Distorted Images of Self

Distorted Images of Self

Waiting for God

A LifeGuide® Bible Study



Juanita Ryan


Getting the Most Out of Waiting for God

1  When Waiting Is Difficult

Psalm 13:1-6

2  Wisdom in Waiting

Proverbs 3:1–12

3  Waiting for God

Psalm 42:1-11

4  Waiting Together

Job 2:11–13; 6:1–17; 13:1–5

5  Waiting with Hope

Luke 1:1–25, 57–80

6  God’s Presence and Purposes in Our Waiting

Genesis 37:12–36; 39:1–23; 50:15–21

7  The Gifts in Waiting

Psalm 40:1-17

8  The God Who Waits

Luke 15:11–32

Getting the Most Out of Waiting for God

“How long, O God, how long? Will you forget me forever?” This was the cry of the psalmist. It was the cry of many of the prophets. It may also be the cry of your heart at this time in your life. Or it may be that you endured such a time in your past and are left with questions about it. Maybe you also know someone who is going through such a time.

We will all experience times of waiting in the midst of uncertainty or suffering or great need. During these times we may feel desperate for something to change or for a sign of hope that things will change soon. But often in our periods of waiting, nothing happens, nothing changes. If anything, things seem to get worse.

In the midst of such waiting it can seem like God is silent. We might fear that God has forgotten us and feel too discouraged to even turn to God for help. Or we may turn to God only to become more frightened and dismayed because our prayers for help or deliverance seem to go unanswered.

Not all waiting is painful. Sometimes waiting is a time of great anticipation outwardly, such as when we’re planning a wedding, expecting a new child in the family, or preparing for an exciting change of job or location. But even these happier times of waiting can be full of anxieties. We may fear that something will go terribly wrong. Or that we are making the wrong decision. Or that we will not be adequate for the task. Or that we will not have the emotional or social skills to weather the adaptation. These fears are often hidden, sometimes even from ourselves, but they can make even times of excited waiting very difficult. And again we may find inwardly that we are having trouble trusting God to protect and provide for us.

How is it possible to meet God in our times of waiting? How do we meet God when God seems unresponsive to our desperate need?

The God of the Bible is the God who has promised to always be with us. Always. Even in our times of waiting. Even when our situation is desperate or our heart is full of anxiety. Even when we believe God is silent or unresponsive to our need or inattentive to our future. Even when we feel like we have lost all faith.

The following studies are designed to help you give voice to your distress and gain perspective on your fears in times of waiting, and to open your heart and mind to the One who is with you always.

Suggestions for Individual Study

1. As you begin each study, pray that God will speak to you through his Word.

2. Read the introduction to the study and respond to the personal reflection question or exercise. This is designed to help you focus on God and on the theme of the study.

3. Each study deals with a particular passage so that you can delve into the author’s meaning in that context. Read and reread the passage to be studied. The questions are written using the language of the New International Version, so you may wish to use that version of the Bible. The New Revised Standard Version is also recommended.

4. This is an inductive Bible study, designed to help you discover for yourself what Scripture is saying. The study includes three types of questions. Observation questions ask about the basic facts: who, what, when, where and how. Interpretation questions delve into the meaning of the passage. Application questions help you discover the implications of the text for growing in Christ. These three keys unlock the treasures of Scripture.

Write your answers to the questions in the spaces provided or in a personal journal. Writing can bring clarity and deeper understanding of yourself and of God’s Word.

5. It might be good to have a Bible dictionary handy. Use it to look up any unfamiliar words, names or places.

6. Use the prayer suggestion to guide you in thanking God for what you have learned and to pray about the applications that have come to mind.

7. You may want to go on to the suggestion under “Now or Later,” or you may want to use that idea for your next study.


When Waiting Is Difficult

Psalm 13

We do not like to wait. Whether it is being put on hold on the phone or standing in a long line at the store, waiting irritates us.

Sometimes, though, waiting is more than an annoyance. Sometimes it’s torturous. Waiting for a loved one to come out of surgery. Waiting for the results of a biopsy taken to test for cancer. Waiting for an answer to a prayer we have been praying for months or even years. This kind of waiting is difficult because it is full of fear. We are left in these times with terrible questions about our future—and terrible questions about God.

Scripture testifies to these times of painful waiting, putting into words our anguished fears. Wonderfully, Scripture also offers us hope and strength for these times of difficult waiting.

Group Discussion. What kinds of situations are hardest for you to wait patiently in? Why?

