We are not a culture that is adept at waiting. Whenever we are in a queue, most people whip out their phones to entertain themselves. A popular app was ‘Beat the Q’, which let you order coffee on the way so that when you arrived, it would be waiting for you. Australia used to have the highest rate of pirating movies and TV shows because of the delay between the premiere overseas and it being legally available here.
We hate waiting, we are bad at waiting, and we think of all sorts of ways to shortcut waiting.
Yet, at the moment, it feels like the whole world is waiting. We have been forced into a state of waiting.
Waiting for a vaccine.
Waiting for ‘the curve to flatten’.
Waiting for lockdown to finish.
Waiting for the pandemic to be over.
Part of the reason why people seem to struggle with waiting is that there is no definite end. There are guessestimates on when the vaccine might be ready, but no date. Lockdowns are being extended. There’s no certainty on when the world will be pandemic-free.
So, what does the Bible have to say about waiting? Does God’s word give us any wisdom on how we might wait? What even is the purpose of waiting?
Fortunately, there are many figures in the Bible who were well acquainted with waiting, and one of the first who comes to mind for me is Hannah.
Hannah experienced a different kind of waiting to ours, but she had been waiting for a long time, with no promise of an end. In a time without fertility clinics, where a woman’s worth was often measured by the children she could provide, she was infertile. The fact that she was one of two wives to Elkanah (1 Samuel 1:2) suggests:
- Hannah was probably the first wife – after years of trying and failing to conceive, Elkanah had taken another wife
- Elkanah was able to have children with his other wife, Peninnah, proving that Hannah was the problem.
In every way possible, Hannah’s waiting was difficult and unbearable. There was no end to her waiting. It was her fault. Hannah’s ‘rival’ Peninnah taunted her (v6). This went on “year after year” (v7).
So what was Hannah’s response to her troubles?
- Hannah prayed (v10-14)
This probably was not the first time that Hannah prayed to God about her childlessness. She had probably been praying for years. But Hannah persisted. It may have been a prayer filled with anguish and bitterness (v10), but she prayed nonetheless.
- Hannah was patient (v12-16)
While she was praying, the priest Eli mistakes her as a drunk and berates her (v14-15). One wonders at the callousness of such a pastorally insensitive priest, but nonetheless, Hannah displays humility, kindness and gentleness in dealing with him.
- Hannah gave her anxieties to God (v17-18)
Once she had presented her requests to God, Hannah let her worries go. The text says, “her face was no longer downcast.” Hannah’s trust in God was such that she went on with her life, believing that God had heard her prayers. She submitted to his will for her life.
- Hannah acknowledged God when her waiting was over (v19-28; 1 Samuel 2)
When God remembers Hannah and gives her a much longed for baby, Hannah did not forget who had provided this blessing. She kept her promise to God and wrote one of the most memorable prayers in the Bible.
Although our situation is very different from Hannah’s, I think we have much to learn from her on waiting:
- Keep praying
During this pandemic, we have, and are continuing to pray, for an end. So far, God has said, ‘no’. But like Hannah, we shouldn’t give up. The worst thing we can do is to stop bringing our anguish to the only one who can stop it. We might not like God’s answer right now, just as Hannah didn’t like it when God said, ‘no’ to her pleas for a child. But she persisted – as we also should.
- Be patient
Many people are experiencing panic and anxiety. Many of us will have people being insensitive and behaving callously towards us before this is over, adding to our stresses. But like Hannah, this isn’t an excuse for us to be unkind in return. God calls us to ‘bear with each other,’ and forgive the same way that Jesus forgave us (Colossians 3:13).
- Give our anxieties to God
It is easy to continue to wallow in our worries and stresses in times like this. But God asks us to give our worries to him: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).” It is okay and healthy to be concerned right now. But God asks us to talk to him about it and to experience the peace that only he is able to give. To not be crippled. To not be brought to our knees. To keep going.
Clearly, Hannah experienced the peace of God after she had prayed, for she was able to go away with her heart unburdened. God promises to guard our hearts and minds as we wait.
- Acknowledge God
The pandemic will end. It’s unlikely right now – we can’t see the finish line. But it will end. Scientists, governments and doctors are working around the clock to bring this to an end. But God’s hand is in every step of the way. When it does end, we mustn’t forget that it was God who has brought us through these times and that he remained in control the whole time.
As we all wait for a better world, I believe that God is teaching us an important lesson. Because when the pandemic is over, the world will still be a flawed place. There is another disaster around the corner. None of us knows what it will be, but something else will come. That’s a depressing thought! You might be asking, then what was the point of all this?
One of the outcomes of this pandemic may well be that we learn to be better at waiting. As Christians, we are waiting already. We are waiting for our Saviour’s promised return, when he will end this disaster-ravaged world and rid it of all pandemics. We have been reminded, more than ever, of the beauty of the promise of the new heaven and a new earth. We have been reminded, more than ever, that this world is not what it should be. Let’s take these lessons to heart and be better at waiting for Jesus’ return, more than we ever have been.
“Then I saw ’a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first
heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any
sea. I saw the Holy City, the
new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully
dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s
dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They
will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no
more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has
passed away’” (Revelation 21:1-4).
 John Woodhouse, 1 Samuel: Looking for a Leader, Crossway, 2014, p. 22