Introductory Note:

Vintage letters from Richard Foster have been especially dear to my heart recently. The Spirit is at work bringing words of truth from the past to speak into our present needs and to encourage our growth in the grace of Christ. In this “Heart to Heart” letter first distributed among Renovaré subscribers several decades ago, Richard guides readers to learn from people like Moses, who turned times of forced waiting and silence into opportunities to pay attention to the still, small Voice. Through waiting and stillness we come to recognize the tone, spirit and content that characterize God’s speaking. We can grow increasingly comfortable in this listening posture, which centers us in God and shapes us from the inside out.

Grace Pouch
Content Manager

Wait­ing! It is among the most uni­ver­sal of human experiences.

• Wait­ing to begin school.
• Wait­ing to get our braces off.
• Wait­ing for our first date.
• Wait­ing to grad­u­ate.
• Wait­ing to mar­ry.
• Wait­ing for our first job.
• Wait­ing for our first baby.
• Wait­ing for our first house.
• Wait­ing to retire.
• Wait­ing … wait­ing to die.

Wait­ing is among the most com­mon ven­tures in human life, and the more Chris­t­ian spir­i­tu­al­i­ty touch­es com­mon life redemp­tive­ly the more it deep­ens in meaning.

RIGHT AT THE HEART

Wait­ing is right at the heart of Chris­t­ian spir­i­tu­al­i­ty. Think of Moses wait­ing in the desert for silent year after silent year. Think of Eli­jah, sequestered in his cave, keep­ing a lone­ly vig­il over earth­quake, wind, and fire. Think of Mary wait­ing patient­ly for the ful­fill­ment of the word of the Angel Gabriel. Think of Saul — Saul who became Paul — being instruct­ed by the Spir­it in the deserts of Ara­bia for three soli­tary years.

Wait­ing is the hid­den prepa­ra­tion through which God puts his min­is­ters. We neglect it to our per­il. I remem­ber as a young, brash pas­tor wax­ing elo­quent about Moses in the wilder­ness and telling the peo­ple that we need to learn all these lessons so that it won’t take us forty years like it did Moses. Just then a wise and respect­ed mem­ber of our fel­low­ship spoke up calm­ly; I doubt it!” he said. Those three words took all the pompous air out of my ser­mon that day and taught us a valu­able les­son. Espe­cial­ly me. Wait­ing is not some­thing to be avoid­ed at all costs. In wait­ing we learn things that we learn in no oth­er way.

The Lord, speak­ing through the good prophet Isa­iah, reminds us, My ways are not your ways” (55:8). Our ways, you see, are the ways of noise and hur­ry and crowds. Our ways are the ways of climb and push and shove. Our ways are the ways of instant-knowl­edge and instant-solu­tions and instant-grat­i­fi­ca­tion. These, my friends, are not God’s ways. God’s ways are like the rain and the snow that come down dis­ap­pear­ing into the earth. No rush. No fan­fare. No manip­u­la­tion. Then when the time is right up comes the life, giv­ing seed to the sow­er and bread to the eater” (Isa. 55:10). That is God’s way.

THE COS­MIC PATIENCE OF GOD

In wait­ing we enter into the cos­mic patience of God. At least in part. We begin pick­ing up the deep rhythms of the Spir­it, the heart­beat of God. We begin think­ing in terms of years and decades rather than min­utes and hours. Oh, we accom­plish our tasks, to be sure, but it is not with the fran­tic, ner­vous ener­gy of the anx­ious-rid­den. Thomas Kel­ly writes, I find God nev­er guides us into an intol­er­a­ble scram­ble of pant­i­ng feverishness.”

What we are learn­ing is how to work not in inde­pen­dence but in coop­er­a­tion. God, after all, is at work in our world. We are not doing this on our own. We are enter­ing a coop­er­a­tive, inter­ac­tive rela­tion­ship with the Cre­ator of the uni­verse. We are learn­ing to take up the easy yoke” and the light bur­den” of Jesus. So, as we are yoked to Jesus all our thrash­ing and rush­ing begins to ebb away under the steady pace of the Mas­ter of life.

The four years that our Team has just gone through as we have been wait­ing on God to give us clar­i­ty about our new Pres­i­dent has been so very instruc­tive to us. In many ways the process was even more impor­tant than the out­come … though we are most pleased with the out­come. It is quite a sto­ry of ups and downs, of rest­less­ness and still­ness, and of going where we did not know. Through it all we were learn­ing to work in coop­er­a­tion and not in inde­pen­dence. It is a les­son we con­tin­ue to learn.

STILL­NESS, A CLOSE COUSIN

Still­ness is a close cousin to wait­ing. Remem­ber the wis­dom of God through the psalmist, Be still, and know that I am God!” (Ps. 46:10). It is indeed so. As we wait in still­ness we are giv­en a greater capac­i­ty to dis­cern the kol Yah­weh, the voice of God, in his won­drous, ter­ri­ble, lov­ing, all-embrac­ing silence.

