Principles for waiting on God and dealing with uncertainty

Waiting on God. What does this really mean? Twiddling my thumbs till my prayers are answered? While we know that God doesn’t work on our time, we know that He’s a good father and has promised to give what is good and advantageous to those who keep on asking Him (Matt7:7-11). But while waiting on Him, what should I be doing? How do I know that He’ll answer me? How will I cope with the disappointment if He doesn’t answer when or how I expect? What should I do when I’ve exhausted all my options? What will people think of me when my life hits a rough patch?

I’ve been through a number of trying times in my personal life such as struggling with exams, applying for admission and getting rejected, spending over a year searching for a job and dealing with over 200 rejections etc. Each experience has been different and it’s taken me a long time to gain perspective on how life and God works. While I continue to figure these things out, the closer I’ve gotten to God over time, the better I’ve come to appreciate what His priorities are and why He allows us to sometimes go through these challenging times. What I do below is highlight some of the most important lessons and principles that I’ve learnt from my life’s waiting journeys, share some personal stories, and hope that these help you navigate your own waiting seasons. God bless you.

  1. Why is God making me wait? I’ve pondered on this question so many times in my life but I didn’t begin to get an answer until I read John Bevere’s book – God where are you?! This was in early 2019 after my MBA and I’d already spent about six months looking for a new job with no success. This book was so eye opening that it was probably the fastest book I’ve ever read. 😄 Not that my prayers were suddenly answered after reading it but I started to gain better perspective that there was indeed something called a “waiting season”. Prior to then, I don’t recall ever listening to a sermon or reading a book on the subject.

    The waiting season serves different purposes but ultimately it’s a season of testing and refinement as God’s ultimate purpose with His children is to prepare us to live eternally with Him. Because sin cannot exist in God’s presence, we need God’s help to get us to that state, where we’ve unlearned our bad habits, learned new ones, transformed our minds etc. But the process of refining us is like that of refining precious metals like gold which involves putting it through a very hot furnace which melts the gold and brings its impurities to the surface. Even God uses this allegory many times in the Bible: 1 Pet 1:7, Zech 13:8-9, Ps 66:10, Jer 23:29, Prov 17:3, Prov 25:4, Ps 12:6, Is 1:25, Job 23:10 etc.

    What all these verses tell us is that refining / trials / discipline / chastisement are sure to happen to God’s children, as His children who are not refined are “illegitimate” (Heb 12:8). Therefore, “don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in His suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing His glory when it is revealed to all the world” (1 Pet 4:12-13). Further, “consider it a sheer gift (joy), friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed (in faith, spiritual maturity, inner peace, patience, endurance), not deficient in any way. James 1:2-4 MSG.

    Further, refining happens multiple times. This could be to fully remove impurities from our lives i.e. bad behaviours, hardening of heart, sinful traits etc. (e.g. Elijah asking Naaman to bath himself 7x in the Jordan), or to test whether we’ve truly learnt the lessons that God needs us to learn (e.g. Abraham’s test to kill Isaac), or to test/reveal what’s truly in our hearts (e.g. Israelites or Moses spending 40yrs in the wilderness, or Joseph in prison) or to develop our faith (e.g. Joseph, David after God gave them visions for their lives). So it’s not that God doesn’t want to answer our prayers but He’s more interested in achieving His objectives in our life than giving us what we so eagerly desire. If we understand this, we gain significant perspective on life.

    On trials helping to develop our faith, I want to emphasize the importance of this because without faith, it is IMPOSSIBLE to please God (Heb 11:6). Have you noticed that it is often when we hit a bump in our life journey that we turn to God and possibly grow in our relationship with Him? God knows that the things of the world are more appealing to our sinful natures, and spiritual things less so. Therefore, trials permitted by God are the process through which we develop faith in the unseen power of the living God. Further, in the latter days when God’s children are being persecuted for their beliefs, it is only those ones who have learnt how to persevere in faith under intense trials that will be able to stand the ultimate test of their faith when it even becomes a matter of life or death.

