Rotating Header Image

waiting well: a spiritual discipline – rod thompson


Learning to wait and learning to wait well is a spiritual discipline.

It is also something that is radically counter-cultural in our current times and places.

Someone has said that a key word in current society is “dissatisfied”. We are encouraged, hundreds of times every day, to want more and more and more; and not only to want more but to want it more quickly. NOW!

Some people refer to the dominant world culture as McWorld, a version of consumerism that is only concerned with the “now”, a disconnected “now” without any sense of heritage or wisdom and any sense of long term future planning. Patience is not a virtue under these conditions. Urgency is. Demand is. “Not waiting” is. And under such conditions, humanness comes to be defined not by what is given or produced, by stewardship or care, by love or sacrifice or by perseverance or patience, rather by getting and taking, by big wages and lots of possessions, by cleverness and winning, by more and more, more and more quickly. So it is that in our current era, wanting and getting lots of things is often considered the meaning of life. And owning lots of things is often the measure of a life well lived.

As we read Scripture, it is evident that practicing the discipline of waiting is true to the meaning of biblical hope – that is, that now God is truly with us and is blessing us, however in the future, there is more to come. For that we will wait!

It is true to the meaning of biblical faith – that is, that God is trustworthy so that even if things are difficult today, I can wait on God with confidence for the future.

It is true to the meaning of biblical love – that is, that the meaning of life is to love God and others, not demanding anything in return. Sacrificial love and generous care for others are at the heart of the meaning of life, not getting what I want now.

Jesus waited well. As we look at the life of Jesus we see both pace and patience. We see busyness and retreat. We see Jesus practicing a life that was responsive to the guidance of his Father God.

Perhaps most remarkably, Jesus waited for the Father to raise him from the dead. Between the suffering of Friday and the glory of Sunday was the waiting of Saturday when for Jesus and for all who hope in God there was waiting.

The apostle Paul waited well. So it is that in 2 Corinthians 6:3-7 he writes:

We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left (TNIV).

So how does one practice waiting well? Some practical things we can work on together:

Accept that pace and busyness are not always good things – sometimes they are simply the demands of a consumer driven society.

  1. Be present in the present as you wait – find meaning in the waiting
  2. Be prayerful as you wait – pray for others in the waiting
  3. Get to know yourself as you wait – check your breathing, thinking and emotions in the waiting.
  4. Get to know God as you wait – use time to meditate and praise God in the waiting
  5. Bring your frustration, anger and impatience to God as you wait – learn to lament


May we learn to practice the disciplines of waiting well in our times and places.

meaningless! meaningless! utterly meaningless! – rod thompson


I want good news for life – flourishing, engaged life; rubber-meets-the-road, realistic (not idealistic or escapist) life; life with its challenges and changes, disappointments and disasters; every season of life, from the energy and expectation of youth to the lament and loss of old age and impending death. I want a potent, compelling, gutsy, good news story for life.

And that is precisely what we have in the remarkable OT book of Ecclesiastes, though its message for life is disguised by the opening gambit of the book when translated as follows:

The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher.

“Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (1:1-2, TNIV)

Really? Is that what the author is affirming? That life this side of the sun is utterly meaningless? Are we then to set our faces towards an other-worldly heaven and plan on getting out of here as soon as possible? How is this an encouragement into flourishing humanness, rich relationships and the stewardship of the world that God loves so much?

And how then do we understand subsequent recommendations throughout Ecclesiastes to enjoy and embrace life, such as “so I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for people under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad” (8:15), or “go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do” (9:7). Are these choices in keeping with life in an utterly meaningless reality?

There is plenty of work going on at present with regard to the meaning of הֶ֫בֶל (hebel), the Hebrew word here translated “meaningless”. And faithful biblical preaching will always demand that the preacher participate in such work.

“Hebel” is used more than 30 times in Ecclesiastes, and also in other OT texts such as Psalm 39:5; Psalm 144:4; Proverbs 31:30 and Isaiah 57:13. In Ecclesiastes this word almost certainly means something closer to the idea that everything is changing and passing away than that all things are meaningless; that for humans, reality is like a breath or a mist, that we cannot cling to as though it is able to be grasped.

This being the case, the Teacher in Ecclesiastes invites his readers to embrace the sort of wisdom which recognises that firstly, life is ephemeral – that is, passing by. It cannot be kept by humans. And that secondly, life is elusive – that is, resistant. It cannot be controlled by humans. The Teacher would have us understand that we don’t have the capacity to control or keep our times.

So what does life look like in such a world? It looks like resting in the good governance of a sovereign God, trusting in God’s keeping of our lives in the present and God’s faithfulness for the future. It looks like living more lightly in our times, loving the season of life we are in, but not imagining it will last or that we can hold onto it forever. It looks like thanksgiving more in keeping with receiving a gift than with clinging to a possession. It looks like gratitude and contentment in a good God rather than desperation and despair as life changes. It looks like the sort of embracing of life that the Teacher encourages throughout the book, such as his words in 3:12-13 – “I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil – this is the gift of God”.

