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John 21:17

The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."

Jesus said, "Feed my sheep."

July 27, 2001

Waiting on the Lord

It's been almost a year since the ministry of which I was a part failed and I unexpectedly found myself back in the pews again. But this time I was in an unfamiliar new church, completely outside the denomination in which I'd spent my entire life.

I found myself waiting on the Lord.

I'm still waiting on him.
I didn't think it would last this long.
I don't know how much longer I'll be on the shelf.
But I am learning it's OK.


I've noticed a lot of things. One of them is that I have a need to learn from others trying to cope well and faithfully in the midst of their own hard times.

Tales from the Christian desert tend to be told after the experience is over. The beginning, middle and end are spread out before us, already complete. The perspective comes from people who are now on the other side of the experience. There are things we can learn from them that can help us even when we can't see our own conclusion.

We know St. John of the Cross wrote about enduring the Dark Night of the Soul, but we also know that the experience so cleansed him that afterwards he felt he was a "partaker of the divine nature."

In his autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, John Bunyan detailed his many years spent in spiritual agony, thinking he'd committed the unpardonable sin. But he eventually found peace.

Books about difficult times continue to be written today, furthering the Christian witness and supplying new insights. The Desert Experience was just published this year. All of the book's nine contributors, many of them well-known Christians, are forthright about difficult periods in their walks with Jesus.


In God's Word we find people struggling to be faithful during dry periods. Many Bible people spent years or lifetimes waiting on God's timing and activity. It's important to remember that even though a person's life story may be told in just a few pages (or paragraphs) of Scripture, the events depicted may not have happened in quick succession.

It was about 25 years from the time God first told Abraham he would have offspring (Genesis 12:7) to the day Isaac was born (Genesis 21:1-3).

Did Abraham wait patiently and confidently the entire time? No! Abraham's faith and ability to wait had its ups and downs, even though God made repeated appearances reiterating the promises through the years (Genesis 13:15; 15:4).

After about 10 years of waiting, Abraham allowed Sarah to talk him into producing a son through their slave Hagar (Genesis 16:2). He had to wait another 13 years after that for God to revisit him with the original promise (Genesis 17:19), and then some more time after that before Sarah became pregnant.

Think about this story for a moment. What must it have been like for Abraham to receive the promise, then wait and wait and wait? To become frustrated over time, thinking perhaps that he hadn't heard God quite right? Abraham didn't know if he was supposed to initiate something himself or just be still and wait on the Lord. He made a big mistake by taking matters into his own hands. Then he waited an even longer amount of time for the original promise to be fulfilled — on God's terms.


Abraham didn't know any more than you and I do today how long he was going to have to wait or in what way God would act when it was promise fulfillment time.

These are the same kinds of doubts and fears we face. And Abraham didn't always beat them.

There is something beautiful here for those of us who struggle and fail to unflaggingly believe in the Lord's promises to us.

I have a hard time maintaining an even keel of faith, especially when I'm in a desert place. Right now I can tick off several promises I'm having trouble really believing and waiting for.

I bet you can too.

Get this. Throughout the remainder of the Bible Abraham is held up as an example because of his faith in God's promise. (See, for example, Romans 4 and Hebrews 11.)

I never thought I had the faith of Abraham. But now I'm not so sure. Maybe the point is not that you are able to maintain an unflinching state of constant faith, but that you refuse to let go of God even when you're doubting. What a comfort it is to know that even though Abraham had moments of wavering faith, God was always faithful to him.

That's one of God's characteristics. He is always faithful.


There is always victory on the other side (either in this life or the next) for those who wait on the Lord and believe in his promises.

Always. No exceptions. God always comes through, whether the season of dryness lasts a day, a month, a year, or a lifetime.

There are no records of God saying, "I'll be there for you," and then leaving someone hanging. God doesn't want us to believe him so that he can then withdraw the promise. God does not reneg.

"I will never leave you nor forsake you," the Lord says. (Hebrews 13:5) He actually means it.


A wise Christian who's aware of my situation said to me recently, "Expectantly waiting on the Lord... that's really the key, isn't it?"

With countless others through the ages, I am learning where my hope lies, even when I am in the desert.

I am beginning to hope in him, not in my ability to figure things out. In him, not in the way my situation looks right now. Not in what my future prospects appear to be. Not in my track record. Not in whether I measure up or have completely rid myself of sin or will be able to live a spotless life from this day on. Just in him.

There are at least 33 places in the Bible that speak of placing hope in the Lord. These days, I try to say with David...

"But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you." — Psalm 39:7

...and actually mean what I say.


I am not out of the desert yet. Neither am I finished pondering the mysteries of waiting. This devotion will be continued.

For now, I look at the witness of Abraham and contemporary Christians, and I know I will leave this desert one day. As best I can, I am placing my hope in the Lord.


"But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you."
— Psalm 39:7