“until Christ be formed in you…”
Mary said ‘yes’ to the angel who announced she would give birth to God’s own Son, but there were still nine ordinary months of gestation before that baby would be born. Just as regeneration, being ‘born again’, is a work of the Spirit, so is growing in grace to become fully formed into the image of Christ. Why would I think the process should be short-circuited somehow in my life or my children’s lives? There is no ‘quick fix’ for Christlikeness, no matter how much ‘angst’ I work up.
The word that has dropped into my life for this new year is “WAIT”… Most of last year I had this verse above my kitchen sink:
“Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth…don’t grumble against one another.” (James 5:8,9)
Before that I had lived with this one for a long while:
“you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.” (Heb.10:36)
And this year, the compelling instruction is: “WAIT”. I guess I’m a slow learner. Then again growth in grace is a gradual process—for me and for mine. I get to anticipating full-fledged fruit when the blossoms are just forming. I get impatient. And then I begin to doubt—something must be wrong. I must have made some mistake. Must be missing something… fertilizer? Bug spray? Compost? Rain? Warmth. Love. Sunshine!
It’s one thing to conceive a child, another to give birth to that fresh tiny replica of ‘the both of us’, and yet another to feed and clothe and love that little life into maturity. It’s a process punctuated by watershed moments, memorable highlights and perhaps crises, but mostly a lot of very ordinary days…all heading toward the grand finale when we shall see Him as He is and be transformed completely into His likeness and changed in the twinkling of an eye! It’s the moment for which all creation waits and groans. (Rom.8:21,22)
It’s the moment for which we wait, having the beginnings and waiting for the full harvest—and we groan (Rom.8:23). Wonderful thing is, there’s a companion with us in this long gestation process—and He too groans. But His groans are productive. He ‘intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.’ And though we are often clueless what to pray, He always knows the mind of God and prays God’s will into being in our lives.
And so I’m learning that when the process is out of my hands but the full product isn’t in yet, it’s ok to WAIT… to stop digging up seeds to see if they’ve sprouted, to lay down my tools, to put away the bug spray and to wait—maybe hum a hopeful tune in the process? Couldn’t hurt!
I’ve been looking at this word ‘wait’ in the Bible. It’s not a curled-up-in-a-ball-asleep passive dormancy—as though we had no hope of rescue and were resigned to our fate. That is honestly my natural tendency. (So maybe I can’t put my tools down after all, but hold them at the ready while I aWAIT further instruction?!) In strategic crisis training (from long ago days in ‘missions’) they teach you that there are two types of reactions people take in hostage situations—one is to turn completely passive and let come what may. By so doing, these folk reduce their chances of survival. The other response is to stay actively engaged in seeking your release. How does this relate to the WAIT of faith? Ha! That’s seems to be what I’m sorting out this year! The ‘Wait’ of faith—what does it look like?
This is what I’ve found so far…
It’s a waiting closely tied to hope.
“For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.” (Gal.5:6)
But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. (Rom.8:25)
“…we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Rom.8:23)
There’s an eager expectation in it, a confidence that what we hope for is coming. But what about the things we hope for that aren’t guaranteed? They seem good to us. Ideal, really. We hope for our kids the good things we’ve had or maybe that the bad things we’ve known won’t overtake them. But can we guarantee it? Will our hopes prove vain, our waiting end in disappointment? These are questions that challenge me in my waiting. (When I major on them, I find my hope faltering and my waiting dissipating into a useless passivity.) I’ve had to refocus my hopes on those things that are guaranteed…we have the hope of righteousness, the hope of redemption for these bodies, the hope of our own bodily resurrection, the hope of Jesus soon return, the hope of heaven, the hope of glory.
But what of the details–the physical, this world, nitty-gritty? What hope is there for this life?
The wait of faith is tied to the trustworthy character of God.
