I once preached a sermon titled “The art of Waiting.”
We were waiting, as a congregation, for the closing date on our new church building. It had been pushed back for the third time, and we were all getting tired of waiting to move. We wanted our own space. NEEDED our own space. We’d grown from a small congregation of 6 that met on the couch in the church office/rectory to a congregation of more than 60 who was rapidly growing out of the women’s club social hall that we rented every Sunday. And we were getting collectively grumpy about it.
I found a copy of that sermon the other day, so I spent a few minutes sitting on the bed reading it. This was from back in the days when I still wrote out my sermons word for word.
It was an interesting trip down memory lane – interesting to remember the time of my life, and the congregation’s life, when we were in a holding pattern. We knew the next chapter was going to start, but weren’t quite sure just when…or how it was going to look once we got there.
We were waiting.
It was also a look down memory lane into what I used to believe….what I used to preach, even though I had questions and sometimes had a hard time believing it myself.
There was an interesting illustration in that sermon about patience. I think I’ll share it again.
It’s about a guy who prided himself with always being on time.
He followed a very precise routine every morning. His alarm went off at 6:30 AM. He got up, shaved, showered, ate his breakfast, brushed his teeth, picked up his briefcase, got into his car, rode the ferry across to the downtown business area, got off the ferry, walked to his building, marched to the elevator, rode to the seventeenth floor, hung up his coat, opened his briefcase, spread his papers out on his desk, and sat down in his chair at precisely 8:00 AM. Not 8:01 AM, not even 7:59. Always at 8:00 AM.
He followed this same routine without variation for eight years, until one morning his alarm didn’t go off, and he overslept fifteen minutes. When he woke up, he panicked. He rushed through the shower, nicked himself when he shaved, gulped down his breakfast, only half-way brushed his teeth, grabbed up his briefcase, jumped into his car, sped to the ferry landing, jumped out of his car, and looked for the ferry. It was out in the water a few feet from the dock. He said to himself, “I think that I can make it,” and he ran down the dock towards the ferry at full speed. Reaching the edge of the pier, he made an enormous leap out over the water and miraculously landed with a loud thud on the deck of the ferry.
The captain rushed down to make sure he was alright.
The captain said, “Man, that was a tremendous leap, but if you would have just waited another minute, we would have reached the dock, and you could have walked on.”
It gave me a chuckle then, and it gives me a bit of a chuckle now — but it also gives me pause.
I’m in a place of waiting right now myself.
Waiting to save up enough money to get a new car.
Waiting to get into a new apartment.
Waiting for old wounds to heal properly.
[Let me make one thing clear right off the bat – waiting doesn’t mean that I’m sitting on my duff not doing anything about these things. Believe me, I’m busting my butt to save money, find an apartment, and especially dealing with the old wounds that need to close.]
It’s hard work.
I’m just ready for all the pieces to come together so I can see the big picture.
I hate puzzles – and that’s what this season of my life feels like.
Back to my old sermon…..that piece was based on a passage of biblical scripture from 1 Samuel 13. [here’s a LINK if anyone is actually interested in reading this passage for themselves]
When I wrote it, I called it “a peek into the life of someone whose tragic story holds for us a lesson about impatience and its effects on our relationship with God, and with others.”
It’s the story of King Saul, who reigned as king of Israel for 42 years. Why did I call it a ‘tragic story’?
Because of the worldview I was preaching, and living for myself.
From the old sermon:
“I am not clear as to exactly when the event that we have just read took place, but most likely it was early in his career and I am struck by the fact that this moment of impatience had both immediate and long term consequences on his life, his authority, and his relationships for as we read in verses 13 and 14, Samuel declares that, instead of his reign being the start of a great lineage of Israelite kings, the honor would go to someone else because God was wanted someone after His (God’s) own heart.”
What did Saul do that was so horrible? So monumentally wrong that he lost his kingdom?
According to the passage, the Philistines, who they’d been at war with, were kicking Israel’s collective butts – to the point that the men were starting to scatter and it looked like the end was near.
Samuel, the prophet, told Saul to wait 7 days, and he’d show up to offer the sacrifices to god so they’d presumably win/be spared.
