Spiritual Muscle Development
So, what happens inside you when you're asked to wait? Is waiting, for you a time of strengthening or weakening? Have you ever stopped to consider why God asks you to wait? Let me point you to one of his purposes.
When God asks you to wait, what happens to your spiritual muscles? While you wait, do your spiritual muscles grow bigger and stronger or do they grow flaccid and atrophied? Waiting for the Lord isn’t about God forgetting you, forsaking you, or being unfaithful to his promises. It’s actually God giving you time to consider his glory and to grow stronger in faith. Remember, waiting isn’t just about what you are hoping for at the end of the wait, but also about what you'll become as you wait.
Waiting always presents me with a spiritual choice-point. Will I allow myself to question God’s goodness and progressively grow weaker in faith, or will I embrace the opportunity of faith that God is giving me and build my spiritual muscles? (See Psalm 27:4).
It’s so easy to question your belief system when you’re not sure what God is doing. It’s so easy to give way to doubt when you’re being called to wait. It’s so easy to forsake good habits and to take up habits of unfaith that weaken the muscles of the heart. Let me suggest some habits of unfaith that cause waiting to be a time of increasing weakness rather than of building strength. These are bad habits that all of us are tempted to give way to.
Giving way to doubt. There’s a fine line between the struggle to wait and giving way to doubt. When you’re called to wait, you’re being called to do something that wasn’t part of your plan and is therefore something that you struggle to see as good. Because you’re naturally convinced that what you want is right and good, it doesn’t seem loving that you’re being asked to wait. You can see how tempting it is then to begin to consider questioning God’s wisdom, goodness, and love. It's tempting, in the frustration of waiting, to actually begin to believe that you’re smarter than God.
Giving way to anger. It’s very easy to look around and begin to think that the bad guys are being blessed and the good guys are getting hammered (see Psalm 73). There will be times when it simply doesn’t seem right that you’ve had to wait for something that seems so obviously good to you. It will feel that you’re being wronged, and when it does, it seems right to be angry. Because of this, it’s important to understand that the anger you feel in these moments is more than anger with the people or circumstances that are the visible cause for your waiting. Your anger is actually anger with the One who is in control of those people and those circumstances. You’re actually giving way to thinking that you've been wronged by him.
Giving way to discouragement. This is where I begin to let my heart run away with the “If only_____,” the “What if_____,” and the “What will happen if_____.” I begin to give my mind over to thinking about what will happen if my request isn’t answered soon, or what in the world will happen if it’s not answered at all. This kind of meditation makes me feel that my life is out of control. And I’m able to think my life is out of control because I’ve forgotten God's wise and gracious control over every part of my existence. Rather than my heart being filled with joy, my heart gets flooded with worry and dread. Free mental time is spent considering my dark future, with all the resulting discouragement that will always follow.
Giving way to envy. When I am waiting, it’s very tempting to look over the fence and wish for the life of someone who doesn’t appear to have been called to wait. It’s very easy to take on an “I wish I were that guy” way of living. You can’t give way to envy without questioning God’s wisdom and his love. Here’s the logic: if God really loves you as much as he loves that other guy, you’d have what the other guy has. Envy is about feeling forgotten and forsaken, coupled with a craving to have what your neighbor enjoys.
Giving way to inactivity. The result of giving way to all of these things is inactivity. If God isn’t as good and wise as I once thought he was, if he withholds good things from his children, and if he plays favorites, then why would I continue to pursue him? Maybe all those habits of faith aren’t helping me after all; maybe I’ve been kidding myself.
Sadly, this is the course that many people take as they wait. Rather than growing in faith, their motivation for spiritual exercise is destroyed by doubt, anger, discouragement, and envy, and the muscles of faith that were once robust and strong are now atrophied and weak.
The reality of waiting is that it’s an expression of God’s goodness, not empirical evidence against it. He’s wise and loving. His timing is always right, and his focus isn’t so much on what you’ll experience and enjoy, but on what you’ll become. He’s committed to using every tool at his disposal to rescue you from yourself and to shape you into the likeness of his Son. The fact is that waiting is one of his primary shaping tools.
So, how do you build your spiritual muscles during the wait? Well, you must commit yourself to resisting those habits of unfaith, and with discipline pursue a rigorous routine of spiritual exercise.
What is the equipment in God’s gym of faith? Here’s the things that he’s designed for you to build the muscles of your heart and strengthen your resolve: the regular study of his Word; consistent godly fellowship; looking for God’s glory in creation every day; putting yourself under excellent preaching and teaching of Scripture; investing your quiet mental time in meditating on the goodness of God (e.g., as you are going off to sleep); reading excellent Christian books; and spending ample time in prayer. All of these things will result in spiritual strength and vitality.
Is God asking you to wait? So what’s happening to your muscles?