45 seconds in the scheme of things doesn’t seem like a very long time, does it? Why, in fact, that is the average length of time that you will spend sitting at a red stop light. Someone who lives to be 75 years of age has close to 3 billion seconds in their lifetime to fill up, so what’s a mere 45 seconds at a stop light?
But waiting those 45 seconds seems like a lifetime! Especially if you are in labor and about to give birth, or late for an engagement, a job interview, or have an emergency to attend to.
Who among us likes to wait? We are such impatient people that to have to wait for something or somebody is a killer! Right? We want it now, we want instantaneous results, we simply can’t wait.
And I guess it’s always been that way because the Bible has a fair amount to say about waiting as we will see today and in particular with the Psalm we will hear in a second. You will remember that we are pursuing a series from the Psalter and six different types of Psalms for our inspiration and understanding. We’ve heard Psalms of praise, of lament, of trust and today’s Psalm is one of thanksgiving.
We can assume that the Psalmist has just been been rescued from trouble or has come out of some dreadful situation. It isn’t so much a prayer to God as it is a report on his prayers to God.
I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the desolate pit,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord.
Happy are those who make
the Lord their trust,
who do not turn to the proud,
to those who go astray after false gods.
You have multiplied, O Lord my God,
your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;
none can compare with you.
Were I to proclaim and tell of them,
they would be more than can be counted.
Sacrifice and offering you do not desire,
but you have given me an open ear.
Burnt offering and sin offering
you have not required.
Then I said, “Here I am;
in the scroll of the book it is written of me.
I delight to do your will, O my God;
your law is within my heart.”
I have told the glad news of deliverance
in the great congregation;
see, I have not restrained my lips,
as you know, O Lord.
I have not hidden your saving help within my heart,
I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
from the great congregation.
Do not, O Lord, withhold
your mercy from me;
let your steadfast love and your faithfulness
keep me safe forever.
“I waited patiently for the Lord”. There are those two words again, wait and patient. They seem to go hand in hand like peaches and cream. The Bible actually has a lot to say about patience, Psalm 27:14 says, “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage”, and in Lamentations 3:25, “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him.” Patience is one of the fruits of the Spirit that Paul talks about for how we should live. And probably the most familiar and well known from the prophet Isaiah, “…but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary…”.
All of these verses show us that there is goodness and reasoning in the wait. That God is not absent or hearing impaired, or impervious to our pain. Waiting on the Lord is to allow our faith to engage our lives, to strengthen our trust when we are at the lowest point and rest in the knowledge that we are cared for and loved.
The invitation in Psalm 40 is to make space and simply wait. But it is not an idle standing still like you do at a stop light, it’s not designed to make you stop doing things and stare at the sky empty minded. The invitation here is to invest everything we do in the promise that God is renewing everything while you wait. That God is preparing the ‘next’ for us, the next step, the next call, the next important decision that you will need to make. It is also to help us frame our living for now and to see God in all things both the good and the bad.
Because God is actively engaged in our wait. The Psalmist confidently testifies and shares three actions of God while he patiently waited.
…he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the desolate pit…
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
God inclined his ear and heard the Psalmist cry. God heard his cry implies that God is listening. Not only is God still speaking, in the words of the UCC slogan but God listens just as well. In fact God is always listening to our cries, no sound from our lips or from our heart goes unheard.
God drew the Psalmist up from the pit, the pit of despair, the ditch of anger, the trench of loneliness, the well of grief, whatever it was that the Psalmist was feeling and however low he had fallen God was guiding him and acting on his behalf. God brought him up and out, God was not dormant but was keeping a watchful eye and helped to release him from the pit when it was time.
And God puts a new song in the Psalmists mouth, which is a song of praise. God renews, whatever the Psalmist went through he was renewed, refreshed and transformed from the experience. A new song, bright notes with different words are given so that his life may begin again afresh with gratitude, hope and love.
There is value in the waiting. Even sitting for 45 seconds can be rejuvenating if you turn that time into intentional breaths or a prayer of thanksgiving to pass the time. “Be patient towards all that is unresolved in your heart”, Rainer Maria Rilke reminds us. “Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now.” I’ve used that quote before and I’ll probably use it again. Living the questions is to use the fallow time trusting that rejuvenation will come.
And be patient, God is at work writing the next verse of your life song, or perhaps orchestrating the next movement of your symphony. God’s best work on me seems to be performed when I am living in the unknown.
A couple of years ago I was in between interims. I went for six months without another prospect or call in sight. Life as an interim minister takes a whole lot of trust and faith that there will be another congregation who will be in need of your ministry. I was getting impatient and wondering even if God was really hearing my cry. As an interim and as a single person there is NO ONE to fall back on, the rent was due and my insurance premiums were piling up.
But God did hear my cry. A trusted friend and colleague gently talked me down from the rafters and reassured me that God just wasn’t quite finished preparing the next church for me to minister in. To be patient, to be still was to know that God was listening and was acting on my behalf and in that time of waiting I was being renewed. My friend was right. Another call finally came and we enjoyed a fruitful ministry together and I was so grateful to God for that time.
In our waiting, and waiting patiently there is blessing. There is much to be grateful for in anticipation of what will come next.
So I challenge and encourage you now, the next time life thrusts a ‘big wait’ upon you to trust that God is actively at work on your behalf seeking only good for you. Believe that this sacred time will produce for you a life renewing release that will catapult you into a future of certainty.
And then, when the wait is finished and the ‘miry pit’ is no more, sing your own Psalm of praise and thanksgiving to our ever listening God