“Waiting, I waited”.
So the opening words of Psalm 40 say in the Hebrew. Translators usually express it, “I waited patiently”, avoiding repetition and evoking the eager expectation the Hebrew word apparently expresses. Not the tedium of shivering at the bus stop until the delayed number 9 arrives. Nor the irritation of queuing for doors to open at a show. Rather, it is the excitement of a child counting off sleeps as she marks days on an advent calendar.
“Expecting, I expected!”
Still, the literal translation expresses something rich. What else is there to do while we await something we can’t expedite but to wait? Sure, life’s routines continue, but everything drains of colour when the mind fixates on something longed for. In our age of fast food, high-speed rail links and super-fast broadband (or, at least, the expectation of all of the above!), waiting time is a waste of time. Not so in God’s providence. In His economy, time is never void. He wove the principle of fruitful delay into nature. From a seed germinating slowly beneath soil to a developing body hidden in a womb, change is often unseen and slow, but it is real and cannot be rushed. This principle extends to the ways of the heart. Growth in faith is seldom instant and God’s schedule cannot be hurried. Consider Christ, intentionally delaying his journey to Bethany where Lazarus lay close to death and saying, “for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe” (John 11:15). Hear the apostolic command to “count the patience of our Lord as salvation” (2 Peter 3:15). God’s timing is perfect.
“Waiting, I had to wait!”
But waiting is hard. Expecting, hoping, longing for God’s deliverance, David waited. It wasn’t a picnic. You don’t welcome delays when life feels bottomless, like you’re being swallowed by a quagmire! But, in His time, God lifted David on to a solid rock and gave him a new song. From this new perspective, things looked different. Where there had been darkness and doubt, now he saw innumerable reasons to praise (verse 5). Where he had felt like God always demands sacrifices, he now realised that offerings were an expression of a readiness to obey that should be all-embracing (verse 6). Where life had been reduced to a drive to survive, its purpose was now shaped by a higher calling - God’s Law, buried in his heart, bubbled up in joyful surrender to God’s will (verses 7-8). From heart-felt conviction, David testified to the great congregation of God's deliverance (verse 10).
But the Lord made him wait first!
God’s salvation transformed David, but so did the wait. Before his tongue could be loosed to speak for God, his ears had to be bored open to hear Him. We too, people tasked to teach God’s truth, cannot speak with conviction until it enters our stubborn hearts. It’s in delay that we learn dependence. In anticipation, we develop patience. In frustrations, we grow faith. We may not like it, but we can trust in the Lord’s faithfulness as David did (verse 11). He has promised our deliverance and His promise is sure. We await salvation from heaven when Christ returns. And as we wait for future salvation we testify to past deliverance.
Because waiting, we still wait.
David’s troubles were far from over as he wrote this psalm. The confident, “As for you”, of verse 11, which declares God’s faithfulness, is met with the contrite, “As for me”, of verse 17, which confesses his own neediness. David was encompassed by evils without and overtaken by iniquities from within (verse 12). Yes, his enemies delighted in his hurt, but the greatest conflict, the one that most threatened him, was within. If we are honest as leaders, I suspect we are the same. Our greatest challenge is not a hostile culture or an unruly congregation but a wayward heart. Prone to giving in, wearing out, puffing up and breaking down, we too are poor and needy. Yet how often we pretend! Donning masks, we hide our weakness. But David, the king, had no such inhibition. He confessed his need as He praised His Saviour. In the congregation he was simply one of the worshippers – another sinner saved by grace! Just a poor and needy soul for whom the Lord took thought.
Waiting still, we can be still as we wait.
David ends the psalm where he begins. Grateful, but still broken. Confident in the Lord’s power, but doubtful of his own resilience. Knowing the Lord’s saving work in him wasn’t complete. The season we call Lent will soon be upon us. It’s a time to reflect on temptation and deny our desires in expectation of Easter joy. As we edge towards it, take time to remember the Lord’s salvation and to confess your continuing need of Him. Pray with me David’s words in verses 11 and 17 of Psalm 40:
As for you, O Lord, you will not restrain
your mercy from me;
your steadfast love and your faithfulness will
ever preserve me!
As for me, I am poor and needy,
but the Lord takes thought for me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
do not delay, O my God!