The Waiting Game – Leading Those Who Stray

by Dave Harvey August 25, 2016

As a leader, your heart breaks. It’s someone close to you – maybe a church member, a dear friend, a sibling, or even one of your kids. You love them, but you hate their choices. It’s not a self righteous thing, you just see how their decisions are stalling their growth and stopping forward progress. That’s not to say there is no progress. It’s just all seems backwards. You’ve prayed, sought counsel and everything that can be said has been said. All that is left is waiting.

But leaders don’t wait well; we are wired for initiative. Waiting feels so counterintuitive, so docile, like you are running off the field to hit the showers and then take a seat in the stands. Real leaders don’t wait, they initiate! So why wait?

Waiting is Active

In Scripture, waiting is never passive. In fact, it’s an aggressive faith-fueled, Godward thing. Waiting is a display of glorious weakness where we move deliberately and consistently towards God in prayerful dependence, asking Him to do what only He can do. For David, it required strength and courage (Psalm 27:14; 31: 24). Far from inert, waiting displays a deep and abiding faith in God’s ability to respond. “But for you, O Lord, do I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer”. (Ps. 38: 15)

Waiting is really about the heart’s “lean”. When the gospel is at work in our heart, it has a chiropractic effect. It adjusts our soul away from self-sufficiency and shifts our posture towards God. We go from tilting away from God to leaning towards him; from being active in the flesh to active in the Spirit. Dependence replaces independence as our agenda for change in others is deleted and replaced with a quiet but dynamic trust in God’s active warfare on behalf of the one we love.

Make no mistake. Waiting takes guts.

Waiting Strengthens Us

Waiting is not just a discipline we impose but a grace we experience. Our lean is into the promise of His blessing and provision.

“But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.”
Isaiah 40: 31

This is not a set-up. God is not “playing” you and He is not playing games. Waiting supplies power. We get lift, we experience resilience, we find strength for the long game. Sitting prayerfully in the waiting room as you keep watch for the Divine Physician, a strange thing happens. Faith becomes durable.

It is true that waiting may not gain us one iota of interpretation on why the one we love has chosen this perplexing path. But we have something far more valuable than foreknowledge or insider information. First, we know the One who created all paths (Phil. 3: 8). Next, we know He loves this misguided soul far more than we do (John 3: 16). Lastly, we remember that the God we love seeks the lost (Luke 19:10) and promises to reach into our worried days of waiting to kickstart our strength.

And so we wait.

Waiting Tenderizes Us

People sliding away from God are seriously and spiritually dull to their weakness and sin. They may be hearers, like the man who “looks at himself (in a mirror) and goes away and at once forgets what he was like” (James 1: 24). Or they may have shut their ears completely to gospel truth (2 Tim. 2: 17-18). Regardless, their choices become your burden.

How does a church planter, pastor or leader keep their heart tender with love when sin abounds and words are spent?

We get ready and wait. You see, something deeply personal and transformational happens as we wait. Our busy hearts settle as we expectantly and eagerly pray for repentance and reconciliation in others. The God-lean referenced above shifts our attitude towards the ‘slow-changer’ and tenderizes our heart to receive their repentance when it finally arrives.

Remember when Jesus spoke of the self-forgetful sinner? He said, “… if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (Luke 17:4 ESV)

Think about it: Seven times in one day. That’s one seriously deluded dude who exports chaos into your world! How do you keep going after the fourth or fifth incident of sin from the same person? How do you still the soul while you pray for a more, shall we say, “fruit-bearing” repentance?

It’s about the lean. Leaning towards God as we wait brings forgiveness into play because we remember the hell-deserving sins from which we have been forgiven. We remember that God waited patiently for us (Rom. 2: 4). As this happens, God’s Spirit compels us to not only let go of the pain but to cultivate a heart that loves those who hurt us. We can then wait in hope, not stew in cynicism.

Only the gospel can truly tenderize the heart to wait for change. And as a weary pastor or leader bearing the wounds inflicted by sinners, it’s what you most need right now.

And so we wait. Leaning towards God, actively and expectantly. Beating back worry and fear, applying the gospel, and trusting that God’s change will come in God’s time.

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