It’s at the point of the nitty-gritty of life where trust in the character of God and His good heart toward us must come into play. We can trust His Word. We can trust His heart, even when we cannot see the how or why or when? There are bound to be both surprises and disappointments in the process of growing to be like Christ (and in the watching others do likewise!) We simply don’t see the whole picture. And it will entail a process. John White affirms: though “there may be breakthroughs, sudden insights, glorious experiences… the major work of transformation will be slow and often deeply painful. Yet the pain is immeasurably reduced by trust and understanding.”(The Fight, 112,113)
I think Paul would have agreed. He’d given his life to planting churches where Christ had not been preached and to nurturing growth in these believers. He compared his own efforts to the labor of childbirth!
“My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you…” (Gal. 4:19)
This was no easy task accomplished by a momentary miraculous divine intervention, but a steady self-sacrificing, life-long commitment to pray and teach and spur on to love and good deeds in any way he could. But even in this very practical, day-do-day process there was a wait of faith, for Paul was dependent on the Spirit to energize and direct his efforts (Col.1:27-29). “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” (I Tim.4:10) Likewise, unless the Spirit moves, my efforts are so much burnt toast!
The wait of faith submits itself to God’s sovereign purposes.
So what happens when our dearly held expectations come crashing down? When life doesn’t turn out the way we anticipated? When God hasn’t ‘come through’ the way we’d been sure He would? Or His timing is ‘way off’? We may reason that “if God is all-knowing, wise, and loving, then surely He will fix our situation or respond in a certain manner. When life does not turn out as we hope or in our expected timeframe, we may question God’s love and even begin to doubt his Word.” (Danielle DuRant) but who is then in the judge’s seat, determining good and evil, passing rulings on what is and isn’t acceptable? Yes, the wait of faith must face its own essential submission to God’s sovereign hand. God is consistent and faithful to His Word, but He is not necessarily predictable. Where then would be room for mercy and grace? “No, God is never unfaithful or inconsistent. Rather… our inability to predict how or when He might resolve something we have brought to Him in prayer can bring great unease and mistrust if we unconsciously perceive Him as an indulgent parent or unreliable one we must win over. God is not an unreliable or indulgent parent, nor is He a heartless judge, as Jesus reminds us in his parable on prayer and the persistent widow.” (DuRant) Still, His ways are not our ways. He is the Potter. We are the clay…
The above excerpt is from an excellent article titled “Inseparable Companions” , demonstrating how our lives must hold faith and hope in tandem as we grow in Christ if we are to avoid the pitfall of doubting God’s goodness or His faithfulness to His Word. It was very encouraging and certainly pertinent to my study of the ‘wait of faith’. I close with its concluding remarks:
“So might we always pray and not give up, for there is hope in the mirror of God’s Word: the one true and trustworthy reflection of who God is and who we are becoming. Here we are comforted and challenged, chastened and assured by the One who loves us and can speak into our lives like no other. Here we can “set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything” (1 John 3:19b-20). We can bring our expectations, fears, and questions before his throne of grace and let the light of Jesus’s presence shine into every dark and confusing place in our lives. We can hope in Him and rest in Him because He promises to never leave us nor forsake us. So let us give Him our expectations and ask Him to give us trustful expectancy. ‘Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for we who promised is faithful’ (Hebrews 10:23). Then we may see signs of his faithful presence where we once did not and begin to find our way forward—with deeper hope.”(Danielle DuRant)
Waiting eagerly to see what God will do,
“Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.” Ps.25:5
The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. Lam.3:25,26
P.S. I brought back a book from Missions Fest last month titled Unshaken. It’s the story of Dan Woolley, a Haiti earthquake survivor, and is an excellent model of what it means to wait actively. He was trapped beneath whole stories of rubble, badly injured, and able to move about very little but he refused to curl up in a ball and let unconsciousness overtake him. In fact he used his plight to encourage others to hold on and to point them to the ultimate Saviour. Remarkable testimony to the very present help of God in times of trouble (and to the wait of faith!!). [See full review here]
Danielle DuRant is director of research and writing at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. “Inseparable companions” is available at RZIM.org in the “Just Thinking” archives.