Teach Me Your Paths: Waiting on the Lord | Psalm 25
Brian Hedges | August 15, 2021
This morning we’re going to look at Psalm 25 once again. We’ve already considered this psalm as a model for prayer, we’ve seen that the heart of the psalm is a man who fears the Lord; and last week we saw his focus on his sin—dealing with his sin, confessing his sin to the Lord and asking the Lord for forgiveness. This morning I want us to focus on a theme that is really crucial to the Christian life, the theme of waiting on the Lord. We might call this the discipline of waiting.
There’s an author named Gary Thomas who wrote a very helpful little book called Authentic Faith: The Power of a Fire-Tested Life. There’s a chapter in this book on the discipline of waiting, and he calls it “that excruciating exercise.” Waiting is difficult, it’s not easy, and yet it’s something that is right at the heart of a life of faithfulness to God. There often are times in our lives where we have to wait on the Lord.
Thomas says, “God’s blessings do not always come with the speed of a bullet, but rather with the slow, steady approach of a glacier.” I think all of us have been through times in our lives where we were waiting on the Lord to bring some kind of deliverance or some kind of provision or guidance, or maybe even spiritually a sense of his presence, an assurance of our forgiveness. All of those are ways in which we have to wait on the Lord.
This psalm models that kind of waiting on God for us, and I want to begin, as I have each week, by reading the entire psalm. As I read, just watch for the appearance of this word “wait,” or if you’re using the NIV it’s the word “hope.” Let’s read it, Psalm 25:1. David is praying, and he says,
“To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust;
let me not be put to shame;
let not my enemies exult over me.
Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame;
they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
“Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all the day long.
“Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for the sake of your goodness, O Lord!
“Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.
All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.
“For your name's sake, O Lord,
pardon my guilt, for it is great.
Who is the man who fears the Lord?
Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose.
His soul shall abide in well-being,
and his offspring shall inherit the land.
The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him,
and he makes known to them his covenant.
My eyes are ever toward the Lord,
for he will pluck my feet out of the net.
“Turn to me and be gracious to me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.
The troubles of my heart are enlarged;
bring me out of my distresses.
Consider my affliction and my trouble,
and forgive all my sins.
“Consider how many are my foes,
and with what violent hatred they hate me.
Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me!
Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.
May integrity and uprightness preserve me,
for I wait for you.
“Redeem Israel, O God,
out of all his troubles.”
This is the word of the Lord.
I want us to see three things this morning: the necessity of waiting, the practice of waiting, and the God for whom we wait. We’re really answering three questions: Why do we need to wait? How do we do it? Who is it that we wait upon?
1. The Necessity of Waiting
First of all, why—the necessity of waiting. Notice once again the appearance of this word “wait” three times in this passage: in verse 3, “None who wait for you shall be put to shame”; in verse 5, “For you I wait all the day long”; verse 21, “May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you.”
Why is David saying this, and what does he mean when he talks about waiting on the Lord?
David is writing as a man in trouble. We’ve already seen that. Here’s a man who is facing enemies, he has troubles, distresses, trials, afflictions. He is in distress, and it’s because he is in distress that he is looking to the Lord, expressing his trust in the Lord, praying to God for deliverance, and waiting upon the Lord.
This word “wait” is the Hebrew word kivah, and it means to wait for or look for, to look forward with confidence to that which is good and beneficial, often with a focus of anticipation in a future event. This is obviously a definition from a lexicon. It says that “when the object of hope is the Lord, there is an eager expectation of salvation or deliverance.”
That’s the case in this psalm. Here’s a man who is in trouble, and he’s looking to the Lord for deliverance from his trouble. Now, this is often the case in the psalms. I think it’s about 20 times that the psalms use this word, talking about waiting on the Lord, and there’s always a context, there’s always something specific that the person writing is waiting for.
Sometimes it’s guidance. Here’s someone who’s in confusion; he needs direction, guidance in life, so he waits for the Lord.
Sometimes it’s provision, some needs to be met. Sometimes it’s deliverance from a trial or from a difficult situation or from trouble or danger.
Sometimes it’s someone waiting for an assurance that they are forgiven. They’re waiting on the Lord, they’re waiting for a fresh manifestation of God’s grace and God’s comfort, confidence that they are forgiven.
