You know, we Quakers are a waiting people. We listen in all earnestness for God’s leading in our lives. We have a quiet time in the middle of our meeting for worship—usually 10 to 15 minutes or so—where we do our best to listen for God in our hearts and minds. We call that silent time “Communion in the Manner of Friends” because it is our hope—and the hallmark of our tradition—that we truly and personally can meet with God’s Spirit in these still and precious moments together. After almost 400 years, we Friends still believe that Christ comes to teach his people himself, moment by moment, here and now, even in our modern, loud, and accelerating lives.
Quaker Rufus Jones wrote about this amazing thing in his 1937 book, Testimony of the Soul:
“(The early Friends) made the discovery that silence is one of the best preparations for communion (with God) and for the reception of inspiration and guidance. Silence itself, of course, has no magic. It may be just sheer emptiness, absence of words or noise or music. It may be an occasion for slumber, or it may be a dead form. But it may be an intensified pause, a vitalised hush, a creative quiet, an actual moment of mutual and reciprocal correspondence with God. The actual meeting of man with God and God with man is the very crown and culmination of what we can do with our human life here on earth.”
Wow! When he puts it that way, we can hear what a remarkable and even miraculous thing a moment of waiting on God in silence can be: “the very crown and culmination of what we can do with our human life here on earth.” That’s a big statement! The crown of life because of the potential the moment offers. The culmination of all our human efforts, when we are able and willing to rest our minds and hearts in the infinite tenderness of God’s presence.
We Friends believe so strongly in waiting on Spirit to lead us that we organize even our monthly business meetings around that idea. We had a beautiful example of this together just two weeks ago. We want God’s wisdom to guide our actions large and small. It’s okay for us to share our opinions about something and those ideas become part of the discernment process, but what we’re really trying to do is see clearly the way God is pointing out to us. We are confident—and our faith, for generations, has told us—that the way God opens is the best and most loving way for everyone involved. God’s got the big picture in mind, while we struggle with the burden of the small.
But even though our tradition prizes and holds sacred the act of waiting on God, we are also human beings who aren’t always so good at the task of waiting. Think back to when you were a child. Whenever a grown-up told you to “be patient” about anything, that always made waiting so much worse, didn’t it? Waiting for the weekend. Counting the days til Chrismas. Looking forward to for your birthday. Yearning for the last day of school. Wishing away the days between you and something you were excited about. The bigger the excitement, the harder it was to wait.
Waiting in general is not easy for us to do, whether we’re kids or adults, and part of the reason for that is that we learn, as we grow, that we can often make things happen, speed things up, do things on roughly our own timetables. When we want something from the store, if we’re old enough to have a license and some money, we simply get in the car, drive there, pick it up, pay for it, and come home. There, it’s done. We did it. When we want to change something, as adults, we can make a plan, maybe talk to a few people, and go ahead and make the change we want to make. No big deal. We learn that to a large extent, we can be the movers and shapers of our world. We don’t have to put up with big delays or long wait times if we don’t want to. If they leave you on hold too long, just hang up.
But that kind of inner attitude—and the question of how much we push to make things happen in our lives—changes when God is in the picture. Now all our choices aren’t just about what we want. There’s more to consider. Like, is what we want the right thing for us and for our family? Is it what God wants for us, the best way to use our time and talents? When we invite God’s input on the choices we make in our lives, we often go through a period of waiting while we pay attention and try to see the way forward, as God would have us go. When we’re in a hurry to get something done, it can be hard to put on the brakes and pray about it and wait for God to weigh in. It can be agonizing—and frustrating—and humbling—to wait on God’s timing and listen for God’s thoughts, but if we’ll stick with it we’ll discover that while we wait, our faith deepens, our trust grows, and we learn something valuable we might otherwise have missed.
This came clear to me many years ago when I was struggling with whether to move our small family from Columbus to Indianapolis. I wrestled and wrestled with the decision. At first it seemed too overwhelming. I didn’t know any realtors. I wasn’t sure what work needed to be done. I couldn’t even imagine how to begin the process. And then there were the relationships, people to tell, friends who wouldn’t like it, schools to notify. It all just seemed like too much. Over and over again, I pushed myself to make a decision and then, the very next day, changed my mind. Back and forth, tying myself in knots. I hired a realtor and started the process, and then two days later called her back and canceled it all and told her I wasn’t ready. I realized that day I just needed to put it all down. I was trying to force something before its time. Exhausted, I prayed a final weary prayer about it and told God, “I’ve just got to put this in your hands. It’s too much for me. I can’t see clearly what to do.” And I did that. Mentally, I just took the decision off the table and decided to stay put. I told myself, When it’s time to move, God will let us know.
