“The Waiting is the Hardest Part” (Psalm 4)

bufferingTom Petty had a point: “The waiting is the hardest part.”  When he recorded that song in 1981, no one could have imagined a future where waiting would be virtually eliminated.

When I was growing up, there were certain things you had to “send away” for.  And that meant filling out a small card (with a pen, no less!), attaching a stamp, putting it in the mail, and then waiting 6-8 weeks for delivery.  Fast forward to today.  I literally have a device in my pocket that lets me buy literally anything I want over the internet, and have it shipped right to my door within a span of two days—and Amazon is tinkering with robotic delivery “drones” that fly your package right to your door in 30 minutes or less.  In a culture of “apps,” we have instant everything.  Forget video rental stores; Amazon and Netflix let me stream movies right into the palm of my hand.  Communication?  I can text anyone on my contact list anytime I want.  Or tag them in a status on social media.

In his book Present Shock, NPR’s Douglas Rushkoff argues that we live in a society consumed with now:

“…we tend to exist in a distracted present, where forces on the periphery are magnified and those immediately before us are ignored…As a result, our culture becomes an entropic, static hum of everybody trying to capture the slipping moment.  Narrativity and goals are surrendered to a skewed notion of the real and immediate; the Tweet; the status update.  What we are doing at any given moment becomes all-important—which is behavioristically doomed.  For this desperate approach to time is at once flawed and narcissistic.  Which ‘now’ is important: the now I just lived or the now I’m in right now?”  (Douglas Rushkoff, Present Shock, p. 4, 6)

According to a 2012 article on Fox News, the act of communicating via texting and social media releases a brain chemical known as oxytocin—the same chemical released during such activities as sex.   In other words, from a strictly biological standpoint, we’ve intertwined our demand for now with close, intimate bonding.   It’s no wonder, then, that my impatience makes it hard for me to “be still” and “know God” (cf. Psalm 46:10).

This is why “trust” psalms become an essential part of our worship.  They remind us that the convenience of connectivity can never eclipse the satisfaction of intimacy.  In the Bible, trust psalms are a special category of “lament.”  None of these psalms tell us why the writer was feeling so stressed—we find only an unwavering devotion to God—even though it often finds expression in raw, human emotion.

In his book Out of Control, Pastor Ben Young suggests three healthy practices that help us repent of trust in self and cultivate a trust in God.  We can actually see how these three movements parallel David’s thoughts in the fourth Psalm.

MOVE AWAY FROM TECHNOLOGY

Frustration has often been defined as the distance between expectation and reality.  So if God does not immediately answer my prayers, then as the span of time increases, my prayers become increasingly frustrated and desperate.  Listen to what David writes in Psalm 4:

1 Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!  You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!

O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame? How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? Selah

In his commentary on Psalms, the ancient writer Chrysostom makes the point that God listens to me while I pray, not after I pray.  By that he meant that God is intimately involved in our lives at every given moment.  If that’s true, then why doesn’t God answer me right this second?  The Bible doesn’t really give us an answer for this—but think about it: would you really be satisfied if you knew the reason why?  All we really can draw from the pages and stories of scripture is that God operates on a timing all His own—and that demands patience and trust.

In an instant-everything world, is there not value in cultivating trust in something outside of our internet connection?  Trusting in God means having confidence that He will do what’s best—even if that means a delay in His answer, or an answer that conflicts with my expectations.

Therefore, moving away from technology helps “reset” my expectations.  Learning to set aside time to not check my email, to not scroll through social media, to not be instantly available to everyone I know—these practices help me be more fully present to the people in my life, rather than constantly being “available.”

MOVE AWAY FROM EXPECTATION

Second, David looks to God’s perfect plan of salvation.  He has confidence in his relationship to God—made possible only because of God’s loving choice:

But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him.

Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent.  Selah

Be angry?  Of course.  David knows that unmet expectation will inevitably give birth to frustration.  Anger is a part of the human condition.  But David cautions against sinful complaining.  Why?  Because my anger often reveals my idols.  If I can only feel comfortable when my life is “under control,” then I don’t trust in God; I trust in myself.  And when that control is threatened—sometimes by something as simple as being cut off in traffic!—I become angry.  I lash out.  I complain.   And when I do, my idol is revealed.  But if I trust in God, I may still become angry—but I can use that anger to remind me to repent of my idol of control and look to God as my source of hope.

This also means that we change our expectations.  In our instant-everything world, God becomes a cosmic vending machine.  He either spits out exactly what I want—or He takes my money and leaves me pounding on His chest without getting something in return.  But if I learn to sing like David, God ceases to be merely a dispenser of goods—God is my greatest good.  My trust, my confidence in God is no longer based on His blessings, but the very “light of his face” becomes the center of my world.  If my expectation is blessing, then my relationship with God becomes conditional on Him serving me.  But if my expectation is more of Him, He never disappoints.

MOVE INTO COMMUNITY

Finally, David looks to God’s goodness as the basis for his trust.

Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord.

There are many who say, “Who will show us some good? Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!”

You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.

In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.

The language of “right sacrifices” instantly brings to mind images of Israel’s worship.  Today, we worship in a new community called the church.  It’s easy, unfortunately, to allow church to be simply one other thing in our hectic schedule.  But if we move into community—if we invest in the people around us, then we cultivate a greater sense of trust in God.  How?  Because in community we most fully experience the joy that God promised His people.  In community we turn our focus from the distractions of the merely urgent to the joy of the truly eternal.

In his excellent book Doubt, Os Guiness writes that faith was meant to occupy the seasons of waiting.  He writes:

“Faith’s calling is to live in between times.  Faith is in transit.  It lives in an interim period.  Behind faith is the great ‘no longer.’  Ahead of it lies the great ‘not yet.’  God has spoken and God will act.  Christ has come once and Christ will come again.  We have heard the promises and we will witness the event.  However long the waiting takes, it is only the gap between the thunder and the lightning.”  (Os Guiness, Doubt, (p. 224)

Thunder and lightning.  Our summer sky crackles with reminders of God’s faithfulness, and the promise that He won’t leave His waiting children unfulfilled.

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