The School of Waiting
This is a guest post by Betsy Childs Howard, author of Seasons of Waiting: Walking by Faith When Dreams Are Delayed.
Learning to Wait Well
When I was in school, I was a conscientious student. I tried hard to do my best and learn my lessons because students who learn please their teachers and advance to new assignments.
When it comes to my life, there’s a part of me that wants to please God in the same way I tried to please my teachers. When a trial comes my way, I assume that God has sent it and that he wants me to learn something from it before moving on to the next assignment. This kind of thinking helps me trudge forward in the hope that the trial will end shortly if I play the role of attentive student. But this kind of thinking does not serve me well when God takes me into the school of waiting.
You see, for God, the goal of this school is not that I should learn my lesson so that I don’t have to wait anymore. God wants me to learn how to wait so that I can wait well, even if my waiting continues for the rest of my life. While my plan is to keep a chipper attitude and show God that I’m a good student so he will bring my waiting to a close, God wants something even better for me. Rather than end my waiting, he wants to bless my waiting.
In his book Waiting on God, Andrew Murray explains God’s gentle instruction:
At our first entrance into the school of waiting upon God, the heart is mainly set on the blessings which we wait for. God graciously uses our needs and desires for help to educate us for something higher than we were thinking of. We were seeking gifts; He, the Giver, longs to give Himself and to satisfy the soul with His goodness. It is just for this reason that He often withholds the gifts, and that the time of waiting is made so long. He is constantly seeking to win the heart of His child for Himself. He wishes that we would not only say, when He bestows the gift, “How good is God!” but that long before it comes, and even if it never comes, we should all the time be experiencing: it is good that a man should quietly wait. “The Lord is good unto them that wait for him.”
What a blessed life the life of waiting then becomes, the continual worship of faith, adoring, and trusting His goodness. As the soul learns its secret, every act or exercise of waiting becomes just a quiet entering into the goodness of God, to let it do its blessed work and satisfy our every need. 
God is working in our waiting.
The Purpose You Already Know About
I doubt that the idea that waiting on God can be purposeful is a new one to you. If you are familiar with the doctrine of sanctification, you know that God can use any experience to make you more and more like himself. For example, in the book of James, we are commanded to count trials as joy, knowing that the testing of faith produces steadfastness (James 1:2–3). Waiting can certainly be a test of faith, and these verses promise that waiting can produce a steadfast character.
Likewise, the letter to the Hebrews talks about the sanctifying work of God’s discipline. It says that discipline leads to holiness, and that it will produce “the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Heb. 12:9–11). Waiting is part of discipline, isn’t it? The discipline of a little child involves teaching him to wait his turn or to wait for dessert. It is not good for a child to get everything he wants. In the same way, God’s discipline through waiting is good for us and will lead to deeper peace and good fruit in our lives.
Waiting exposes our idols and throws a wrench into our coping mechanisms. It brings us to the end of what we can control and forces us to cry out to God. God doesn’t waste our waiting. He uses it to conform us to the image of his Son.
But sanctification is not the only purpose God has in mind when he takes us into the school of waiting. When we wait, God gives us the opportunity to live out a story that portrays the gospel and serves as a kingdom parable.
Waiting in the Bible
Waiting figures prominently in many of the stories of the Old Testament. Moses waited for Pharaoh to let God’s people go. Joseph waited in a prison cell. Hannah waited for a baby. These stories are true stories, but they are also small-scale versions of the bigger story: Israel was waiting on God to fulfill his promises.
God fulfilled his promises to send a deliverer, the Messiah, by sending his Son, Jesus. Even so, God did not stop using stories of waiting to tell his story because the waiting isn’t over yet. Jesus died and rose again, and then he ascended to sit at the right hand of God where he is to this day. The New Testament portrays the ascended Jesus as the Bridegroom who has gone away but will return (Matt. 25:1–13; Mark 2:20). Our waiting is different this side of the cross. We know now whom we are waiting for, but the waiting isn’t easy. There should be a future thrust to our faith, just as there was a future thrust in the stories that make up the Old Testament.
We are still waiting in the same ways that our favorite Bible characters waited. Some of us are waiting for a bridegroom. Some of us are waiting for a baby. Some are waiting for a home. Some are waiting for a prodigal child or a prodigal spouse. Some await healing and an end to pain. Above all, we are all waiting for the return of Jesus.
Until the Messiah came, Scripture’s stories of waiting reminded old covenant believers that all was not right with the world. Marriage covenants were broken. Wombs were empty. Israel needed reconciliation with God.
In the same way, our waiting should remind us and all new covenant believers that all is not right with the world. While Jesus has died and risen, he has not yet come again. Paul describes the second coming of Christ this way: “Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet” (1 Cor. 15:24–25).
We are still waiting for that victory.
Your Waiting Is a Parable
If you are waiting for a spouse that has yet to appear, for a pregnancy that you haven’t been able to conceive or carry, for healing that may or may not come, for a home that you never have to leave, or for a prodigal child or spouse to return, you are living a parable. A parable is a story with a point. The story of your waiting can portray—to you and to others—God’s salvation history, both up to this point and still to come.
God has given you a parable. Each different kind of waiting shines light on a different facet of the gospel story. Only those who have been given eyes to see and ears to hear can perceive the redemptive picture God paints through our waiting.
In every story of righteous waiting, God has hidden the secrets of the kingdom of heaven. Your waiting is meant to be a witness not only to yourself, but to the watching world. Do you have ears to hear? Will you be a willing student in the school of waiting?
 Andrew Murray, Waiting on God (Radford, VA: Wilder, 2008), 64.
Written by Betsy Childs Howard, author of Seasons of Waiting: Walking by Faith When Dreams Are Delayed. Originally appearing on Crossway.org. Used with permission.
Betsy Childs Howard is an editor for the Gospel Coalition. She previously worked at Beeson Divinity School and Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. In addition to being a regular contributor to the Gospel Coalition website and First Things, she is the author of Seasons of Waiting: Walking by Faith When Dreams Are Delayed.
Publication date: June 2, 2016