Archives For January 2005

Actively Waiting

January 8, 2005 — Leave a comment

I Sam. 17:32-37; Luke 2:41-52
Olivet Covenant Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, PA
© Andy Campbell, 01/08/2005

On August 5th 1930, a boy named Alden was born in Ohio. By all accounts he was a normal, average boy. But early in his life people began to notice that there was something different about this particular boy. Alden was exceptionally bright. By the time he was in first grade, he had read ninety books. Educators found that he was reading on a fifth grade level. As a result, he skipped second grade entirely.

Alden continued to grow and mature much like the other boys his age, the exception being his intellect. He joined the Boy Scouts and enjoyed spending time outdoors. He used to spend summer nights looking through his neighbor’s telescope at the craters on the moon. When he was just six, he flew in a plane for the first time, with his father at the helm. This seemingly innocuous event touched off a love affair with flight that would last a lifetime.

Alden was fascinated with flying. He filled his bedroom with model airplanes. He put together a makeshift wind tunnel in his parent’s basement where he would conduct tests on his models. He hung around the local airstrip, doing odd jobs so he could watch the planes take off and land. Then, at 14, he began studying for his pilot’s license which he received two years later.

When he graduated high school, he attended Purdue University and began work on a degree in aeronautical engineering. He took several years in the middle of his studies to serve as a jet pilot for the Navy. At 20, he was the youngest pilot in his squadron. He flew bombing runs in Korea. He was nearly killed on one of those runs when the wing of his plane suffered heavy damage. Alden kept his cool and guided the crashing plane out of enemy territory before ejecting. In 1955, after his duty in Korea, he completed his degree at Purdue.

He then went to work for Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratories in Cleveland. Alden then went to study at the University of Southern California to further his knowledge in aeronautical engineering. He worked at nearby Edwards Air Force Base developing rocket planes. This led to an opportunity to become a test pilot for these planes. In 1962 he applied for the newly created astronaut program of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Upon his acceptance, he immediately began training for the role of back up command pilot on the Gemini 5 mission.

In 1966, Alden piloted Gemini 8 and successfully completed the first ever docking of two crafts in orbit, Gemini and the Agena. Shortly after separating from the Agena, the manual controls aboard Gemini 8 failed. It began to spin wildly and started to tumble out of control. Alden stayed with it and managed to avert a total disaster by righting the vehicle. However, he was now well away from his reentry point. In a risky move, Alden brought the craft back into the earth’s atmosphere and crash landed it into the Pacific Ocean. This grace under pressure led to another promotion.

In 1969, Alden led another mission into space, this time with fellow astronauts Michael Collins and Edwin Aldrin. They were launched into space aboard the Saturn Rocket, Columbia. By now, you have probably figured out that Alden is more widely known by his first name, Neil. Neil Alden Armstrong’s career culminated in the Apollo XI moon landing. After that mission, he took an administrative position with NASA and eventually resigned in 1971 to teach at the University of Cincinnati.

As we look back on Neil Armstrong’s career, it is easy for us to see how his life perfectly prepared him for his historical walk. From his above average intellect to his ability to remain cool in the face of doom, each experience in his life was leading towards the moon.

Believe it or not, we all have a moonwalk to complete in our lives. The things that you are going through now are God’s way of preparing you to fulfill the unique purpose for which you were created. God uses both good and bad circumstances, wise and foolish decisions to mold us. We see God working in that way throughout the Bible. David’s preparation to fight Goliath came not from military training or battle experience, but from sheep herding. Alone, he would face lions and bears, defeating them with his bare hands to protect his flock. When Goliath seemed untouchable to Saul and his army, David declared that he was ready to fight him, based on his experiences protecting his flock.

When we look at the early life of Jesus, we are given a single verse to inform us what went on during the first thirty years of his life. He grew. Looking back on it, it is easy for us to see that whatever took place in those first thirty years prepared him for the final three. So what was going on?

Luke tells us that Jesus grew in four areas: wisdom, stature, favor with God, and favor with men. Let’s look at those a little closer. Jesus grew in his wisdom. As the passage illustrates for us, Jesus would sit among the rabbis in the temple, soaking up their knowledge of the Scriptures, asking questions, even voicing his own observations. Isn’t that remarkable? Jesus, who is fully God yet fully man, asked questions. Jesus was taught! The very knowledge he amassed he would later use against the rabbis and Pharisees.

Jesus grew in stature. Stature is not a word we use a lot today. It simply refers to maturity. Jesus aged, like all normal people do. He had to learn to walk, he had to be potty trained, he had to go through puberty. Jesus grew up like a normal man. Have you ever wondered if Mary ever “shushed” Jesus?

One thing we learn about Jesus as a boy is that he was obedient to his parents. When they found him in the temple, they reacted like any parent who’s child has ever been lost. They said, “Where have you been? Don’t you ever run off like that again!” And Jesus’ response was to get up and go home with them.