All of those are reasons why we need to wait on the Lord. This word gets used again in the prophetic writings of the Old Testament; for example, Isaiah. In the Prophets, the context is the whole people of God who are in exile. They are under God’s judgment, they are exiled away from their homeland in Assyria or in Babylon, and they are waiting for God to fulfill his promises to restore his people.
Perhaps the most famous text of all (many of you will know this; you may even have this on a plaque on the wall in your home): “Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted, but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:30-31).
This is something that all of us have to do in our lives. We all encounter these seasons and these situations in life where we are stressed, where we are in trouble, where we are facing difficulties, trials, troubles. We feel lonely, afflicted, overwhelmed, and what we need is to exercise faith in the Lord and wait upon him.
Many things in life bring us into this state. It can be a bad diagnosis. You go to the doctor and the diagnosis is cancer or MS or Alzheimer’s. It may be facing disappointment or conflict or breakdown in personal relationships. It may be some loss that you experience, it may be some dream that is left unfulfilled. It can happen through a serious injury, through some kind of accident, through losing a job or financial trouble that leads to bankruptcy. The list goes on!
If you’ve lived for any length of time, you’ve already faced this to some degree, and of course, the older you get the more these losses accumulate, the more trials you face, and the more we have to encounter these things that bring us sometimes to the brink of our faith, where we have to exercise faith and trust in the Lord. Wait upon the Lord.
One of my favorite authors is the 17th-century Puritan congregationalist John Owen. He wrote a wonderful exposition of Psalm 130, which talks about waiting on the Lord, and in that book he describes waiting on the Lord in terms of a sailor at sea. Imagine someone who’s been at sea for a long period of time, they’re longing to be back home, and the only thing that keeps them hoping is an occasional sliver of a glimpse of land on the horizon. They’re looking for that, they’re waiting for that, and they’re wanting to get home once again.
That’s what life sometimes feels like in this world. We find ourselves waiting. We can see just a glimmer of hope, but we haven’t received it yet. The deliverance hasn’t come, the guidance hasn’t come, the provision hasn’t come. Ultimately, of course, we’re waiting for final salvation, right? We’re waiting for glorification, we’re waiting for Jesus to return, we’re waiting for all of the brokenness of this world to be healed.
We could put it simply like this: waiting is necessary because life is difficult, the world is broken, we are not yet fully redeemed. The practice of waiting on the Lord is crucial to the life of faith; it builds our faithfulness, it builds our character, and over a lifetime it builds deep confidence and trust in the Lord and in his faithfulness to us. The necessity of waiting; this is why we need to wait.
2. The Practice of Waiting
How do we do it? That’s the next question. How do you wait upon the Lord?
Once again, John Owen’s been helpful, and I want to use some of his thoughts here to outline this second point. Owen talked about three attitudes or three dispositions of the heart that were essential to waiting on the Lord. Those three things are quietness, diligence, and expectancy or hope.
(1) Quietness is in contrast to anxiety or haste or impatience in our lives. Owen pointed to Lamentations 3:25-26. “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.”
The opposite of that is when we’re not waiting quietly at all. We’re like that person in the old story who was really upset, and someone asked him why, and he said, “Well, I’m in a hurry and the Lord’s not!” That’s how we often feel. We want things fixed, and we want them fixed now. But God’s timetable is not our timetable, so we have to learn to wait with patience for the Lord to answer.
This is implied in Psalm 25:5, where David says, “Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.” There’s patience in that. He’s waiting for the Lord.
This is an extended waiting, and often it is in our lives. One of the first things we have to do is bring our heart into a quiet state. We have to submit our will, our desires, our prayers, our requests, we submit them to the Lord. We quiet our hearts before the Lord, and we trust that God is good, God is wise, God has a plan, even if we don’t understand it. So we wait with quietness.
(2) Secondly, with diligence. Diligence stands in contrast to spiritual passivity, what we might call sloth or neglect. Don’t get the idea that waiting on the Lord means doing nothing at all. Instead, waiting on the Lord is a very active quest for God; it’s seeking the Lord while we wait for him to work.
Once again you see this in the psalm, in David’s earnest prayer for guidance, his earnest desire to be instructed in God’s ways, in the truth of God. Look at verses 4-5. “Make me to know your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.”
John Owen illustrated this by appealing to the Song of Solomon. There’s a place in the Song of Songs, even if you don’t agree with the Christological interpretation (and that’s fine), this is a good illustration of what it means to wait. In the Song of Songs 3, the spouse is estranged from her beloved, from her lover, and she says, “On my bed by night I sought him whom my soul loves. I sought him, but found him not.”
