What to Do While You Wait

I was awake for only a few forgetful seconds before disappointment crashed in through the door.

The past months had turned into a painful season of relational heartache, and the routine had become familiar. Each night, yesterday’s disappointment would leave for a few sleeping hours, only to return moments after my waking. The day’s hopes, fragile but sincere, were trampled morning after morning.

Each sunrise reminded me of hopes deferred. I often walked into my days with little relish or expectation. The world may have been moving all around me, but I felt stranded on life’s train platform — stuck, stalled, motionless, waiting. Life could begin again if only this wait would end.

In moments like those, I needed a different perspective on my waiting, one that lifted my eyes from all my disappointed hopes, freed me from merely watching the present pass by, and handed me a different agenda for my days. In Psalm 37, David gives four sets of commands to transform how we wait: Don’t fret. Commit your way to the Lord. Do good. Delight yourself in the Lord.

Don’t Fret

Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! (Psalm 37:1)

Before David tells us what we ought to do while we wait, he warns us about what not to do. “Fret not yourself,” he says. In other words, don’t worry about other people — especially other people who are enjoying the gifts we are waiting for.

In the psalm, David is thinking particularly of “evildoers” and “wrongdoers,” people who get ahead in life by casting God’s commands behind their back. But we can apply David’s repeated command to “fret not” (Psalm 37:1, 7–8) to our friends as well as our enemies. God knows where our minds are tempted to run while we wait. We not only daydream about what we wish life were like; we also remember — often with a stab of longing — what life really is like for so many. Waiting eats away at us not only because our lives feel so empty, but also because others’ seem so full.

When we allow our minds to churn away with thoughts about others, we open our hearts to a bitter temptation: envy. Envy’s words sound so justified. “Why did God give her a husband? She hasn’t waited as long as I have.” “Why do they have a child? They haven’t wanted one as much as we have.” “Why did God heal him? He hasn’t prayed as much as I have.”

Envy may gratify us for the moment, but it will soon rot our bones away (Proverbs 14:30). God has better ways for us to spend our waiting.

Commit Your Way to the Lord

Trust in the Lord. . . . Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. (Psalm 37:3, 5)

If we refuse to fix our eyes on others, where will we fix them? On God, who walks alongside us in our waiting.

David’s word for commit comes from the image of rolling something away. Moses uses the same word when he writes, “Jacob came near and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth” (Genesis 29:10). And Isaiah tells us that the skies will “roll up like a scroll” (Isaiah 34:4).

When we commit our way to God, we lift all the burdens of our waiting from our frail shoulders and roll them onto our Father. We wake up each morning, feel the dull weight of disappointment settle over us, and then go to our Father in prayer. We set each hope, anxiety, and sorrow before him. We name them specifically. And then, by faith, we roll them upon God: “Father, will you please carry these for me? I know you can. I believe you will. Please help my unbelief.”

And we walk away with this great assurance: “He will act” (Psalm 37:5). He may not give the gift we’re waiting for. But he will shelter us with his presence (Psalm 37:28). He will uphold our fainting souls (Psalm 37:17, 24). And he will give us the grace to be content with what we have, however little (Psalm 37:16).

In the end, we will see that he has withheld no good thing (Psalm 84:11). Our futures are never safer than when we roll them into God’s hands.

Do Good

Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. (Psalm 37:3)

When we make it our daily business to roll every burden onto God, we will find ourselves envying others less, and dreaming more about how to do them good. We will not let our waiting keep us from usefulness, but will instead take whatever comfort we are receiving from God, and begin searching for others who need it.

Gladys Aylward, a twentieth-century English missionary to China, knew how to do good while she waited. Early in her career as a single missionary, she began to desire a husband. Elisabeth Elliot writes, “Being a woman of prayer she prayed — a straightforward request that God would call a man from England, send him straight out to China, and have him propose” (“Virginity”). And then she waited.

Well, the man never came. But in the meantime, Aylward did not sit on the shores of China, waiting for his boat to arrive. She instead gave herself to China’s orphans — teaching, adopting, protecting, and leading many to Jesus. While she waited to become a wife, she became a mother to hundreds of Chinese children.

Regardless of our situation, God has work for us to do in our waiting. We have lonely people to befriend, refugees to welcome, Sunday school classes to teach, and younger believers to disciple. We may still carry the ache of unfulfilled longing with us wherever we go. But with our own futures secure in God’s hands, we can give ourselves to doing good.

Delight Yourself in the Lord

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)

Finally, David gives a command that seems to stretch the limits of possibility. When you walk through a season of painful waiting, don’t merely roll your burdens into God’s hands, and don’t merely do good to others. Also brim with delight in God.

Waiting, agonizing as it often feels, can remind us where true delight comes from. In Deuteronomy 8, as Moses looks back on the Israelites’ forty-year wait to enter the Promised Land, he says,

“He humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 8:3)

God withheld normal bread from the Israelites so that they might know that life does not come from bread. Life comes from God, our only source of lasting delight. Similarly with us, God often sends us into the wilderness of waiting to show us again where our life comes from. Life does not come from marriage. Life does not come from health. Life does not come from a good job. Life comes from Christ.

Waiting forces us to answer the question, “Where is your chief delight?” If our chief delight is in whatever we see at the end of our wait, then this wilderness will begin to feel like a death trap. But if our chief delight is in God himself, then we will find that he knows how to make rivers flow in the desert. And we will learn how to wait well.