Waiting is painful. I still walk around the room talking with people at potlucks until the line is completely empty because I’d rather eat nothing than stand in a line.

Waiting sometimes even feels cowardly. It conjures up associated ideas like “passivity” or “laziness.” Real men act, right!? In our world waiting often carries these negative connotations only, but the Bible tells a different story.

God regularly commends waiting. Here is just a sampling (italics mine):

  • “From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him.” (Isaiah 64:4)
  • “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” (Lamentations 3:25–26)
  • “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!” (Psalm 37:7)
  • “But as for me, I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.” (Micah 7:7)

But what exactly does it mean to “wait on the Lord”? How would you know if you were waiting on God? Let me suggest five, interconnected characteristics of waiting on the Lord.

Biblical waiting is…

1. Prayerful

When the Bible speaks about waiting on the Lord, it assumes or explicitly includes the act of prayer.

When rehearsing the failures of the Israelites, the psalmist summarizes, “They soon forgot his works; they did not wait for his counsel” (Psalm 106:13). What happens if you don’t look to God for counsel? You trust in yourself and look to others for help (Isaiah 31:1).

The first act of waiting, then, is prayer. This is why Paul commands, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). We wait prayerfully, trusting God to hear us (Micah 7:7).

2. Dependent

Dependency is a law of the human experience. Like gravity, it exists whether or not we recognize it. You can, of course, pretend it doesn’t affect you, but life will be rather frustrating. God encourages another way:

“Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.” (Psalm 33:20)

“To wait on the Lord is to wait on his help and protection.”

What happens when we are dependent on God for help? “The Lord will fight for you” (Exodus 14:14), and so you should “…Stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you” (Exodus 14:13).

Pretending you’re an independent creature who doesn’t need help and protection is like living in a fantasy world. And fake worlds are notoriously difficult to live in.

Waiting on the Lord grounds you in reality as you recognize the law of dependency. Waiting on the Lord is to be dependent on the Lord. What would it look like? A dependent child asks for help, brags on his dad, marvels at his dad’s strength, and cries for help early and often.

3. Active

In common English, “waiting” basically means “doing nothing.” As you can already see, “wait” in the Bible, however, communicates something active and alive.

Let’s take a simple biblical example. God tells us to pray, but what does prayerful waiting look like? Is it passive and distant? No, it’s full of energy!

Why is it so active? Because it’s grounded in the reality that everything depends on God. Even while we work—especially while we work—we set our mind on the reality that God is at work.

The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord. (Proverbs 21:31)

Looking to God for help actually causes you to prepare the horse for battle. Here’s how the warrior-king, David, describes the activity of waiting on God:

The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength….Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love…Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you. (Psalm 33:16–22)

If I can turn the perspective around in Psalm 127:1, “Because the Lord watches over the city, the watchman does not stay awake in vain.”

4. Expectant

If you scan the Bible’s references about waiting, you’ll see another word pop up constantly. It’s the word “hope.” It means something like “trust” or “putting your settled confidence in something or someone.”

  • “And now O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you” (Psalm 39:7).
  • “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him” (Psalm 62:5).

You can see why waiting is so active. If God is going to be at work, I’d better keep my eyes open! Biblical, hopeful waiting is like a child watching at the living room window for her dad to arrive from work. She waits because she knows her dad will come home.

5. Word-focused

Psalm 130:5 says, “I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope.” What is it we’re expecting God to do? We’re expecting He’ll fulfill His Word!

People who wait on the Lord love the Bible. Like Daniel, we read the Word of God and pray expectantly for Him to fulfill it:

I…perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem…Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer…. (Daniel 9:2–3)

God wants people to remind him of his promises, to actively pray with expectant hope for God to come to our aid. And so all five characteristics come together as God calls on people to “put the Lord in remembrance” (i.e., to remind him):

On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have set watchmen; all the day and all the night they shall never be silent. You who put the Lord in remembrance, take no rest, and give him no rest until he establishes Jerusalem and makes it a praise in the earth. (Isaiah 62:6–7)1

Waiting for Dads

It’s time to add “waiting” to the characteristics of a godly dad. What would it look like for you to be a dad who waits on the Lord? You’d be active in prayer, expressing your dependence on God and expectantly hoping in His Word for answers and aid. Take a few minutes right now to posture yourself before the Lord as a child who waits on his Father.


  1. For some context, God has promised to provide deliverance to Israel, even swearing by Himself in verse 8. But he establishes people to wait (they’re watchman!) by unceasingly praying His own words back to him in expectation that He will come to their rescue. ↩︎

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