What does she do? She hasn’t found him; what does she do? She says, “I will rise now and go about the city, in the streets and in the squares. I will seek him whom my soul loves. I sought him but found him not.”
Then in verse 4: “When I found him whom my soul loves, I held him and I would not let him go.” She’s leaving no stone uncovered in her quest for her beloved. If this is the believer in relationship to Christ or the church in relationship to God, this should describe our quest for the Lord. We love him, but we are not close to him, and so we quest for him. Or we need him to answer in a particular way, so we use every means to seek him out.
This is how Owen describes it. He says, “This, then, belongs unto the waiting of the soul: diligence in the use of means whereby God is pleased ordinarily to communicate a sense of pardon and forgiveness. What these means are is known: prayer, meditation, reading, hearing of the word, dispensation of the sacraments; they are all appointed to this purpose, they are all means of communicating love and grace to the soul.”
Then here’s an exhortation: “Be not then heartless or slothful; up and be doing! Attend with diligence to the word of grace, be fervent in prayer, assiduous in all use of the ordinances of the church. In one or other of them at one time or other thou wilt meet with him whom thy soul loveth, and God through him will speak peace unto thee.”
It may be that you need that exhortation this morning, that you need to be “up and doing,” that you need to assiduously use every means available to your disposal to diligently seek for the Lord. If you’re facing some difficulty, if you’re in need of guidance or provision or some kind of tangible help or deliverance in your life, pray for it! Ask for it! Seek the Lord’s help. We need to do this in our lives. This is how we wait on the Lord with diligence, not just passively doing nothing, but diligently seeking after God.
(3) Then there’s a third attitude, and that is expectancy or hope. This stands in contrast to unbelief or despair. Owen quotes Psalm 62:5: “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.”
As we’ve already seen, David in this psalm is waiting on the Lord, and that word “wait” can be translated hope. If you’re reading from the NIV, it’s the word hope. “For you I hope.” In fact, every time he expresses this in the psalm, the object of his waiting or his hoping is in the Lord. Right? Verse 3, “Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame.” Verse 5, “You are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.” Verse 21, “For you I wait.”
God is the object of our hope. We wait for the Lord with hope in him. This is not some flimsy wish that may or may not be fulfilled; hope in Scripture is always a confident expectation that God will fulfill his promises. We expect him to work.
A quiet heart, diligent in the use of means, and hopeful expectation that God will work; we need all three of these things. In fact, if you have one of these things missing, you’re going to be out of balance in your spiritual life.
If you have quietness but there’s no diligence, you’re going to tend to be passive, maybe even lazy and negligent. It can lead to escapism, it can be burying our heads in the sand. We’re quiet because we’re just checked out, we’re indifferent, we don’t care anymore; but we’re not diligent. That’s not the kind of quietness we need; we need quietness coupled with diligence.
But if you have diligence without quietness, what’s that? That’s the person who’s frenetic in their effort; they’re trying to do all of these things to fix it, and it’s diligence, but it’s not really focused on waiting upon the Lord. They’re trying to fix it themselves. What we need is quietness before the Lord and then diligence using the means of grace to seek him.
Either one of these things without hope in God is discouraging, leads to despair. We have to have our hope in the Lord, because he is the one who actually comes through and delivers.
Think about this in relationship to specific things that we are waiting upon God for. For example, if you’re waiting for guidance, what does that look like? Well, quietness means that you’re quieting your heart before the Lord in prayer and you’re asking him to guide you; but diligence means that you’re seeking counsel, you are ransacking Scripture, you want to be sure that you’re walking in the revealed word of God. You’re considering your options. Expectation means that you expect God to guide you; you expect him to make your paths straight.
If you’re waiting for provision, quietness means that you are bringing your needs before the Lord, you’re asking him to give you your daily bread; but diligence means you’re working hard, you’re being a good steward of your resources. Expectation means that you are trusting that God will provide what you need; he is Jehovah-Jireh, right, the Lord who provides.
If you’re waiting for some spiritual change or transformation or comfort or the presence or comfort of God in your life, quietness means prayer and solitude and silence before the Lord. Diligence means that we are utilizing all the means of grace. We are in his word, we are meditating on Scripture, we are attending worship, right? We are using the means God has given. And expectation means that we are looking to God to do the work. He is the Lord who sanctifies, who comforts, and delivers.
