As laborers in the harvest field, we work and sweat, hoping for a positive result from what we plant. Then there are the many months of silence and stillness in the winter months in-between the sowing and reaping seasons. Psalm 130 speaks of the journey of waiting in those dark, cold months for God to come through with the light of spring.
The perspective given here is that of the Levites who kept a night watch at the temple. These men would wait all night for dawn with eager expectation in order to offer the daily sacrifice—a tangible representation of God’s covenant mercy and redemption.
Psalm 130:5-8 I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning. Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.
With them, we are encouraged to stay awake in the midst of complete darkness when confusion, fear and suffering abound and watch for the first break of day. To stay awake in the pain and wait “with our whole being,” watching for our crops sprout above ground with the light of spring.
During seasons like this, fears often surface about whether or not the seeds we have sacrificially planted can withstand the darkness, and if our hopes will die in the soil. Doubts abound – “Maybe I’m just not cut out for this,” “Maybe this was a waste of time,” “Maybe I should invest myself in other things instead - another ministry, another club, another career that might produce more fruit.” “Maybe it’s not worth waiting for, dreaming for, hoping for.” “Maybe I’ll never see the transformation I long for in my unbelieving friends or family.”
We are tempted in those moments to move on to greener pastures where fruit seems to crop up a little more quickly and is a little less costly, or to try to control the situation, or to simply fall asleep and give up waiting for the dawn.
There was a season just after we had gone through incredible losses in ministry – leaders walking away from the community, miscarriages, etc., where we were left to wait and contemplate in the ashes. I found myself waking up each morning with a heavy cloud over me – depression weighing on my chest every day until around 3pm when it would gradually lift.
In this season, it was tough to get out of bed. It was tough to get back to campus when we had suffered so many defeats and hadn’t seen a breakthrough for months.
During that time, we looked, waited, and watched for God to answer our prayers – to connect us to new students who could breathe new life into the community, to send us potential leaders, to bring transformation into the lives of students and the chapter as a whole. But most of the time, we encountered silence.
We tried many things, many new structures, many new attempts to reach new students or help them encounter Jesus, but it seemed like all our efforts produced very little fruit.
I lamented to my supervisor all the losses we had incurred, shaking my head over and over as I recounted grief after grief, feeling hopeless. At this moment, she could have said – “Ok, let’s problem solve. Let’s assess the situation and figure out what went wrong. Let’s try to figure out how to fix it.” But she didn’t.
Instead, she gently encouraged, “Let’s ask the Lord what He’s doing in this season and what He wants to teach us.”
So we did, and this was what I sensed the Lord saying, “Bette, I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland, but the ground must be prepared to receive it. I am causing you and your students to thirst so that when I bring the streams and the rain it won’t be wasted on ungrateful hearts. I am causing you to wait, to hunger, to thirst, so that you will drink in my rain when it comes and it will yield fruit. I am emptying you of relying on yourself and your own strength so that the goodness that comes will be from me. This is not about you and your accomplishments – I am stripping you of your independence and fear of not meeting human goals so that my provision will be seen as truly mine and not yours.”
The word used for “hope” Psalm 130 is יָחַל, “yachal,” which literally means, “to wait, expectantly.” In this prayer time, God revealed that it is through waiting that we learn how to hope in Him alone.
When we are forced to wait, we grow a kind of hunger in us that increases over time; a kind of deep longing that grows with each day. We come face to face with our own insecurities and what we often cling to for hope – our abilities, the people around us, our structures, systems and training, our etc, us. In the barrenness of winter months, those things sometimes don’t produce fruit and we find that by themselves they are meaningless.
God shows his loving hand to us in this – should we find abundant fruit every time we set our hands to the plow, we would become proud. We would be tempted to believe that it is because of our great strength and ability that we reap a harvest instead of God’s goodness, provision, and mercy.
In the waiting, God protects us from pride and self-sufficiency and gives us the opportunity instead to seek out the only one who can bring the light of spring. To put our “hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love, and with him is full redemption.” – Psalm 130:7
And then when God answers our prayers and fulfills our hopes, these gifts are not “wasted on ungrateful hearts.” In the waiting, we are pruned of entitlement and pride until all that is left in the reaping is thankfulness and joy. For fruit reaped with hubris rots on the vine, but fruit reaped with gratitude is the sweetest kind there is.
The Psalmist encourages us in dark times to stay faithful in waiting for God to respond because, like the Levites, we know that this darkness won’t last forever. We can wait with hope for the light to come. Why? Because God has promised it will, and He is trustworthy. Whether on this earth or on the earth to come, God assures us that His full, complete redemption is coming as surely as the dawn, as surely as the spring. It is just a matter of time.But will we hold on long enough to see it? Will we stay awake and present in the midst of fear and darkness long enough for light to have the final word? Will we do the hard work of hope, continuing to sow and wait regardless of what we see with our eyes? Do we believe in a God who works unseen miracles that we cannot comprehend and that never disappoints?
Or will we give up and give in because we are too tired of staying in the pain, or too angry, or too calloused, or really deep down just fed up with it all? Can we hold on long enough to wait for the bridegroom to come and set all things right?
I believe hope draws most near to those who are desperately grasping for it - to those who need it most. And like the Levites, when we have stayed up all night waiting for dawn, when we have stayed present in the pain – lamenting, grieving, petitioning, watching in the darkness for the first light of day, we get the privilege to witness a fierce and magnificent sight. The grey, dark nothingness before us transforms into a vibrant, colorful landscape alive with the early morning light. We get to see the seeds we have prayed for finally sprout above the soil with beautifully bright green leaves. And we will soak in that moment with gratefulness and joy like no sleeper ever could.
“Seeds of Hope” Oil and Acrylic on Clayboard. Original work by Bette Dickinson.
Bette Lynn Dickinson has been on staff with InterVarsity for 5 years. She planted Imago Dei Arts Community, InterVarsity’s first Arts plant. As an artist, Bette connects her journey as a painter, photographer, and writer in Kalamazoo with ministry to artists. She graduated from WMU with a BA in 2008, a Masters of Divinity from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2011, and was ordained with the Reformed Church in America in 2014 as a Specialized Minister with InterVarsity. Bette and her husband love being parents for their son, Isaiah. You can read more from Bette at www.bettedickinson.com.
The blog is an avenue for staff and student leaders to hear from the visionary leaders of Collegiate Ministries about theological formation, discipleship, chapter planting, chapter growth, and other key ministry themes for campus work.