Habit #3: Joyful people know how to wait.

Our church has been in a season of remarkable transition in the last year or so — a season of trusting and waiting and listening and deepening. Change is not usually easy and this is no exception; but I have noticed a sweetness to this season.  God has worked in such gentle and unmistakable ways.  Every need provided for, every shift purpose-filled. Watching God’s hand move over our community of faith has been an amazing, faith-building experience. It causes us to suspect we are on the cusp of something pretty powerful.

God’s theme through this season is an old one:  wait. It has not been lost on us that the word “wait” is such a primal theme in the texts we call “wisdom literature.”  Evidently, wise people know how to wait.  Waiting on the Lord is a popular theme for the psalmist and a proverbial one for Solomon. Mary waited and pondered and she, too, was a wise woman.

Wait, God says. And the more I do it, the more I realize it isn’t what I thought it was. In moments of spiritual clarity, I see that waiting is not a gap of emptiness between two events. It isn’t a staring contest with God; we’re not toe-to-toe waiting to see who blinks first.

I’m struck by the connection between the term “waiting” and another biblical phrase, “the fullness of time.”  While the waiting may seem to stretch on as empty space from my perspective, I am beginning to reckon that from God’s vantage point, this isn’t space at all but a full, rich basin of intangibles all designed to prepare me for the next thing.  While I’m drumming my fingers or begging and pleading for movement, God is no-holds-barred working out his will.

Who knew the time was so full?  Shaping, preparing, stripping, educating, awakening.  All that must happen before we can move on wisely.

Think “desert travel.” After experiencing their complete lack of faith in their own future, God told Moses that not one person of the original generation of exodus travelers would make it across the line into the promised land. Everything and everyone that smacked of faithlessness and fear would be eradicated, because he simply wouldn’t allow those traits to seep into the DNA of his people. Those forty years they were marching in circles, God was busy sloughing off the old, birthing the new.

In the same way, our desert travels are not empty time but the very fullness of it, as God sheds from us everything that isn’t fit for the promised future he has appointed for us.  He strengthens us with layers of spiritual sinew designed to help us stand (“mount up on wings like eagles; run and not grow weary; walk and not faint”) when this new thing happens.  We get impatient and beg for movement while God works, knowing that a move in one moment less than the fullness of time will crush us.

Wait, he says.  Not because he is finishing a crossword, or because he hasn’t yet figured out which direction the map is taking us.  Wait, he says, because we are in the middle of something important now.   Foundational work is being laid here, work that will help us hold the next thing.

Wait.

Wait actively — patiently (which is to say, lovingly), prayerfully, expectantly.  Wait like the father who stands at the window, watching for his long-lost son to return.  Wait like Mary, who knew from the moment of conception that she and her son were headed toward greatness.  Wait like the angel assigned to a slab in an empty cave, sitting for who knows how long so he would be there when someone stopped by, to tell them of an unprecedented power and presence unleashed into the world.  Wait like Paul, who sat in blind silence for three days while God completely rewired and wound him up for a new thing.  Wait like John, who steeped in desert-island darkness long enough for his eyes to adjust, revealing the unhindered, unfurled Kingdom of God in three-D splendor.

Wait.

In our own season of waiting at Mosaic, we’re leaning heavily on God’s promises as we build our faith muscles.  We’re learning to fast, something our circumstances didn’t require from us nearly so much in past days.  We’re learning the kind of worship that looks like quiet trust (“Though he slay me, yet shall I praise him”).  And we’re developing a more holy hunger.

In days past, we might have gorged on the first available opportunity to come our way.  These days, we are allowing the wait to purify our motives.  We aren’t on our own time any more; we are yearning toward the fullness of time.  The work of waiting is creating in us a deeper hunger for the Kingdom to come, for God’s will to be done on earth, as it is in heaven.  Right now, we can almost taste it.  Maybe God will move the day we can actually taste it — taste and see that the Lord’s timing is delicious.

What if that is what all spiritual waiting is really about?  What if our waiting is answering Jesus’ own prayer?  What if our waiting is actually more important than the thing we’re waiting for? Wouldn’t that be just like God?

“I came that my joy might be in you,” Jesus said. As it turns out, joy is not a moment (like an emotion) but a process of being at peace with God’s pace and time.

Joy is embedded in the waiting.