I think so often what happens in our lives is that when we go through trials, instead of intensifying our quest for God, our seeking after God, we tend to withdraw. We tend to withdraw from community, we tend to fall back, we tend to get lax in spiritual disciplines. We need to do the opposite. When you’re in trials, that’s when you really need the church, that’s when you really the Lord, that’s when you really need your Bible, that’s when you really need prayer. We need to be diligent even as we quiet our hearts before the Lord.
That’s how you wait: quietness, diligence, and expectant hope.
3. The God for Whom We Wait
But the real key to waiting isn’t just in what you do; the real key is in the God upon whom you wait, the God for whom you wait. Isaiah 64:4 says, “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.” God acts on behalf of those who wait for him! God does something!
We’re not just talking about psychologically getting yourself into a state of resignation and, “Hey, sirrah, sirrah; whatever will be will be.” That’s not it at all. We’re waiting upon God, God who cares for us and loves us, the God who acts for those who wait for him.
Who is this God? Let’s consider for a few minutes now the portrait of God given to us in Psalm 25. We’ve done this each week in relationship to our various points of emphasis, but today, in relationship to the God who acts for those who wait for him—who is this God?
(1) He is, first of all, the God who saves, delivers, and redeems. Look at verse 5. “He is the God of my salvation.” Look at verse 15: “My eyes are ever toward the Lord, for he will pluck my feet out of the net.” David pictures himself like a bird that is ensnared in the trap of a hunter. Here’s David, facing opposition from enemies; he’s in trouble, he’s stressed. What’s he doing? He’s looking to the Lord and he’s saying, “The Lord will deliver me. He will set me feet out of the snare.” Right? “He will deliver me.” He’s looking to the Lord for deliverance.
Verse 20: “O guard my soul and deliver me,” he says. In verse 22, “Redeem Israel, O God, out of all his troubles.” These verses show us the saving, sovereign power of God to deliver and redeem his people. God is able to do what we need him to do, so we ask him to be true to his word.
(2) Number two, he is the God who loves, remembers, and forgives. Verses 6-7: “Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me for the sake of your goodness, O Lord.” Verses 10-11: “All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies. For your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great.”
God is not only powerful and able to deliver, he is merciful. He is marked by covenant love, steadfast love and faithfulness. This is a God who makes and keeps his promises to his people. He loves you! Do you know that, Christian? God loves you, and whatever you’re going through right now, he loves you in the middle of it. He is for you and not against you.
(3) He is also the God who leads and guides and instructs. Verses 8-9: “Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right and teaches the humble his way.” Verse 12: “Who is the man who fears the Lord? Him will he instruct in the way he should choose.”
This shows us the goodness and the wisdom of God. He is good, and therefore his ways are good and right. He is wise, and so he never allows anything in our lives that he does not have wise purposes for.
Listen, the doctrine of the providence of God teaches us that everything that God permits to befall us in our lives, no matter how hard or difficult, even the bad circumstances of our lives, he allows them for a purpose—a purpose that, when we see it all, when it’s all said and done, we will say, “That was good. It wasn’t good that I went through this experience in and of itself, but what you did with it was good.” We will be able to say that.
C.S. Lewis one time said, “They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that heaven once attained will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.” If you believe that, it changes everything.
This is the God for whom we wait; the God who saves, delivers and redeems; the God who remembers, loves, and forgives; the God who leads, guides, and instructs. We need to wait. We wait for him, we practice waiting with diligence, with quietness, with hope, and this is the God that we wait for.
The New Testament uses this language of waiting in relationship to Jesus Christ. Of course, it is in Christ, in the gospel, that we have the supreme demonstration of God’s faithfulness in and through waiting. We are to wait for the Lord. Let me read a few verses to you.
1 Thessalonians 1:10, “We wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”
Titus 2:13; God’s grace trains us to wait for “our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Galatians 5:5, “Through the Spirit we by faith eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.”
2 Peter 3:13; we are waiting for a “new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.”
Maybe the most poignant passage of all is in Romans 8, where Paul talks about how the whole creation is groaning and is longing and waiting for redemption to come, and it says we who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, that we “groan inwardly as we wait for the redemption of our bodies.”
