“Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary” (Luke 1:21-22 NRS).
Instant gratification can be a glorious thing, such as when you pray and the answer to your concern is immediately apparent, or when God’s presence is instantly tangible. I think it is natural for human beings to yearn for that sense, that feeling, but it is not always possible, nor should it be. There is something truly transformative about the waiting, especially waiting for the Lord. In that time between our conversing with God, asking questions, and seeking divine wisdom and guidance, and then receiving an answer, a nudge, or a sign, there is limitless potential for growth, discovery, and connection. Yesterday, during a particularly passionate time of holy conferencing at the Annual Conference gathering, someone said that, “Delay is denial.” It was spoken out a place of immense sorrow, frustration, and desire for inclusion. I respect and honor that, both the person and the experience expressed, however, I cannot agree with their assertion. To delay is to intentionally stop, center ourselves in Christ, and prayerfully discern the will of God. That is not an instantaneous or easy thing to do, and it must be done repeatedly, because we quickly lose our focus on Christ and gravitate to our own will too easily as flawed beings. I think everyone of us would love to charge ahead and accomplish what we intensely feel is right, just, and a good thing, but is it right for all of us? Is it truly right for us as individuals? Only theological reflection grounded in prayer and Christian conversation can reveal that truth. Honestly, that can never be rushed, nor should it. To stop and seek conversation in the Christian community is a statement about relationality, connectionalism, and our foundational value of the Body of Christ. It reiterates to us in the Church and proclaims to those outside the Church that there is more to this life of discipleship than our own way.
I recall the struggle of Zechariah, who had trouble believing the prophecy of the angel that he and his wife would have a child. Everyone on the outside of the sanctuary wondered what his problem was, and why he was taking so long. They could not see the divine encounter happening within. This transformative experience that would not only turn Zechariah and Elizabeth’s lives upside down, but the entire world with the birth of John the Baptist, was not something that could be revealed according to our timetable, but God’s alone. In the delay, Zechariah saw something, according to Scripture. He was given insight he would not have otherwise seen, or allowed to permeate his consciousness in the same way. Sometimes we as the Church need to delay so that we do not speak unjustly or without proper authority. We need time to pray, to read the Bible, to speak with one another, be still and listen for the response from God, and see what new thing God is doing in us and through us. God throughout Scripture does not keep our time or our schedule, but, seeing the bigger picture that spans millions of human lifetimes, God moves in accordance with God’s plans for the Kingdom not yet fully revealed. As someone whose cross to bear is definitely patience, I feel incredible anxiety at being told to wait, to pause, to stop the forward momentum for which I so crave. But, time and time again, the delay in my eyes has been a period of discovery and growth thanks to God’s sight so vastly beyond my own. Let us rush to be with one another, not enact our will. Let us hurry to love and serve, not demand and overturn. Let us model ourselves after the one who repeatedly withdrew to pray, even as the world was rushing to arrest and crucify him.
Almighty God of patience and peace,
Give your people a portion of your Spirit that we might wait on you.
Teach us humility and guide us in grace.
Sometimes the end results appear so clear and within our grasp,
But we cannot forget ourselves as a priestly people called to discerning prayer.
As it is your will, help us accomplish justice.
As you would have us speak, grant us your holy words.
As you would have us be with one another in transformative ways,
Slow down our hurriedness,
And fill us with a desire to bask in your love and that love expressed in one another.
Always for your honor and glory we live and pray,