I am in a season of waiting. The long winter seems appropriate for this particular event as waiting can seem like a cold and unpleasant thing- a thing that seeps into the bones and depresses the spirit. The sun, or Son, seems seldom visible, hidden behind clouds of unpredictable storms.
Waiting is often hope deferred, an unanswered prayer that makes the heart sick. It is often a lonely place, fettered by a feeling that all those around are moving forward, their lives a picture of success and fulfillment while I remain stuck, unable to get past the thing I am waiting for. Waiting feels like so much anxious inactivity, convinced I must do something, but there is nothing I can do. In the silence of the wait, the enemy whispers his accusations, impugning God’s character, and like a stream in the freeze of winter, the once joyful, bubbling belief slows to a crawl until the surface becomes a sheet of icy doubt, the once cheerful song muffled beneath, wondering where the warmth of God’s face has gone.
There is a lot of waiting in the Bible. We sometimes glaze over it, unmoved, as forty years may pass in a couple of verses or a single chapter. As we read of David’s rise to the throne, the long years of hiding and running and waiting are punctuated by action-packed moments in time- a victory in battle, a sure word from the Lord, confirmation of his place as king. We forget the hours he must have spent, lying awake in a stranger’s field, wondering when the anointing of Samuel would come to fruition. He is not alone. Caleb waited for his inheritance. Abraham waited for the promised son. Joseph waited for the fulfillment of his dreams. The blind waited for sight. The lame waited to walk. God’s people waited for a Savior.
And we wait…for encouragement, or healing, for justice or salvation, for the renewal of hope, the return of joy, the confirmation of direction, the whisper of certainty.
Like the man by the pool of Bethesda, we wait for a stirring that will bring a healing and end the waiting. Day after day, for 38 years that sick man waited, while, everyday, others got into the pool ahead of him; everyday, he grew a day older, all his hope focused on those seemingly miraculous waters. And as I wait, I wonder, did he know about Jesus? Had the news of the healer reached his waiting ears, or was he, like me, too tied up in his belief that the answer to his problem lay elsewhere? Was he so wholly focused on that which he could never attain that he had missed the place where true healing lies? Because I know in my wait, I forget what I need. I forget Who I need. I get so tied up in trying to find a way into the “pool” that will fix all my problems that I become deaf to the voice of the Savior, blind to his steady presence, my heart fixated on ending the wait.
And when my gaze is fixated away from Jesus, the real danger comes. Like an unrelenting storm, the enemy will attempt to undo me.
I was deep in my spiritual wait when a literal unrelenting storm hit a couple of weeks ago, and the mild Texas winter turned bitterly cold. I worried about the livestock, wondering if they were anxious over their next meal. The responsibility for all those cows drove us out into the thick of it, bundled up and shivering, to deliver cubes and hay and check the water supply. I smiled to myself when we crossed the stream and came over the rise only to find the whole herd waiting patiently for us, frost covering their hides, breath coming out in foggy wisps. Cows and calves and even the self-important bull stood- just waiting in their frozen surroundings. I couldn’t help but think of Psalm 50:10, “For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.” We did not have to chase them down while they sought nourishment from the rocky native pasture. We did not arrive to find them wandering hungrily from unsatisfying cactus to cedar shrub. They were not foolishly sniffing the barren ground for that which only the caretaker could give. Instead, they waited, not anxiously, but expectantly for the rancher to feed them during the leanness of winter. They know that to survive winter’s cold, the caring cowboy would have stored up an abundance from autumn’s harvest. They know that lazy days of munching on thick rich grasses of glad communion and meaningful scripture reading and sweet fellowship will prepare you when the long and seemingly endless winter wait comes. The baled hay, the sown wheat, the storehouses of a better time, will make you able to say to your soul, “God cares for the sparrow. Will he not also care for you?” (Matt. 6:26)
For even when he is out of sight, the rancher’s thoughts are for those who wait for him, those who depend on him. “How precious are your thoughts about me, O God…they outnumber the grains of sand!” (Ps.139:17-18)
As Joni Eareckson Tada says of these verses, “The flow of wise, loving, concerned, attentive, watchful, impassioned, infinitely caring thoughts surge on and on, all day, all night, for as long as you live, and forever beyond that. God has infinitely more thoughts about you than there are seconds in your day.” Did the man at the pool of Bethesda know that not a day had gone by in his 38 year wait that the Lord had not thought of him? Do we know and believe that God’s thoughts toward us are infinite and good? For though we may not be waiting for healing, we are waiting for something. We are all waiting.
For there is no way around winter. You cannot dismiss it, skip it, or pretend it doesn’t exist. You just have to, well, “winter” it, driven forward by warm memories of spring.
And so, in the waiting, when I can do nothing else, when there seems no way forward, when there is no one to put me into the pool, when my hope is threadbare and the frozen tundra yields no satisfaction, I remember that God has not forgotten me. His thoughts for me are continuous, and though infinite, he also knows the finite battles that we face. As a man, he endured long nights of struggle and sleeplessness. He acknowledged that, sometimes, the cold of suffering lasts for a “long time” (Jn.5:6), and the wait for spring’s warm promise is a long wait. And even though I may fail in my faithfulness, God will never fail me. While the sick man gazed at the pool of Bethesda, the Lord Jesus gazed lovingly on him and healed him, bringing his wait to an end.
Those trusting cows put my own wait in perspective. Months of realizing that the sound of the ATV side by side, the sight of the cowboy hat, and the call of “Whoo cow!” meant they would soon have their fill, and had given the cattle a tranquility and trust that I have struggled to learn over years of God’s sure and steady presence in my life. I may not be able to see the hay that God has gathered or the cubes he has stored, but they are there all the same, carefully rationed out for me.
And I want to wait well, my eyes fixed on the only One who can satisfy. Like Caleb, I want to “wholly follow(ed) the Lord my God... as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me,” the day my wait began (Josh 14:9-11).