I’ve mentioned waiting periods in our faith a few times on the blog already, but I’ve never dedicated an entire space to talking about them. So today, let’s discuss a little bit more about waiting periods in our faith.
I’ve never met anybody who likes waiting. When we desperately seek God and don’t receive an answer, however, it can be frustrating and even cause us to fear that we’ve somehow messed up. “Did I misunderstand God? Did I stop listening to Him?”
If this is you, then fear not. Sometimes we’re in a waiting period because we’re directly in the will of God. We can clearly see this by looking at Noah.
Learning More About Waiting Periods in our Faith
You know Noah. He was the only righteous man in the entire world after Enoch and Methuselah moved on. God was so grieved that He wanted to wipe the Earth clean, but He used Noah and his family to build an ark. Two-by-two the animals went marching in, and thus began the flood.
If your understanding of the Great Flood is limited to the blockbuster movie Noah, then you might want to go read Genesis 6-8. For those who do have a pretty good understanding, we’re just looking at a few verses out of the entire account.
11 In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the sources of the watery depths burst open, the floodgates of the sky were opened, 12 and the rain fell on the earth 40 days and 40 nights.
The point here is not that Noah was six-hundred years old. It’s that the flood started on the seventeenth day of the second month of Noah’s six-hundredth year.
13 In the six hundred and first year, in the first month, on the first day of the month, the water that had covered the earth was dried up. Then Noah removed the ark’s cover and saw that the surface of the ground was drying. 14 By the twenty-seventh day of the second month, the earth was dry.
15 Then God spoke to Noah, 16 “Come out of the ark, you, your wife, your sons, and your sons’ wives with you.
Most of Genesis 8 reads like a castaway’s diary by narrating significant events that happened on specific days. During this time, there are small intervals of noted change (like the ark becoming grounded on seventeenth day of the seventh month (that’s five months after the rain started) or Moses sending out the different birds (the raven was sent out in the eleventh month).
It was an entire year and ten days from the start of the rain until Noah and his family left the ark.
Definition of Waiting Periods
A waiting period is an easy way of saying, “I haven’t heard from God in my life recently.”
I believe that all Christians experience these waiting periods in their faith, but some experience them more frequently or for longer periods of time than others. And for a person who once had a very close and personal relationship with God, it can be devastating to suddenly feel that loss of connection.
Sometimes waiting periods happen because we do go outside of the will of God. They can be a direct consequence to our disobedience to the Lord. We can see this with Jonah’s belly of the whale moment after he refused to go to Ninevah like God commanded.
Sometimes, though, our waiting periods happen exactly because we are in the will of God.
Learning from Noah
Sometimes We’re Told Our Starting Point but not the End
When God originally called Noah to build the ark, He told Noah that it would rain forty days and forty nights. God also said the purpose was to wipe out everything living outside of the ark. That was it.
Most people focus on how frightening that storm must have been, but I don’t think the forty days of rain was the worst part. After all, Noah and his family had God’s words to inspire faith during the initial storm.
But the nearly four months after the rain stopped while they just floated on the water? They didn’t know that’s what they were in for.
Those six months spent on the mountain top as they watched the water slowly drop until they were finally able to see the tops of other mountains? They didn’t know about that, either.
The week intervals between the rounds of releasing the birds to get hints about the viability of the new world? That wasn’t highlighted in the plan either.
Noah and his family lived what had to have been one of the most painful waiting periods ever. There wasn’t a lot to do. There were no prophets or wise mentors to turn to for advice or confirmation. It was just Noah, his family, and a bunch of animals all stuck waiting.
When we start to follow God’s commands, we often think that we know the plan. So when things don’t turn out the way we expect, most of us start panicking on the inside. “Wait – I thought the plan was forty days of rain, not a year stuck on a boat after that!”
Yet there doesn’t seem to be a response from God. Why? Because even when it feels like you’re wildly off-course, you’re still following His plan for you one step at a time.
“But how do you know that God wasn’t speaking to them during all of this?”
Fair question. I don’t think the Bible records every little detail. It’s possible that there was some strong communion with God during those days in the ark. However, I have to wonder why Noah felt a need to release the birds if Noah had heard from God how many days they would actually spend on the ark.
After all, it has been traditionally taught that Noah released the birds to see if it were safe for them to leave yet. I personally see that as an act of desperation akin to praying, “God, I don’t know what’s going on. I just need a sign. Can I have a sign? Hmmm…there was no sign. You’re right. I just need to have faith in You. But are you sure I can’t have a sign? Let me release a dove just to make sure.”
I don’t mean to make light of Noah’s faith. I’m simply sharing a dialogue that I know all too well. Why? Because it’s my own dialogue when I’m in a waiting period. And if I were Noah, I know I would be trying to think of some way to receive a sign from God, too.
“If this dove would just bring me a branch of a tree, I’ll know that everything is going just fine.”
“If this post goes viral, I’ll know that I really was called to blog and to share these messages.”
And you know what? Sometimes, in those moments when we feel like we can’t go on, God really does send a sign. Noah’s third bird came back to him. The third bird found a place where he could live, and it still came back to the ark.
It’s been those moments in my own life when I caved to the pressure and cried out to God when He swiftly responded. And it’s because of those moments where God was faithful to comfort the brokenhearted that give me strength for future waiting periods. I’ve learned that God is still there, even when I feel like I haven’t heard from Him.
So what do we do when we’re stuck in the middle of the waiting period? You…
Keep On Doing What You Were Called to Do
Noah and his family had no choice but to keep doing what God had called them to do: keep the animals housed in the ark safe.
This meant that day after day, Noah and his family had to feed the animals. They had to muck out the rooms and provide water for the animals. They probably even had to groom some of the creatures so they could all tolerate living together. (Have you ever seen how much giant cats shed?)
It wasn’t glamorous, but it’s what God called them to do. That calling didn’t change when they entered a waiting period.
Sometimes we’ll be called to do a certain thing. Maybe that’s motherhood, or maybe it’s to be a Sunday School teacher. For myself, it’s writing this blog one post a week.
When we enter a waiting period, we need to learn how to move forward despite doubts by – just like Noah and his family – doing what we last felt called to do.
Why This is Important
We hear a lot of talk about backslidden Christians these days. That term really bugs me. Yes, Christians can slide back into sin, but the prevalence of that term seems to marginalize the why of backsliding.
In this instance, it’s important to understand about waiting periods because there are some dangerous pitfalls that can lead to backsliding if you find yourself in the middle of one:
- “This doesn’t seem to be working. What else can I do?”
- “Why has God abandoned me in this moment?”
- “Maybe I’m not worthy enough for God to speak to me…”
- “Did I mess up?”
All of these internal questions can distract us from what God called us to do in the now. They all assume that a period of silence from God means that something is wrong.
Sometimes, a waiting period means that everything is right.
If you’re currently in a waiting period and you’re not sure what the reason is, just look back on the last time you knew God told you to do something. If you’re doing it, then continue doing what you were called to do. If you aren’t, then you probably need to return to a point of obedience.
(And if you aren’t sure that you’ve ever heard God speak to you, then you’ll be interested in the Learning God’s Voice and How Does God Speak to Us series.)
- Ask: “Am I currently in a waiting period right now? What was the last thing that God called me to do.”
- Do: Always strive to live in obedience to your best understanding of God’s will for your life.
- Pray: “Dear God, please help me to remember that sometimes you are silent because I’m exactly where I need to be doing what I need to be doing. Amen.”