Sometimes the waiting room is the best classroom when it comes to prayer

Prayer frequently requires waiting. The trouble is, we’re not patient. In fact, Americans are so impatient that recent studies can pinpoint what we’re most impatient about and how long it takes us to grow agitated when waiting. 

For instance, the majority of us grow quickly irritated with slow Wi-Fi. It’s our No. 1 complaint, guaranteed to ignite our impatience. In addition, on average, we find it intolerable to wait as much as 10 minutes for sluggish customer service. 

Do people of prayer reflect the power of prayer when ordinary circumstances test the fragile limits of our patience? Our impatience reminds us of the oft repeated adage, “Man microwaves, but God marinates.”

Waiting has a bad reputation in America, but Scripture is filled with positive examples of waiting. For instance, Isaiah reminds us that if we wait on God we will fly like eagles and run without exhaustion (Isaiah 40:31). Jesus instructed His eager but powerless disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they were empowered by the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49). The psalmist testified that the Lord heard his cries only after he was willing to wait (Psalm 40:1). Many of the biblical invitations to wait are directly connected to prayer.

It sounds extreme, but waiting is an inescapable factor in a praying life. In fact, Jesus insisted that we learn the discipline of waiting in prayer.

Waiting has a bad reputation in America, but Scripture is filled with positive examples of waiting.

In one of His most well-known parables in which He taught the importance of patience in prayer, Jesus contrasted a powerful, malevolent judge to a vulnerable, abused widow (Luke 18:1-8). The judge in the parable had no compassion for the widow’s legal or personal complaints. The widow, on the other hand, refused to stop showing up to court to demand justice. Finally, the corrupt judge conceded because the widow refused to stop asking for his assistance. 

Jesus contrasted the heartless judge to our loving God by demonstrating that, unlike the crooked judge, God desires to answer the cries of His people—the people Jesus compared favorably to the persistent widow. The parable is introduced with this instructive preamble, “And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1).

From this well-known text we notice some principles about patience in prayer. Sometimes the waiting room is the best classroom.

Wait in prayer even when the outcome appears unlikely

The two characters in the parable—a widow and the judge—were on opposite ends of the power and privilege scale in ancient society. The judge was a local official with authority appointed by Rome. The widow was a symbol of vulnerability in Scripture; she had no social standing. This widow had only one power—persistence! Jesus described her as one “who kept coming.” The tense of the Greek verb means continuous, repeated action. 

Her request was ignored numerous times, but she kept making the appeal. The frequency of her appeals in the face of the judge’s indifference toward her plight is a reminder to us of a basic principle of prayer: God’s delays are not necessarily God’s denials. There is nothing in the circumstances of the story that suggest the widow had a chance of success, except for her persistent asking.

Wait in prayer because God hears

In the parable, the widow’s persistence won the judge over. Her resilience wore down his reluctance. Jesus urged His followers to cry out in unceasing prayer, because God will intervene for those who “cry to Him day and night” (v. 7).  

No matter how much time passes between our request and God‘s response, we should never conclude that God does not care. God wants to respond. God wants to answer. In His perfect timing, no matter how long we’ve waited, no matter how big the long shot, God answers prayer. He specializes in results that can be achieved in no other way.

Wait in prayer because an answer is coming

When does waiting in prayer reach a conclusion? Jesus said God will answer His pleading people “speedily” (v. 8). In other words, God’s answer comes suddenly. Why is it necessary to wait if the answer comes suddenly?

The Greek word translated “speedily” occurs in the New Testament seven times. It is obviously a reference to a narrow window of time. Three of the usages of the word refer to a speedy or sudden action in time. The other four usages of the word refer to the nearness in time of the action. Those instances are translated with words like “shortly” or “soon” (Acts 25:4, Romans 16:20, etc.). 

In any case, the word means that action is imminent. God will answer. You are justified in waiting, because when the answer comes it will be in a timely manner. So, our job is to prayerfully wait on God’s timing. 

Perhaps the testimony of George Müller best exemplifies our goals in patient prayer. He said, “When once I am persuaded that a thing is right, and for the glory of God, I go on praying for it until the answer comes.” If your classroom is the waiting room, God is teaching you. So, keep praying!

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in Baptist Press.

National Director of Prayer, SBC
Kie Bowman
Most Read

Barber exhorts Southwestern graduates to go to the harvest

FORT WORTH—Get to work in the harvest, Southern Baptist Convention President Bart Barber challenged the 301 graduates of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Texas Baptist College during spring commencement held May 3 on the Fort Worth …

Stay informed on the news that matters most.

Stay connected to quality news affecting the lives of southern baptists in Texas and worldwide. Get Texan news delivered straight to your home and digital device.