Spring is a time of new life. The air is ornamented with bird songs, sweetened by the fragrance of trees blooming, and kissed with hints of warm breezes chasing away the deadness of winter. All nature seems ready to explode with a whirling dance and a joyful noise announcing life abundant.
The subtle yet surprisingly swift changes outside echo the events of life as summer approaches. Spring means anticipation and change, tears and laughter mixed as endings and beginnings collide.
Oberlin is home to several tall, graceful magnolia trees, and their blooms always came just in time to usher the campus into a season of exams and papers, juries and competitions and performances. Seeing those large pink flowers assured me that the battle with cold and snow was past and that the perseverance of many months of hard work was about to reach its conclusion. Year after year, those magnolias told me I could breathe a little easier, while at the same time making my heart beat a little faster as I dreamed of the possibilities on the horizon.
In my final year at school, my anticipation of the magnolias meant that my senior recital was inching closer. I began to hope that they would bloom just in time for the big event, a joyful celebration and sign of the culmination of my time at conservatory. How glad I was to share the sight and smell of those lovely flowers with my friends and family as they visited for my performance! It seemed so fitting that the magnolias blossomed that spring just as I felt I was finally blossoming myself.
But what happens when the season changes and life does not? What do you do when the days grow long but the waiting stretches even longer? What are you supposed to feel when the birds sing, but the voice of God seems silent? What happens when the magnolia blooms, but life stands dreadfully, defiantly still?
When we are young, we learn how Jesus provided an abundance of fish for His disciples, and we are taught to thank God for our food and all the blessings He bestows on us. As we face the challenges of life, we are reminded that Jesus was there in the wind and waves, ready to calm the storm and bring His friends safely to shore. But what directions are we given for the times when we are caught in the doldrums? How do we respond when there are no miracles, no signs from heaven, and no other side of the sea in sight?
Waiting is an inevitable part of living, and perhaps even more so for the Christian, as God teaches and trains His children, equipping us for holiness and every good work. James tells us, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4). Paul writes, “Not only that, but rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3-4). Waiting is certainly the great endurance test of faith.
Abraham, the believer, the friend of God, was given some of the greatest promises recorded in Scripture. Among these was the promise of a son and heir, yet he and Sarai found themselves childless in their old age. Why, they must have thought, did the Lord delay in fulfilling His word? So they went ahead of God, making their own plans that fell short of the goodness He had in store. Though he never wavered in unbelief, Abraham needed to be strengthened in his faith. It would be thirteen more years before God was ready to act, but act He did, and Isaac was born, the next in a family line that ultimately gave us Jesus.
Waiting, in its time and purpose, is truly a calling. It is a privilege and an honor. All of God’s great servants have waited – think of Joseph in prison, Moses in the wilderness, David in pastures and caves, Jesus in the carpenter’s shop. In waiting we become like our Lord; we bear the brand-marks of Jesus and are molded into His image.
Waiting is the essence of faith. It is submission and obedience. It is the offering of quiet and confident trust. It is the willingness to abide and rest in the Lord, to endure lowliness and piercing heartache for the sake of His plans. Waiting is the silent confession that “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (1 Corinthians 13:7-8).
Our God declares the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done. His counsel shall stand, and He will accomplish all His purpose (Isaiah 46:10). He knew all the days formed for us when as yet there was none of them (Psalm 139:16). The One who is sovereign over all promises to instruct us and teach us in the way we should go, counseling us with His eye upon us (Psalm 32:8). So let us trust Him with all our heart, not leaning on our own understanding, assured that when we acknowledge Him in all our ways, He will make our paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6).
Let us wait for God’s good and perfect timing. Let us wait when the waiting seems reasonable, and let us wait when it all seems empty. Let us wait when we are weary; let us wait beyond the limit of our strength. His grace is sufficient, and He will not leave us defenseless. Let us be unmovable, unshakeable, and altogether faithful for Jesus. He gives “strong support to those whose heart is blameless [literally, whole] toward Him” (2 Chronicles 16:9).
And even if He should slay us in our waiting, let us praise Him. Those who went before us “all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth… But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared for them a city” (Hebrews 11:13,16). Let us follow their example. Let us walk in the footsteps of our Lord, saying, “But the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame” (Isaiah 50:7).
May we be as patient with the Lord as He is with us. Someday our magnolia will bloom. Our God makes everything beautiful in its time.
Wait for the LORD;
Be strong, and let your heart take courage;
Wait for the LORD!