A few questions for those challenged to wait: Do you have a knack for focusing on what you haven’t done instead of on how far you’ve come? Do you ever spend energy worrying about how slowly things change? Does your life move so fast that often you don’t have time to stop and notice the progress? Do others ever get frustrated with you because you are so hard on yourself?

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Habit #2: Joyful People pursue intimacy with God.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. – John 15:4

The first time the Greek word for abide shows up in the book of John is when he’s talking about Jesus getting baptized by John. When Jesus comes up out of the water, the Holy Spirit comes down and remains on him.  That word in Greek is the same as the word used in John 15:4: “Abide in me.”

A baptism, then, ought to be something that lives with us, that invokes the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  That’s what makes it a sacrament and not just a sign.

John uses the same word again when Jesus is talking about the eucharist in the most graphic of terms. Jesus says, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood makes his home in me and I make my home in him” (John 6:56).  In this expression, there is a mutual abiding.

Here in the two sacraments of the church — baptism and eucharist — we are reminded just how deeply this connection with God is woven into the fabric of Christ. There cannot be intimacy with God without the work of Jesus. And just as true, where Jesus is, abiding happens.

Abiding happens when Jesus Christ makes his home in me and I make my home in him.

In chapter 15, John is careful to connect this kind of abiding with the call to bear fruit. How do you know you are abiding in Christ? John says you know it when you find yourself bearing fruit. How do you know your baptism is alive in you? You’re bearing fruit. How do you know your worship life is alive? You’re bearing fruit.

People who abide bear fruit, but not just any fruit. People who abide bear much fruit. They bear fruit that lasts. They bear fruit that abides. Jesus affirms these three things.

People who abide bear much fruit. I tell people all the time that I’m looking for the kind of results in my ministry and life that don’t match the effort. When the results outstrip the effort, I know the supernatural has been involved. I want this, because, frankly, it gets old, measuring progress in centimeters when I want to measure in miles. I frustrate myself when I focus my efforts in places where I don’t bear much fruit rather than in the places where I do. I’d like to get better at catching the “holy hints,” noticing the places in my life where the outcome is unequally bigger than the effort. When I press in where I see fruit, I am gratified and God is glorified. Those are the places where the Holy Spirit is present.

People who abide bear fruit that lasts. I have been saved a lot and saved from a lot. Some days, though, I still wake up and feel like I’ve never been a Christian and wonder if I will ever be a Christian (I’m in good company; John Wesley journaled those same feelings).

The places where I manage to feel most secure are the places where the gospel of Jesus actually sticks, where I press in and people get transformed and stay transformed, when I do work that bears fruit far beyond my intention. Bearing fruit that lasts is about more than just posting Bible verses on a Facebook page, or learning Christian-ese. It is about seeing lives beautifully, finally transformed. At the end of time, we’ll discover this is all that lasts.

People who abide bear fruit that abides. Moses teaches me a lot about how to abide as a leader so that the people I’m leading are positively influenced. When he and the Israelites were out in the desert, he would sometimes take his tent out beyond the camp to meet with God (mental note: getting outside the camp to be alone with God is a good habit to cultivate).

Out there away from the people, in moments of deep intimacy, he and God would talk face to face, like friends. In those conversations, Moses would talk honestly, and sometimes even rail against God, venting his frustrations over all he couldn’t understand. God would listen and from what the Bible says, God would meet Moses there at his point of deep need. Far from being offended, the Lord would provide.

So why doesn’t that happen more often for me?  How often have I railed against God but come away empty-handed, frustrated, with more questions than answers? Why doesn’t God hear me the way he heard Moses?

I have a hunch about that. I suspect it has to do with my proximity to the Spirit. When I’m yelling at God from the far side of intimacy — when I haven’t done the work of building a close and intimate connection (my home in him and his home in me) — I get nothing but frustration.

But listen: when I’m yelling at God on the abiding side of intimacy, I notice that it is a much more fruitful conversation.

I’m not talking about “making God do stuff.” I’m talking about the kind of connection that puts me in sync with God and his ways so that when I ask for things, I’m asking from a place of abiding. A place of faith.  A place of knowing, of intimacy, of wisdom. When I ask from that place, it bears fruit.

When I am abiding, I bear fruit. And fruitfulness breeds joy.

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