||After a long
time, in the third year, the word of the Lord
came to Elijah, ‘Go and present yourself to
Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.’ So
Elijah went to present himself to Ahab.
(1 Kings 18:1)
Put yourself in Elijah’s
shoes and try to imagine how he felt during those long
years at Zarephath. With no official role to play, or
any function to fulfil, it would have been easy for him
to have begun to wonder if God Himself had not passed
him by. After all, he was still no nearer to fulfilling
his goal than he had been on that distant day, three and
more years before, when he had delivered his original
word and been forced to flee from Ahab’s wrath.
It is hard for those of us who live in well-watered
lands to imagine the desolation three years of drought
would have caused. Life must have come to a virtual
standstill throughout the nation because, unlike Egypt
which could be irrigated from the Nile, God had designed
Israel to be dependent on regular rainfall. He had also
warned that this would be withheld if the nation
|God had promised that He would end the drought through
Elijah’s mouth. How often the prophet must have wondered
during the next few years whether the time had come for
him to go back home and release the rains.
How Elijah’s heart must have leapt when he heard the
Lord promising to send rain again. It was not that the
nation had truly repented of its evil, but rather that
He had heard the prayers of His intercessor and was
prepared to show His mercy. Accompanying the promise,
however, was a specific condition: God would send rain
on the land again only if Elijah was prepared to risk
another visit to the king who had vowed to kill him!
I have the feeling that many of us who claim to trust in
the Lord are secretly quite happy to rely most of the
time on our own resources. But God sometimes makes that
option impossible for us. Faith has always to be
Elijah’s prolonged stay in Zarephath is a reminder that
we need patience, as well as zeal, to fulfil the will of
the Lord. Before we set off with Elijah on his
all-important journey to meet Ahab, we will do well to
consider in more detail why the Lord obliged him to
spend so much of his time waiting.
Life itself is, in one sense, a period of waiting, and
of preparation for eternity. This may be hard for some
of us to grasp, because our perception of waiting
typically centres around specific dates and desires, in
which case all we are really interested in is the
arrival of the event – be it a birthday, a promotion, a
holiday, or a deliverance from some difficulty or
The Hebrew concept of waiting is far richer, in that it
embraces the connotation of entwining ourselves in God.
Rather than viewing times of waiting (with all their
attendant uncertainty) as being merely something to be
endured, we will fare better if we can learn to discern
a purpose and a stature that elevate them into an
authentic part of our pilgrimage.
Some years ago I came across a book called ‘The
Stature of Waiting’ by W.H.Vanstone.(3) Vanstone
challenges, in a variety of ways, the idea that a man’s
dignity consists solely in his outward achievements.
Central to his argument is his illustration of the way
in which our Lord’s ministry changed from being an
active one to a passive one.
Throughout the greater part of the gospel narrative we
see the Lord Jesus initiating and directing events. The
verbs associated with His ministry tend therefore to be
‘active’ ones. Jesus healed, He preached, He cast out
demons, He walked from one village to another, He
encouraged, He rebuked and so on. He had warned His
disciples, however, that the ‘day’ during which He could
work would be of limited duration.(4) The night of
darkness He had spoken of began when Judas made his
fateful decision to betray His master.
This action heralds a change in the focus of the
gospels, a shift that is mirrored by the verbs used to
describe our Lord’s ministry. In the portion of the
Gospels which we call the Passion, the key verbs revert
to the passive voice. Working gives way to waiting as
the most appalling injustices and atrocities are
inflicted on the Lord Jesus. He was betrayed, arrested,
interrogated, persecuted, sentenced by a prejudiced
court, brutally flogged and finally crucified.
In John 17:4 Jesus declared that He had completed the
work that His Father had sent Him to do. In John 19:28,
however, He perceived that all things were now
completed. Since His work had already been completed,
something more than ‘work’ was therefore needed to save
mankind: namely His own suffering and sacrifice.
The Lord Jesus had declared in John 10:17-18 that the
reason the Father loved him was because He intended to
lay down His life. Without this sacrifice His mission
would have been incomplete. Whereas His active ministry
reached only a comparatively limited number of people,
now, by His Passion on the Cross, the barrier between
God and man was taken away once and for all.
Beyond our Control
How incredible it is that the salvation of the world
should hinge on the Lord Jesus ‘handing Himself over’ to
be crucified. It is an unexpected, and an undramatic way
to describe so mighty an event.(5) Jesus not only
‘handed over’ His active ministry, He also laid down
something infinitely more precious: His perfect and
unbroken relationship with His Father, as he became a
once-for-all offering for sin.
