Last week we talked about waiting for Christmas, waiting in chronic illness, and waiting in unanswered prayer.
This week is about how to wait in a chronic illness.
Waiting in Action
We know God will answer our prayers eventually–if not here on Earth, at least in Heaven.
So what do we do while we wait?
Let’s look at the Israelites again. What did they do while they waited for their Messiah?
1. They obeyed God. Through Moses on Mount Sinai, God gave His people clear instructions on how to live for His glory. They followed these laws in matters both big and small.
2. They knew and worshipped God. Their lives weren’t limited to mere actions of obedience to God. No, they knew Him. They believed Him. They saw Him work on their behalf. And they worshipped Him–in their lives and with their sacrifices–for who He was.
3. They looked ahead in faith. Every sacrifice they brought to the tabernacle or temple foreshadowed the Messiah’s sacrificial death and reminded them of God’s plan of redemption. Their salvation came not as ours does, in looking back at Christ’s death on the cross, but in looking ahead to it.
“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”Hebrews 11:13, emphasis added
Following the Israelites’ example along with biblical truths, here are six basic principles for us to practice as we wait in our chronic illness:
In his book Off Script: What to Do When God Rewrites Your Life, pastor Cary Schmidt concludes his chapter on waiting and hoping in God with a brief study of Mary, Jesus’s mother, and her response to the unexpected message from Gabriel that rewrote her life:
“When she could have been fearful–she was steady. When she should have been nervous, anxious, and worried–she was steadfast and patient. When she might have been resistant, hesitant, or reticent–she was unquestioningly confident. . . . .
“She truly was surrendered. She knew the meaning of the title ‘Lord.’ She recognized who she was in God’s plan–His handmaid–a female servant. And she chose to rejoice–to delight abundantly in God’s plan.”Off Script, pp. 117-181
Only when we surrender to God’s plan–letting go of our own plans, dreams, expectations, and desires–can we know peace, joy, and contentment in our waiting.
Don’t stop praying.
Andrew Murray writes,
“If no answer comes, we are not to sit down in the sloth that calls itself resignation, and suppose that it is not God’s will to give an answer. No; there must be something in the prayer that is not as God would have it, childlike and believing; we must seek for grace to pray so that the answer may come. It is far easier to the flesh to submit without the answer than to yield itself to be searched and purified by the Spirit, until it has learnt to pray the prayer of faith.”With Christ in the School of Prayer, p. 892
But also do some soul-searching. Delve into the Scriptures to see if what you’re praying aligns with God’s Word. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you your own heart, to reveal why you’re praying what you’re praying.
If your motives are wrong, ask God to help you change what–or why–you pray.
Just as the Israelites served God, with their lives and with their sacrifices, so can we.
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”Romans 12:1
There is always something you can do.
Don’t wait to serve God until you’re healthy, until you’re strong, until you feel good. Find ways you can serve God now, in your valley. Even if they’re small ways.
Even if you can’t be busy, at least be active in the Kingdom of God.
Don’t give up hope. God’s promises will be fulfilled.
As Cary Schmidt writes,
“Don’t lose hope. Don’t stop believing that God is good and that God keeps His promises. He promises us that the enduring, the patient suffering will not last forever. There will come a moment when you have accomplished the will of God and will receive the promise. This is all going somewhere, and it’s all too important for you to lose faith or hope. Hear the voice of God through His Word essentially saying, ‘Hang in there! I’m going to make it worth it!’”Off Script, p. 108
Like the Israelites, we can keep looking ahead in faith to the fulfillment of all God’s promises.
I like the way Cary Schmidt puts it:
“So, here we are–off script. There’s nothing we can do to ‘fix’ it because it isn’t broken.”Off Script, p. 119
So if we can’t fix it, let’s embrace it. Let’s live in the moment, be 100% where we are, enjoy the journey and not just the destination. Let’s put aside the map we’ve written for our lives and let God take us where He wants.
Let’s even embrace the waiting.
Phillip Keller shows us what this embracing can look like:
“We will quickly find out that we do not go through life fighting the people or problems put in our path–we do not quarrel and complain with our lot in life. . . . Instead we face whatever arrangements God our Father makes for us as His proper and appropriate provision for us. We accept these as the great, good mills of God that will grind us into fine flour to feed His hungry people. . . . In such acceptance there lies peace, but also beyond that there also emerges patience. Not a grudging, shriveled sort of sour stoicism, but a cheerful delight in the divine work of the Master Gardener in my life.”A Gardener Looks at the Fruits of the Spirit, pp. 516-5173
This “cheerful delight” is a trademark of not just surrendering our plans to God but also embracing His design while we wait.
“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.”James 1:2-3
This passage promises us that our trials–our valleys, our narrow places of suffering–are working good for us. They are testing our faith and thereby producing patience in us. Building our spiritual character.
The word “patience” here is the Greek word hypomone–literally, to bear under.
James isn’t talking about the test of how much faith we have. He’s talking about the test of how long our faith will last.
I’m reminded of a story from the life of Louie Zamporini, the American Olympic runner who, as a lieutenant of the Army Air Forces during WWII, survived incredible odds stranded on the Pacific Ocean and as a POW of the Japanese:
“Out in the compound, the Bird [the Japanese warden Watanabe] halted. Lying on the ground before them was a thick, heavy wooden beam, some six feet long. Pick it up, the Bird said. With some effort, Louie hoisted it up, and the Bird ordered him to lift it high and hold it directly over his head. Louie heaved the beam up. The Bird called a guard over. If the prisoner lowers his arms, the Bird told him, hit him with your gun. The Bird walked to a nearby shack, climbed on the roof, and settled in to watch.”
Watanabe waited, but Louie continued to hold the beam, staring defiantly at him until finally, infuriated, Watanabe came down from the roof and beat Louie.
“When [Louie] woke, he didn’t know where he was or what had happened. He saw Wade and some other POWs, along with a few guards, crouched around him. The Bird was gone. Louie had no memory of the last several minutes, and had no idea how long he’d stood there. But Wade had looked at the clock when Louie had fallen.
Louie had held the beam aloft for thirty-seven minutes.”Unbroken, pp. 297-2984
Waiting is not for wimps. As a mentor told me once, “Waiting is a spiritual discipline.”
It’s hard, it can be painful, and it takes work.
If your waiting feels like Louie Zamporini holding up a six-foot wooden beam, take heart. Moses once held up his hands for an entire day so the Israelites would win against the Amalekites:
“And so it was, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands became heavy; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. And Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.”Exodus 17:11-12
But Moses wasn’t alone.
Neither are you.
God has placed beneath you the solid rock of His promises, and on either side of you He’s planted the presence of His Holy Spirit and the people of His church to hold up your arms.
Sit down if you have to. Ask for help if you have to.
But don’t give up.
God promises that our waiting will be worth it.
1Cary Schmidt, Off Script: What to Do When God Rewrites your Life. Striving Together Publications, 2011.
2Andrew Murray, With Christ in the School of Prayer: Thoughts on Our Training for the Ministry of Intercession in The Deeper Christian Life and Other Writings. Nelson, 2000.
3Phillip Keller, A Gardener Looks at the Fruits of the Spirit in Phillip Keller: The Inspirational Writings. Inspirational Press, 1993.
4Laura Hillenbrand, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. Random House, 2010.