Most of this post came from a couple of sermons by my excellent pastor Charles Price, so I take no credit for it. I thought it was pretty relevant to my waiting series, as it looks at another aspect of what waiting is and why it can be positive. Please note, there was a lot more to the sermons than this; I'm just blogging about what was relevant to the “waiting” theme.
Our church has been going through Nehemiah. First we looked at Nehemiah 1 and how Nehemiah wept and mourned over the brokenness of his people. The second sermon focused on Nehemiah's actions in the first part of chapter 2. Pastor P. noted that the actions of chapters 1 and 2 took place about four months apart. That means that Nehemiah was mourning and praying for his people for several months before he was able to speak to the King. It seems like a really long time to go on with this burden on your heart. The pastor pointed out that when we feel an emotional reaction to something, especially if we perceive it as a call to act, sometimes the appropriate response is to... wait.
What? Shouldn't we just GO? Not so fast, said our Pastor. We should take time to pray to God for the burden to be deepened, or lifted, according to His will. We need to discern whether this is an emotional response to a need, or a true call. The truth is, there are so many needs around us that we cannot respond to them all, so we ought to put careful thought and prayer into our calling. The Pastor mentioned that out of every 100 people that step forward at conferences or otherwise express interest to missions in becoming missionaries, only about one person actually ends up on the mission field.** That's pretty sobering. Perhaps some of that is due to other factors such as life changes, but much of it surely is due to people making emotionally charged decisions without thinking through or praying about the next steps.
Of course (and I'm adding my own comments here), we can prepare as we pray. While Nehemiah was fasting, mourning, and praying, he was likely also thinking about how he would go forward, what he would need for the journey, etc. We too can pray with our minds open to HOW God may use use us to serve. We also may require training before we can go. Perhaps we need to finish school or to study a new language. This prayer time is not meant to be an excuse NOT to serve, but rather a time in which our hearts are prepared for the service.
Pastor P. also mentioned in a later sermon that we are called to serve where we are. He said this in reference to the men and women who helped build the wall around Jerusalem; many of them built sections of the wall that were close to their homes. Of course, we also are called to be servants of God at all times, so just because we are waiting on a calling does not mean that we should give up serving in the meantime!
I hope this is helpful. I found the message both encouraging and convicting. There is the encouragement that if you've felt a call to something, but not had the chance to act, it may just not be the right time yet. I also felt convicted as there have been many times when I felt a burden, but rather than prayerfully consider it, I got discouraged when the opportunity to act didn't open up in the short term.
**I don't know the source for this information.