My number is 451. The digital readout indicates that they are serving customer 47. I hope that cheese sandwich is worth it.
Technology has eased much of our waiting. You may recall the demonic invention known as dial-up networking, a torturous method of accessing the Internet. The computer made endless electronic spluttering noises and after an eternity – well, 20 seconds at least – connected us online. For most, those days have gone. We’re increasingly used to everything being instant. Waiting isn’t our natural posture.
And then we come to God, who is not a fibre-optic deity. God is in no hurry. Dashing is not his style, as Jesus demonstrated continually.
Jesus slowly and methodically walked his disciples through scenarios of learning, and then spent around six weeks with them after the resurrection, painstakingly reiterating kingdom truths, shaping them to be world-changers.
And then he gave one final command before the ascension: Wait. Don’t head for home, back to the anonymity and relative safety of Galilee.
No: stay put in the big, dangerous city of Jerusalem – where, just a few weeks earlier, he had been tortured and executed. It was perilous territory still, with a ten-day waiting period to come. Perhaps the waiting was deliberately designed to fuel desperation, to know how utterly they needed the Holy Spirit to help them. And then surely there was some calendar choreography here. The Day of Pentecost was a celebration of fulfilment. Not only was the harvest safely gathered in, but the nation remembered the giving of the law to Moses. It was surely an appropriate day for the giving of the spirit.
Whatever the reason, for the disciples, waiting was a prelude to power. It often is. But that doesn’t make waiting any more palatable.
Prayer nudges me into a waiting room. As I bow my head and mutter heavenward, I ask God a question, and most of the time, I am greeted by silence. By most, I mean 99.9% of the time.
Suffering often calls for waiting. Today I sat with two epically brave souls who are waiting patiently in line. Les and Marsha are fine Christians, and they’re in the thick of a horrendous battle with cancer. A shadow of the man he was, Les is wheelchair-bound and hooked up to oxygen. The tumours in his neck are outraged at the fight he’s putting up. Sometimes Les wakes up screaming in torture-chamber level pain, and the morphine he is on (enough to drop a horse, says Marsha) isn’t winning.
Les isn’t afraid of dying – that’s the least of his problems. ‘It’s the thought of this pain getting even worse – that scares the hell out of me,’ he confesses. Sitting with them in the oncology department of the local hospital, I bow my head in their presence, both to hide my tears, and as a gesture of humility before their honest, gutsy trust. And I am just a little angry; frustrated at those who insist that healing is always on immediate tap for anyone who can summon up enough faith.
So today, let us remember all who wait, and pray for that elusive healing to come. And if you are among that brave throng of those who suffer and wait, may you be strengthened in your waiting. While the flame of hope surely flickers at times, may it never be snuffed out.
Adapted from Jeff’s forthcoming book with Adrian Plass, All Questions Great and Small (Hodder & Stoughton)