MASTERING THE ART OF INTELLIGENT WAITING
Scene - Corinth. Both the Lord’s Supper and Christian fellowship were being devalued by self-serving behaviour. Paul spoke into this divisive situation in 1 Corinthians 11:
1. he brought the issue into the open (17-22);
2. he modelled the right behaviour (23-26);
3. he warned them of the consequence of their actions (27-32); and finally,
4. he told them how to fix the existing problem by the implementation of two simple instructions - first, they were to wait until everyone arrived before they ate and, second, to avoid arriving hungry, they were to eat at home before they came to the gatherings (33, 34)
“So then, my brothers,” Paul writes in verse 33, “when you come together to eat, wait for each other.”
Each other! It is the way of our faith that we are to be other-minded. We are to live with an awareness of ‘each other’, doing good and not doing bad (stumbling block behaviour). An increase in the quality of each-otherness could safeguard the Church from ill-repute.
That said, the focus of this article is on Paul’s instruction to wait - to ‘ekdechomai’ = to expect, look (tarry) for, wait (for)*.
In the flow of the Lord’s Supper scriptures of 1 Corinthians 11, it would be logical to see the wait as being, say 5 minutes, even up to an hour. We can picture a Middle Eastern scene, our eyes following small dust clouds bouncing off the sandals of the church-goers - some now close to the church door, some still a good way off. Within a short time, all the parishioners will have arrived and the meal can commence.
But Paul wasn’t saying, “keep the soup on simmer because everyone will be here in a few minutes.” Rather, his instruction to wait, to ‘ekdechomai’, carries greater substance.
In the New Testament, ‘ekdechomai’ is used 7 times aside from its use in 1 Corinthians 11. (A table at the conclusion of the article contains the scriptures, context and application.) These verses describe:
• waiting in a season of forced inactivity with an uncertain outcome
• waiting for a defined period of time to pass
• waiting - searching - questing
• waiting during a natural process of events outside of one’s control
• waiting for something that you initiated and then delegated to another to come to pass.
In each instance, there is a measure of cognizance...of intelligent knowing...of awareness of surrounding circumstances. A quick glance at the context of the verses below reveals that:
• the immobile people knew that healing would come to one of them
• Paul knew that the others would eventually arrive in Athens; and he knew that Timothy would eventually join him in Ephesus
• Abraham knew that the city he was waiting for was more than an earthly abode
• the farmer knows that the planted crop will grow
• God knew that the Ark would be built; and Jesus knows that His enemies will be made His footstool.
So we aren’t talking about wishful thinking. We are talking about:
(1) waiting for happenings which we are rightly anticipating but which are out of our control and
(2) maintaining fellowship during the hiatus of the waiting time.
How does this apply to thinking Christians? What do we do when some with whom we associate are not ready for other-minded fellowship? What do we do when churches around us are not ready for other-minded fellowship? What do we do when our personal circumstances are causing prolonged waiting?
The Word implores us to ‘ekdechomai’ - to wait with understanding.
At this time in the Church, we are as busy as we have ever been. Also, there is evidence of blessing on the things we touch. Puzzlingly, simultaneously, many Christians are recognising and owning up to hunger. In other words, despite all the good things around us, what is craved hasn’t yet arrived.
• Some, unable to conceal the rumblings of emptiness, fling blame around. They are hungry and someone else had better take responsibility!
• Some start ministries based on everything they are against assuming, often incorrectly, that their hunger pains are proof that things are wrong.
And while these two ill-conceived responses to hunger are being felt in the Church,
• some stand in pulpits in churches and at leadership events stating emphatically that everything is alright and that anyone claiming hunger is, in fact, ‘not on their page’ (a shame-based accusation infused with arrogance and ignorance).
God is asking those who are hungry to master the art of waiting. And, because He is God, He has given us the key which will aid that process. While we are waiting, He has instructed us to eat at home. (verse 34).
Eating at home - our wise response
Our home (‘oikos’) may be our residential abode, or our local church, or our family.*
During lengthy times of waiting, it is healthy to remember that, in the context of this teaching, what is being waited for will come to pass...for someone...eventually.
Oh yes, we can be brave for a moment, but when the days merge into weeks, and the months into years; when we fight the thought that we may need to wait until we are on the other side (as in the case of Abraham’s waiting); when the annoyance of knowing that not a lot needs to change for the feast to begin threatens to push us into behaviour which is divisive or self-serving - it is in those times that we must find the nourishment of home.
There is no room, in Paul’s teaching, for enjoying the abundance of food at home so much that we forget to turn up to church. Remember, this is all about maintaining fellowship. Paul is asking us to still turn up, but to arrive sated and free of tension through the quality of our personal nourishment, either:
• within our own abode, so that we arrive at church in an other-minded state
• within our family unit, so that we converse with friends, neighbours and workmates in an other-minded state
• within our own church, so that the efficacy of local church health puts us in our particular church system in an other-minded state.
The art of intelligent waiting is not to be seen as an antidote to hopelessness or impatience. It is not a reactionary art.
This art form carries with it a regal bearing which is produced by a steadfast conviction that what has been set in motion is (a) still in motion and (b) will eventuate. It is an elegant response to circumstances beyond one’s control.
Then, in the solace of perfect parenting, Paul finishes the chapter by saying, “when I come, I will give further directions”. When the time is right and the need is real, God adds understanding.
It is for Him, and it must be for us, an imperative that fellowship never be reduced to chaos, factionalism and judgement. If we need instruction beyond that of waiting and eating at home, He will arrive.
As one final comment, and to personalise this article, once I have grasped the fact that waiting is all I can do in any particular situation, I have found that the greatest tool that I can employ is the rhythm of a joyful life.
Sleep, rise, breathe and be. It is a fine way to wait.
John 5:3: In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water.
Each incapacitated person knew that healing would come with waiting; soberingly, each person also knew that, even in waiting, there was no guarantee that they would be the one healed.
Waiting in forced inactivity
Acts 17:16: Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols.
1 Cor 16:11: But send him on his journey in peace, that he may come to me; for I am waiting for him with the brethren.
Paul knew that ‘them’ and Timothy, would eventually arrive. He couldn’t control the time frame of others, but he could maximise the situation by staying alert and alive to his surroundings.
Waiting for a defined period of time
Heb 11:10: for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
Abraham knew that the city he was waiting for was not going to be found in his current abode and that it wasn’t going to look like anything he could build himself.
Waiting - searching - questing
James 5:7: See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain.
The farmer knows that the planted crop will grow and that nothing he can do will hasten that process (although perhaps he can do things which will improve the finished product)
Waiting during a natural process of events
1 Peter 3:20: ....when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.
Heb 10:13: from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool.
God knew that the Ark would be built but that it was going to take sequential and consistent labour by Noah for it to happen.
Jesus has done what He had to do, and now He waits!
Waiting for something you initiated and then delegated to another to come to pass
* (Biblesoft's New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. Copyright (c) 1994, Biblesoft and International Bible Translators, Inc.)