When I was younger, we often sang this verse at prayer meetings or Bible studies as a song. Then, at the end of the verse we added this refrain to the song: “Teach me Lord, teach me Lord, to wait.”
The Hebrew word that is translated “they that wait upon” in the KJV finds its root in another Hebrew word that means to wait or look for, to hope for or expect. The sense of the waiting in this verse is eager expectation or anticipation. So, the NIV translates it as “those who hope” and the HCSB translates it as “those who trust.”
Unfortunately, when we talk about “waiting upon the Lord,” it’s not necessarily waiting with hopeful anticipation, but more like waiting with dreaded apprehension! For us, waiting upon the Lord is exceedingly distressful and practically unbearable. Instead of eagerly waiting upon the Lord, we impatiently wait upon the Lord.
But “waiting upon the Lord” is a discipline that is actually related to “trusting in the Lord” or “hoping in the Lord.” In fact, I would argue that “waiting upon the Lord” is the same thing as “having faith in God” or trusting or hoping in God.
Here’s what I mean. Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as: “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (KJV). Faith is substantively comprised of hoping for outcomes that haven’t yet occurred. So, “having faith” seems to be a lot like “hoping for,” which is technically the same as “waiting upon.”
To hope for some outcome and hope that God is going to do it, we have to wait for God for it; we have to wait for God to work according to His will! Paul explained in Romans 8:25: “But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it” (KJV).
But this verse has a lot more to teach us about waiting on the Lord than just informing us that we should do it. This powerful verse tells us why we should wait upon the Lord. It explains the spiritual value and benefits of waiting upon the Lord. When we wait upon the Lord, our faith is strengthened because it develops God’s perspective in us so that our faith can sustain us spiritually both in the short-term and the long-term! It’s Wait Training!
To see what I mean, let’s unpack Isaiah’s metaphors in this verse.
“Waiting upon the Lord” causes us to rise above our present circumstances to get a higher view, a more objective view, a God-view of them (“soar with wings like eagles”). From that vantage point, you can gain perspective about what it is you are hoping and trusting God to do and then develop a better understanding of God’s plans and purposes for you. And when you better perceive what His will is, then you will have the resolve and the willpower to accomplish His will in your present circumstances unhesitantly and without wavering (“run and not grow weary”). And, this willingness to do God’s will that you develop in your present circumstances will lead you into a lifestyle of continually and confidently hoping and trusting in God for all that you do and ask Him for in your life (“walk and not faint”).
And the end result of this waiting is that your faith is strengthened, it’s renewed. It becomes faith with precision and fidelity, faith aligned with God’s will. It becomes front-end faith instead of should-have-been faith. It becomes proactive rather than reactive faith. After all, wouldn’t you rather be having faith for what you know God wants to do instead of hoping what you want to do is what God wants?
When you’re waiting upon the Lord for what you know He wants to do, then you wait with eagerness, expectancy, anticipation!
So, teach me, Lord, teach me, Lord, to wait.
But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13, NASB)