Waiting Patiently for God?
I waited patiently for the LORD to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry.
When I first read Psalm 40:1, I was immediately reminded of how hard it is for me to wait patiently for anything, including the Lord. I confess that I find waiting to be excruciating. I’m one of those people who, when approaching the checkout lines in the grocery story, carefully calculates the wait times so that I don’t have to waste one second of my busy life standing around. Inevitably, of course, I get in the line behind the person who needs a “Price check on 6.” As I wait, I can feel my stomach churning with anxious impatience.
So, I thought this reflection would serve as a correction to me, and therefore to you, a challenge to learn to be more patient with the Lord. But, after studying Psalm 40:1 carefully, I think this verse may offer words of encouragement for someone who, like me, doesn’t find it easy to wait for God to act.
Our translation of Psalm 40:1 begins, “I waited patiently for the LORD to help me.” You’ll find the adverb “patiently” in many other English translations (ESV, NRSV, NIV, TNIV). They all seem to be following the classic King James Version, which also reads, “I waited patiently.” But, interestingly enough, the original Hebrew of Psalm 40:1 does not literally read, “I waited patiently.” In fact, the Hebrew doubles up the use of the verb qawa, which means “to wait” or “to hope.” A literal translation would read, “To wait I waited for the Lord.” We’d tend to use a participle here, “Waiting, I waited for the Lord.”
The doubling of the verb in this way intensifies the meaning. Informally, we might say, “I really, really waited for the Lord.” The Message brilliantly captures the sense of the original with repetition in English: “I waited and waited and waited for God. At last he looked; finally he listened.” Notice that there is no sense of patience here, if by patience we envision a peaceful, trusting, calm waiting. Rather, Psalm 40:1 reveals David’s intensity in his waiting, his eagerness, perhaps even his desperation. We see this very thing twelve verses later: “Please, LORD, rescue me! Come quickly, LORD, and help me” (40:13).
I am not saying that it isn’t good to wait patiently for God. In fact, being able to rest with confidence in God’s goodness even in hard times is an essential trait of mature faith. So I am all in favor of patience! But Psalm 40:1 provides, I believe, not so much an example of patient waiting as a picture of intense eagerness and consuming hope. It reminds us that sometimes God’s timing feels to us to be exceedingly slow. Waiting for the Lord in such times can be quite hard.
And yet we wait, putting our hope in God. If we feel desperate, we imitate the Psalms by crying out to God. As we tell him honestly how we feel, opening our true selves to him, we often receive the gift of peace. As God acts, even according to his mysterious timetable, we learn to trust God more and more. Perhaps we’ll even learn to wait patiently for God. But in our struggle, we find in the Psalms those who struggle along with us. Thanks be to God!
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: When do you find it hard to wait patiently for the Lord? What helps you to wait upon God with confidence and trust?
PRAYER: Gracious God, you know that I find it hard to be patient. Waiting patiently for you is not my strong suit. I confess this to you today and ask for the forgiveness I have in Christ. I also ask that, by your Spirit, you will help me to be more patient as I wait upon you.
But I also want to thank you for the example of David in Psalm 40, who waited and waited and waited upon you. He remained faithful in his waiting. He didn’t give up on you. But it seems like he struggled, even as I do, with your timetable. How encouraging it is to see in Scripture that my own weaknesses are shared among your people.
All praise be to you, O God, because you are faithful . . . and because you are so patient with me! In the name of Jesus I pray, Amen.