July 8, 2016 • Life for Leaders
I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry.
When I read Psalm 40:1, I am immediately reminded of how hard it is for me to wait patiently for anything, including the Lord. I confess that I find waiting to be frustrating if not excruciating. I’m one of those people who, when approaching the checkout lines in the grocery story, carefully calculates the wait times in the various lines so that I don’t have to waste one second of my busy life standing around. Inevitably, of course, I get in the line behind the person who needs a “Price check on 6.” As I wait, I can feel my stomach churning with anxious impatience.
Psalm 40 provides, I believe, not so much an example of patient waiting as a picture of intense eagerness and consuming hope. It reminds us that sometimes God’s timing feels to us to be exceedingly slow. Waiting for the Lord in such times can be quite hard.
So, Psalm 40:1 serves as a correction to me, and perhaps to you. It’s a challenge to learn to be more patient with the Lord. Yet, I think this verse also offers words of encouragement from the psalm writer who, like me, doesn’t find it easy to wait for God to act.
Our translation of Psalm 40:1 begins, “I waited patiently for the LORD.” You’ll find the adverb “patiently” in several other English translations (ESV, NRSV). They all seem to be following the classic King James Version, which has, “I waited patiently.” But, interestingly enough, the original Hebrew of Psalm 40:1 does not literally read, “I waited patiently.” In fact, the Hebrew doubles up the use of the verb qawa, which means “to wait” or “to hope.” A literal translation would read, “To wait I waited for the Lord.” We would use a participle here, “Waiting, I waited for the Lord.”
The doubling of the verb in this way intensifies the meaning. Informally, we might say, “I really, really waited for the Lord.” The Message brilliantly captures the sense of the original with repetition in English: “I waited and waited and waited for God. At last he looked; finally he listened.” Notice that there is no sense of patience here, if by patience we envision a peaceful, trusting, calm waiting. Rather, Psalm 40:1 reveals David’s intensity in his waiting, his eagerness, perhaps even his desperation. We see this very thing twelve verses later: “Be pleased to save me, LORD; come quickly, LORD, to help me” (40:13).
I am not saying that it isn’t good to wait patiently for God. In fact, being able to rest with confidence in God’s goodness even in hard times is an essential trait of mature faith. I am all in favor of patience! But Psalm 40:1 provides, I believe, not so much an example of patient waiting as a picture of intense eagerness and consuming hope. It reminds us that sometimes God’s timing feels to us to be exceedingly slow. Waiting for the Lord in such times can be quite hard.
And yet we wait, and wait, and wait, putting our hope in God. If we feel desperate, we imitate the Psalms by crying out to God. As we tell him honestly how we feel, opening our true selves to him, we often receive the gift of peace. As God acts, even according to his mysterious timetable, we learn to trust God more and more. Perhaps we’ll even learn to wait patiently for God. But in our struggle we find in the Psalms those who struggle along with us. Thanks be to God!
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
When do you find it hard to wait patiently for the Lord?
What helps you to wait upon God with confidence and trust?
When it comes to your work, are you currently waiting on God for something, for wisdom, guidance, help, or maybe even deliverance?
Gracious God, you know that I find it hard to be patient. Thus, waiting patiently for you is not my strong suit. I confess this to you today and ask for the forgiveness I have in Christ. I also ask that, by your Spirit, you help me to be more patient as I wait upon you.
But I also want to thank you for the example of David in Psalm 40, who waited and waited and waited upon you. He remained faithful in his waiting. He didn’t give up on you. But it seems like he struggled, even as I do, with your timetable. How encouraging it is to see in Scripture that my own weaknesses are shared among your people.
All praise be to you, O God, because you are faithful . . . and because you are so patient with me! In the name of Jesus I pray, Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online Bible commentary: Introduction to Psalms.
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.