By any name—attitude, orientation, choice, habit, discipline, virtue, or practice—learning to wait on the Lord is an essential, transformative, and rewarding dimension of spiritual formation. This perspective is countercultural and unexpected: waiting is positive. It is not merely a “dry season” or something we need to escape. Rightly conceived, spiritual waiting is a crucial, ongoing dimension of following Christ and loving God. It’s a vital part of our Christian pilgrimage.
A well-known verse can serve as our introduction to this idea:
They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint. (Isa. 40:31)
I love this verse. Who wouldn’t want to soar like an eagle? to run without weariness? to have their strength renewed by God Himself?
Who receives these remarkable gifts? “They who wait for the Lord.” The sense here is specifically “those who wait for the Lord’s help” (NET), that is, they are waiting for assistance or rescue of some kind. For this reason, other translations change “wait for the Lord” or “wait on the Lord” (NKJV) to “trust in the Lord” (CSB, NLT) or “hope in the Lord” (NIV), and the fact is that the ideas of waiting, trusting, and hoping are all biblically interwoven.
My point is that the key to the blessing of renewed strength in this verse is waiting on the Lord. The text does not say, “They who endure a spiritually dry season” or “They who persevere through a time of challenges and darkness.” The passage does not conceive of waiting in the same terms as we often do—as a negative experience, the best part of which is when it’s over. Rather, waiting on the Lord here is the pathway to the blessing of having God renew our strength. Waiting is a privilege, a pleasure, a step toward a deeper understanding of God and a richer experience of His boundless love for us.
What exactly, then, is biblical waiting? What does it involve? We’re hardly prepared to think of wait as a real verb. It feels more like an absence than an action. In Scripture we find at least two basic, interrelated meanings of “wait” in play. First, there is waiting for, staying in place literally or figuratively until a person arrives or an event occurs. This is the sense in which the people in Isaiah 40:31 waited for the Lord’s help. Second, there is waiting on, in the sense of attending to or serving someone. A server in a restaurant waits on customers. A courtier waits on a king, ready to do whatever he commands. When we wait on the Lord in this way, the principal element of waiting is simply being in His presence, which is in itself a delight and an act of worship. At any given moment, He might or might not invite or command us to do some specific action, but at every moment the right thing to do is to wait upon Him. It is more fitting that we do so, for He is the sovereign King of kings and we have been created for His glory.
From one perspective, it’s difficult for the people to wait for the Lord, because He has not yet acted on their behalf and they’re still in the midst of the trouble. But from another, larger perspective, waiting is not difficult at all. It’s primarily a matter of seeing who God is, both in Himself and relationally, and responding appropriately. The people in these verses strongly desire God to show up and help them in a particular situation, of course, but their deeper and continuous desire is to know Him better and value Him above all. Any hardships incurred in the waiting for are far outweighed by the pleasure and wisdom of the waiting on.
Excerpted from On Waiting Well: Moving From Endurance to Enjoyment When You’re Waiting on God by Bradley Baurain (Moody Publishers, July 2020). Used by permission.
BRADLEY BAURAIN has taught for more than 25 years in the United States, Canada, China, and Vietnam. He currently leads the TESOL programs at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. He is the author of Religious Faith and Teacher Knowledge in English Language Teaching, co-editor of the International Journal of Christianity and English Language Teaching, and writes devotional studies for Moody’s Today in the Word.