“For from days of old they have not heard or perceived by ear, nor has the eye seen a God besides You, who acts in behalf of the one who waits for Him.” Isaiah 64:4
I’ve always loved music – any kind of music (well, I draw the line at Polka, but that’s a different post). Earlier this year, Tom Petty, a musical hero of my 20’s, passed away. In 1981, he released a song called “The Waiting.”
There’s a line in the song that says “You take it on faith, you take it to the heart, the waiting is the hardest part.” Many of us can identify with that sentiment, especially when we’re younger – I know I did. Waiting is, well, hard.
Stretching the analogy a bit farther, “the waiting is the hardest part” also describes much of what the season leading up to Christmas – and, ultimately, the season all Believers have been in since Christ’s ascension nearly 2,000 years ago – feels like.
As kids, we “wait” for Santa and his magical sleigh. As adults, we “wait” for gift-giving and Holiday parties. For Christians, Advent is a season of expectation, a time of preparation. Advent reminds us to wait and prepare for the inevitable return of Christ just as he came during that first Christmas season so long ago.
Yet, I’m also reminded this time of year of a different kind of waiting; a waiting more immediate, more real, and perhaps more painful for many – both during Christmas and throughout the year.
Prayers of Waiting
This kind of waiting relates directly to prayers and the cries of our hearts. Prayers for intercession, prayers for healing, prayers for miracles we so desperately need. Prayers that the divorce our spouse just asked for doesn’t happen. Prayers that the doctor’s diagnosis of cancer isn’t real. Prayers that “what is” might become “what if?”
Sometimes God answers prayers immediately. We feel the imminence and power of His hand in our lives and reach out to tell everyone about the amazing goodness of His love.
But other times – perhaps too often for many of us – prayers seem to be answered with deafening silence, miracles hovering forever just over the horizon. As time passes and God doesn’t appear genie-like in response to our plea-filled conjuring, our faith can falter.
Why does this happen? If God truly is the God of Salvation, a Savior who actually saves, why do we often feel so alone, so empty, so … forsaken? Where is this God of Jacob and Abraham who sent His son to take our place on a Roman cross of humiliation?
On two occasions leading up to and in the midst of his Crucifixion Jesus himself speaks for those of us facing times of despair. The first occurred in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus prayed with such earnestness his sweat became like “great drops of blood, falling down the ground” (Luke 22:44). In this seminal moment of temptation, he asks God to take away the sacrificial cup, to spare him the trial and suffering to come.
We don’t read if God answers, because Jesus answers for Him, saying “yet not my will, but Yours be done.” Jesus knew God saw his heart, and knew his deepest desire was to follow God’s will.
How many times have we been able to ask and answer our own questions of God in confidence? Too often, our prayers seem like one-way streets, shouting to God to repair our lives yet stopping short of asking what God wants from us.
The second instance occurred on the cross. As described in Matthew 27:46, “About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’” Imagine the anguish of one who has been with God from before the beginning of time suddenly left alone, his prayers unanswered, his cries met with absolute silence. Yet still Jesus trusted.
Mother Teresa, writing in a letter to spiritual confident Rev. Michael van der Peet about the separation she experienced from Jesus, said “the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear, the tongue moves (in prayer) but does not speak … I want you to pray for me–that I let Him have (a) free hand.”
Hear the reflection of Jesus’ approach to God in her words. In the face of unanswered prayers, she acknowledges His sovereignty in all things.
As we grow in our relationship with God, more deeply understanding His purposes for us, our attitudes change. We come to realize how much God loves us and already knows the desires of hearts. Even when we’ve been waiting. Even when we think He isn’t listening.
The true meaning of Advent is this: Pray and Trust. Ask God for a need, show our faith in His Will, Trust in His provenance, and wait with expectancy and hope.
“My God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus,” Paul wrote in Philippians 4:19. His miracles are still here – Emmanuel still means “God is with us.”
During this Advent season, don’t fall victim to the belief hope is gone. Don’t build walls around your heart so you can’t feel God’s touch. Don’t deafen your ears to His call.
Trust in God’s promises. Lift Him up in praise and worship daily. Thank Him for the blessings and protections He provides and will yet provide.
Tom Petty passed away as all humans do. God’s Word and His promises will never die.