There’s a lot of waiting on God in the Bible. Joseph’s waits in prison, wrongly accused. Israel waits in captivity, suffering for her idolatry. Roman occupied Jerusalem waits for the Messiah after centuries of hearing nothing from God. And we wait for Christ’s return while we sow the seed of his gospel sojourning here. Waiting on God is an act promised to receive blessing according to the scriptures (Isaiah 30:15). And it’s the meditative focus of Advent. During the Christmas season we have opportunity to think about what or who exactly we’re waiting for. In the midst of parties, shopping lists, cookie exchanges, decorations and concerts, it is easy to miss the gift of waiting on God. Sometimes it takes hard circumstances for us to wake from our busy stupor and embrace the sober gift of longing for our coming King. It took a hard situation for me to exchange the stress of the season for savoring the sweetness of waiting on Jesus. If you find yourself in a painful, confusing, not-at-all-jolly season while the world around you rings bells and sings carols, I invite you to come aside with your Bible, a pen and paper and start unwrapping the gift of waiting on Jesus this Advent.
Waiting When Life Doesn’t Get Better
My youngest son was born two days after Christmas 13 years ago. That year, while I was burdened with his growing body inside mine, I was also heavy laden with a load of fear, sadness and shock. My husband was seeking a divorce and I was about to give birth to our second son. Along with the heavy anxieties of those cares came a stronger arm of grace to bear me up. In those days I began to learn what it means to wait on God in faith amidst my fearful circumstances. In the year my son was born, I started to learn that hoping in God and having faith in him meant waiting with expectation for Jesus, not waiting for everything in my life to get better.
That year, I began journaling in a discounted spiral-bound notebook I found at a local grocery store. With a poinsettia and the word “Faith” on the front, that journal became the place where I started a practice that has continued until now. Every year around Christmastime (sometimes the first week of the new year) I spend some time prayerfully reading God’s word with a specific look for how the Spirit would direct me in the coming year as well as reflecting on the last year’s entry and reality.
As I look back over the years, each year, I see how God is faithfully doing what he promised. He is using all things together for my good, to conform me to the image of his Son. Although I’ve seen God’s answer to my slow-to-believe prayers, my circumstances haven’t changed much. Thankfully, my husband and I are still married. But the marriage hasn’t been without its very difficult times. It’s not like I can say I have hope because God turned life in to a fairytale story of happily ever after. Not at all. I’m still praying for salvation to come to my household, and save every member. I’m still praying for God to rid me of being a coward and a man-pleaser and make me a woman of God who laughs at the days to come and fears God not man. I’m still a tired mom, who deals with depression and fears. But I do all that with a periodic lifting of my head to remember that I’m waiting on God. Advent is a good time to lift our heads and call to mind our hope.
Capture a Remembrance of Your Hope
Even if writing or journaling isn’t your thing, making a yearly tradition of using a small journal entry as a way of focusing your attention on Christ and his coming may help you look up and focus on the gift of Jesus. Here are four suggestions for how you might capture a yearly remembrance of your hope in the One who came to save his people from their sins, and is coming again to consummate our joy in him.
1) Cast your circumstances on him. Put in the journal the circumstances that are causing you to long for him. Is your marriage a wreck? Is your child dying? Have you lost a loved one? Are you lonely? Depressed? Anxious? Afraid? Tell him! Write it down. The Bible calls us to cast our cares upon the Lord because he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). In Isaiah, Hezekiah took the threats of his enemies and laid them out before God and called on God to intervene. In the gospels, people brought their sick selves and loved ones to Jesus. When you bring your troubles to God in writing, you start to realize how much you long for him to do what he promises to do one day: Make all things new (Revelation 21:5).
2) Call to mind his promises. Look up scriptures with words like “hope” and “wait” and “trust” and “faith”. You’ll find some promises and prayers that will help you worship while you wait this Advent. Like this one, “From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him.” (Isaiah 64:4) Write it down. And turn those specific scriptures that grab you into prayers for yourself and others. Pray that God will help you hope in him.
3) Cry for your kids, or someone else’s. A yearly advent journal is a good place to put prayers for your kids or for kids in your life, maybe cousins, nieces, nephews, grandkids, kids in the neighborhood, kids at school, kids at church, etc. God doesn’t want us to hope in our kids. But he does want us to hope in him for our kids and to give our kids Him as their hope. “…that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God…” (Psalm 78:5-7). Writing down your prayers for the next generation is a wonderful way to build your anticipation for Jesus.
4) Cry for new desires. It’s easy during the holidays to get distracted by things we want. Whether it be material things like a new phone, or clothes. Or relational desires like a new friend, or a happier marriage. Though there’s nothing wrong with those desires, if they consume us, we’ve missed out on real joy. In the midst of God’s chastisement Isaiah prays that God would be gracious to his people, because though they may be sick from head to toe with sin, his people really were longing for him. In their distress they waited for God their Savior. It says, “Your name and remembrance are the desire of our soul.” (Isaiah 26:8). Over the years I look back and realize that often the name of Christ and his remembrance wasn’t the desire of my soul, but as I have cast my cares and called his promises to mind and cried for my kids, he’s developed in me a longing for new desires. He has created in me a desire for his name and remembrance. He has caused me to embrace waiting on him.
Life’s circumstances can be horrific, mundane, depressing, chaotic or just distracting. But when we lift our eyes off the circumstances, tell God about them, cry for his help, seek his grace and wait on him we experience the gift of anticipating our coming King.