Have you ever noticed how much of our lives are spent waiting?
Coincidentally, just as I typed that opening sentence my cell phone rang and Sue was on the other end of the line. She called while waiting at a railroad crossing for a train to pass.
We wait in doctors’ offices. We wait for a package to show up in the mail. We wait to be seated at a popular restaurant. This past summer, Sue and I waited for our first two grandbabies to arrive.
Sometimes the waiting game is extremely stressful. Like when we’re out of work and waiting for somebody to respond to the job applications we’ve filled out. Or when we’re waiting for the medical lab to return a biopsy report. Or when we’re waiting for a wayward child to return home.
Joseph waited to be released from prison. That was one of my observations while reading in Genesis this past week. I was struck by the length of time this guy’s life was left hanging in limbo — and one of the observations to make whenever reading the Bible is to look for something striking.
Why did Joseph’s waiting game grab my attention? The fact is: I’m not always sure why some things strike me when I’m reading the Bible. They just do.
So I underline them or put an exclamation point in the margin next to them. Then I finish reading the passage for the day. When the last verse has been read, I go back to everything I’ve marked up and ruminate on those lines for a few minutes. Why did the Holy Spirit (Who’s my personal tutor whenever I’m reading God’s Word) want me to pause and reflect here? Is there a specific application for my life?
I admit that finding something striking in Scripture can be a bit subjective. It’s not like the other three kinds of observations I coach you to make as you read the Bible. (See my book Walk for a fuller explanation of the COMA Bible study method — of which observations are the O step.) Do you recall the other three categories of observations for which to keep an open eye? Theme. Repeating words or ideas. Truths about God. These are all very concrete, objective matters to discover in a text.
But something striking is not so cut and dry. It’s much more personal. It requires not just an open eye, but also an ear that’s listening hard for the voice of the Holy Spirit.
Let me tell you why Joseph’s waiting caught my attention as I read Genesis this past week. Chapter 40 closed on a very dismaying note: “The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him” (v.23).
This guy had been Joseph’s fellow prisoner. Joseph had done a huge favor for the dude, interpreting his dream and encouraging him with the news that he would soon be released and returned to his old job of serving Pharaoh. The only thing that Joseph asked of the cupbearer was for the guy to remember him after getting out of jail — to bring up Joseph’s case to the appropriate authorities.
But the guy forgot about Joseph. That was the last thing I read on Friday as I followed the Scripture Union daily Bible reading schedule. Saturday I picked up my Bible and the opening verse for the day (Genesis 41:1) began: “When two full years had passed …” Two full years? You’ve got to be kidding me! That phrase jumped off the page at me. It was definitely something striking.
Why? Well, I was already feeling sorry for Joseph for having been thrown into prison unjustly. And when the lug-headed cupbearer forgot about him, I felt even worse. But to be left to rot for two years? 730 days? 17, 520 hours? Yes, I already knew the end of the story when I read that line. I knew that Joseph would soon be released, given a job as Pharaoh’s right-hand man and vindicated before his enemies. But Joseph didn’t know that when he was sitting in prison — waiting for God to deliver him.
I am currently waiting for God to show up in some situations in my life. Stuff I’ve prayed about. I’m not the most patient waiter in the world. Not even close. Joseph’s story gave me hope this week. It reminded me that God is sovereignly working out His purposes for my life — even though it sometimes seems like He’s taking too long or has forgotten me.
What are you waiting for?