I have made a wonderful, new discovery in my prayer life. It is best defined by one of the many injunctions given in the Bible, “Blessed are those who listen to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway. For those who find me find life and receive favor from the Lord” (Proverbs 8:34-35).
Though rarely spoken of today and yet so desperately needed in our stress-torn society, this life-giving reality is the ancient experience of waiting on God. It seems as though there is so little time put aside for such waiting in our slick, fast-moving world. The difficult, yet so rewarding, experience of coming into God’s presence, and by the grace and empowerment of the Holy Spirit becoming calm, quiet, and receptive to his presence and voice is the essence of all growth in grace. Is not the result of spiritual growth a growing awareness of God’s presence and hearing his voice?
The life of prayer has so many marvelous facets and different methods, according to our need at the time. “Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge” (Psalm 62:8). The pouring out of our soul to God is because of agitation, turmoil, and unrest. We have to get things off our chest, and tell him exactly how we feel. There certainly can be no calm, quiet receptiveness until we communicate our needs or those of others.
The power of intercession, pouring out our anguish over a situation or person is part of the asking and seeking of Mathew 7:7, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Tragically, however, we often fail then to wait on God. We do not allow him time to speak to us, to comfort us, to correct us, or to be present to us. We often fail to hear his response to our cries. Waiting allows God the opening or opportunity to manifest his wondrous presence.
Our fast-moving schedules keep us so nervous and overloaded that we find it difficult to sit down and relax and let go, to sit quietly and focus on one thing. We are accustomed to doing ten things at once!
Yet I believe a new dimension of spiritual reality is released if we will wait on the Lord. The psalmist David said it so well, “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple” (Psalm 27:4).
Waiting on God is not natural for us; it is not easy for us; it isn’t always “fun” for us, but it is a profoundly transforming experience of spiritual growth. It is not for people of casual Christian living. It is for struggling, yearning Christians who want to be more like Jesus, and for those who want to be more fit channels through whom God can flow out to others in love and power.
Our guide is Jesus. He knew to the core of his being the absolute necessity of waiting on God. In his classic book called Waiting on God, Andrew Murray says about Jesus, “He had such a consciousness of God’s presence that no matter who came to him the presence of Father was with and upon him.” Jesus’ own night-long waiting on the Father as recorded in Luke teaches us how important the waiting was, because it allowed the Father to be totally dominant and in total control of him, to the extent that God the Father was the most real presence in Jesus’ life.
The first account of Jesus waiting on the Father, in Luke 4, is followed by testing. Each time we wait on God, no matter how long or short the period, Satan will be present to pull us away. He does not want our physical needs met in a godly way, but in our own way. Satan does not want us feeding on God. Waiting on the Lord allows the Holy Spirit to feed the inner man, and strengthen him (Ephesians 3:16). As we wait, we partake of the Divine nature, and are sustained, changed, and healed.
A second hindrance that comes as we wait is to let something else or someone else be our center instead of our Lord. It could be career, children, education, money, or pleasure. Waiting on God allows the Holy Spirit to teach us how to worship and love only him with all our heart, soul, and mind, and others as ourselves.
Yet a third hindrance is to use God’s power in foolish ways, to take what we get from God and use it for our advantage. Waiting on God daily allows him to cleanse our self-will and self-seeking. He develops a reverence in us for his holiness and power. We tremble before him and honor him as we wait.
Jesus waited on God to bring him forth from the grave (the seed falling into the ground as John 12:23-32 teaches). Waiting produces great confidence in God. It is a form of dying to self, and out of death comes God’s life.
But perhaps the greatest example of Jesus’ waiting is what he is doing now. As Hebrews 7:25 says, “ … he always lives to intercede for them.” As Jesus intercedes, he awaits his return to the earth as Lord where he will receive his bride – the Church. In other words waiting is a part of divine providence and therefore it must be a part of our lives.
If Jesus is waiting on God the Father to bring forth the ultimate will of God, how much more do you and I need periods of quiet waiting and listening.
I can remember as a high school student often talking with my father, a United Methodist minister, about wanting to know how to grow in grace. I knew that I had my part and God had his, and that the basic ingredients of prayer, Bible reading, and obedience were essential to growth. However, I kept feeling there was an added dimension of spiritual understanding involving responsiveness to his presence that would greatly enhance my growth. I did not understand at that time that this involved protracted periods of waiting on God. This waiting included listening to God, a calming of the inner person, and an altering of the capacity to be aware of God.
Waiting on God should teach us a more reverent receptivity; a quieter, less self-willed listening; a calmer repose and collectedness which opens the door to knowing God better, because we can hear him speak and respond to him in conversation and in our will.
Our difficulty lies basically in the feverish, frantic way we have with very little time spent in God’s presence. Our dilemma centers around not knowing the value of spending time in the presence of God nor really understanding how it is done. Waiting is a totalitarian experience of body, mind, and spirit. This includes relaxing the body when it has been agitated and tense, focusing the mind on God when it has been scattered over many interests, and getting in touch with the inner spirit when we have lived externally rather than internally.
The Scriptures are full of invitations to come into his living presence. Matthew 11:28-30, Isaiah 40:29-31, and Proverbs 8:34-36 are just a few.
There are several principles to follow in order to enter into the presence of God. These are not difficult but require time and patience to experience the actuality of them. The lives of Christians throughout history, regardless of their station in life, have involved these great principles.
