If you’ve come from Christian circles, then in times of decision you’ve probably often heard the phrase wait on God used. My problem isn’t so much the phrase, rather, it’s no one has ever actually stopped to explain or exemplify what it means. Interestingly enough, a quick word search through the Bible results in a very interesting discovery.
When people say, “Wait on God,” they usually mean it as be patient with God and wait (that is, to remain in a state of expectation or readiness for some purpose) for Him to reveal His purpose to you. Naturally, it is accompanied by the exhortation to pray and patiently seek God’s will which is what you are praying and waiting for. Frankly, I find this practice, slightly unbiblical from what I can see, but also, a little too mystic for my liking as there is little ground, even in faith, for people to stand upon. (I’m perfectly happy to be corrected, but first let me speak.)
The references to waiting on God in the Bible are, firstly, primarily found in the Old Testament and, secondly, almost all if not all, are references to the expectation of salvation by God’s hand. Basically, when God’s people waited upon Him, they were waiting for Him to save them, be it from their enemies, be it from disaster, or, be it from sin. It was God that they expected and waiting upon to rescue them from their situation.
For those from the New Testament onwards, this theme of waiting on God is not found. Why? Simply, because salvation has come. Jesus Christ had come as the Lamb of God, the ultimate sacrifice for the salvation of God’s people — that is, salvation from sin and its curse of death. Jesus Christ was the fulfilment of all the waiting found in the Old Testament. Hence, there is no reason for the people of God to wait for salvation.
So, what about this phrase to “wait on God”. In the New Testament, there is a different kind of waiting. It may simply be a play on words, but I find that it gives us a greater foundation and deeper meaning to the phrase, “Wait on God.” In the NIV (& NASB) translation, the word ‘wait’ is found in Mt. 8:15; Mk. 1:31; Lk. 4:39. It is one and the same story. Jesus was visiting the house of one of his disciples, Simon Peter, where he finds Peter’s mother-in-law ill. Jesus heals her, she then rises and waits on Jesus and the disciples. A modern day example can be seen every time you go to a restaurant, there you are waited on by a, wait for it… … … a waiter.
Well, that’s the only reference I could find to the word “wait” so let’s dig a little bit deeper. This word, “wait” is translated from the Greek verb ‘diakoneo’ meaning to be an attendent; to wait upon; to serve. The root word ‘diakonos’ is an attendent; a waiter; a servant; and the root for the Christian role ‘deacon’. In other passages, this word points to various sorts of people, in one passage it points to women to financially support Jesus’ ministry with their wealth (Lk. 8:3), in various other passages it talks about serving people, doing tasks for others, etc. The list goes on, yet the image is still the same. It is a person who is active in pursuing the benefit of others before yourself.
To transplant this image of serving, attending, waiting into the phrase, “Wait on God” I believe has significant merit. Rather than merely expectantly or simply ‘waiting’ for God to act, it paints a picture of continually serving God. In fact, it recalls one of Jesus’ final and most important lessons for his disciples (found in John 13:1-17): Jesus is with his disciples at a meal where, usually, a servant or attendant would wash the guests’ feet (as they would have gathered dust from walking). However, as there was no servant, the disciples had no inclinations to wash each other’s feet. So, Jesus gets up and does it instead. To everyone’s shock and amazement, Jesus washed all their feet. At the end, he shared these words:
“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example you should that you should do as I have done for you.”
There is one immediate rebuke that I must make to those who seek to live in this way. To use another example (found in Luke 10:38-42): Jesus comes to the home of Martha and Mary, his dear friends. Naturally, as any good host Martha runs about preparing food, cleaning, etc. serving Jesus and his disciples. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with what she’s doing. However, at one point she comes to Jesus and says:
“Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
It is interesting that the phrase ‘to do the work’ is the same word I’ve been discussing, (diakoneo) “to attend, to serve, to wait.” Here, Jesus’ reply is our rebuke and warning in seeking to live a “waiting” lifestyle (vv. 41-42):
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better [“Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.”—v. 39] and it will not be taken away from her.”
After everything I’ve said, the most important thing is found by sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to what he said and taught. There is the call to be people who attend, who serve, who wait—but we cannot lose sight that at the centre of this call, rather the source of the call, is Jesus himself who is the ultimate model of a servant, placing the needs of others before his own desires.