    How we respond in these refining / waiting seasons can either extend or shorten the time that God has allocated to that season (e.g. Israelites in the wilderness, Job). God expects us to draw closer to Him during these seasons by developing our faith and prayer life, as well as searching our lives to confess any past sins (Hosea 5:15). Prayer humbles us, as we show where our trust really lies. The Bible tells us to ask and keep on asking; therefore, keep going to God repeatedly with your requests. Humble yourself. Have faith – ask and do not waiver in your belief in God’s ability to answer you, even if it may take time (James 1:6-8). Stay in the word and ask for the Holy Spirit’s guidance daily. From the moment you began praying, heaven was already at work (Daniel 9:23) but you must persist in praying and asking God because the devil may be working overtime against you (Daniel 10:12-13). Make the early mornings the best time you spend time with God as we know that His mercies are new every morning and great is His faithfulness. The graces that He provided for you yesterday were for yesterday; today, you must come to the foot of His throne to ask for the graces of today.

    Finally, our trials are both for our benefit and that of others. God works in us so that we can be a blessing unto others. He comforts us in our trials so that we can comfort others when they are troubled (2 Cor:3-4). During one of my life’s trials, I found comfort in Psalms 40. One of the things David spoke about was the importance of testifying i.e. sharing the good news of God’s righteousness in the great assembly, declaring God’s faithfulness so that many will see it and fear and trust in the Lord! Further, while it may seem as if God isn’t working in the present, it may be because time needs to pass for certain things to fall into place. God is working on so many things at the same time. For example, when I look back at how I secured my current job, I now see that the person that filled this role had to resign before the opportunity presented itself. As God would have it, I had played a primary role in helping this person get their new job by introducing them to someone years back, and when they finally got the job and resigned, the company came looking for me to fill the vacancy. Who would have imagined that was how God would answer me after a year of job searching?! You can see that there’s so much more that happens in this waiting season so keep on reading…
  1. Should I pray and just wait on God? I’ve come to learn that there is indeed a time to be still and do nothing but pray to God, but that time is often only when you can do nothing else by yourself to bring an answer to what you’re praying for. Often, I’ve heard people use that verse in Psams 46:10 which says “Be still, and know that I’m God” as a reason for their idleness. When you read all of that chapter, you realize that it’s a prophetic chapter talking about God’s children in the end times when they’re facing such immense persecution and travails that all they can literally do is be still and wait on God to come through for them.

    Prov 16:1-3, 9, 25, 33 are full of instruction which basically indicate that we are responsible for using our God-given brains to think and come up with a plan, but we should commit those plans to God and trust that He will direct our steps because He already has a masterplan for our lives. Sometimes we stay idle because we are worried about making the wrong decisions or facing closed doors. But here also the Bible in Rom 8:28 comforts us that “…God causes everything (including mistakes and closed doors) to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose”. So as long as you’re walking with Him faithfully and not doing what is obviously sinful or against His stated will, know that He can turn around even your supposed wrong decisions. Don’t get worried about the risk/likelihood of going in what you may deem to be the wrong direction. God is the master of giving beauty for ashes.

    Then you may rightly ask, what does it mean to love God? Answering this question isn’t the purpose of this post but it involves surrendering our lives and will to Him, daily seeking Him, starting our day with Him in Bible study and prayer, loving our brother as ourselves, proving your love for Him with what you do with your money (as where your treasure is, there your heart will be also) etc.

    So don’t just pray and wait when you haven’t exhausted all your options. Use your brain, think, come up with a plan, commit it to God, take action and leave the results/outcome to Him to determine knowing confidently that He has a plan for your life and those plans are for good and not for evil. Also continuously ask God to reveal that wonderful plan of His to you. One thing you can be sure of in God’s true plan for you is that it will NOT lead you away or cause you to stray from Him or contradict the Bible. When you ask for the Holy Spirit, the Spirit searches the heart of the father for His will concerning you, and reveals it to you.

