“Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him” (Isaiah 30:18).
“Good things come to those who wait.” You probably heard that many times through the years. Be patient, wait, and good things will come to you. Of course, many times, that simply is not true. We falsely assume that we will be rewarded for our patience, that somehow we deserve something good to happen.
I am often struck by the many times, after a particularly hard season, when something good does come about, that someone will say, “Oh, you deserve that!” Usually I just smile and don’t respond. And yet, I always think I am affirming something that I should not. The reality of our lives is that we don’t deserve anything, save misery and death.
To espouse anything like this gets one labeled as pessimistic; your glass is always half-empty, etc.. If you’re me, you get called “Grumpy.” I even have several t-shirts with Grumpy emblazed on them to prove it!
But what we are called to be is not optimistic or pessimistic, but realistic. We need to have a proper understanding of who we are, particularly in relationship to God. And when we do that, we understand that what we really need is God’s grace and mercy.
Isaiah begins by telling us that “the Lord waits to be gracious to you…” Some translations say, “The Lord longs to be gracious to you…” I don’t think this conveys what Isaiah is saying, though. When we read it this way, we have the idea that God is wringing his hands, hoping that we will come back to him. But that is not God’s patience. He is not passive in this.
Earlier in the chapter, we hear God speak to us. “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” Then Isaiah adds the indictment. “But you were unwilling…” (Isaiah 20:15).
No, we need to understand that “the Lord is a God of justice…” He cannot tolerate sin. God would send his people into exile at the hands of the Babylonians. He would destroy all their sacred places, and chasten them as a father does his children. Then we understand that God “exalts himself to show mercy to you.” We justly deserve wrath and punishment, and nothing more. But God lifts himself up when he shows mercy to any, for none are deserving.
So we are called to “wait for him.” And this is where we struggle. We are interested in speed, but God is interested in repentance. We want quick fixes, a shortcut, an on-the-spot solution. We want a sermon, a seminar, or an experience that instantly resolves all our problems, removes all temptation, and releases us from the discipline of the Lord.
We do this by uttering, “I’m sorry,” then quickly running back to whatever we were doing. But that is not the work of God in our lives. He is committed to transforming us into the image of his beloved Son, Jesus. So he patiently waits, exercising his gracious discipline to call us back to himself. And he has given us his Spirit, by which we can call him “Abba, Father.” We can know the full forgiveness of God because his justice was satisfied in the death of Jesus.
This is why we need to gospel, not just once, but every day. We continue to run back to Jesus, the author of our faith and the perfecter of our faith. In him we find the rest we need to be saved. In him we find that his grace is sufficient, and his strength is made perfect in our weakness. We cannot save ourselves, but God is saving us. Look to him today.