Those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)
I used to sing a little song set to that verse, and the song ended, “Teach me Lord, Teach me Lord, to wait.” But waiting is one of the hardest things we do! If given a choice, we would rather not wait at all. Over history, western civilization has progressed ever so deliberately towards practices and inventions that free us from having to wait. From the printing press, to the industrial age, to the internet, we have shortened our waiting times.
In today’s information age, we no longer have to wait for the evening news shows, or the morning newspapers, to inform us of what has happened in the last twenty-four hours. The 24/7 news cycle means we have it now. In fact, the internet puts almost any information at all into our eyes in almost an instant.
Finally, of course, Amazon has us able to shop right now, with only a few key strokes, without waiting for our consumer urge to abate. The ability to download entire books has us reading that book we were slightly interested in, within two minutes of our urge. We don’t need to wait for much at all. We have learned to fly like eagles – quickly and instantly!
In the midst of the satisfaction that the world offers us in almost an instant, the Bible steadily admonishes us to wait. Whatever for?
Because life – real life—does not happen instantly. It takes time. Because flying itself takes time.
When Isaiah wrote the verses of chapter 40, Jerusalem had been captured; and the inhabitants of Judah had been forced into exile in Babylon. They had no idea when, or if, they might be set free to return home. Other parts of the Bible describe their desperation (Psalm 137:4 asks, “How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”).
In that time of desperation and tears, Isaiah counsels waiting. Things will not be as they are now, he says. “Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.” It is God who will provide, says Isaiah, not our human strength or urgencies.
Last year, when I was down in Coweta County, on the farmland where I grew up, in the pastures where I learned to run, I would always see two bald eagles circling on clear days. They had built a beautiful nest, a home, in a towering old pine tree next to the lake. My entire family took joy in noticing their activities.
But this past Fall, we were crushed when we noticed one day that the old pine tree had collapsed. The entire nest, the eagles’ home, had been devastated; and the eagles were nowhere to be seen. They were gone. We counted the incident as another example of the hard life of nature.
But last week, when I was down there again, at the lake, I noticed an amazing thing. There they were, two bald eagles, soaring over the pastures where I used to run as a child. Yes, said my family, they had started a new nest, over on the other side of the lake. It was probably not complete yet, but it was being built, because only now is the time that eagles build a nest for their young.
Yes, it is only now that the new home for the eagles could be built, when the season is right, when the rhythm of life is returned to birth and new life. The eagles had to wait. The eagles could not build their new nest immediately. They had to wait for the seasons to change. But they waited; and the Lord provided another tree and another nest.
When we are crying, of course we want to return to joy. When we are desperate, of course we want hope. When we are in exile, of course we want to return home. When we are weak, of course we want to regain our strength. But God brings us home over time, when the seasons change, when the rhythm of life returns.
“Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings as eagles. They shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and not faint.” Teach me Lord, teach me Lord, to wait.
Sam Candler is Dean of the Cathedral of St. Philip in Atlanta, Georgia.
His articles also appear on his blog, Good Faith and the Common Good.
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