Of course, the author of Ecclesiastes did not know as much as Jesus about the big picture of life both now and through eternity to come. But when Jesus taught, he clearly embraced the wisdom of Ecclesiastes within the greater perspective he brought from the “other side” of the sun. His conversation, recorded in Luke 12:13-15, is at least in part, shaped by the wisdom of Ecclesiastes: Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

The gospel of Christ is for life with all of its challenges and changes. Life is to be fully embraced, but not as greedy, grasping, independent humans, rather as responsive, grateful, trusting humans in a world that belongs to God. This is fully in keeping with the words of Ecclesiastes and the full biblical testimony to the good news of Jesus.

ordinary people on a world stage – rod thompson

Do I actually care if Monica Lewinsky has plastic surgery on an upcoming reality TV show?

We are plagued by a prevalent fascination with the tantalising and the trivial, the immediate and the individual. Such preoccupations threaten to rob young and old alike of any sense of human substance or significance, connected to heroic deeds, historical events, and traditions that actually matter.

No wonder loneliness, cynicism and despair are in the mainstream cultural air we breathe.

I cannot help noticing that Luke narrates an alternative way of being human in his account of Jesus’ words and deeds, initially compiled for Theophilus in the days of Roman Empire.

Luke writes: “In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah …” (1:5) and again in 3:1-2 Luke writes: “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar … the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.”

So what?

Ordinary people on a world stage. Without any hoo-ha or drum roles, (but of considerable significance for attentive readers of Scripture), Luke wonderfully connects the lives of ordinary people – Zechariah, Elizabeth, John – who live on the margins of the Empire, to the world rulers of their day – King Herod, Tiberius Caesar – and the world stage of which they are part.

Zechariah and Elizabeth lived a long way from the centre of the Empire. They were old, they were childless. Their lives, although they had loved God and faithfully served him over long years, had in important ways been disappointing and perhaps unnoticed. And the elderly Zechariah was just one of some 18,000 priests who served at the Jerusalem Temple. Only once in a priest’s lifetime was he chosen by lot to go into the holy place of the Temple.

But were Zechariah and Elizabeth insignificant? Certainly not. These ordinary old folks were about to participate in extraordinary events that would usher in an alternative Empire of peace and change the world for ever. Whether they understood it to be the case or not, they were players on a world stage. And so was their son.

Baby John, the unexpected child, was befriended by God’s Spirit before he was born. This child would grow to become an eccentric man, reminiscent of those edgy, unconventional Old Testament prophets whose earthly lives had long since passed. We are told that he was great in God’s eyes and yet, at about the age of 36, John would become a victim of Empire violence, beheaded by command of a drunk, cowardly king at the insistence of a seductive daughter and a spiteful wife.

John was a man on the margins. Who could have guessed at the impact of his life, from the corners of the Empire, on the world seemingly ruled from Rome by Caesars and their armies.

In our era, may young and old alike discover themselves as participants in God’s plans for the world. May all of us who feel ordinary find significant meaning through our participation in the extraordinary, world renewing purposes of God. May we take our place on the world stage and name our daily practices and routines as significant in ways yet to be revealed.


rod thompson – living in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation

Miroslav Volf contends that God’s people in current times and places must choose to live “against the tide” – a tide characterised by the inner pull toward self-absorption and away from care for others, impelled by what he calls a “culture stripped of grace” (Volf, Against the Tide (Eerdmans, 2010) xi-xii).  In different ways, in previous eras, this has always been the case. Paul speaks to it in Philippians 2:14-16.

Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. (ESV)

What did it mean for God’s people to live in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation? In this naming of the 1st century Philippian context, Paul chooses words used, for example, to describe the bent shape of dry wood that, once straight and true, has become distorted, perverse and warped. Philippi was a Roman colony populated in part by war veterans, the general population of which was endowed with Roman citizenship. Without doubt a powerful “crooked and twisted” alternative gospel, focused on worshiping the Emperor as lord and saviour was widely proclaimed in the city.

But the phrase Paul chooses is not entirely new. He is only too conscious of its significance in the ancient story of Israel’s people wandering in the wilderness. In Deuteronomy 32:5 Moses had written of them: “They have dealt corruptly with him; they are no longer his children because they are blemished; they are a crooked and twisted generation.” And again in Deuteronomy 32:20: “They are a perverse generation, children in whom there is no faithfulness.”

It was hard to be faithful to God in 1st century Philippi. It had been hard to be faithful to God in those wilderness years. Paul brings two narratives together as he writes about “living without blemish in the midst …” (2:14)

And of course there is a third narrative which actually governs Paul’s thought – that of the gospel events of Messiah Jesus. In Philippians 2:5-11, Paul has portrayed Jesus as the utterly faithful one who having taken the form of a servant, “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him …” In his humility, Jesus incarnated a radical alternative to grumbling Israel. In his exaltation, he became a radical alternative to pretentious, false lords such as the Roman Caesar.