That is what faith is like in this world this side of heaven, this side of glorification. It’s waiting for redemption to come. Now, there are many, many ways in which God brings deliverance in this temporal life, but ultimately we are waiting for Jesus to return and for this world to be set right.
This was the experience of Jesus himself, because when you look at the life of Jesus, here’s a man who’s truly God, yes, but also truly man, and in his humanity Jesus kneels in Gethsemane, he prays for the cup to pass, and it doesn’t pass. He goes all the way to death, he goes all the way to crucifixion. He’s waiting for the Lord and it seems like the Lord doesn’t hear, but then—resurrection on Sunday morning.
Think about the experience of the disciples in this. They see him crucified, and they are hopeless, right? They are hopeless when Jesus dies. They endure the rest of that Friday and all that Saturday, and it’s only on Sunday morning when they see Jesus that they begin to understand the plan that God had all along, they begin to understand what Jesus had said.
I would suggest to you that, in a way, the whole world is still living in Holy Saturday, right? Jesus has risen from the dead—he’s the firstfruits of those who are raised—but resurrection for the rest of us is still coming. The renewal of this fallen world is still coming. So there’s a sense in which we are waiting for that final resurrection, but we know the end of the story, and because we know the end of the story we have every reason to hope and to trust God and express confidence in God. Christ is risen, therefore we wait for him and we wait for the completion of our redemption.
When we have that perspective, when we trust the character of God, it enables us to walk through these trials faithfully, with our eyes set on him.
I want to end by reading some words to you from John Newton, the famous author of “Amazing Grace.” John Newton was an amazing hymn-writer, and only a handful of those hymns are sung today. Here’s one that we’ve never sung here, I’ve never heard it
sung. I didn’t even grow up singing this song, but a friend of mine posted this on Facebook about a week ago, and as soon as I read the words I thought of this sermon, because the words are so good. I thought, “This will encourage people. This will be helpful.” So I want to read a few verses to you.
My Savior is near,
And for my relief
Will surely appear;
By prayer let me wrestle,
And He will perform;
With Christ in the vessel,
I smile at the storm.
“Though dark be my way,
Since He is my Guide,
’Tis mine to obey,
’Tis His to provide;
Though cisterns be broken,
And creatures all fail,
The word He hath spoken
Shall surely prevail.
“His love, in time past,
Forbids me to think
He’ll leave me at last
In trouble to sink:
Each sweet Ebenezer
I have in review
Confirms His good pleasure
To help me quite through.
“Why should I complain
Of want or distress,
Temptation or pain?
He told me no less;
The heirs of salvation,
I know from His Word,
Through much tribulation
Must follow their Lord.
“How bitter that cup
No heart can conceive,
Which He drank quite up,
That sinners might live!
His way was much rougher
And darker than mine;
Did Christ, my Lord, suffer,
And shall I repine?
“Since all that I meet
Shall work for my good,
The bitter is sweet,
The medicine, food;
Though painful at present,
’Twill cease before long,
And then, oh, how pleasant
The conqueror’s song!”
You see, that’s the perspective of faith. When we read our trials through the lens of the goodness and the wisdom and the steadfast love of God, when we believe the truth that because of what Jesus Christ has done—if God is for us, nothing can be against us; resurrection is coming—it means that the bitter becomes sweet, the medicine that tastes so bad right now will be food to nourish you. It means that every agony will be turned into a glory. God wastes nothing. No trial you face will ultimately do you harm if you are in Christ. It will do you good. Trust in him this morning. Let’s pray.
Father, we cling this morning to the promises of your word, as difficult as it is in the things that we face, and I know enough of the burdens of our congregation this morning to know that there are many griefs and many trials, many burdens on the hearts of your people in this room. But Lord, if the gospel is true, if death leads to life, if the cross leads to resurrection, if suffering leads to glory, if agonies are turned into glories, then Lord, we have no cause to fear. We have every reason to hope, to expect that you will work these things out for our good, and therefore we wait upon you, we quiet our hearts and submit to your mysterious but wise and good will. We trust you, Lord. You’ve shown your faithfulness to us.
We ask you to draw near to us in comfort, in encouragement this morning. We ask you, Lord, to hear our requests and to meet our needs, to show your faithfulness this morning.
Lord, as we come to the table, may the Lord’s table be for us a means of grace. Whereas we by faith take these elements, we know the assurance that you are for us and not against us. So draw near to us as we worship. We pray it in Jesus’ name, amen.