...those who wait upon the Lord shall possess the land. -Psalm 37:10
So much of our life includes waiting. Waiting for the oatmeal to be cooked, waiting for the weekend to arrive, waiting for a friend's attitude to turn around, waiting for the pain to subside. We wait in long lines, we wait for packages to arrive, we wait for "the one" to come alone. We wait a lot.
As familiar as we are with waiting, how do we interpret the many references in the Bible to "waiting on the Lord?" Does waiting upon the Lord just mean being really, commendably patient in waiting around until God hears our cries and responds to our prayers? The Psalmist this Sunday says those who wait upon the Lord will posses the land. Could this mean that God rewards those who have this kind of patience?
The prophet Habakkuk, writing from a painful time in history for the Israelites, reminds us that eventually God's will will become known. He says that those who are proud are not in the right Spirit. Those who are humble and let God be in charge will certainly be led in the way of righteousness - eventually. Could this mean that we need to abandon the assumption that we know what is best, and that in our waiting, God may already be answering our prayers even if we don't yet recognize it?
Then again, In Luke's gospel this Sunday, Jesus uses the image of people waiting on someone in authority over them - literally waiting on them like a waitress at a table. Perhaps "waiting on the Lord" could also mean serving God.
Over many, centuries, this phrase "waiting on the Lord" has taken on many layers of meaning. It touches on the idea of being patient in the un-knowing (for if we admit it, there is far more we don't know than we do know in this life.) It also refers to living in faith and hope, even when all around us seems hopeless, trusting that God knows far more than we do and is working on it while we wait. And it also implies that waiting on God by serving God and our neighbors is a real pathway to peace and a life of deep faith.
For me, "waiting on the Lord" is potent shorthand. It is a traditional religious phrase that summarizes what a life of Christian practice entails. In just four little words, it describes God's power, our trust in that power and our willingness to serve that power as people of faith.