Three narratives inform this portion of Paul’s letter to the Philippians – that of Israel, that of Jesus and that of the Philippians themselves. And these three impel Paul to conclude by reflecting on a fourth narrative – his own. His aim is that “in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.” (2:16-18)

The apostle exhibits a storied imagination as he writes – the story of Israel, of Jesus, of his 1st century friends in Philippi, and finally of himself. It is up to us now to live faithfully in response to God’s Word as we also seek to be God’s children in our times and places. We must add our story to theirs.

* * *

Rod Thompson has just commenced as National Principal/CEO of Laidlaw College in Auckland. He is passionate about family (he and Rosanne have recently become grandparents for the second time), the Bible, theology, art, music, history, culture – and red wine in moderation.

rod thompson: the humour of a tumour?

1 Samuel 5 is meant to be funny – at least some of the time.


Quietly lying in the ark-box, Yahweh is seemingly sleeping (or dead). Israel is seriously questioning. And Philistine warriors and children are scratching, covered as they are in scabby “tumors” (the root word is “to swell”.) Perhaps these are anal hemorrhoids or bleeding piles, more likely a full-body covering of blood-seeping, pus-oozing boils.


Perhaps we cringe. Our modern day sensibilities are offended. But this biblical story and many others beside it drip with such earthy humor. And they give rise to the psalmist’s celebration of the LORD who laughs:


The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.’ He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. (Psalm 2:2-4, ESV)


1 Samuel 4-7 is full of such laughter.


We read of Yahweh seemingly asleep in a box. (Is the ark God’s throne-box or coffin-box? Glory or grave? Perhaps both?) Then Yahweh rises up! Strikingly, the psalmist compares God’s resurgence to that of an intoxicated, fighting-mad hero. Yahweh roars into action under the influence, as it were. He is “like a warrior shouting for joy from wine.” (Psalm 78:65, CJB).


But we also read of the Philistine god Dagon groveling on the ground in the presence of the quiet ark-box (5:3), then beheaded, dismembered and distributed around his own house. Then in 1 Samuel 6 we read of the ark’s victory tour throughout Philistine cities – Yahweh gifting tumors wherever the ark goes. Then the remarkable scene in which the LORD is carted back to Israel, led by two meandering milk cows, accompanied by five golden tumors and five golden rodents by way of appeasement. Finally we have a surprise ending for the citizens of Bethshemesh. Curiously peaking inside the ark of their possibly dead God, they are swiftly slaughtered. What is one to do with this ark? And this God? The covenantal ark-box is lodged elsewhere for the next 20 years!


There are many such stories in scripture. Who can ignore the below-the-belt humor of Judges 3 and its portrayal of Eglon, the “fat calf” Moabite king. His death is celebrated with “scatological” (that is, “toilet”) humor as his attendants hesitate to open the chamber door because they suspect – the overpowering smell no doubt! – he is having bowel issues on the toilet. In reality, dung is seeping out of his pierced intestine. (see Ryken, Wilhoit, Longman, Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, 408). In the meantime, Ehud the cunning left-handed Benjaminite assassin, raised up by the LORD for the murder, escapes.


Our failure to recognise and engage with these texts on their own terms is one reason why we have lost a deeper sense of the weight and wonder of the gospel of Christ. It is not simply a matter of reading ancient Hebrew texts well. There is much more at stake. If we lose the grit and grunt of OT texts such as these we will certainly also lose the grit, grunt, glory and grace of the stories of Jesus. Misreading and sanitising OT texts such as 1 Samuel 4-7 causes us to subsequently misread and dumb down the scandal of the gospel of God in Christ. And finally to dumb down the radical, culturally-contrary and ultimately culturally-renewing posture and presence of true Christian discipleship in our times and places.


The story of 1 Samuel 4-7 is powerful in its own right. We need to tell it for all it’s worth. Not only does it echo the preceding, dramatic events of Israel’s exodus but also anticipates the remarkable NT accounts of God’s death, burial and resurrection in Christ. The quiet return of the LORD to Israel on the back of a cart, drawn by two gentle cows, is a dramatic contrast with the majestic exodus events that preceded. It is also a dramatic anticipation of that future morning when Jesus would rise up, stand in a garden and ask Mary why she was weeping and who she was seeking. And so she went and announced to the disciples: “I have seen the Lord.” (John 20:18, ESV)


We need to see more in the scriptures – more in the text that bears witness to a more surprising God and a more scandalous gospel than we have previously imagined. And who knows, perhaps even our sense of humor will be stirred, shaken and revived.


Rod Thompson has just commenced as National Principal/CEO of Laidlaw College in Auckland. He is passionate about family (he and Rosanne have recently become grandparents for the second time), the Bible, theology, art, music, history, culture – and red wine in moderation.