Life’s Most Difficult Lesson
Lessons are an ongoing part of life. Although an academic education comes to an end, we never cease learning vital spiritual lessons. The truths that God teaches us are invaluable and practical because they affect our character development, choices, and lifestyle. Their influence reaches beyond our earthly lifetimes all the way into eternity.
One of the most difficult faith lessons we will ever learn is to wait upon the Lord. Maybe you are facing a critical decision and don’t know which way to go. Or perhaps you have been praying about a certain matter, but God is simply not responding. Is a difficult or painful situation wearing you down because there’s just no end in sight?
At such times, the only thing we want is instant relief or immediate direction, yet Psalm 27:14 says, “Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord.” To wait for the Lord means to remain in your present circumstances or environment until He gives further instruction. Far from encouraging passivity, this verse calls for an active choice to be at rest, trusting in God and His timing. It’s not a cessation of daily activities but an internal stillness of spirit that accompanies you throughout the day.
Why God Lets Us Wait
Waiting is especially tough when a situation is stressful or a decision must be made soon. But understanding why the Lord hasn’t answered our prayers, brought relief, or given direction can help us trust in His wisdom and timing.
Sometimes we are not ready for the next step. God has plans for us, but there are instances when He stops us in our tracks until we do a little “internal housecleaning.” Maybe we have been tolerating a sin in our life or need to deal with bad attitudes or ungodly thought patterns. The Lord has places to take us, and He knows what baggage needs to be left behind.
The delay could also have the purpose of training us for His calling. David was anointed king when he was a young man, but he spent many years in the wilderness, fleeing from Saul. Through all the difficulty, God refined his character and sharpened his leadership skills. When the time was right, He brought him to the throne.
In the same way, God may keep you in an uncomfortable place, a boring job, or a challenging situation. But remember this: He is preparing you for something far better. Cooperate with His training program while you wait, knowing that His plans for you are good.
Perhaps all the details of God’s will are not yet in place. The Lord is the master of time and sovereignly works out all the specifics of His grand design for humanity. No amount of prayer or fasting will move His hand until He is ready. When Moses saw the oppression of the Israelites, he tried to right the situation by killing an abusive Egyptian (Ex. 2:11-12). But the Lord used this situation to redirect him to the desert for 40 years until the king of Egypt died (vv. 23-25). Then He set His plan of deliverance in motion using a much humbler 80-year-old Moses.
At times the Lord’s delays are designed to increase our faith. If He instantaneously gave us everything we wanted, we would never learn to walk by faith. But when we have only a promise from the Scriptures with no visible evidence to rely upon, then our faith is put to the test. Will we believe Him or our circumstances? By confidently clinging to God’s Word and knowing that He has never failed to fulfill His promises, we will eventually see the evidence of His faithfulness every time.
The Lord wants to teach us endurance. Like it or not, the ability to persist under difficult circumstances is an absolutely essential ingredient of the Christian life. Scripture tells us that “tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope” (Rom. 5:3-4). Our hardships are designed, not to crush us but to refine us into the image of Christ. When we abide under the pressure with complete reliance on the Lord for His strength and perspective, we come out of the process looking more like our Savior.
Perhaps our attention needs to be refocused on Christ. It’s easy to become so absorbed in our own concerns that we forget about Him, but nothing grabs our attention like a difficult or confusing situation. If God doesn’t rush to give an answer or fix the problem, then we, in our desperation, start to make Him our main focus. However, there is a difference between seeking the Lord and seeking His intervention. If our thoughts are only on what we want Him to do for us, we’ve missed the mark. To wait for the Lord means our focus is on Him, not simply on our desired outcome.
My deficiencies in life are all a result of me not having patience and faith in God’s plan for my life. As He has matured me to understand that His word is my strength, knowledge and protection my life has been so much better.
How We Are to Wait
The fruitfulness of our time in God’s waiting room is very dependent upon our attitudes and mindset in the process. Fretting and pacing not only fail to speed things up; they also result in emotional turmoil. The Lord has a better way.
Wait patiently, quietly, and dependently. This kind of attitude is possible only for those who have submitted to the Lord’s authority over them. If we believe and accept that He has our best interests at heart and can work it all out for our good, then we are able to rest in His right to choose the method and timing. When we truly trust Him, there will be no maneuvering, manipulating, or rushing ahead.
Stand upon God’s Word. The Bible is our anchor in times of waiting. One of the wisest things you can do is to read the Scriptures every day, asking God to give you passages which will bring stability to your life. As I look back in my old Bibles as well as in my present one, I see marked verses that carried me through the tough times. Don’t merely rely on prayer when you experience difficulty or require direction. Hang on to a specific word from God that will give you His perspective and promise in your situation. Then you can confidently pray, “Lord, here is what You promised me in Your Word. And You can never go against Your promises, so I will cling to this truth while I wait upon You.”
