone from a place of confusion and frustration into the euphoria and peace of understanding.
I can only imagine that God looks on us a little like that too. In seasons of waiting, perhaps we take the role of the class clown and fail to pay much attention to what God is trying to teach us. Maybe we resent being there because we would not choose to be there if we had a better alternative. But when we accept that this is the journey we are on and that God is using it to teach us, we often find that the waiting season need not be drawn out. He longs for us to come to Him with questions and frustrations so that He can help eradicate the confusion and bring us into peace. He may not provide all the answers, but He will journey with us to bring us into a better understanding and a better perspective. He, too, longs to see the dreamy look of comprehension on our faces when we look back and see evidence that He has been guiding us all along.
I have waited for many things; hopes, dreams, promises, desires. And as I have waited, God has asked me to do things that I was less than enthusiastic about participating in. They were not the roles, responsibilities, jobs, situations I wanted to find myself in, and I resented them. But, whether I liked it or not, these circumstances were at the centre of God’s plan for my life in that season.
It can be so tempting to look for something better, can’t it? At least, what we think will be better. But being obedient and living in the season and circumstances that God has called us to is actually the best place we could possibly be, even if we don’t appreciate it right away.
Knowing you have been obedient to God brings with it strength and determination to just keep going. Bad days are made better by the conviction that you have obeyed God. You hold on just a little longer when you face weeks so bad that you just want to give up, because you cling to the knowledge that God is using it to prepare you for what is still to come.
We may be waiting for God to show us the next step, when all He asks of us in this moment is to continue doing what He last asked us to do. It is always easier to ride out the tough seasons – whether they be stormy or seemingly endless – when we know we are in the place God wants us to be. If God led you here, you can trust Him to lead you out again, in His way and in His timing. But while you wait, be all you can be; try new things, build godly relationships, be all there. Do not look back on that season with regrets, wishing you had enjoyed each day, and not just tolerated it.
Resist forfeiting your Promised Land for the ‘easier road’ just because the wait, the lessons, the unknown is hard. Don’t disregard the promises of God from years ago just because they have not yet been fulfilled. God’s best is always worth the wait.
Do you think the disciples would have acted as they did if they had known how little time they would have with Jesus? Do you think they would have fallen asleep on the night Jesus was arrested instead of praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, as Christ had asked them to? Preparation time is a gift, we need to be careful not to waste it.
After my ten year wait to the mission field, I had the wisdom to see that God’s call on my life was no romantic fantasy. To be able to share such incredible testimonies, I knew I must first face incredible challenges. It took every lesson God had taught me in that decade of waiting to navigate my initial step to move to Germany. Every relational chip and bruise that I had suffered historically helped me to show compassion to those I would later meet and work with. Every previously answered prayer inspired me to raise my hands once more and trust God to meet each need. Every past mistake and failing reminded me to lean on God even more heavily in every uncertainty.
Only after ten years did I understand that I didn’t (and still don’t) have what it takes to fulfil God’s call on my life. I wonder to myself, “why me? Why choose me, God?” But all God is really looking for in each of us is the willingness to obey Him. So I may not be able to fulfil His call, but I can answer it. I can walk the path with Him. I trust my Sovereign God and I believe that He knows what He’s doing. Therefore I continue to step out in faith and in obedience to Him, thanking Him for the wait; for the way He prepared me and for all that He taught me along the way.
The Bible assures us that those who wait on the Lord will not be put shame (Isaiah 49:23). God will not let us down, or make us look like fools by leaving us to wait indefinitely for a promise that will never come. That is not in His nature. He rejoices over those who walk in His ways and trust Him to come through for them. He will make heroes of those who wait for His best and not take matters into their own hands. Be strong. Let your heart take courage, and wait for the Lord.
So, it doesn’t matter how equipped or ready we feel, God knows best. Trust His ways. Trust His timing. Get busy investing in yourself during this time of waiting, and not just impatiently waiting for it pass. Then be ready to obey Him when He speaks. There’s no greater adventure than a life with God holding the map.
The ultimate goal, however, is not to see promises or desires fulfilled, but to be moulded into the image of Christ; “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1-2) That is the big picture. That is the ultimate goal. That is what we are all actively waiting for.
This blogpost is part 7 of a blog series, Adventure Awaits.
Part 1: Created for Adventure
Part 2: Beginning the Adventure
Part 3: Designed for Adventure
Part 4: Essential Tools for the Journey
Part 5: Facing Opposition
Part 6: Embracing Challenge & Change
Part 7: The Waiting Game
Part 8: Anticipating Adventure
Part 9: Packing Light
Part 10: When Adventure Becomes a Habit
Part 11: The Greatest Adventure