    If all the above still hasn’t convinced you, then the wisest man that ever lived, Solomon, says in Ecclesiastes 11:5-6 – “As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things. Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let your hands not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.” He’s basically saying don’t choose idleness because you’re not sure where God wants you to go. Move, keep it going, stop to rest, think and re-assess, but keep going. Seek godly counsel. Continue praying, praising, speaking to life God’s word over your situation, speaking to life what you’re believing in your heart, and doing the best you can. Then you leave the outcome and timing to God. God’s word truly doesn’t contradict itself. It is the master guide to life.
  1. Dealing with disappointments. This can be one of the most challenging aspects of walking with God. We sometimes expect that because we live such a ‘holy’ life that our lives should be without disappointments and that we will receive all that we ask of God when and how we expect it. But God hasn’t promised us this as the true Christian will partake in the sufferings of the master in this life (1 Peter 4:13). All I can say here is that God works with everyone in different ways – after all, He is the God who created the same bird but in as many colours as we can imagine, so why would we imagine that He always answers prayers the same way? Very often, in the face of that disappointment, God wants us to adopt the principle of persistence which we find in Matt 7:7, Luke 18:1-8, and Luke 11:5-13. In 1 Kings 18:41-46, Elijah also prayed to God persistently for rain seven times but it was not until the seventh time that he saw any evidence. But there are times when He’s leading us elsewhere and has closed the door for a particular reason.

    How do you know what to do and when? From my experience, the best thing to do is to stay connected to God by remaining in His word and walking with Him daily. The Bible tells us that the sheep know their master’s voice and that we will hear a voice telling us – this is the way, walk in it. It may not always be a literal voice; it could be a thought that drops in our mind or God uses someone we will respect to address the situation, or a lesson from His word etc.

    I recall when I was applying to business schools and got rejected by all of them. One rejection that particularly hurt was Wharton’s because I had made it to the interview stage and flew to London for my interviews at BCG’s office near Baker Street. I was now waiting for my final response. That night I was in Nairobi on a work trip and was expecting that email by 10/11pm thereabouts. I was so expectant that I kept repeating these prayer confessions that I’d written up, pacing up and down my room. But lo and behold, I was rejected. I felt so dejected and sunken. I couldn’t even cry. I just went on my bed or knees and asked God why with so much pain in my heart. That situation never turned around but I decided to keep on applying – faith and works. I subsequently applied to London Business School which also rejected me after my interviews and after I’d been waiting for a year. They’d told me the issue was with my GMAT score so I kept on trying to improve it and kept on updating the school on my progress. My score never improved but eventually, out of the blues, the admissions committee reversed their decision and not only granted me an admission with that same score but also granted me a 100% tuition scholarship – the only such one granted to an African in the entire MBA class that year. I wrote all about that testimony here.

    So from my experiences, all I can tell you is to just keep trusting in God in the face of your disappointments. When the time is right, God Himself will hasten things to answer your prayers (Is 60:22). I’m currently going through another season of disappointments and this story is still writing itself but I’m hopeful that in due course I’ll be able to tell you all about it. 😇
  1. What will people think about me? This is primarily a thought that we all have at different times for different reasons. Social media plays on this human desire to portray an image of us having a good life. We also like the idea of watching other people’s lives which sucks us deeply into the social media algorithms and keeps us coming back for more. Basically, caring about what other people think of us isn’t necessarily a bad thing but there is a risk that we care so much that it becomes so crippling that it’s disadvantageous. It could affect your self-worth, distort your view about life’s realities, put you under undue pressure, affect your mental health etc..

    Sometimes we refuse to take jobs because we worry about what people will say. Other times we’re concerned about the level or brand of the firm not being as good as where we were previously. Don’t forget that sometimes the highest level we think we’ve reached is only the starting point where God is taking you to. Other times we neglect to do the best work that is nearest at hand because we’re so caught up thinking about what other people might think of us, perhaps because we have this well-crafted public personality that we’ve created out there.

    In walking with God, humility is a core trait that He requires. One of the greatest waiting periods in the Bible was that of the Israelites during their 40-yr journey through the wilderness. To deliver such an incredible task, God chose the most humble man He could find on earth – Moses (Num 12:3).

    What I’ve learned is that people actually don’t think of you anywhere as often as you think they do. They have their own life challenges and dynamics that they’re dealing with. They may talk about you sometimes but why should you care about what you have no control over? All you can do is do the best with what is within your control and leave the rest to God.
  1. When you feel lost, confused, anxious or fearful. In my waiting seasons, these are all feelings that I’ve dealt with to varying degrees. When I was job searching, sometimes I woke up in the morning feeling cnfused and wondering what I’ll doing that day. The days were passing by and it all felt like a blur. Sometimes I’m wondering whether to just be idle or to take action as I pray and wait on God. Sometimes I have so many options ahead of me that I’m so confused between them all and not sure which way God is leading me. Other times, a dominant thought comes to mind which makes me so scared about what would happen if that scenario played out. As you can see, in the waiting season, you could be fighting multiple battles, many of which are in your mind. Below are some of my experiences dealing with these issues and what I’ve learnt so far.