It is obvious that our Lord’s sufferings are on an
altogether different scale from our own trials and
tribulations, but there are enough overlaps with our own
experience to make it relevant to our condition. When
Jesus was handed over to be crucified, He experienced
something that is ultimately common to all men, namely,
that of being (humanly speaking) no longer in control of
We, too, share in His passion in that we are sometimes
called to wait rather than to work. Whether it takes the
form of unemployment, hospitalisation, bereavement or
some other major upheaval in our life, events occur to
and around us which we would not have chosen for
ourselves. There are few things most of us find more
If we are to attain to a stature of waiting, rather than
experience constant anxiety on account of the
uncertainties that we face, the most precious thing we
can give to God is our active trust that He is still in
control. The more surrendered we are, the more the Lord
is able to use these things for His glory.
Times and Seasons
The kingdom of God does not advance by reacting
passively to circumstances, but through determined
prayer and decisive action. If the devil can make us
lethargic and passive, we are well on our way to being
defeated. Yet all of us will experience occasions when
we have no option but to wait for an illness to pass, or
for a ‘dark night of the soul’ to dissolve into the
warmth of His presence.
The fact that Lord Jesus was following a
heavenly-decreed timetable is important. Notwithstanding
the wonderful prophecies that had been given at the time
of His birth, the Lord Jesus worked and waited as a
carpenter until the moment came to show Himself to the
nation. There was a time for Him to lead a hidden life,
a time to show Himself to the nation – and then,
finally, a time to suffer. Jesus’ brothers could not
grasp this calling, but urged Him to show Himself to the
world, and prove that He was someone special.(6) But the
Lord steadfastly refused to comply with anyone else’s
expectations, or to take premature action.
|As sailors respect and understand the tides and seasons,
so we must seek to be as open as we can be to the timing
of the Holy Spirit.
If that means waiting patiently
while months turn into years, as it did for Elijah in Zarephath, and for Moses during those forty long years
in the wilderness, then so be it.
If we can avoid becoming unduly discouraged through
adversity, and unwisely exalted through success, then we
will have much to offer in the exciting and challenging
days that lie ahead. It is those whose hearts have been
prepared by years of hidden service who will prove the
least vulnerable to pride or deception when the full
onslaught of temptation comes their way.
Delays that Glorify God
We may often be tempted to complain at God’s delays,
but there are good reasons for them. Some of the delays
we experience are undoubtedly the direct result of
opposing forces. Just as demonic hindering delayed the
answer to Daniel’s prayer, so we too will frequently
experience the opposition of unseen foes as we wrestle
to achieve the will of God.(7) Determined intercession
is a proper response when we sense that demonic forces
are involved in causing delays. But there are other
delays which God uses for His higher purposes. We need
discernment when to wrestle, and when to nestle.
How, for example, are we to interpret the Lord Jesus’s
decision to remain where He was, when He was informed
that His good friend Lazarus was seriously ill?
Humanly-speaking, He stayed until it was too late to be
of any help – even though He knew how much distress His
failure to come would cause Mary and Martha. He waited,
because He knew that there would be more glory through
raising Lazarus from the dead, than if He had rushed to
Only this week I heard a story along similar lines
concerning a minister, who had battled in vain to teach
his large, but complacent, congregation the ways of God.
The Lord allowed him to experience such a serious
illness that he was forced to offer his resignation. The
same night after this had been announced, the Lord
visited him. The minister’s health was completely
restored, and the Church knew that it had come face to
face with a miracle. It made a most profound impact on
Beyond the Wilderness
I believe that God takes us into times of wilderness
and waiting precisely in order to show us that His eye
is constantly on us, even during those times when we are
least aware of it. It is not our feelings God requires
so much as a response of faith. When we harness our
sense of helplessness to the unlimited power of God, we
will find that He has been seeking all along the very
best way of resolving all our difficulties.
|When the Lord leads us along stretches of white water,
it is as well to be aware that we will often be offered
an easier route.
The question then is whether we will
allow ourselves to be distracted from following the
Lord’s command. Hudson Taylor’s deeply-felt conviction
that the Lord had called him to China, for example, was
imperilled by his love for a woman who was unwilling to
make the ultimate sacrifice of going with him on the
I believe that we can trace the origins of the
mighty harvest that China is experiencing today
to the fact that Hudson Taylor put his calling
above the longing of his heart.