We begin to rec­og­nize a tone to the voice of God. Satan push­es and con­demns, God draws and encour­ages, and with time and expe­ri­ence we learn the dif­fer­ence. The Divine tone car­ries with it the weight of author­i­ty; a calm, steady, inward yes.” E. Stan­ley Jones put it this way, The voice of the sub­con­scious argues with you, tries to con­vince you; but the inner voice of God does not argue, does not try to con­vince you. It just speaks, and it is self-authen­ti­cat­ing. It has the feel of the voice of God with­in it.”

Then too we begin to dis­cov­er a spir­it to the voice of God. You remem­ber that it was said of Mes­si­ah that he would not break a bruised reed nor quench a smol­der­ing wick. Jesus, you see, would nev­er crush the needy, nev­er snuff out the small­est hope. The Divine spir­it car­ries with it a sense of sub­lime peace­ful­ness, of over­whelm­ing joy, of uni­ver­sal good will toward all. It is, in fact, the spir­it of Jesus.

Final­ly, over time and expe­ri­ence we begin to dis­cov­er a con­tent to the voice of God. Dal­las Willard writes, The con­tent of a word that is tru­ly from God will always con­form to and be con­sis­tent with the truths about God’s nature and king­dom that are made clear in the Bible. Any con­tent or claim that does not con­form to bib­li­cal con­tent is not a word from God. Peri­od!” This, of course, draws us into the vast lit­er­a­ture in both Old and New Tes­ta­ments. We are not here look­ing at inci­den­tals but prin­ci­ples, the fun­da­men­tal truths of Scrip­ture. We begin, for exam­ple, to under­stand the Christ­like­ness of God and come to see that God’s great­ness is seen pre­cise­ly in his good­ness. And more. This, of course, is a very large sub­ject and I could do no bet­ter than guide you to Dal­las Willard’s book Hear­ing God if you want to explore the mat­ter further.

As we learn to wait and to work in a pos­ture of still­ness we are being changed. We begin liv­ing in the steady peace of God, a peace that goes down to the very depths of our soul. We begin expe­ri­enc­ing an unhur­ried con­quest; an inward con­quest over our­selves, and an out­ward con­quest over the world. We grow less and less impressed by the reli­gion of the big deal,” and instead find joy in sim­ple acts of good­ness. We begin let­ting go of the need to man­age and con­trol life and instead find delight in God work­ing to will and to do his good plea­sure. Toward oth­ers, we begin to expe­ri­ence some­thing vast­ly deep­er than pity or even empa­thy; we begin expe­ri­enc­ing a rock-sol­id, heart­felt, well-rea­soned love toward all. This is, in fact, the agape love of the Bible, and it aston­ish­es us when we see this inward life flow­ing out­ward toward our neigh­bors and cowork­ers and friends. And ene­mies even.

TWO DESCRIP­TIONS OF LIFE ABUNDANT

There are two descrip­tions of this life abun­dant that pen­e­trate me in ever deep­er ways every time I hear them.

The first comes from the pen of our trust­ed friend, the prophet Isa­iah. It is his now famous coun­sel about wait­ing upon the Lord, and it stands in direct con­trast to all those at his time who were fix­at­ed upon cur­rent events. Isaiah’s world was reel­ing under the mil­i­tary cam­paigns of Cyrus, the Per­sian emper­or who found­ed the Achaemenid Dynasty, and the peo­ple were anx­ious­ly won­der­ing, What next?” Isaiah’s calm response was the sim­ple coun­sel to turn away from the malaise of cur­rent events and instead learn to lean upon Yah­weh. His words are preg­nant with the spir­i­tu­al for­ma­tion themes of wait­ing and renew­ing and run­ning and walk­ing. Lis­ten: They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isa. 40:31).

The sec­ond descrip­tion comes from the final para­graph in Thomas Kelly’s mar­velous book, A Tes­ta­ment of Devo­tion. This is a book that Kel­ly nev­er knew he wrote. After his death oth­ers took his speech­es and writ­ings, espe­cial­ly mate­r­i­al from that flam­ing last fourth of his life, and com­piled them into book form. His writ­ings and spo­ken mes­sages dur­ing this peri­od had tak­en on a deep note of exper­i­men­tal author­i­ty. A strained peri­od in Kelly’s life was over and he had moved into a new whole­ness and ade­qua­cy. Lis­ten: Life from the Cen­ter is a life of unhur­ried peace and pow­er. It is sim­ple. It is serene. It is amaz­ing. It is tri­umphant. It is radi­ant. It takes no time, but it occu­pies all our time. And it makes our life pro­grams new and over­com­ing. We need not get fran­tic. He is at the Helm. And when our lit­tle day is done we lie down qui­et­ly in peace, for all is well.”

Pho­to by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Text First Published November 2007 · Last Featured on Renovare.org November 2021

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