Saturday 27 February 2021

Actively Waiting

 I waited patiently for the Lord, he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.

—Psalm 40:1-2

Lent is a season of waiting. This forty-day period before Easter reminds us of the forty years that God’s liberated people spent wandering in the desert, waiting to arrive in the land Yahweh promised them. It also reminds us of the 40 days that Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness, including the temptation he faced, before returning to the people to announce the good news of God’s coming kingdom of shalom.

We often think of waiting as a rather passive thing, like when we are sitting in a doctor’s office mindlessly scrolling through our phones or leafing through a three-year-old magazine, passively biding time until the real moment we are waiting for arrives. We think of waiting as a time when we are powerless to do anything. What do we do now? We wait.

Scripture opens us to a different understanding of waiting. Scripture encourages us to understand waiting as a time of active spiritual preparation. We wait patiently for the Lord, and in that waiting we tend a space in which God may incline toward us and hear our cry. This waiting activity embodies a form of spiritual receptivity that makes way for the arrival of God’s new thing. How long, O Lord? Do not delay, O my God!

Because Jesus fasted in the wilderness for forty days, many Christians often choose to draw close to God during Lent by fasting as well, or by giving up something we feel is spiritually distracting or otherwise taking up too much space in our lives. Yet the point of this spiritual practice is not the fasting itself, but rather the spiritual preparation, the creation of a space in which we can notice God’s inclination, his response to us.

In the Bible God often disparages our fasting, especially when it operates more as a self-righteous display than as a spiritual practice of preparing ourselves to draw nearer to God. Isaiah 58 is perhaps the most famous example of this, where God spurns the spiritual motions of a rebellious people, reminding them that the fast he would have them undertake is “to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke” (vs. 6). “You want to draw near to me?” God asks, “This is how you should go about it.”

So, what do we do during Lent and at all other times? We wait, patiently, for the Lord. But we wait actively. Our spiritual fast involves us in more than giving up chocolate or social media for a season, but also calls us to the joyful task of removing all the yokes of oppression that bind God’s good creation, so that each one of us may be called “repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in” (vs. 12). In this way, we join in God’s redemptive play, living into the promise that one day God will be all in all.

So thank you for joining us in God’s waiting room, friends! There are more things here than just chairs and magazines. If it looks familiar, that is because we’ve been here the whole time!

I wish you all God’s nearness this Lenten season!

Ron Kuipers