How Long, O Lord?

Peter tells us that “the Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness” (2 Peter 3:9). At some point, each of us joins the “some” group. We reach places where it’s painfully clear that our sense of time-urgency must be different than God’s. And it is. We prefer to measure time in minutes, rather than months. But the Ancient of Days measures time by millennia (2 Peter 3:8).

God knows that he sometimes appears slow to us, which is one merciful reason he gave us the Bible. This book, which God took millennia to assemble, shows us that God is not slow, but patient in working out his redemptive purposes in the best ways (2 Peter 3:9). And it shows that he is compassionate toward us when we wait for him for what seems like a long time.

Not as Some Count Slowness

Abraham and Sarah were not only the parents of all of God’s faith-children (Romans 4:16); their lives are perhaps the most famous picture of God’s redemptive purposes in what seems like his painfully slow pace.

Abram (as he was first called) was already 75 years old when God promised to make him a great nation that would bless all the families of the earth and to give his offspring the land of the Canaanites (Genesis 12:1–3).

However, there was a problem: Abram had no offspring. His wife, Sarai (as she was first called), was barren (Genesis 11:30).

Years passed. Still no child. So Abram prudently planned to make his servant Eliezer to be his heir. But God said, “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir” (Genesis 15:4). Then he took Abram out and showed him the night sky and told him that his offspring would be so numerous it would be like counting stars.

But years later, it was still just Abram and Sarai in the tent.

Sarai became desperate and gave up on waiting. She decided that her maidservant, Hagar, could be a surrogate child-bearer for her. This sounded humanly reasonable to 86-year-old Abram, but he did not consult God and the solution backfired, big time.

Thirteen more years went by before God finally told the 99-year-old Abram that 89-year-old Sarai would bear a son, and he changed their names to Abraham (father of a multitude) and Sarah (princess). A year later Isaac is born.

It was 25 years of waiting, while any earthly reason to hope for a child went from highly unlikely to impossible. Their only hope was God’s promise, which was precisely God’s purpose in the long, confusing wait.

No unbelief made [Abraham] waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. (Romans 4:20–21)

God determined that all of his true children would be born again through faith to a living hope (1 Peter 1:3) and then live by faith (the faith of Abraham, Galatians 3:7) in his promises alone (Romans 1:17). So he took patient pains to cultivate it in Abraham and Sarah, and he does the same for us.

How Long, O Lord?

One of the most profoundly comforting things about Scripture is how it reveals God’s compassion for us impatient waiters. He knows that he can appear slow to us. He knows that at times we are going to feel like he’s forgotten us and is hiding his face from us. He knows that as he patiently works out his purposes, we will experience circumstances so difficult and confusing that we cry out in bewildered pain.

And so he not only gives us stories like Abraham and Sarah to help us see that we are not alone; he also gives us songs like Psalm 13 to sing.

     How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? 
          How long will you hide your face from me? (Psalm 13:1)

The canonical songbook is full of raw poetry — more raw and blunt than many of us are, even when confiding our pain to a trusted friend. And these were congregational songs! The people of Israel were to sing them together.

And from this, we are to hear from God that he knows our waiting for him can be hard. He knows it can feel to us like he is taking too long. He gives us permission to ask him, “How long is this going to last?” He reminds us that when we feel like he’s forgotten us, it is an experience common to all his faith-children — common enough to warrant congregational singing about it.

And as we pray or sing such psalms, they remind us that God, in fact, has not forgotten us, that what we feel isn’t always real, and that God’s promises are truer than our perceptions.

Renewed Strength Is Coming

“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

God’s chosen pace, as well as his chosen place for us — that bewildering, confusing, painful place where we feel like we’re stuck — is redemptive. More than we know. There is more at stake than we can see and more going on than meets our eyes.

But here are two gracious promises God gives to us when we are waiting long:

From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him. (Isaiah 64:4)

He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:29–31)

Like Abraham and Sarah, God is working for you as you wait for him, and he will bring renewal to your weary heart.

So “be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord” (Psalm 31:24). He is able to do what he has promised.