There was a study done in the 1960’s that’s now commonly referred to as “the marshmallow test.”
You may wonder how the marshmallow test relates to waiting on God, but give me a minute.
In the study, children were given a marshmallow and told they could eat it immediately or wait fifteen minutes to receive an additional marshmallow.
Then they were left alone in a room with nothing but a chair, a table, and the marshmallow. Some kids ate it. Some kids waited.
The researchers then followed the children from the study for years and found that those who waited for the second marshmallow scored better on the SAT, had a healthier lifestyle, were more socially adjusted, and had a greater sense of self worth than the children who chose to just eat the first marshmallow.
This study is amazing to me.
The idea that patience or any single element of our personality could have such a strong correlation to our future success is fascinating and alarming. You see, I like sugary things and I don’t like waiting.
Sometimes I wonder if the same correlation exists between our spiritual future and patience.
God often calls us to wait.
AND IT IS SO HARD.
I am a planner and a multi-tasker.
At any point during the day, I have several chores and projects going at the same time. I fold a few towels and set them on the back of the couch while I’m waiting for the kids to finish picking up the 6,754 Legos that are scattered on the floor. Then I unload part of the dishwasher while they eat breakfast. I then scoop up the folded towels and put them away while I’m taking Baylor to the bathroom. I finish unloading the dishwasher while I’m making dinner. Through all of this I have a baby on one hip and a broom in one hand.
Even while watching tv in bed at night, I’m editing pictures, returning emails, or working on this blog. I don’t just want to eat the marshmallow now, I want to take a little bite while I clean the room, make notes for future posts, write thank you notes, and wash dishes. That’s how I’m wired.
I like to stay busy, so when I pray for something I want the answer to be immediate.
I want God to give me a straight yes or no right away so I can work the outcome into my plan.
But He often says, “Not now. Wait.”
This kills me.
I equate waiting with flipping idly through a three year old Good Housekeeping magazine at the doctor’s office. Sure, the grilled chicken souvlaki looks amazing, and I could take pictures of the recipe so I could cook it later. Unfortunately, I am too overwhelmed by my time/confinement induced suffering to do anything redeeming like learn. Besides, I go to the doctor’s office to be seen by a doctor not learn new recipes.
It’s a waste of time because it isn’t how I would have chosen to spend my time. It doesn’t fit with my plan. So what if the doctor selected those magazines because his patients need to learn how to prepare healthy meals. I have a plan!
But surely God, who created time, the universe, and all that is within it, would not call us to do something that is simply a waste of time.
Time is precious and limited. More to the point, it is precious because it is limited.
God knows that our lives are like the blinking of an eye, but sometimes He still calls us to wait.
He calls us to wait and He is good.
More to the point, He calls us to wait because He is good.
All that He does is good, so if He calls me to wait, it must be good too.
So then what?
What am I to do when God tells me to wait?
Psalm 27:14 is pretty clear.
Wait on the LORD. Be courageous, and he will strengthen your heart. Wait on the LORD!
I love that!
“Be courageous, and he will strengthen your heart.”
God calls us to wait so that He can strengthen our hearts.
Anytime I’ve decided to get in better shape by diet and exercising, it’s been painful and slow. Through steady dedication, I’ve gotten stronger. I’ve never done one day of exercise and seen immediate results.
I haven’t eaten healthy food for a day and seen immediate change. Those behaviors lead to slow, sometimes imperceptible, change. And then one day, I notice that I have some muscle definition that I didn’t have before.
The same is true with our hearts.
For our hearts to get stronger, it will be painful.
Looking back on some of my most difficult periods of life, I can see that I grew the most as a Christian during those times.
When I wanted desperately to be a stay at home mom, I prayed fervently.
I prayed every time I thought about it, which was almost all the time.
At first my prayers were just short bursts of pleading for God to give me my desire. Eventually though, they evolved. It started with the belief that God is good.
I began to pray that God would use me in the job that I hated. And though I still wanted to be home with my babies more than anything else, I began to use the time and influence I had to further His kingdom.
If God wasn’t giving me what I wanted, I knew it was for a greater purpose. The focus of my prayers shifted from being completely self centered to asking God to show me ways to minister to those around me.
I wanted to be a light in my little world and to love the people around me.
If I’d kept focusing on what God wasn’t giving me, I’d never have taken advantage of the ministry opportunities He placed in front of me.
Six years later, God finally gave me a “yes.” I was so overjoyed! I appreciated it in a way I would have never been able to if he’d given it to me right away. This time at home with my kids is such a blessing. I am truly grateful each day to have the opportunity to be with them.
That’s not to say that I get it right all the time.
There have been numerous times that God has told me to wait, and instead of viewing the waiting as a time of strengthening, I’ve been a petulant brat. I’ve wasted it totally. I’ve worried, fretted, complained, and been completely self destructive.
Waiting on God is hard.
So if there is a prayer that you’re praying right now that God hasn’t answered yet, try to view this time as strength training for your heart.
Pray without ceasing for the thing you’re waiting on, but don’t fall into despair. As Christians, we should always be striving to be more like Christ. Choose to look for ways to serve God while you’re waiting. Remember that God’s timing is always perfect.
And yes, I know that these can sound like trite answers.
When you are praying desperately for healing or help or answers or whatever, having someone tell you that “God’s timing is always perfect,” probably just makes you angry.
Be angry and look for ways to serve during this time of waiting.
God has you exactly where you need to be, so instead of searching desperately for a way out, search for a way to dig in and serve. Use this time to focus on loving those around you. When God finally answers your prayers, you might be surprised at how much stronger your heart is.
What are some times in your life that waiting on God has strengthened your heart?