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Psalm 40:1-11

I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.

Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods. 

Many, Lord my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us. None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare. 

Sacrifice and offering you did not desire – but my ears you have opened – burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. Then I said, “Here I am, I have come – it is written about me in the scroll. I desire to do your will, my God; your law is within my heart.”

I proclaim your saving acts in the great assembly; I do not seal my lips, Lord, as you know. I do not hide your righteousness in my heart; I speak of your faithfulness and your saving help. I do not conceal your love and your faithfulness from the great assembly.

Do not withhold your mercy from me, Lord; may your love and faithfulness always protect me.

When I was young and we would go visit our family doctor it was always a half day affair. Whether all three of us kids had appointments within the same time slot, or if it was just one of us, our family doctor was not known for the speed with which he worked through his patient list. If you had an appointment at 1:30, it was at least 3:30 when you saw him. And this was before online check-ins and online wait lists. That means, if you had an appointment at 1:30, even though you knew you wouldn’t see him until 3:30, you had to physically show up at his office and wait. If you tried to show up at 3:30, guessing his schedule, you would start at the end of the list and be waiting until 6 to see him.

As you can imagine (maybe even relate) waiting in small room with the same Owl and Chickadee magazines that have been there for 15 years is not something conducive to impatient young boys like my brothers and me. The waiting was agony – and I can only imagine how much more so for my mom… I can remember crawling under the chairs, sitting in them upside-down whining about how long it was. On rare occasions we went to the doctor because we were actually sick, I can remember grumpily huddling in a corner chair pouting my sickliness for all to see.

Contrast that experience of waiting with another: I remember going to my first Major League Baseball game. I was in grade 4 or 5, and the regional Cadet groups from Classis Toronto Churches had set up a group gameday experience. A group of boys and counsellors from our church drove to downtown Toronto, where we meet the other churches’ Cadet groups. We were all given bright, florescent yellow (it was the early 90’s) 5-panel baseball caps with a string across the front above the brim and the Cadet logo on the front panel. From there the large group of us had to wait in line to collect our tickets and be ushered to our group seats. The whole process took a long time – and we had to wait. But this time, the waiting was different. We were all excited and full of anticipation, we could barely contain the fascination of standing beside the Skydome and in the shadow of the CN Tower; there was street performs playing music and scalpers calling out for ticket sales. It was chaotic and exciting and all us boys were bouncing on the balls of our feet trying to take it all in.

In both these examples I had to wait. The manner of my waiting however, was dramatically different – not just because of the thing I was waiting for (a doctors visit or baseball game are two very different experiences), but also because of my attitude and actions before I started waiting.

Psalm 40 is a reflection on waiting. But not just on waiting, on how we wait and the attitude of our waiting before whatever circumstance is upcoming. Most translations I have read of Psalm 40 begin by saying, “I waited patiently for the Lord…” (NIV, ESV, KJV, NASB, ASV) And while I don’t think this is the intention of the author, when most of us read this text, we have a tendency to (hyper?) spiritualize the concept of “waiting patiently” that creates shame in us as readers because it’s easy to think, “I’m not very good at waiting patiently for whatever God is doing…”, we want God to act now – and if he doesn’t, we get upset, or even worse, we get apathetic. On the other hand, sometimes we think what it means to “wait patiently” is to sit back and wait for God to reveal exactly what we are supposed to do in an audible voice or with some special revelation – until that happens, we don’t do anything.

What David writes in Psalm 40 on waiting is neither of those. In fact, in the Hebrew text of vs. 1 it literally says, “I waited waiting.” This is a literary device (called doubling) that conveys intensification and magnitude. The NET translates the phrase, “I completely relied on the Lord…” The idea is that our waiting on the Lord is not passive but filled with great focus and effort. As one writer says, “Servants waiting on a great lord are not twiddling their thumbs but watching every expression and gesture to discern their master’s will. Waiting on God, then, is to be busy in service to God and to others, all in full acceptance of his wisdom and timing.”[1]

David’s intentional waiting is focused on what God has done for him (vs. 2). Even as he waits for God to act in the present, he knows God is able and willing because God has acted in the past (vs. 5). Further, David’s waiting isn’t passive, but it is filled with worship: “He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.” (vs. 3) Worship isn’t an idle passing the time until something else comes along – all the time that passes is meant for us to worship throughout. I think this point is underscored when David writes: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire… burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require.” (vs. 6) The outward rituals are not enough; ears must be opened to hear the word of God (vs. 6) and hearts transformed to effect a change of desire and will (vs. 8). True worship – what Jesus will call worshiping in Spirit and in truth (John 4:21-24) – involves transformed hearts and minds and will bring about transformation in people and communities. This is the kind of obedience that comes from faith (Rom. 1:5); rather than the kind of obedience that people substitute for faith.

Finally, the way Psalm 40 talks about waiting on the Lord requires an outward looking, outward proclaiming statement of faith: “Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.” (vs. 3b) It’s interesting to me that this is put in parallel with the clause about worship. Not only is our worship (even our all of life worship) corporate (with other believers), it is incorporating of those who don’t yet see and fear, who don’t yet trust in the Lord. In some way, our worship must expect and welcome people who don’t yet know and believe. As well, David includes proclaiming as part of waiting eagerly; proclaiming is part of what it looks like to completely rely on the Lord: “I proclaim your acts in the great assembly; I do not seal my lips, Lord… I do not hide your righteousness… I speak your faithfulness… I do not conceal your love and faithfulness from the great assembly.” (vs. 9,10)

The “how” of Christian waiting is worshiping, working, and proclaiming – with confidence that the Lord will act. We know this to be true because, like David, we can look back and see God at work; even more than David though, we can look back and see what David could only hope for! The author of the Letter to the Hebrews takes this Psalm (specifically vs. 6-8) and tells us it is fulfilled in the “sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Heb. 10:10) He lived the life we should have lived and died the death that we should have died in order to bring us to God. 

What David prays in vs. 11, we see made true in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And now, as we wait for his kingdom to come in fullness may it be full of eager anticipation and energetic excitement even greater than a group of boys waiting to watch Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar.

Lord Jesus, help me to wait patiently – but not passively. Help me to worship and to proclaim throughout whatever trial, trouble, or joy I may be in. Most of all, use whatever I face to reveal more and more the face of Jesus to my heart and mind. In his name, Amen.

[1] Tim Keller, Songs of Jesus, 82.