The Bible often charges Christians to wait patiently for the Lord [e.g. Lamentations 3:26]. The Hebrew word translated patiently in many Bible translations suggests enduring patience in the person waiting that is also silent or quiet. Take the context of the verse above as an example. The author is lamenting the destruction of his beloved city, Jerusalem. Can you imagine yourself waiting patiently for God’s help as all you love goes up in flames? Jeremiah watched as Nebuchadnezzar‘s armies besieged Jerusalem for over a year, causing a severe famine. He watched them destroy the religious and political establishments of the city [Jeremiah 52]. That experience was undoubtedly a low point in his life. Yet, he chose to wait patiently for the Lord.
Scripture often links patience and endurance for a good reason because both are usually required to survive challenging seasons. In those circumstances, we tend to take matters into our hands and look for a way out. We’re more likely to moan and complain about our predicament rather than quietly endure it as we wait for God. I must confess: I’m an impatient person at the best of times, so waiting for God is a real struggle. Moreover, I’m a natural problem-solver, so whenever I face an unfavourable situation, my mind starts racing through potential solutions. That’s not a bad thing per se, but if I’m not careful, my proactiveness could lead me away from God’s will. Genesis 16 is an instructive story in that regard.
Abraham had already waited ten years for the heir God promised him before the events in Genesis 16. Considering he was 75 years old when God first made that promise [Genesis 12:1-4], I’m impressed at his patience. Solomon tells us that hope deferred makes the heart sick [Proverbs 13:12], so I sympathise with Abraham when Sarah, his wife, suggested he marry Hagar, one of her maids. Despite several encounters with God, including one in the previous chapter where God makes a solemn promise to give him an heir [Genesis 15:2-6], Abraham didn’t fight his wife’s suggestion [Genesis 16:1-3]. Instead, he married Hagar, and she bore him Ishmael.
When we encounter challenges, we can be so determined to change our situation that bad ideas become very attractive. Even when we know the effects of our actions, we may consider them a price worth paying to change our current plight. As was the case with Abraham, the consequences of ill-advised choices, regardless of how desperate the present is, can far outweigh the reprieve we receive from them. That fateful act by Abraham resulted in centuries of conflict between the descendants of the son of Sarah (the heir God promised him) and the son of Hagar (the child who resulted from his impatience) [Genesis 16:12]. Sadly, the enmity between these descendants continues to plague our world today.
Don’t be quick to judge Abraham. Despite his failings in Genesis 16, he waited patiently for a further 14 years for God to fulfil His promise. His faith in God made him righteous and earned him the uncommon title: “friend of God”. I love that God uses the lives of imperfect people to teach us His ways. Had Abraham been perfect, we would think his exploits were unattainable. However, like all our spiritual ancestors who blazed righteous trails for us [Jeremiah 6:16], Abraham was human like us. Nevertheless, Scripture explains that these pioneers distinguished themselves by their faith — the faith to patiently endure unfavourable seasons as they waited for God to fulfil His promises [Hebrews 6:12].
Clearly, faith is non-negotiable if we desire to wait patiently for God. We must believe in the One who has made the promise. We must also believe in His ability and willingness to fulfil His promise irrespective of present circumstances. Such assurance grows from an unwavering conviction of who God is. A shallow knowledge of God won’t suffice when the chips are down. The words of Paul to Timothy as he faced imminent execution — “I know whom I have believed, and I am persuaded…” [2 Timothy 1:12] must become our refrain too. If it isn’t, then hope deferred will eventually result in moral compromise.
If life hasn’t yet tested your resolve to wait patiently for God, it will do so one day. Consequently, spend your current season building the faith you’ll need to endure your test. Like Abraham, we could also experience God’s silence for a season as we wait (there’s a 13-year gap between the end of Genesis 16 and the beginning of Genesis 17). These moments will demand we plunge into our reservoirs of faith and believe against hope [Romans 4:18] to endure until we obtain what has been promised [James 1:3-4, Hebrews 10:36]. If you’re currently facing a dark season, be encouraged by Abraham’s story. God is too good to let the righteous suffer indefinitely. He will come through for you [Psalm 55:22]. His integrity demands He keeps His Promises [Psalm 138:2, Isaiah 55:10-11], and His reward for your endurance will more than compensate for the dark times [2 Corinthians 4:17-18].
It’s noteworthy that the passage of time usually exacerbates the pressure to take matters into our hands, especially if we’ve been waiting for God. That never ends well. Moreover, the God who exists outside time can bend it to serve His purposes. He’s also a redeemer of time — able to restore the years devoured by the locust [Joel 2:25]. History and the experience of innumerable believers have shown that Jeremiah was right; it is good to wait patiently for God. Those who do so, despite every temptation to act to the contrary, will indeed experience the goodness of God.