Watching and Waiting

Reading: Mark 14:32-42

In our fast-paced, modern culture, waiting often seems like cruel and unusual punishment. The very thought of supermarket checkout lines, crowds at the RMV, busy doctors’ offices, or Friday afternoons on the highways around Boston is enough to trigger feelings of frustration, tedium, and boredom. Waiting, we feel, is nothing but lost time. It is something to be endured or put up with, and the sooner it comes to an end the better. Yet how radically different is the Bible’s view of waiting.  Throughout Scripture, God frequently commands His people to wait patiently on Him. Far from being a form of punishment, such waiting is an experience common to all those who walk closely with the Lord.

The failure of Peter, James, and John outside the Garden of Gethsemane is at bottom a failure to understand the spiritual importance of waiting on God. Burdened with sorrow and only hours away from his atoning death on the Cross, Jesus enters the garden where, in a humble act of submission, he will resign himself to the will of the Father. As he does so, he issues to his disciples a simple command: “Stay here and keep watch.” In other words, wait. As his phrasing makes clear, however, waiting is not, for Jesus, about “killing time” or finding some mindless diversion to while away the hour. On the contrary, true waiting always involves watching. Three times in this passage Jesus uses the word “watch” to convey to his followers the importance of being spiritually alert. Waiting on the Lord is more than a state of passive endurance. It is a state of heightened awareness, of active expectation, of intentional readiness. It is more like a bridegroom’s anticipation as he looks eagerly down the aisle for his bride than the indifference we feel as we await the summons of the nurse during a routine checkup. It is a state of total attention in which one is perpetually open to the doings of God, even when the precise nature of those doings remains uncertain. In fact, from one perspective Jesus’ command is actually a fairly vague one: “keep watch.” For what, exactly? At this point in the Gospel story, the disciples no doubt had a general idea that something important was afoot; what they lacked were specifics. The only option, then, was to be ready for anything. As it turned out, they were ready for nothing, and in the process they failed to see clearly the spiritual magnitude of their situation. (Mark writes that “their eyes were heavy”; what an apt image of the disciples’ spiritual lassitude!) Indeed, Christ himself serves as the foil to his followers. As Christ bows his head in fervent prayer, the disciples bow their heads only in sleep. As the Son faithfully submits to the Father’s will, the disciples demonstrate their faithlessness to the Son by ignoring his command—not once, but three times. As Christ waits upon God, the disciples reveal their inability to wait attentively for Christ.

Do you find yourself waiting on God this Lenten Season? As the failure of Peter, James, and John reminds us, waiting on the Lord can be difficult work. When the Lord asks us to wait (for wisdom, for increased faith, for healing, for answers), as he very often does, we are tempted to throw up our hands in frustration or, over time, simply to grow numb. Being perpetually open to the doings of God can feel exhausting at times. Yet like the disciples at the Garden of Gethsemane, waiting is often that to which Christ calls us. Why? Because it is through our waiting on him that we ultimately find our joy. Since we’ve been created to serve him for all eternity and to rely on him for all things, it is in our utter dependence on him that we experience true satisfaction. Waiting compels us to acknowledge this dependence and draws us to God, the source of all good things. What’s more, our faith in the goodness and sovereignty of God allows us to declare with David that seasons of waiting, if we remain watchful, are often the gateway to unknown blessings: “I will remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:13-14).


By Chad Stutz