AND HE DIDN’T SHOW.
Seriously. The prophet didn’t show up.
And the army was getting CLOBBERED. Saul figured it was because they hadn’t made the proper sacrifices to god, so he made a decision that he thought was in their best interests:
We’re getting clobbered. God wants sacrifices. Sacrifices might save us/help us. Prophet guy promised to show up and make sacrifices. Prophet guy isn’t here. WE’RE GETTING CLOBBERED……
So I’ll make the sacrifice. Maybe it will help.
I want to think that he had their best interests at heart – best interest being “oh shit, let’s not let all of them die today.”
But according to Samuel, that was a MONUMENTALLY WRONG DECISION that would cost him his kingdom, his lineage, his favor with God.
Back then, when I preached this sermon, I asked this question: “Why was it hard for Saul to wait on Samuel?”
Reading it again now, I ask some different ones:
Why the hell didn’t Samuel show up on time, and why did he get all bent out of shape when Saul took matters into his own hands?
I mean, seriously.
It looked like imminent destruction for Saul’s peeps. He was desperate . And his choices were to sit back and watch his army be destroyed because Samuel didn’t show up, wring his hands and call it the will of God, or try to DO SOMETHING that he thought was going to help.
Back when I preached this sermon, I basically said that Saul didn’t have enough faith to trust God in the tough times, and that lack of trust, that one bad decision, ruined his life and his descendant’s lives, forever…. And that we needed to be careful with being patient and making the ‘right decisions’ because if we didn’t, we would end up falling out of God’s favor and it could alter the course of our lives forever… that waiting is a spiritual issue, and Saul had to wait for Samuel to give the offering, but he did not. And he paid the consequences for his impatience.
That’s what that is.
A giant, steaming pile of horse shit.
Thinking like that can really screw people up. It can paralyze people into not being able to make ANY choice, for fear that the wrong one will bring down the wrath of god on their lives.
Sadly, I bought into that bullshit….and it really screwed with my head, even to this day.
Listen to what I wrote/said:
“If we make the choice to know God, that is, to have a personal relationship with Him based on the forgiveness that we receive and accept through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, then that moves us toward expressing patience as evidence of our commitment to and relationship with Jesus Christ.
Why is patience important?
It is evidence of a changed life. Instead of living by and through our impulses we live by and through the spirit and power of God. So, our behavior changes. and when our behavior begins to change, it has an impact on our relationships. People begin to see the difference in our lives. We are under new management. The art of waiting on the Lord is possibly the hardest thing to do, but it also can be one of the greatest evidences of our both our commitment and obedience to God. When we wait on the lord with patience, even in times of frustration or trouble, People will notice. They will see our self-control, they see our patience at work, they see, and perhaps even experience, the love in our hearts and souls.
Saul’s downfall was an impatient heart. It undermined the love he had for the lord and called into question his own trust of God.
Saul’s situation leads me to ask this question, “Can impatience and love really exist together in the same heart?”
I read that crap now and want to go back and shake my younger self.
I can’t believe I used to tell people that garbage.
I can’t believe I used to believe that either.
It’s so very, very damaging.
And it’s really hard not to feel guilty for what I told people they should believe.
How much shame did people feel because of the words I spoke?
How much guilt?
How much fear?
Back then, I believed the line that it was ‘the conviction of the holy spirit’…..but was it, really? Or was it just guilt, shame, and fear?
I wonder about this, because now, as I sit here and wait for things in my own life to fall into place [and work hard to make them happen], it’s hard not to run through the rhetoric in my head, asking myself things like….
“what did I do, what choice did I make, that caused me to fall out of god’s favor?”
And I start to replay all those decisions I made that got me into trouble….
The topics I preached on
The causes and people I stood up for
The buttons I pushed
And I have to literally remind myself OUT LOUD that they were the right decisions.
I made them for the right reasons.
And that it’s okay.
That I’m okay.
That waiting isn’t a punishment from god.
That these hard times aren’t because I made some irreparable choice that has completely fucked my life from here to the end.
That what I believed, and sadly, what I preached, isn’t the truth.
That last sentence….
That’s the hardest pill to swallow.
And that’s a whole other post for a different day.