Moreover, because he had obeyed God in this
crucial matter, the Lord led Hudson to another Christian
woman while he was in China. His marriage to Maria is
one of the great love stories of the Church.
Before the action comes the waiting; before the
deliverance, the death of all human hope. When Pharaoh
rejected Moses’ advances, and worsened the living
conditions of the Hebrews, Moses had to face not only
the hostility of Pharaoh, but something that must have
caused him a still sharper sense of pain: rejection at
the hands of his own people.
This is the moment of greatest testing, when everything
inside us longs to retreat from so difficult a calling.
In his distress, Moses poured out His heart again to
God. Once more the Lord reaffirmed His call in his life.
He had said that He would bring his people out of Egypt
and He had not rescinded His promise.(9)
There is always a danger that we will strive too hard to
fulfil the vision God has given us, instead of waiting
to let Him bring it about in His way and in His time. It
is sinful to try to take by force what God would give by
grace. The troubles multiply when we try to force the
outcome prematurely. It is all too easy to end up making
an ‘Ishmael’ out of a genuine promise of God.
|Waiting stretches our trust precisely because it does
not feel as though the Lord is doing anything. Rees
Howells, one of the great men of faith of this century,
used to say that when we are in the middle of a test, it
feels for all the world as though there is no God at
all. We are quite wrong, of course, as we always are
when our feelings incline us to assume that God has lost
interest in us.
True, not everything will come about all at once, but
neither does it all depend on our own efforts. There are
matters we must pray for, claim even, and then leave to
one side until the Spirit prompts again. God will
‘activate’ the vision in His own good time. For now, it
is more important to keep seeking Him from day to day,
than straining towards some mythical moment ‘when it
will all happen.’
I have often pondered St Paul’s stated desire to take
the gospel to Spain. He never fulfilled, so far as we
know, this particular desire. Instead, arrest, and years
of imprisonment in far from salubrious Roman jails were
to be his lot. A lesser man might well have succumbed to
the shock. After all, had he not set out on a mission
for God? Far from bemoaning his fate, Paul seized the
opportunity to write letters to the churches he had
worked so hard to establish; epistles which now form the
backbone of the New Testament.
What a way to redeem a seeming tragedy! If Paul had
fulfilled his original desire and ministered to the
peoples of Spain, perhaps, at best, a vigorous church
might have been established in that one country. As it
was, countless millions throughout the world have been
strengthened, because Paul overcame his disappointment,
put pen to paper, and shared the priceless wisdom the
Lord had given him.
If you have grown weary of waiting for the Lord to
deliver you from some particular problem, or to fulfil a
specific promise, remember how Mary pondered in her
heart all that she had seen and heard, but made no
attempt to act ahead of the Lord’s initiative. If the
Lord’s leading sometimes seems on the slow side,
remember that He is testing and training us for
Does this teaching on there being a ‘stature’ of
waiting make sense of certain delays in your own life? I
mentioned at the beginning of this book the value of
waiting quietly on the Lord by making good use of the
Reflections and Selahs. It may well be by now that you
have begun to omit some of these exercises in your
eagerness to continue reading the text. Perhaps now
would be a good time to remind you of my opening
comments, and to feast on these still moments of
reflection before the Lord.
Suppose you are holding a bath sponge tightly in your
hand. No matter how long it is immersed, it is
impossible to soak up any substantial amount of water.
Most of the water is bound to be squeezed out. So it is
when we are attempting to receive from the Lord. If we
‘tense’ ourselves up, we are not going to be still and
open enough for the Lord to fill us with all He wants us
Times of waiting afford us with opportunity to take
stock and reflect on our life. Have we perhaps ‘stayed
put’ when the Lord has called us to move on? Or moved
on, before the Lord has truly released us to? If we know
that we have ‘missed the boat,’ or ‘jumped the gun’ in
the past, all is not lost. The Lord will quite possibly
offer us another opportunity. He often works
circumstances in such a way as to permit us a virtual
re-run of situations we handled badly before. His power
and presence will be available to help us fare better
the second time round.
||Lord, how hard I
find it to wait!
Thank You that Elijah refused
to return to Israel until You summoned him.
Grant me grace to resist the pressure to run
ahead of Your leading – and to feel a failure
when things do not work out as I had expected.
Help me to live in the overlap between promise
and fulfilment, without fretting for answers You
are not yet ready to supply.
Let me find
fulfilment in doing what You guide my hand to
do, from one day to the next. In Jesus’ name,