I’m not so sure that many theologians would be known for quoting Tom Petty, but from where I walk and stand and sit, his claim that “the waiting is the hardest part” seems like a most insightful and honest claim when it comes to an incarnational form of neighborhood witness. I have no doubt that one of the most difficult statements from Jesus for the current manifestation of Western Christendom to grasp is one of his last while still here on earth; “but wait for the gift (Holy Spirit) that my Father promised”. We are not conditioned to wait. We are wired for faster, for instant, for continual movement. The Old Testament call to “wait on the Lord” holds limitations for us. We want to be faithful but we want to be “reasonable” at the same time … so we wait with a qualifier. We justify our timelines by calling them fleeces. We expect the delivery of answered prayer as if it were an order from Dominos.
Let it be said up front that patience is not one of my virtues. Waiting on God can be a lonely, frustrating, annoying, defeating, agonizing and demoralizing exercise. I am not good about it. When Jesus revealed the obvious to Paul …”It is hard for you to kick against the goads” … he was speaking directly to my heart. It doesn’t help that I exist in a faith culture that has little appreciation for waiting. As a pastor and, maybe even worse, a church planter, the concept of waiting goes against every fiber of my culture. Oh we can all piously claim to be waiting, following, discerning, whatever words we might choose to seem like the Spirit is ultimately in control, but few of us really rest in this. Organizations, supporters, and even fellow journeyers on the way are by and large impatient and secretly, or not so secretly looking for results that come in the form of numbers.
Make sure that you also hear that I am complicit in this as well. I entered in to this journey with all sincerity and the desire to let this be God’s thing, in His timing and His way. That was nearly 4 years ago and I’ve kicked against the goads nearly the entire way. I would be lying if I said that I have come to a place of peace with this. I have not. I’d rather be writing what I’m discovering out of a place of authority and victory. I’d love to say that I’ve let go and let God dictate time and place and all things life changing. To be honest, these are possibly the most difficult days that I’ve logged in my pastoral artist journey. If anything, I’ve kicked to near exhaustion. Here is, at this point, what I think I might understand about the waiting:
It might be the biggest risk you take
Do you remember the closing scenes of “Titanic”? The one where Rose and Jack are perched on the stern of the ship as it plunges straight to the bottom of the Atlantic. Over the roar of everything, Jack yells to Rose to wait and jump when he gives the signal. The timing is crucial. Despite the very human urge to jump, he knows that doing so too early will bring a fatal impact with the water and waiting too long will end in being dragged under with the ship. They had to wait, but wait for just the right moment. While not wanting to seem too dramatic, waiting on God may not be, but will certainly seem like a huge risk. We continually, from the first decision to move downtown right up until this morning, are in the tension of waiting or jumping. Did we move too early, did we wait too long? Should we have jumped into our first gathering space or waited on another? When we jumped did we miss another better opportunity, or did we wait too long in the first place? Should we have gutted it out and rode the financial wave of rents run amuck or did we stay too long and waste valuable resources? Understand that all of this takes place in the midst of a million voices, real and imagined who are yelling to both wait and jump at the same time. In the end I’m not really sure whether it ever gets resolved whether you went too soon or too long. The good news I embrace is that I’m pretty sure God works with either. I’d love to say it always helps, but I’d be lying if I did.
It might not fit anyone’s timeline
It probably won’t. Most often I am not waiting because it is the wise or preferred thing to do, it is the only thing to do. It often depends on perceivable results. We exist in an environment where individuals and organizations invest, often sacrificially in what we are doing. Our default for recognizing results in the world of Christendom is very basic ABC’s … Attendance, Buildings, and Cash. This has conditioned us to be less than patient … less than excited about waiting for God’s lead, and honestly more suspicious of those who are trying to. I’d love to be in a position to piously claim that I am resting and content in the waiting. I’m not. I hate it. Most days I’d rather give up than wait on God. My aptitude for resilience becomes a burden rather than blessing. I push, pull, whine and thrash about like a toddler who imagines themselves being deprived by life’s basic needs … which in reality amount to a pile of cheerios. I feel ill-used and entitled for my self defined sacrifices. I mistake desire for poverty. I mistake the “not now” for “no” and the “no” for spite.
It might make all the difference in your neighborhood
As I’ve previously indicated, the process of becoming a character in your place takes time … and time demands waiting. Time reveals character. Time forms trust. Those who are a part of your place don’t see your impatience and they don’t see your tantrums. They do see you there, faithfully. Your presence speaks volumes and it opens doors. It is good news that opens the door to the good news. The powerful documentary “Godspeed” explores the revolutionary and counter cultural idea that perhaps God moves at the speed of walking. I can tell you that simply walking makes all the difference in how you see your place. For me, walking is relatively easy … in fact our neighborhoods pride themselves on their walk-ability scores. Walking reveals so much that our mobility and technology has hidden from us. For those who don’t live in urban or small town settings as I do, it might be a bit more of a challenge, but you can do it, you can adapt to it, I have many friends who are doing it. I’d go so far as to say that you must do it. You cannot become a character in story of your place by driving through it and you cannot be good news without becoming somewhat of a character. For much of the past 3 or more generations we have relied on the quickest and most efficient … we’ve marketed and manipulated and we’ve lost the relational and with that we’ve lost the power of discipleship. In the days of Jesus on earth, to be a disciple was to walk in the dust of the teacher. Literally, in the case of Jesus, God moved at the speed of walking. For us, walking takes time and time implies waiting and yes Tom Petty, you are correct … The waiting is the hardest part.