1. Find a quiet place in your home that will be without outside distractions, noise, phone, TV, and music. You will quickly discover that it is not nearly as difficult to eliminate the exterior noises as it is to eliminate the interior noises. These distractions hinder our ability to focus due to darkness and the unknown within us. This takes courage to persist, but it is not impossible.
2. It is important to ask the Holy Spirit to guide and teach us (John 14:26). We must refer to him!
3. Return daily to this same place, which the Old Testament refers to as the tent of meeting and the New Testament refers to as the place of abiding in Jesus. Regularity aids us in accustoming ourselves to coming into the quiet. We may begin to enjoy it!
4. Sit in a comfortable chair poised, alert, respectful, and anticipating an encounter with God.
5. Relax your body and mind. Avoid trying too hard, or trying to do it perfectly. Relax, let go, this is your time to cast your burden on him.
6. Waiting on God involves the whole person, spirit, soul, and body. Give him your mind that you might receive from his mind. Give him your body, its energies to be refreshed by his life. Give him your emotions, all your feelings, to be cleansed by his love. Give him your will that you might know and love the will of God. Give him your human spirit so that he might reign as Lord of your spirit.
7. There are two ways to realize God’s presence. First through the Word of God, such as taking a single thought as Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God,” and meditating on each word. The second way is through using our minds and imaginations. In your mind’s eye see yourself talking with Jesus, look at him face to face, and listen to his response to you (2 Corinthians 3: 18).
8. Know that you will experience mental distractions and be prepared to wait even though your mind is unruly. Speak gently but firmly to your mind and bring it back to Jesus.
9. Use the name of Jesus often, repeated softly; or use the “Jesus prayer” to keep yourself collected and focused. A form of the Jesus prayer is, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me.”
10. Keep reaffirming during this time that you are there to know the Lord better and to wait on him.
11. Take 10 to 15 minutes at the end of your devotional time and listen for his voice and presence.
In Waiting on God, Andrew Murray says to stay positive and believe you can and will wait and that God will draw you into his presence.
There are several crucial aspects of the Holy Spirit’s ministry that become ours as we spend time in his presence. In evangelical circles we tend to mention, almost exclusively, only one side of the Holy Spirit’s marvelous work – the miraculous and instantaneous – as in our rebirth and the subsequent infilling of the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, these two supernatural landmark experiences radically change our perspective and inner attitudes. Though we may have sought God for days, months or years, the actual spiritual transaction frequently happens in a matter of minutes – even seconds!
I believe a grave danger lurks here, a misconception that is foreboding in its consequences. We are apt to think it is God’s only way of handling important, life-changing events. We begin to rely too much on our big experiences, neglecting to give him time each day to perform miracles equally powerful and exciting. Let me share with you just a few of the benefits the Holy Spirit continues to provide as we learn to wait on God.
• The miracle of becoming like God, being transformed into his image. For us today this means a growing dependency upon the Father, even as Jesus experienced when he says in John 5:19 “… the Son can do nothing by himself.” This means that we do not take the initiative to run ahead of him in any area of our life (Romans 8:29 and 1 John 3:2). . .
• The miracle of cultivating with God a friendship so real and so satisfying that, of all our friends, we know him best (John 15:14).
• The miracle of a growing helplessness and dependency on God so we live not out of the flesh, but by his power and strength. He flows out from us to others, yet we come more and more into who we are in him. As we wait on God he will reveal to us his direction for our lives. For each of us, the uniqueness of our individuality in him will begin to come forth (Galatians 2:20).
• The joy of learning to listen to God’s voice to recognize when he is speaking to us. Because his voice is so real we can truly converse with one another. God guides us and gives us his wisdom in all of our interactions (John 10:4-5, 14, 27).
• A growing humility as he reveals our true self to us. As we see how desperately we need God in all areas of our life, the experience of waiting on him helps us to face ourselves under the loving gaze of Jesus (Psalm 51:6).
• A daily conviction of our sin, bringing us to repentance and confession. This is important so there are no barriers of sinful pride before him. Sin is dealt with honestly each day (1 John 4:9 and John 16:7-13).
• A marvelous peace as we allow God to take more and more dominion over our thoughts and our emotional life. The fruits and gifts of the Spirit begin to express themselves through us (Isaiah 26:2).
• A greater ability to pray in line with the Father’s will because, as we wait on him, the Holy Spirit searches out the deep things of God, and prays the will of God in life’s challenges. To find his will takes time, and waiting on God affords that leisurely relationship with the Holy Spirit from which he is able to manifest God’s will (1 Corinthians 2:6-16).
• A glorious comprehension of just how real and eternally precious the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are to me. For many people, the Father God is detached and impersonal, but as we wait on him we begin to experientially know him as our heavenly Father (John 14:20, 21, 23). Our rebirth and indwelling by the Holy Spirit are more sweetly and fully realized and lived out in our daily life. God goes about changing and renewing our inner spirit as we submit to his day by day ministrations to us. While we draw nigh to him he draws nigh to us.
If you have never experienced the joy of waiting on God, I pray you will be strongly impressed by the Holy Spirit to begin that great journey of deepening your receptivity to him. You may find it to be the hardest part of your quiet time, because it requires stillness and quietness, a collecting of every thought around Jesus as preparation for hearing his voice, but it will be the most rewarding of your prayer habits.
“Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him” (Isaiah 30:18).
Margaret Therkelsen (1934-2014) was a teacher, counselor, and author of The Love Exchange and other books. For many years she was a treasured devotionalist for Good News. This article originally appeared in the July/August 1992 issue of Good News