Waiting Is the Hardest Part
I first heard Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers sing their song “The Waiting” back in the 1990s. Now I can barely think about waiting without hearing the chorus in my head “Yea, yea...yea, yea. The waiting is the hardest part. Every day you see one more card. You take it on faith, you take it to the heart. The waiting is the hard...est...part.”
Tom Petty’s song resonates because it reflects a common human experience. The person who doesn’t struggle with waiting is rare. Whether it’s waiting for the weekend, for a vacation to arrive, for a loved one to return or whether it’s waiting for something life changing - like medical test results, we’ve all encountered times in life when we’ve had to wait. It’s hard for us to wait mere hours much less days, weeks, or years. I recall saying to my husband just the other day, “I’m really going to be fine with either outcome; it’s the waiting that makes me feel crazy!”
And yet, more often than not God asks us to wait.
Habakkuk on Waiting
In studying Habakkuk 1, we learn that the prophet shared our struggle with waiting. He opens his prayer in Habakkuk 1:2 with “How long, O Lord…”
God answers Habakkuk, but his answer simply calls for Habakkuk to continue waiting. God tells Habakkuk that he’s sending the Babylonians as his instrument of justice, but the details about when are still ambiguous. In verse 5 God simply says “I am going to do something amazing in your days.”
Can you imagine? It could be tomorrow or it could be 20 years from now. But there is much we can learn from Habakkuk’s reaction. First, he expresses his shock that God would use a more corrupt people to deliver his justice. Then in chapter 2, he tells us HOW he’s going to wait.
I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint. (Habakkuk 2:1)
Habakkuk's waiting is clearly active. Anyone who has acted as a lookout in serious, tactical situations understand the importance of attentive waiting. Habakkuk's waiting is alert and filled with anticipation.
The story of the golden calf in Exodus 32 is a prime example of what can happen if we do not remain active, attentive, and focused in our waiting. The Israelites get tired of waiting for Moses and inadvertently create an idol. Don't believe their betrayal of God was unintentional? Listen to our Groundwork discussion of this story in Idolatry and the Golden Calf.
The Benefits of Waiting
Why is waiting so common? Why doesn’t God step in and act more like God?
Thankfully, God knows what he’s doing when he makes us wait. Waiting has a kingdom purpose. Ultimately, God does not desire to see his people destroyed. And in some circumstances, God’s patience is merciful. God demonstrates this compassion in Jonah when he sends the prophet to Nineveh and upon the repentance of the people God withholds the pronounced destruction…much to Jonah’s dismay. In Jonah 4, we again meet the God who is “slow to anger and abounding in love.” God is far more patient than humans are and he’s going to wait more time for repentance than we can even fathom. So even though Habakkuk has already tried convincing his countrymen of their sin and need for repentance, God sends him out again (Habakkuk 2:2-20).
But as individuals and faith communities, we also benefit from waiting – if we make our waiting active like Habakkuk did. Periods of waiting give us time to grow in our faith, to deepen our knowledge of God and his glory. Times of waiting give us the chance to recall our biblical foundations and life experiences that support our trust in God.
It’s in times of waiting that we can see the earth being filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14) – if we watch with the attentiveness of Habakkuk.
Tom Petty’s chorus will continue to resonate with the human experience. Waiting will continue to be the hardest part, but for believers, difficult waiting isn’t frivolous, empty time to pass by twiddling our thumbs. Waiting is a season rich and beneficial for the believer’s heart.
By Courtney Jacob