When we look at the life of Abraham, we see a man who learned to wait. The end of Genesis chapter sixteen tells us that Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael, but chapter seventeen begins by telling us that nothing happened for 14 years until God finally spoke to him again at ninety-nine years of age (Genesis 17:1). What did Abram learn in the time of waiting that we are not told about?
16Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael. 17:1When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. 2Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” 3Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, 4“As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. 5No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. 6I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you (Genesis 16:16-17:6).
Why do you suppose God made Abram wait so long? What work does God do in a person by making him or her wait? Some of the greatest lessons I have learned have been in times of waiting. God does His best preparation work in His servants during the waiting times. The prophet Isaiah gives us a picture of the preparation of a servant of the Lord:
Before I was born the LORD called me; from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name. 2He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver (Isaiah 49:1-2).
For every servant of God called to do an important task for the Kingdom of God, there is a preparation time that is compared to the making of an arrow. First of all, there is a personal calling, before preparation of what issues from his lips, a cleansing or refining of the words that issue from the heart. He or she is then brought close to the Lord into an intimate relationship that is developed under the shadow of God’s hand. While developing closeness to God, there is the polishing of his or her character, the daily lessons that make us sharp. And lastly, there is the concealment in the quiver. During this phase of training and preparation, a man or woman of God is not allowed to do anything that is “seen” by the world, at least for a time. He or she is called to be in hidden ministry waiting until the right timing to be shot in ministry from the Lord’s bow.
Think of Moses in the desert having to wait forty years while shepherding his father-in-law’s sheep in the wilderness of Midian. God made him wait until he was eighty years of age before the Lord used him to bring the children of Israel out of Egypt. He definitely had to endure the hiddenness and waiting of the quiver! Imagine how hard it was for him to be raised in Pharaoh’s household, trained in the best schools of Egypt, and then do nothing seemingly of value while he shepherded sheep for 40 years in the desert. Think of Abram waiting all those years for God to finally enable them to bring forth a son from the womb of Sarah when it was quite impossible. Think also of Jesus working in the concealment of the quiver in the woodshop of Joseph until it is supposed He was around 30 years old (Luke 3:23). Why would God make a servant wait so long? The greater the task, the greater the training. It is hard to wait for God’s timing, but it is part of the Lord’s school. Keith Thomas