Wait confidently, believing Him. Having submitted ourselves to God and anchored ourselves with His Word, we can confidently watch for His will to unfold. He knows exactly what to do and when to accomplish it. He has the power to rearrange any detail to bring about His desired plan. All we have to do is believe Him and watch for His intervention or direction.
Hindrances to Waiting
Knowing that the unfolding of God’s will comes to those who patiently wait for Him, why do we so often go our own way instead?
We live hurried lifestyles. Our culture is action-oriented. To be still and wait for direction from God seems counterproductive, so we jump in to get results. Besides, sitting quietly with the Lord takes too much time. We prefer to ask Him for guidance in the car on the way to work. Our schedules are full, and the prospect of spending uninterrupted, unhurried time seeking the mind of Christ seems impossible. But that is the only way to hear His voice and know His heart.
We have a short-term perspective. Fast food restaurants, express checkouts, and drive-through coffee shops are proof of the “have it now” mentality in our society. If you doubt this, watch the impatience of people standing in line at the supermarket or sitting at a traffic light. We want everything quickly, but there’s no fast track to spiritual maturity, and learning to wait on the Lord is a crucial element in the development of godly character. Our demand for immediate gratification has blinded us to the benefits of waiting for a greater reward. By learning to trust the Lord and rely on His timing, we will experience recurring benefits throughout our lifetime and in heaven as well.
We seek the advice of others. Where do you go when you don’t know what to do? If you get on the phone and describe your situation to three or four friends, you will very likely receive different advice from each one. Although the counsel of others can be valuable, it should always be filtered through the truth of God’s Word. Make it a habit to seek the Lord’s guidance before going to any outside source. After all, He alone knows the specific plans He has for you.
We doubt that God will come through for us. When deadlines for decisions loom or unwanted situations remain unchanged, we might begin to wonder if the Lord will ever intervene. Our circumstances shout, “God has forgotten about you!” However, just because we can’t see anything happening doesn’t mean the Lord is uninvolved. His eyes roam throughout the earth “that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His” (2 Chron. 16:9). When your eyes can’t see the evidence, trust what you know is true.
The Results of Waiting
What can we expect from the Lord if we choose to let Him direct our path? First of all, He promises to hear and answer those who wait patiently for Him (Ps. 40:1) and give them clear instructions so they can follow His path (Ps. 25:4-5). They will also experience all the good He has in store for them, since they’ve remained in His will instead of running in their own direction (Lam. 3:25).
One of the most surprising results will be increased strength (Isa. 40:31). Normally,we feel strong when we are actively taking charge, plotting our course, and making things happen. But the Lord’s ways are so different from ours. He promises to strengthen the one who remains still and quiet before Him, actively listening for His voice. He empowers us to endure the wait, and when He finally speaks, He gives us the strength to do what He says.
I don’t know what you are waiting for, but I do know that if you believe what God tells you in His Word and patiently rest in His choice and timing for your situation, you’ll experience a new spirit of joy and confidence. You see, the Lord is always faithful to those who seek Him and watch for His plans to unfold right on schedule. He never fails to come through. Believe His promises and rest confidently in the assurance of Isaiah 49:23: “Those who hopefully wait for Me will not be put to shame.”
Questions for Further Study
To make the most of your time in God’s waiting room, ask yourself these questions:
- Where is my focus? Where is Jeremiah’s focus in Lamentations 3:19-20? What deliberate change does he make in his thinking, and what are the results (vv. 21-23)? How does this new perspective transform his attitude about his situation and the Lord’s purposes for him (vv. 24-26)?
- Where is my strength? Read Isaiah 40:27-31. When it seems as if the Lord has forgotten us, how can the description of Him in verse 28 stabilize our faith? What does He promise to give those who wait for Him? According to Isaiah 30:15-21, where is our strength found? Describe the outcome of refusing God’s way and running ahead of Him in our own strength. What will He do if we wait for Him?
- Where is my hope? In Psalm 130:5, where does the psalmist place his hope while he waits? How can we know God will keep His word (Isa. 55:10-11)? How do the preceding two verses (vv. 8-9) reassure us when the delay is long or the process is confusing? What are the benefits of believing God while we wait (Rom. 15:13)?
Three years ago the Legislature passed a law resulting in a dramatic change on how California would hold people accountable for violating our laws. AB 109, or Realignment, was passed to address the overcrowding conditions in our state prisons. Touted as freeing nonserious, nonviolent offenders, Realignment ostensibly released low-level criminals from prison. During this time period, over 30,000 inmates have been transferred to local custody or supervision.
It costs about $50,000 a year to lock someone up in a California prison or a county jail — more than 10 times the state’s per-pupil expenditure for public education.
