Have you ever been a waiter? If not, you may be a waiter now. I don’t mean you are someone who waits on tables or customers. I mean you may be waiting for something such as the end of this pandemic problem or an answer to a job application. You may be waiting for the political scene or the economic situation to change for the better. Many of us are simply waiting for a chance to get on with normal life, life the way it used to be.
I hope you are waiting because waiting can be a healthy response to life today, particularly if you are waiting on the Lord. But waiting is not the only response to our present circumstances. Two other very common responses are to ignore what’s going on today or to endure it.
Some people are ignoring the problems we have. Their thought is that the virus hasn’t touched me so I will ignore all the alarms. My financial situation is secure, so I will spend what I want. No one is going to tell me what to do. They ignore the future and decide to live for the moment, to satisfy just themselves, to do whatever it is they want to do now. If that sounds selfish, it is.
Perhaps a more common response to the problems around us is simply to endure the present troubles. Their view is that social problems, economic struggles, political issues will go away in time. We’re thankful that these agonies haven’t touched us yet, they say. We will just put up with life as it is for a while. Thankfully settling down in their comfortable “nests,” they pass the time as painlessly as possible. There are other responses such as giving up on life and living every day in a gray fog or waiting.
The Bible has a good deal to say about waiting, specifically about waiting for the Lord. Most of these texts come from the Old Testament. But one of the greatest examples of waiting is the way in which the apostles waited in the years after Jesus’ ascension. They waited for Him to return, hoping, anticipating, and obeying. Until He returned, they waited and worked.
Psalm 130 was written by an Old Testament “waiter.” The psalm is his lament. And though it was one person’s experience, it came to be owned by the community of faith and was gathered into Psalms as part of the Psalms of Ascent. Most likely the Psalms of Ascent were sung or recited as worshipers went up to Jerusalem to worship. Sometimes these pilgrims were joyful. Sometimes they prayed these psalms because they were fearful, confused, and disoriented. They were going to worship, but their world seemed upside down. They couldn’t ignore their circumstances and did not want simply to endure the troubles.
A lament is typically a psalm of disorientation. Disorientation means life has lost its moral compass. Maybe the righteous are suffering, the wicked prospering. The powerful control the law and oppress the poor. Sin saturates public life. God is ignored or mocked. Sound familiar?
I think this is a psalm for today, a time when nothing seems right side up. Confusion, doubt, anger, even despair cause some to ignore life, some to endure life. Fear keeps us away from others when we need community. Anger makes us grasp at conspiratorial ravings. Doubt tempts us to think there is no end in sight to the crises on every hand. What can we do but wait?
The psalmist wrote his outcry out of the depths. The past was gone; the future was unknown. He was in a pit, a pit so deep there was no direction to look except up.
Would the Lord hear him? What if the Lord held his sin and failings against him? But touched by the Spirit, the poet understood that the Lord was to be feared in part because He forgives sin. Sin would not hold God at arm’s length. With God willing to forgive, only those who refused to take sin seriously and refused to seek God’s forgiveness had reason to fear God in this way.
So the writer cried out and then waited. Passive? No, He waited with the eagerness of a watchman waiting through the darkest hours of the night just before dawn. He waited with the confidence of a watchman who trusted morning would come because he knew day followed night. The Lord would hear and respond because He is faithful to His word. The Lord’s response would not be as “automatic” as day following night. But the Lord would hear and respond out of His lovingkindness, out of His faithfulness to His word.
Psalm 130 does not give us exactly what the writer did or did not do as he waited. But let me suggest some things we might do to make sure we are truly waiting. One, we need to live in hope. I don’t mean to hope things are going to get better. That’s not our call. We can hope in the Lord, trusting Him to act in His time and fashion. Two, we can change the motto “God’s got this” to “God’s got us in this” which is where He wants us. Whether we understand why the Lord has us here or not, we can trust that He has plans for us today. And they don’t include simply doing what we want (ignoring) or hunkering down out of sight (enduring). He wants us to wait expectantly, hopefully, trustfully.