    During the times I’ve been job searching, it was quite common for me to feel lost or confused. (NB: I write about job searching often because that for me has been one of my biggest trials. For others it could be health, pregnancy, marriage, finances, whatever…). One area was in trying to determine if what I was asking God for was the right thing. One such time, I had this strong desire to get into a particular industry. So strong was this desire that I really didn’t consider any other job opportunities and focused all my efforts on what I wanted. Till today, that prayer has not been answered. Perhaps it will be, someday. In retrospect, by virtue of all the effort and time I spent focused on that industry, I networked widely and met many people, learnt new skills, read widely and improved my understanding about many things. All these experiences combined to distinguish me in the job that God eventually provided. This gave me a deeper understanding of Romans 8:28 that “God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them”.

    Some other things that helped me deal with the feelings of anxiety or fear include spending more time in Bible study in the mornings, attending mid-week services, Friday evening Bible study with friends from Church, and Sabbath services on Saturday (NB: Sabbath is Friday sunset to Saturday Sunset – see Mark 15:42, Mark 16:1-2). Because I lived in London and lived alone, it was important to find groups of people to interact with periodically, and for me I found that family in Church. I also gained a deeper understanding of Matt 6:34 – “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble”. That insight was that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed to us by God. What we have is today and on that day we must make the best of all the opportunities we have and commit all unto God. This understanding freed me so much from worry about the future and helped me to better trust that if I’m ever faced with any of these potential scenarios in my head, God will show me what to do then. But in the meantime, I must keep moving. If a door is to close, God Himself will close it and open the right one at the right time.

    For example, I sometimes had multiple seemingly good job opportunities ahead of me and would be puzzled about where God wanted me to go. At one point I was quite advanced with the interviews and while there was one company I had a positive bias for, I had no clue if that’s where God wanted me to go. Further, I would think that one looked so positive that they would likely give me an offer by a particular period of time and would wonder what to tell the other company. I’ve learnt three things: 1) to trust in the Lord with all my heart and lean not on my own understanding; in all my ways to acknowledge Him and He will direct my paths; 2) when interviewing, you can only turn down an opportunity when there’s a tangible offer in front of you, not because you’re interviewing. 3) finally, a job opportunity assessment sheet can be tremendously helpful in objectively assessing the different opportunities. For example, my job opportunity assessment sheet assessed the options by assigning weights to different categories of what mattered to me in a job, and then ranking each opportunity on these parameters. You can use this for making other life choices objectively also, to prevent your mind playing tricks on you.

    Finally, on fear. I remember one time that my heart was suddenly gripped by the fear that I may have inadvertently done something wrong. This fear was so sudden and so strong that I was literally shaking. I googled, asked people for clarity etc. but I didn’t seem to get any clear guidance. Whenever this thought crossed my mind, I shuddered in fear. But very quickly I figured out that this was just the devil playing his tricks on my mind again. He knew that if he could get me crippled with fear, I would give up on my dreams. So whenever fear comes, I confess 2 Tim 1:7 – “For God hath not given me the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind“. Further, I look at the situation objectively – what exactly is making me scared? What exactly am I scared of? Then I would ask, what if things turn out entirely differently, just what if? I’ve realized that very often, most of the fears that I have may never even play out as they’re just permutations happening in my head. This realization has been liberating.