Despite investing hundreds of billions of dollars in new prisons and jails over the past 30 years, California’s correctional facilities are crowded beyond capacity. The state is under a federal court order to reduce its prison population. And after assuming more responsibility for corrections, many counties are releasing inmates early, either under court orders or self-imposed caps on jail crowding.
Building prisons isn’t the answer. But putting fewer people behind bars might alleviate the problem.
Some experts have argued for years that a small investment in education, mental health and crime prevention programs would produce big savings on incarceration. But that’s a long-term strategy in a state with upwards of 190,000 inmates in its prisons and jails.
So the state corrections budget climbed to $9 billion a year. Meanwhile, cheered on by police, prosecutors and the union representing the state’s prison guards, voters and legislators enacted increasingly harsh sentences — and not just for violent crimes. That fueled the need for new prisons and a costly culture of recidivism.
There’s an opportunity to try prevention on a wide scale.
The initiative reduces the classification of most “nonserious and nonviolent property and drug crimes” from a felony to a misdemeanor. Specifically, the initiative:
- Mandates misdemeanors instead of felonies for “non-serious, nonviolent crimes,” unless the defendant has prior convictions for murder, rape, certain sex offenses or certain gun crimes. A list of crimes that will be affected by the penalty reduction are listed below.
- Permits re-sentencing for anyone currently serving a prison sentence for any of the offenses that the initiative reduces to misdemeanors. About 10,000 inmates will be eligible for resentencing, according to Lenore Anderson of Californians for Safety and Justice.
- Requires a “thorough review” of criminal history and risk assessment of any individuals before re-sentencing to ensure that they do not pose a risk to the public.
- Creates a Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund. The fund will receive appropriations based on savings accrued by the state during the fiscal year, as compared to the previous fiscal year, due to the initiative’s implementation. Estimates range from $150 million to $250 million per year.
- Distributes funds from the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund as follows: 25 percent to the Department of Education, 10 percent to the Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board and 65 percent to the Board of State and Community Correction.
The measure requires misdemeanor sentencing instead of felony for the following crimes:
- Shoplifting, where the value of property stolen does not exceed $950
- Grand theft, where the value of the stolen property does not exceed $950
- Receiving stolen property, where the value of the property does not exceed $950
- Forgery, where the value of forged check, bond or bill does not exceed $950
- Fraud, where the value of the fraudulent check, draft or order does not exceed $950
- Writing a bad check, where the value of the check does not exceed $950
- Personal use of most illegal drugs
The initiative was pushed by George Gascón, San Francisco District Attorney, and William Lansdowne, former San Diego Police Chief.
For a long time, the conventional political wisdom was that no one ever lost an election for being too tough on crime. That wisdom has been turned on its head in recent years, as both politicians and the public are realizing how much damage the lock-’em-up mind-set has caused.
In recent polls asking about the most important problems facing the country, crime ranks way at the bottom. That’s because crime is at its lowest levels in decades, even while overstuffed prisons cripple state budgets.
A familiar retort is that crime is down precisely because the prisons are full, but that’s simply not true. Multiple studies show that crime has gone down faster in states that have reduced their prison populations.
An encouraging example comes from California, the site of some the worst excesses of the mass incarceration era, but also some of the more innovative responses to it.
For five years, the state has been under federal court order to reduce extreme overcrowding in its prisons. In response, voters in 2012 overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure to scale back the state’s notorious “three-strikes” law, leading to the release, so far, of more than 1,900 prisoners who had been serving life in prison — in some cases, for petty theft.
Dire warnings that crime would go up as a result were unfounded. Over two years, the recidivism rate of former three-strikes inmates is 3.4 percent, or less than one-tenth of the state’s average. That’s, in large part, because of a strong network of re-entry services.
The 2012 measure has provided the model for an even bigger proposed release of prisoners that California voters will consider on the ballot next week. Under Proposition 47, many low-level drug and property offenses — like shoplifting, writing bad checks or simple drug possession — would be converted from felonies to misdemeanors.
That would cut an average of about a year off the sentences of up to 10,000 inmates, potentially saving the state hundreds of millions of dollars annually. To keep people from returning to prison, or from going in the first place, the savings would be invested in anti-truancy efforts and other programs like mental health and drug-abuse treatment. Some would go to victims’ services, a perennially underfinanced part of the justice system.
Law-enforcement officials, not surprisingly, oppose the measure, warning that crime will go up. But they’ve already been proved wrong on three-strikes reform.
Californians — who support the proposition by a healthy margin, according to polls — have now seen for themselves that they don’t have to choose between reducing prison populations and protecting public safety.
It is very rare for lawmakers anywhere to approve legislation to shorten sentences for people already in prison; it is virtually unheard-of to do it by ballot measure. California’s continuing experiment on sentencing can be a valuable lesson to states around the country looking for smart and safe ways to unravel America’s four-decade incarceration binge.