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Why Leaders Must Wait for Those They Love

This article was originally published on The Gospel Coalition.

As a leader, your heart breaks. It’s someone close to you—maybe a church member, a dear friend, a sibling, or even one of your kids. You love them, but you hate their choices. It’s not a self-righteous thing; you just see how their decisions are stalling their growth.

That’s not to say there is no progress. It’s just all seems backward. You’ve prayed and sought counsel. Everything that can be said has been said. All that’s left is waiting. But leaders don’t wait well; we are wired for initiative. Waiting feels so counterintuitive, so docile, like you are running off the field to hit the showers and then take a seat in the stands.

Real leaders don’t wait, they initiate! So why wait?

Waiting Is Active

In Scripture, waiting is never passive. In fact, it’s an aggressive, faith-fueled, Godward thing. Waiting is a display of glorious weakness where we move deliberately and consistently toward God in prayerful reliance, asking him to do what only he can. For David, it required strength and courage (Ps. 27:1431:24). Far from inert, waiting displays a deep and abiding faith in God’s ability to respond. “But for you, O LORD, do I wait; it is you, O LORD my God, who will answer” (Ps. 38:15).

Waiting is really about the heart’s “lean.” When the gospel is at work in our heart, it has a chiropractic effect. It adjusts our soul away from self-sufficiency and shifts our posture toward God. We go from tilting away from God to leaning toward him, from being active in the flesh to active in the Spirit. Dependence replaces independence as our agenda for change in others is deleted and replaced with a quiet but dynamic trust in God’s active warfare on behalf of those we love.

Make no mistake. It takes guts to wait.

Waiting Strengthens Us

Waiting is not just a discipline we impose, but a grace we experience. We lean into the promise of his blessing and provision. Isaiah 40:31 is one such promise:

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.

This is not a set-up. God is not “playing” you, and he is not playing games. Waiting supplies power. We get lift, we experience resilience, we find strength for the long game. Sitting prayerfully in the waiting room as you keep watch for the Divine Physician, a strange thing happens. Faith becomes durable.

It’s true that waiting may not gain us one iota of interpretation on why the one we love has chosen this perplexing path. But we have something far more valuable than foreknowledge or insider information. First, we know the One who created all paths (Phil. 3: 8). Next, we know he loves this misguided soul far more than we do (John 3:16). Last, we remember the God we love seeks the lost (Luke 19:10) and promises to reach into our worried days of waiting to kickstart our strength.

And so we wait.

Waiting Tenderizes Us

People sliding from God are almost always dull to their weakness and sin. They may be hearers, like the man who “looks at himself (in a mirror) and goes away and at once forgets what he was like” (Jas. 1:24). Or they may have shut their ears completely to gospel truth (2 Tim. 2:17–18). Regardless, their choices become your burden.

How does a pastor or leader keep his heart tender with love when sin abounds and words are spent?

We get ready and wait. Something deeply personal and transformational happens as we wait. Our busy hearts settle as we expectantly and eagerly pray for repentance and reconciliation. This God-lean shifts our attitude toward the “slow changer” and tenderizes our heart to receive their repentance when it finally arrives. Remember when Jesus spoke of the self-forgetful sinner? “If he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him” (Luke 17:4).

Think about it: Seven times in one day. That’s one seriously deluded dude who exports chaos into your world! How do you keep going after the fourth or fifth incident of sin from the same person? How do you still the soul while praying for a more, shall we say, “fruit-bearing” repentance?

Waiting Teaches Us

Again, it’s about the lean. Leaning toward God as we wait brings forgiveness into play, because we remember the hell-deserving sins from which we’ve been forgiven. And we remember God waited patiently for us (Rom. 2:4). As this happens, God’s Spirit compels us to not only let go of the pain but to cultivate a heart that loves those who hurt us. We can then wait in hope, not stew in cynicism.

Only the gospel can truly tenderize the heart to wait for change. And as a weary pastor or leader bearing the wounds inflicted by sinners, it’s what you most need right now.

And so we wait. Lean toward God, actively and expectantly. Beat back worry and fear, apply the gospel, and trust that God’s change will come in his perfect time.

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