The more quickly our society moves, the more we expect immediate results. Why should we have to wait when information is instantly available on our phones or computers, food is only a few clicks away, movies stream directly to our homes, and we can purchase whatever we want now and pay later? We love the convenience of a world geared toward our busy schedules and desires. However, God doesn’t work this way.
When we bring our needs to the Lord in prayer or read a promise in His Word, we often expect Him to answer right away.
When we bring our needs to the Lord in prayer or read a promise in His Word, we often expect Him to answer right away. And if a situation remains unchanged or a promise unfulfilled, we become confused and wonder why God isn’t doing anything. However, the real issue isn’t whether He is active, but whether we’re willing to trust Him when He’s not responding as we anticipate.
We’ve all experienced this—when there is a gap between our expectation and God’s timing. It may seem as if He has left us to figure out life on our own, but that is not the case at all. He never abandons His children and is always working for our good—even if we can’t understand exactly what He’s up to. From our perspective, it seems He’s doing nothing, but we misunderstand the Lord’s ultimate purpose and fail to see all He’s accomplishing in the meantime.
How we respond is vitally important. I’m sure we’ve all felt the temptation to help God out by manipulating the circumstances. This was certainly the case with Abram and Sarai in Genesis 16. When Abram was 75, the Lord promised to make him into a great nation (Gen. 12:1-4). Even though he and Sarai had been unable to have children, God promised him a son and descendants as innumerable as the stars of heaven (Gen. 15:1-6).
However, 10 years after the promise was given, the couple still had no child. To make matters worse, they were getting older. The situation looked dire, so Sarai stepped in with a solution. Her attempt to help God out sheds light on some common mistakes we ourselves make when our confidence in God’s promises begins to wane.
Sarai became impatient with God. A sense of urgency grew with the passing of the years. “So Sarai sad to Abram, ‘Now behold, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children’” (Gen. 16:2). She had probably expected God to remove her barren condition immediately after giving them the promise of a child, but He didn’t. And now it was too late for her to have a baby. Surely, she assumed, God was expecting them to do something about the situation.
From our perspective, it seems God’s doing nothing, but we misunderstand His ultimate purpose and fail to see all He’s accomplishing in the meantime.
Isn’t that the way we often think? But if we seriously consider who God is, we’ll see how ludicrous our assumption is. The Lord who created time is the One who controls and uses it to achieve His purposes. Our perfectly faithful God formed these plans long ago, and no one can frustrate them (Isa. 25:1; Isa. 14:27). He needed no help from Sarai, and He needs no help from us. What our Father desires of us is submission to His ways and patient perseverance as we wait for His perfect timing.
Sarai let the culture influence her thinking. As she thought about the dilemma, Sarai followed the cultural norms of her day instead of waiting for the Lord. Infertility was a shame and reproach in the ancient Middle East, and one of the ways a woman overcame this dishonor was by giving her husband a slave girl to bear his child. Once the baby was born, the wife became the legal mother, and the disgrace was removed.
Although our situations may be different, we too can be guilty of trying to achieve God’s will through worldly means. This often comes about when we let other people influence us with their opinions. However, we cannot walk in the ways of God and take our cues from what everyone else is doing—and that includes even well-meaning Christians who lack discernment and follow cultural norms. We must be careful not to let our desire for an immediate solution overpower our confidence in God’s faithfulness and His wisdom to move at the proper time.
That’s why it’s important to become knowledgeable about the Bible—then we can spot ideas contrary to God’s Word. Romans 12:2 puts it this way: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Sarai suggested a logical, pragmatic solution. Since she had an Egyptian maid named Hagar, Sarai told Abram, “Please go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children through her” (Gen. 16:2). It must have seemed like the most reasonable way to approach the problem of their childlessness. Furthermore, it worked. Abram did what Sarai suggested, and Hagar conceived (Gen. 16:4).
However, not everything that works is necessarily right; success doesn’t guarantee that God is in it. He ordains not only the outcome but also the means by which He achieves it. The time for the birth of the promised son had not yet arrived, and the mother God had chosen for this baby was Sarai, not Hagar (Gen. 18:10). So, though Abram and Sarai jumped ahead of the Lord and got the son they wanted, he wasn’t the son who was promised.
We must be careful not to let our desire for an immediate solution overpower our confidence in God’s wisdom to move at the proper time.
Too often this is exactly what happens to us when we try to help God answer our prayers or fulfill His promises. We may come up with our desired outcome, but it’s not from the Lord. All we’ve done is settle for less than His best, and like Abram and Sarai, we will eventually have to deal with the consequences of our choice.
Whenever we fill the space between our expectations and God’s perfect timing, trouble follows. Abram and Sarai’s technique for building their family resulted in conflict. After Hagar conceived, she despised her mistress. Sarai responded by blaming her husband and treating Hagar harshly (Gen. 16:4-6). Eventually, more conflict arose between Hagar’s son Ishmael and the promised son Isaac, whom Sarah miraculously bore 14 years later (Gen. 21:1-10). And, sadly, this animosity continues to the present day.
We must recognize the root problem. Whenever we are impatient with the Lord, we are displaying a lack of trust. Yet such doubts are unfounded when we consider His character. The Lord is infinitely beyond us in knowledge, wisdom, and power. He is also sovereign over every circumstance in our life and is never wrong in His dealings for us—neither in what He chooses nor in how and when He brings it to pass. In other words, the Lord is worthy of our trust, patience, and obedience. So let’s wait for Him when He delays, knowing that He always keeps His Word and has promised to provide all our needs.
It’s easy to see the folly of Abram and Sarai’s action, but when you’re in the midst of an urgent situation, you may not recognize that you are doing the same thing—getting ahead of God. Have you ever become impatient with the Lord when He didn’t answer your prayer request as soon as you wanted? If a need is pressing, it’s difficult to take your eyes off the situation and focus on what you know to be true about God, but this is the only way to have peace in the midst of trouble, pain, or hardship.
Let’s wait for God when He delays, knowing that He always keeps His Word and has promised to provide all our needs.
Think about a situation in the past when God didn’t respond as quickly as you expected. Did you try to help Him out in some way? This can be hard to determine because waiting on God doesn’t always mean doing nothing. For instance, if you are praying for a job, God expects you to look for one instead of simply sitting back and waiting for it to fall into your lap. In issues not addressed in Scripture, we must trust in the Holy Spirit’s guidance as He opens and closes doors. However, we don’t want to move ahead without Him.
Another problem you might face involves relying on guidance from sources other than God. Are you more accepting of cultural expectations or people’s advice than you are of God’s will as revealed in His Word? Although learning to think biblically takes time, it’s worth every sacrifice you may have to make.
Heavenly Father, You alone are wise and faithful. Make me know Your ways, teach me Your paths, and lead me in Your truth. For You are the God of my salvation, and for You I wait all the day (Psalm 25:4-5). Give me the grace to trust You more. I thank and praise You for answering prayer and keeping Your promises. Amen.
- Psalm 33:18-22
- Psalm 62:5-8
- Proverbs 16:9
- Isaiah 46:9-10
- Isaiah 55:8-11
Although you can’t go back and correct the consequences of not waiting upon the Lord, you can begin today to make changes that will protect you from making similar mistakes.
When you are tempted to become impatient with the Lord, try reading in the book of Psalms to remind yourself who He is. Focus on His attributes, and then ask yourself, Who is more capable of determining the right time and manner of handling my situation—me or God?
Ask the Lord to show you any ways that your thinking, instead of being shaped by God’s Word, has begun to align more with the world’s pragmatic logic. Remember, just because it works does not necessarily mean it’s from the Lord.
Photograph by Grant Legassick