    In a nutshell, to conquer feelings of confusion, anxiety or fear, I’ve found a combination of my faith-life and practical works to be the winning formula. It’s also okay to feel tired sometimes or that you need some rest. Remember that what God has for you can never miss His children as long as they stay walking with Him. Also avoid comparing yourself with other people as everyone’s journey is different.
  1. Search your heart and confess your sins. One thought that you may have when waiting on God to answer your prayer is if you’re getting punished for something you’ve done. As mentioned earlier, the refining process can be a painful one and can make you feel as if you’ve done something wrong, particularly because we are all sinners and live in a fallen world. Now, what I’ve learnt is that we may never know for sure if it’s our sins that bring certain troubles into our life (as even holy people face their own trials). However, what we must be quick to do is get on our knees, search our life and hearts, confess those specific sins that we can remember and ask God for forgiveness. This is something I typically do daily in prayers but when I was job searching for example, I took extra time to search my life from childhood and confessed any sins that I could remember. After all, the sacrifice that God desires is that of a humble and broken heart which He will not reject (Ps 51:17).

    Having said that, Hosea 5:15 does clearly tell us that sometimes God feels far away because we have sinned and He’s waiting for us to earnestly seek Him and confess our sins. It says: “I will go back to my place, until the people admit they are guilty, until they come looking for me. Yes, in their trouble they will try very hard to find me.” 2 Chr 7:14 tells us that “…if my people who are called by my name become humble and pray, and look for me, and turn away from their evil ways, then I will hear them from heaven. I will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

    What we can learn from these verses is the importance of confessing and repenting from our sins. Is 55:6-7 tells us to “seek God while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon”. To wrap up, know that “the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him” (2 Chr 16:9). Will He find you faithful when He is ready to move in your life?
  1. Don’t forget to change and live your life! That we’re waiting on God can sometimes consume us so much that we lose perspective of all that’s really going on in our lives. We forget that where we are today is probably the answer to a prayer that we made sometime past. We get so bundled up in the future we desire that we forget to live in the moment. Beware of this trap! The waiting season is not a destination. It is a preparation place, getting you ready for what God intends to do next in your life. Reember the Israelites in the wilderness, even there, God kept moving them from place to place to keep them active in the wilderness. There are things to do and I summarize below some of the things that I’ve come to understand as important to do while living my life in waiting seasons:
  • Spend quality time with God. Bible study, prayer, fasting, praise. Also don’t neglect the gathering of the brethren. Attend Church programmes and even put up your hands to help in Church and in the community.

  • Transform your mind and improve the quality of your thinking. Study your Bible. Read books. Listen to podcasts. Learn new skills you may never have had time to learn, or will not have time to once your prayers are answered. You’ll be glad that you did.

  • Return your tithes and give generous offerings to the Church and needy people. You don’t know which seed you sowed will reap a fruit in your life in future (Eccl 11:1-2). Withholding charitable giving and your tithes could seal up the heavens from pouring its blessings upon your life. Haggai 1:2-11, Amos 4:4-13

  • Be watchful of the avenues to your soul. What are you feeding your mind with? What are you looking at or watching? What are you reading? What are you listening to? Who are you listening to? Be very careful and make changes quickly and be disciplined about them. I remember I once had to delete all the worldly songs in my iTunes music library, just to cleanse my mind.

  • Spend quality quiet time in nature. It has healing characteristics that bring peace to your soul.

  • Spend time with your family. Remember that you can only draw from a well of love that you’ve invested in.

  • Spend time with godly friends who will lift you up and friends who will encourage you on jour journey to achieve your goals.

  • Journal and reflect. Journaling helps you to put things in perspective. It helps you to create memories that remind you in future of how you felt at different times during your previous waiting journeys and helps you better appreciate what God has done for you. Write, type…whatever, just journal.

  • Count your blessings. Write down your testimonies. It’ll help you remember that there’s more to life than what you’re praying for and that where you are today is probably an answered prayer from times past.

  • Pay attention to your physical health. When there’s life, there’s hope, and God wants you to prosper and be in health, even as your soul prospers (3 John 1:2). So take care of your body. Eat right. Get enough sleep. Don’t stay up all night worrying…God has your back! Ps 127:2

  • Travel and see the world! You’ll be amazed at how wonderful and powerful God truly is.

  • Prepare yourself to receive the answer to your prayers. You don’t want your lack of preparedness to delay God from answering you, or to make you unready when the opportunity presents itself.

That’s it. If you made it this far, you’re the real MVP. I hope the Lord guides you through your waiting seasons as He continues to guide me through mine, and helps you navigate life’s uncertainties. I know that it can sometimes be a challenging experience but with God you will surely overcome. More importantly, I pray that His will be done in your life. God bless you.

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