Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
“I wait on thee.” Psalm 25:21
In the great biblical thought of waiting upon God, there are several interwoven strands of meaning, and it is well to try to distinguish some of these that we may better grasp the importance of the term.
The first meaning, nestling at the heart of it and never absent from the mind of any writer, is the concept of dependence. As the baby waits upon its mother for without its mother it will die; as the anguished patient waits upon the surgeon for in the skill of the surgeon is the hope of life, so when one is said to wait on God there is implied an entire dependence upon Him. There is a sense, in biblical phraseology, in which this waiting is a universal thing. “The eyes of all things living to wait on thee.” The bird that sings, the beast that hunts its prey–all of them are waiting upon God. But such an inescapable dependence does not bring the thought to its full blossoming. That demands a dependence which is conscious. It is when we realize, however dimly, that in Him we live and move and have our being, it is when we wake to the mysterious certainty that we all hang on God for every heartbeat–it is only then the word comes to its fullness in the deep usage of the Scriptures, and man is said to be waiting upon God.
Another strand of meaning in the word takes us into the region of obedience. To wait on is another term for service. The man who serves us when we sit down at the table and who is there just to supply our wants, we still distinguish by the name of water. When a prime minister waits upon the king, that is not an idle sauntering business. It is part of the service to which he has been called, a service which demands his highest energies. And so when a man is said to wait On God, it is not a negation of activity, for the thought of service runs right through the term. We wait on God whenever we help a brother and do it lovingly for Jesus’ sake. We wait on God when we teach our little class or climb the stairs to cheer some lonely soul. The servant in the kitchen waits on God when for His sake she does her duty faithfully. The mistress in the living room waits on God when for His sake she is a lady to her servants. We are all apt to forget that and to narrow down these fine old Bible words. We are prone to limit the great thought of waiting to the single region of devotion. But the root idea of it is not devotion. The root idea is simple, quiet obedience. And what doth the Lord thy God require of thee but to obey?
Another of the interwoven strands is love: in true waiting that is invariably present. As love is the source of all the highest work, so is it the spring of all the finest waiting. Jacob waited for Rachel seven years, and the years were as a day or two to Jacob because of the great love he had for her. What makes the mother wait upon her child and rise from her pillow when she hears it cry? What makes her wait on it with tireless patience when it frets or tosses with fever? She may be only a frail and sickly woman, but she never wearies of waiting on her child, and the secret of it is a mother’s love. Love beareth all things and endureth all things. Love can wait with a patience all her own. Love can achieve miracles of waiting, as many a young engaged couple knows. And that is why, if we are ever to wait nobly, in the teeth of all our natural impatience, we must be taught to love the Lord our God. It must have been very hard in the times of the older covenant for the common man to wait on God, for God seemed very far away then, and clouds and darkness were about His throne. But now, under the new covenant and by the revealing grace of the Redeemer, it is within the reach and compass of us all. If we hold to it that “God so loved the world,” if we say believingly “Our Father,” love to God, once so supremely difficult, is in the range of the ordinary heart. And, lovingly, we can wait as Jacob waited, and as the mother waits upon her child, with a service that knows no weariness at all.
There is only one other strand woven in the word and that is the strand of eager, tense expectancy. To wait on, in a hundred spheres of life, is eagerly and tensely to expect. You see that in the dumb creatures–watch the dog waiting on his master. Is the master going to give him a bit of food? Is he going to throw that stick into the stream? You see that in any court of law when the accused waits on the verdict or the judge with an expectancy so tense that it is painful. Now apply that to the realm of prayer and how it illuminates the matter! To wait on God is not just to pray to God, for many pray and never expect an answer. To wait on God is to pray with the tense expectancy that the prayer we offer will be answered, for He is the answer to prayer. All prayer is not waiting upon God in the full and highest sense of the Old Testament. For a man may rise from his knees and forget the thing he prayed for and fail to keep on the lookout for an answer. Only when we pray and pray believingly, and climb the watchtower to see the answer coming, do we reach the fullness of that fine old term waiting upon God.