Once God calls us to give our best for God’s purposes in the church and world, thriving leaders face the difficult task of waiting. A prolonged time gap between a call of God and exercising our gifts in thriving leadership and ministry can seem inordinate, excessive and even wasted.
Our forbearers can teach us much here. God promised Abraham an heir, yet he and Sarah waited a quarter of a century before God’s promise became flesh in Isaac. God called Moses to be Israel’s savior from 400 years of bondage in Egypt. But God delayed Moses for 40 years in Midian before returning him to Egypt. God promised the fledgling nation of Israel the Promised Land, but his children angrily passed the time in the wilderness for 40 years until Israel’s faithless parents, aunts and uncles died off. Jesus, very God of very God, lingered up to 30 years before entering into public ministry. After he rose again he asked his followers to wait and pray for God’s promised gift of the Holy Spirit. Paul fell blind in a hot desert and waited was three days before he saw the sun again. He then waited in Damascus, in Jerusalem, and for three years in Tarsus, all after God commissioned him with a passion to share the Gospel with people unlike him or his kin.
Countless examples from church history more than make the point. God calls thriving leaders to wait before they are ready to move. Only through agonizing delays can we learn that God’s time is anything but idle time. Nor is it wasted.
Waiting is the dominant pattern God uses to transform us. Jesus invites us to wait before we can move into a new season. As Jeff Strong says, God places us in waiting rooms so he can access our undivided attention and strip away the distractions that keep us from allowing him to heal and reform our motivations, ideas, habits, dispositions, and attitudes.[i]
Rev. Strong, a pastor in British Columbia, reveals that in his last period of waiting, God exposed motivations in him that needed purifying, ideas that needed reshaping, and habits that needed changing. Before God could lead me into the next chapter of my pastoral calling, I had to be stripped to the bone—exposed in a way that was deeply uncomfortable but ultimately fruitful. I had no plan to rely on, no self-constructed strategies to give me peace, no timelines to offer me a sense of security. Yet I encountered God powerfully, and I came to know that he alone was enough.[ii]
God has put me in the waiting room a number of times both before and during my 50 years of local church ministry. I’ve waited between pastorates. I’ve waited for relationships to heal. I’ve wrestled with God when sidelined with illness. In the waiting room I’ve chosen to cast myself upon God because I had no other place to turn. I’ve received understanding and encouragement from friends – most of them pastors outside the church I was serving – who provided the elixir to my parched and weary soul.
I’ve learned more about trusting God in seasons of waiting than at any other chapter of my life. The key question I’ve asked myself n the waiting room is “Can I trust God? Is God’s character reliable to both teach me what I need to learn and see me through?” The answer has always been “Yes. God is trustworthy.”
In sum, thriving leaders are in no way exempt from God’s sovereign call to wait. Often beyond our awareness, God grows our faith and strengthens our character while he orchestrates deep healing and increases our trust and readiness to serve with emboldened, thriving leadership.
[i] From Jeff Strong’s article, Jesus Wants You to Wait. Christianity Today, June 24, 2015.