Waiting – a valuable part of our lives

Mary Copping, 11 August 2019

Hebrews 11: 1–3, 8–16; Luke 12: 32–40

Many years ago, I read a book by W. H. Vanstone called The Stature of Waiting which speaks powerfully of the value of waiting in a society that respects and demands busyness and action. In his book Vanstone talks about how those who are active, achieving much, are the ones who are admired. Those who are not able to do so much are not as respected. Yet he makes the point that activity and waiting are both valuable parts of our lives.

He illustrates this by looking at Jesus’ life and how things changed from his being really active – healing, teaching, preaching, encouraging – to being passive. Vanstone points out that the hinge point for this was when Judas betrayed him in the Garden of Gethsemane and Jesus was handed over to the authorities. From there things were done to him by others – he was arrested, sentenced, flogged and crucified. Through all this he did not speak out to defend himself; he allowed the worst to happen, accepting being powerless and helpless in the face of human cruelty. The Son of God gave himself over to the cruelty of humankind, waiting on what others would do to him. He passively allowed himself to be subjected to all that the world could throw at him. Vanstone represents this as perhaps the most valuable part of his life, and through it all Jesus continued to love, unconditionally.

In our gospel reading there is much about waiting quietly for the master to come, about not knowing the time but patiently waiting for what may happen – but being urged to be ready for the time when the master returns. And in that waiting there is little action. The slaves wait for their master, and are ready to welcome him at any hour of day or night.

We all remember times when we have had to be patient, to wait for people to do things to us or for us – times when we’ve felt helpless and without purpose. The impatient waiting, in a long queue or in the doctor’s surgery. The fearful waiting for the results of a medical test, or waiting at the bedside of a loved one who is dying. Or waiting in our own pain and difficulty, waiting for God to show up in the dark night of the soul. Sometimes it’s not easy, sometimes painful. Yet somehow it’s part of the human condition and part of who we are.

Many years ago I was unwell for a long time due to stress, not able to do much, feeling frustrated at my weakness and inactivity, and wondering where God was in all this. That was from being a very active person, changing to someone who, in my eyes, seemed useless to anyone. This book spoke powerfully to me at that time. Vanstone describes the times when we simply wait as being as important as the times of action and taking charge. There are times when we should act and times when we must wait – both are important in our lives and in the lives of those around us. In all times God is with us, though we can find it hard to sense his presence, often only realising he was with us on looking back. My illness was an important part of my life, showing me so much about weakness and vulnerability, though of course I could not see it at the time.

In all times God is with us, though we can find it hard to sense his presence, often only realising he was with us on looking back.

And how do we wait? Are we waiting patiently, ready to do whatever God asks when the time is right? Jesus surrendered himself to whatever was going to happen. Vanstone writes about the value of those who are not active, who are dependent on others; they bring balance to those rushing around, slowing them down, making them take time to look around at the world. For us in church this morning, how many of us are quietly struggling with difficult issues in our lives, waiting, wondering where God is, but perhaps occasionally seeing some glimpses of his working in the situations we are faced with?

We are nearing the time when St Paul’s Church will be closed and major refurbishment will take place. How do we wait for this? Do we wait ready to do what is needed? Are we waiting in great expectation or in fearfulness? This is a vision given to this parish many years ago – given by God and guided by God throughout, based on the prayers of God’s people – and many, many people have given much time, money and prayer to it. These were given in the knowledge that this is not just refurbishment of a building, but enhancement of a beautiful place to make it even more accessible to those in our community and beyond. God has been leading this work and has been in every detail. People have been generous and continue to be. God has greater and greater plans for this building, for the community and beyond, much of which we will never know because this will not be in our lifetimes.

In my daily Bible readings I am studying the book of Ezra, about the rebuilding of the temple in the sixth century BC after it had been destroyed. I have found similarities to what is happening with our church. I read, ‘Some of the heads of the families gave freewill offerings towards the rebuilding of the house of God on its site … Then they gave money to the masons and carpenters.’ They appointed Levite priests to supervise the building work, and then, as it progressed, ‘All the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many of the older priests …, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy’ (Ezra 2: 68; 3: 7–12).

I wonder how we view the changes that are to come and what they will mean. Are we rejoicing, seeing what God has done already (through all the people who have given of time, money and effort) and looking forward to what God is going to do in the future – giving shouts of praise to God? Or are we weeping like the older priests – why change, the church is good enough already, keep things as they were?

There will be challenges when we move to Western School – but we will meet them together as God leads and guides. And the church will eventually be an even more exciting place for many to find God’s welcome, his peace, love and joy. So how are we waiting, in faith and anticipation or in fear and dread?

Perhaps we are wondering where God is in our difficulties, fearful of the future, in pain or seeing someone else in pain, looking on at situations where we feel helpless – but we are not alone. Jesus came to give us life; he understands our pain and suffering. He is with us. We wait, but we are not alone.

Some words from Vanstone’s ‘Hymn to the Creator’, in his book Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense:

Thou art God; no monarch Thou
Thron’d in easy state to reign;
Thou art God, Whose arms of love
Aching, spent, the world sustain.