Jesus grew in favor with people. In the early twentieth century a man named Max Weber studied the characteristics of great leaders. He ended up identifying a common trait he called “charisma”. Charisma, according to Weber, is “’a certain quality of an individual personality, by virtue of which s/he is set apart from ordinary people and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities”. It is that intangible thing that seems to draw people to great leaders. The Greek word charis is the root of our word charisma. That is the same Greek word used in this verse that is translated “favor”. Jesus grew in his ability to draw people to him.

You can see this contrasted in his cousin, John. John was seen as a kook. No one doubted that he was prophetically gifted, but most people agreed that he was socially inept. He lived out in the desert, clothed himself in furs, ate locusts and honey. When people came to him to get baptized, he ranted about the One who was coming after him. Although he was an influential, and quite memorable character, he lacked the charisma that Jesus possessed in his ministry. We learn from Luke that his charisma developed over time.

Jesus also grew in favor with God. Does that sound a little strange to you? Jesus, God’s son, God Himself incarnate, grew in a changing, dynamic relationship with his Father. The close relationship he would develop played a crucial role in his ministry. His submission to his Father’s will on the cross was the product of an abiding relationship characterized by trust in the face of his own death.

Jesus grew in those things over decades. He spent the time leading up to his ministry in preparation for his ministry. He was actively waiting for the appointed time to come. He would later use that theme of active waiting in parables such as the Ten Virgins and the Thief and the Homeowner to describe the appropriate posture for us to take as we look to his second coming.

What can we learn from this today? We live in a hyperactive society. Emphasis is placed on speed, multi-tasking, efficiency. One of the by-products is that we seldom tolerate having to wait. It seems like a waste of time. We seldom let ourselves experience stillness because we don’t want to be lazy. Yet, something about this seems to contradict the Biblical pattern. We miss things when we refuse to wait. When Paul was in Athens, he was waiting for Timothy and Silas to join him so that they could continue on their travels. To pass the time, he took a stroll around the city. It was on that stroll that he noticed how many idols were being worshipped. He was upset by this and by the time Timothy and Silas did join him, he was preaching the gospel to the people. What might have happened if Paul had not waited for Timothy and Silas?

Henry Blackaby once said that we must watch to see where God is working and then go and join Him there. We must stop what we’re doing if we’re to see what it is that He’s doing. One of my favorite television stations is the Discovery Channel. I like the shows that document life on the African plains. Have you ever seen a lion crouching in the high grass about to spring on her prey? She is motionless, low to the ground, waiting. It is how she waits that fascinates me most. Every muscle in her body is tight. She is wound up and actively waiting for the right moment to act.

We need to take this same attitude when we’re waiting for God. Sometimes God has us all ready to go, yet He asks us to wait while He arranges other things for us. What does active waiting look like in our lives? How do we wait without being lazy? I suggest three things to tense our muscles in anticipation: silence, solitude, and study. Those sound like very monastic activities, and they are, but they need to be engaged by every Christian. We need to practice both inward and outward silence. Outward silence is simply not talking. That can be hard. However, you will be amazed at how much you hear when you simply stop talking.

Inward silence can be much more difficult to attain. Inward silence involves quieting your mind. I find that this is particularly hard for me. It seems that I always have a song stuck in my head, or a running monologue in my mind. Some people will find that focused meditation helps them with inward silence. Others will find that it takes going to a special place, something that is set apart for them to be quiet. You must find what works best for you. Inward silence allows you to hear God’s still, small voice in an amazingly clear way.

Solitude is getting away from places and people to be alone. That scares some people. Being alone and loneliness are not always synonymous. Jesus made a regular practice of withdrawing from the crowds and his disciples to be alone. We need to do the same. The purpose of both silence and solitude is not any particular action or activity, but drawing closer to God. As we draw closer to God, our actions will spring out of our relationship with Him. To get to know a person better, you spend time with that person. The same is true with God.

Study is perhaps the most familiar to us. Most of us know that we need to read the Bible on a regular basis. But how many of us can say why? First and foremost, the Bible is the story of God and His undying, unconditional love for people. Along the way we learn moral and ethical principles designed to make that relationship with God easier to attain. However, we do God a great disservice to whittle His story down to a handbook of morals. The Pharisees were guilty of that and Jesus stood squarely in opposition to them.

Finally, remember that our prayers to God are conversations. We talk to Him and we listen to Him. He listens to us and He talks to us. So many of us use prayer as a time to read off a list of things we need God to do. God isn’t Santa Claus. He desires much more than us sitting on His lap to tell Him what we want. God wants a dynamic relationship with us that will result in guiding and preparing us for our own moonwalk. We must actively wait for Him to show us what the next move will be.