Waiting Eagerly and Patiently
by Ted Schroder
“We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” (Romans 8:23-25)
This period in our lives is a time of waiting. It is an interim period between entering into the kingdom of God by faith, and experiencing the grace of God now, and the future fulfillment of the promises of salvation in glory. “This is our Christian dilemma. Caught in the tension between what God has inaugurated (by giving us his Spirit) and what he will consummate (in our final adoption and redemption), we groan with discomfort and longing. The indwelling Spirit gives us joy, and the coming glory gives us hope, but the interim suspense gives us pain.” (Stott, Romans, 242)
It is like waiting in the airport for your flight. You have packed and traveled to the airport. You have checked your bags and printed out your boarding pass. You have gone through security, with all its indignities! Now you are waiting to board. You are looking forward to arriving at your destination, and beginning your vacation or seeing your family; but before you can enter into that enjoyment you must endure the flight. You look across the waiting area and see a very large man or woman spread out over two seats, and pray that he or she is not going to be sitting next to you. You see the mother with the toddler that is tired and restless, and wonder whether she is going to be sitting near you. A middle-aged lady is carrying a bag from which you see the head of small dog protruding. Will you be sitting next to a dog? You groan inwardly as you contemplate having to find a space for your carry-on bag in the bin overhead. Your legs are aching, and you hope your sciatica, or arthritis does not flair up on the flight. You watch the television and hear the newscaster announce the story of the pilot who has collapsed and died while flying, and the plane being taken over by the co-pilot. Your anxiety level rises as you contemplate the plane crashing, and wonder what the weather is going to be like on your flight. You long to be on the ground at your destination but you have to wait, and endure, and anticipate the next few hours before you can enjoy the pleasure of arriving.
You are waiting in the prep room before surgery. You are eager to get it over and done with, but you must wait patiently for your turn in the operating room. You are making the transition between independent living and assisted living. You know that you can no longer live on your own, but you hate to give up your privacy and independence. You know that the next stage may be nursing care. Life becomes a waiting game. Some people call assisted living the ‘waiting room for heaven.’
What can sustain us as we live out our lives in the present, and anticipate the future? Paul highlights five aspects of our condition.
First, we have the firstfruits of the Spirit. The firstfruits was the beginning of the harvest, and the pledge that the full harvest would follow in due time. The Spirit is given to us as the pledge, the first installment, deposit, or down-payment of the fullness of time that is to come, when the Spirit will be poured out on all people. “The Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” (Romans 8:16)
Secondly, we groan inwardly. We share with the rest of creation in bondage to decay and its pain. We groan over our physical frailty and mortality, and that of our loved ones. “Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our resurrection body… For while we are in this temporary, flimsy, material body we groan and are burdened.” (2 Cor.5:2,4) We groan also over our sinful nature, which hinders us from behaving as we should. We groan over our errors and omissions, our short-temper and cowardice, our addictions and obsessions. We long for wholeness and the transformation of our condition.
Thirdly, we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. We have already been adopted and redeemed in Christ, but those promises won’t be fully realized until our bodies have been redeemed in glory. We wait eagerly, and impatiently for fresh energy, new eyes, ears, internal organs, and limbs. We want to feel young again.
Fourthly, in this hope we were saved. We have been saved in Christ and we have experienced liberation from guilt, forgiveness and acceptance. “Yet we remain only half-saved. For we have not yet been saved from the out-pouring of God’s judgment at the last day, nor have the final vestiges of sin in our human personality been eradicated. So we are saved in hope of our total liberation. This double hope looks to the future and to things which, being future, are so far unseen. For hope that is seen, having been realized in our experience, is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? Instead, we hope for what we do not have.” (Stott, 243) Just because we do not have it now, does not mean that we will not experience it later. Despair is the belief that things can’t change, and all is eventually lost. Hope is to believe that, with Christ our hope, time changes everything. We will not spend the rest of our lives in the waiting room. Some day, we believe, we will leave this earth and travel to our eternal destination.
Fifthly, we wait for it patiently, that is, for the fulfillment of our hope. “For we are confident in God’s promises that the firstfruits will be followed by the harvest, bondage by freedom, decay by renewal, and labor pains by the birth of the new world. This whole section is a notable example of what it means to be living ‘in between times’, present difficulty and future destiny, between the already and the not yet, between sufferings and glory.” (Stott, 243) In this tension the Christian waits, waits eagerly, with keen expectation, but also waits patiently, enduring the present stressfulness of life. Waiting eagerly, and waiting patiently is the balance required of us.
“Yet it is hard to keep this balance. Some Christians over-emphasize the call to patience. They lack enthusiasm and lapse into lethargy, apathy and pessimism. They have forgotten God’s promises, and are guilty of unbelief. Others grow impatient of waiting. They are so carried away with enthusiasm that they almost try to force God’s hand. They are determined to experience now even what is not available yet.” (Stott, 244) They are not prepared to undertake the rigors of the journey but want to arrive before they have departed. They are like children who are always asking, “Are we there yet? How long before we arrive?” Their impatience is a form of presumption. They want to rush God’s timetable because they are not willing to be patient.
Samuel Beckitt’s play, Waiting for Godot, depicts two men who spend two days waiting for Godot to meet them. He does not appear, despite his assurances that he will arrive. The play has multiple interpretations, but one is that Godot stands for God, who promises to come but lets us down. This is the attitude of unbelief. Faith believes that God has come in Christ.
Jesus told us that the kingdom of heaven is like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. The bridegroom was a long time in coming and they fell asleep. When he arrived those who had oil for their lamps and were ready for him, went into the wedding banquet. (Matt.25:1-10) “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like men waiting for your master to return, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him.” (Luke 12:35,36) How can we wait eagerly and patiently? By knowing the reasons for the hope in which we are saved.
July 26, 2009
Page - PeopleOfFaith.com - Visitor
2008 People of Faith