Multiple choice


It always perturbs me, when I go to Orange County airport and park in the outside parking structure, having to push the crosswalk button. You’d think that such minor annoyances would be of equally minor import and by and large they are. It isn’t about the act of needing to push the button or even having to walk across the often un-busy road that circumnavigates the airport. What tends to push my buttons is when I push the button, whoever installed the crosswalk system saw fit to use an annoying voice to acknowledge the push. In an obnoxious, authoritative, masculine, and curt voice the system responds with an abrupt, “Wait!”

One would think such insignificant happenstances would not even register on the irritation scale. I suspect it has less to do with the voice and brusqueness and more to do with the concept. Let’s face it, who among us enjoys dealing with the notion of waiting, for anything? We’d all likely agree that it’s a propos for the word “wait” to be a four-letter word. But there’s an importance to waiting especially in terms of crossing a street. Waiting promotes safe crossing. Waiting allows for impediments to movement to be cleared. In other situations, I’ve had waiting result in discussions and encounters that wouldn’t have happened without the waiting. Waiting at a railroad crossing certainly seems to be a wise choice. Hence, waiting isn’t always bad; but waiting is always poorly received.

It’s bad enough that we lose our cool when having to wait to cross a street, or at the grocery store (don’t even get me started with Costco), or on the freeway, or to board an airplane. Perhaps the most unbearable type is in the multiple-choice manner in which God can answer our prayers. It’s said he has three primary ways …

  1. a) Yes
  2. b) No
  3. c) Wait

Hold on … that last one, item c), was just an example. No need to get angry with me. 😎

Yes, anything equated with waiting is anathema these days. It was also in the days of the Hebrews in the Bible, particularly around the multiple choice response of God to our prayers and petitions. Perhaps there’s a purpose in the multiple choice “wait” response. One example of how this is so arose this week as I read from Exodus 1-21. When we look through God’s deliverance of the Hebrews from their Egyptian captivity, the multiple choice seems to be the choice of greater blessing. Let’s check it out in a couple snippets from Exodus 5:22-23

Then Moses went back to the Lord and protested, “Why have you brought all this trouble on your own people, Lord? Why did you send me? Ever since I came to Pharaoh as your spokesman, he has been even more brutal to your people. And you have done nothing to rescue them!”

and Exodus 6:6-8:

“Therefore, say to the people of Israel: ‘I am the Lord. I will free you from your oppression and will rescue you from your slavery in Egypt. I will redeem you with a powerful arm and great acts of judgment. I will claim you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God who has freed you from your oppression in Egypt. I will bring you into the land I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I will give it to you as your very own possession. I am the Lord!’”

Here’s the situation … the Israelites were under the oppression of slavery to the Egyptians and pharaoh for 430 years. God situated Moses to serve as His instrument of deliverance for the Israelites. Moses was hesitant and felt ill-equipped to accomplish the monumental task of overcoming the persecutors of his people. When God properly positioned and motivated Moses (saying it lightly), Moses and his brother Aaron confronted pharaoh as God instructed them. Pharaoh’s immediate response was to come down all the heavier on the Israelites, which is what leads to Moses’s lament in 5:22-23. Essentially, Moses is saying, “God, what are you waiting for? Why are you making your people wait for your deliverance? Why is this getting worse? Where are you?”

Waiting stinks. But when we’re talking about God, waiting is not frivolous or purposeless. The verses in chapter 6 make this clear, and God anchors his response in some incredibly formidable ways. He articulates His promise to Moses and the Israelites in the most magnanimous way He can … the four most potent words we can ever depend on … “I am the Lord.” And all the more crucial, He bookends His response by finishing with, “I am the Lord.” It’s the strongest reassurance any of us can receive. And then in regard to the multiple choice answer (e.g., choice c. wait) God earlier provided, He gave the reason for the answer … eight successive instances of guarantee of encouragement, hope, and comfort … accompanied by the words, “I will.”

So the totality of God’s substantiation for his multiple choice method of answering His peoples’ prayers, including yours and mine, is in essence, “I am. I can. I will.” He’s saying that with the wait comes the work, and with the work God can accomplish His wonders. It’s only with and through the waiting, however, that this can happen.

In light of this, we should draw comfort or at least more easily be willing to envelop ourselves in the methods of God as He answers the multiple choice question of our prayers with “wait.” We can take solace in the fact that He is the Lord … the Creator of the universe, the Creator of us, the Sustainer of all that exists. In His love for us, He then declares us that He “will.” He will see His purposes through to fruition. He will keep His promises. He will deliver us from our personal bondage and our afflictions. He will never change in His love for us. With that as the backdrop … perhaps the “wait” won’t be quite so unpleasant. My prayer for us is that we will rest in that.

Soli Deo gloria!