A few weeks later, driving home to Columbus after a fun afternoon at the Children’s Museum, it was a beautiful spring evening. The kids were talking in the backseat, and I looked toward the lovely peach-colored sunset as I drove south. Feeling content and grateful, my gaze was drawn to a rainbow, a little to the left in the evening clouds. It was an image of peace and beauty, and in my heart, I suddenly knew that all was well, and it was time to list the house. I didn’t have any more information than that—just clarity: a solid, simple knowing in my heart that said the time was right. I called the realtor back the next day. The house sold quickly, the move practically organized itself, the friends and family members I’d been worried about were supportive, and by summer we were in a new house in Broad Ripple, the kids were enrolled in their new schools, and everything had fallen into place.
That’s just one example of a big, practical decision I tied myself in knots over for weeks. But there are so, so many others—in my life and probably in yours. There are examples in every life, stories about people who’ve been praying for loved ones for years; folks who have a dream they have been waiting decades to realize. People praying in the midst of illness, searching for hope in a time of grief, yearning for justice and care; men and women praying to be able to forgive while bitterness continues to follow them everywhere they go. So many prayers, so many needs, so much heartache, all the world over. That’s a lot of waiting on God.
And this is a tender and sacred point that I know is not lost on God. Think of the span of all the stories you know from the Old Testament, how God again and again reached out to His children—often in vain—trying through people and prophets and kings to turn the hearts of these prodigals His way. Over and over again, God reached out and tried to mend their broken relationship. There are many stories in which the people seemed for a time to have a change of heart; but soon they were grumbling again and looking for other idols to worship. Heartbreak for God, relationship still broken.
But when we wait on God, when we take God our struggles and questions and ask for help in deciphering the puzzles of our lives, we are choosing to do what God has hoped for across millennia: turning toward God as the divine parent we love, respect, and trust. That is relationship, restored. As we show the respect of waiting—waiting humbly—we acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers and we don’t want things our way if God has a better idea. We want God’s will to be done because we know it will bless everyone. That’s worship.
Our Old Testament reading today from Isaiah is a much-loved verse that contains an age-old promise: “…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.”
These are words of encouragement for those who have been holding on and waiting for God for a long time. Don’t be discouraged, Isaiah says. He encourages his hearers to continue to trust and pray and rest as they wait on God. You’ll feel the change, he says, a strength larger than your own will rejuvenate you; you will feel lifted, vital, fresh and ready to run. It’s a strength that won’t leave you, Isaiah tells them, because it’s God’s strength and not your own.
But yes, it is hard to wait. We may learn this lesson gradually, through trial and error. And of course, we have free will: We can zoom around God and do what we like, whatever we choose. But if what we want is real restored relationship with God, a true life of faith, lived with love and trust, we need to make the space for God’s input and direction in our lives. God will always prove Himself true. Nor have us wait one minute longer than is necessary for the resolution of our need, whatever it may be.
In fact, I have a joke about this:
A man is talking with God. “Hey God,” he says. “Is it true that a minute to you is like a thousand years to me?”
“It is,” God says.
“So, a dollar to you would be like a thousand dollars to me?”
“I suppose so,” God says.
“Okay,” the man says, thinking. “Hey God, can I borrow a dollar?”
“In a minute,” God tells him.
So take heart, Friends. Even though God’s time is not our time and God’s ways are not our ways, the things we’re praying for are heard and known and held precious, and God is actively working on them, with the best outcome for all in mind. The time we spend waiting is a sacred time of deepening our relationship and gaining wisdom as God draws us close and helps us learn more about ourselves and our faith. The answers we seek will emerge at the perfect time and they will fit—with harmony and beauty—the overarching masterpiece God is creating in our lives. God’s plan for us always brings joy and peace, the fullness and abundance of life. Just wait and see.
- OT Isaiah 40: 31
- NT 2 Peter 3: 8-9
- Jones, Rufus. Testimony of the Soul. https://www.amazon.com/Testimony-Soul-Rufus-Jones/dp/B07BN8RB3Y