Personal Reflection. Think of a time when you waited a long time for an answer to prayer. What anxieties did you experience while waiting? How did this time of waiting affect your sense of God’s presence with you?

In this psalm, the psalmist voices the great distress he is experiencing in a time of waiting. In doing so, he offers us permission and language to express our struggles to God. Read Psalm 13.

1. How would you title each of the three sections of this psalm (vv. 1–2, vv. 3–4 and vv. 5–6)?

2. What do we learn from the first section (vv. 1–2) about how waiting affects the psalmist mentally and emotionally?

3. How does the experience of waiting affect how he experiences God (v. 1)?

4. How does the psalmist’s mental, emotional and spiritual experience while waiting compare with your experiences during times of difficult waiting?

5. What does the psalmist ask for in verse 3?

6. What is the psalmist convinced will happen if God doesn’t answer him (v. 4)?

7. What does the psalmist commit to doing in the final section of the psalm?

8. What does he reaffirm about God?

9. How might remembering these truths about God help you when waiting is difficult?

10. How can this text be a resource to you in your times of waiting?

11. In a time of quiet join the psalmist in his prayer found in verse 3: “Look on me and answer, Lord my God.” Sit in silence before God, perhaps with your hands open on your lap, with this prayer in your heart. Share or write about your experience in this time of quiet before God.

Express your longing to know God’s presence with you in whatever difficulty or challenge you are facing.

Now or Later

Using Psalm 13 as a model, journal a prayer. Express to God whatever difficulty you are experiencing. Ask for God’s help and for the faith to trust that God is with you. Reaffirm what you know to be true about who God is.


Wisdom in Waiting

Proverbs 3:1–12

Waiting often causes anxiety. We plead with God to hurry and act even while we battle a growing fear that God has deserted us. To cope, we may try to take control of things that we have no ability to control, often causing harm to ourselves or others. We can become demanding and manipulative in attempts to make things go the way we think they ought to go. And when our attempts fail, anger may take hold and lead us to say and do things that are hurtful. The end result will likely be exhaustion and despair.

Wisdom teaches another way: wait for God to lead, for God to guide, for God to act. Rather than relying on ourselves to try to control things that are out of our control, wisdom calls us to depend on God. Rather than relying on our very limited understanding, wisdom instructs us to trust God’s omniscience and goodness. In times of waiting we are invited to choose wisdom, to ask for deeper trust in, and deeper surrender to, the One who loves us and longs to show us the way.

Group Discussion. Imagine you’re giving a friend, a daughter or son, or a grandchild instruction in three or four key points of wisdom for life. What would you say?

Personal Reflection. Think of a time of waiting in your life. What wisdom did you receive from God during that time?

Our text—words on living wisely from a loving father to his son—teaches us to choose wisdom in our waiting by “[trusting] in the Lord with all [our] heart” rather than placing our confidence in our own abilities. Read Proverbs 3:1–12.

1. List all that the father advises the son to do.

2. What benefits does the father say will come from following this wisdom?

3. What reactions might a son have to hearing these instructions on wisdom?

4. What might it mean to “bind [love and faithfulness] around your neck” and to “write them on the tablet of your heart” (v. 3)?

5. What does it mean to “trust in the Lord with all your heart” (v. 5)?

6. What might it mean for a person to acknowledge God in all their ways (v. 6)?

7. Which of the instructions listed are difficult for you to follow?

What makes those particular instructions difficult?

8. Which of these instructions speaks to you the most at this time in your life?

9. Spend a few minutes contemplating the list you made in response to question one. Ask God to remind you of ways you are following the instructions in Proverbs 3. Write what comes to your mind.

10. Ask God to show you where God would have you change. Write your response to what it seems God is saying to you.

11. How might these instructions be especially important for you in times of waiting?

12. How might following this wisdom lead to a greater sense of God’s presence with you?

Thank God for the privilege of relying on God and God’s wisdom in all you do.

Now or Later

Focus on one or two of the instructions from this text this week. Each day put it into practice. Make a journal entry at the end of each day about the impact that following this wisdom had on your day.


Waiting for God

Psalm 42

In times of waiting, our focus is often on future events. We wonder what will happen next. We wonder if the changes we hope for will ever come.

But there is more going on in our minds and hearts in times of waiting; there’s something more that we are waiting for. Our greatest need and longing in times of waiting (and in all times) is for God. When we quiet ourselves during these times, this deeper experience of waiting begins to emerge.

Something happens to us in this kind of waiting. We are brought to attention. Our hearts and minds and spirits focus on what matters most, on what is most real, on our deepest longings for God.

When we wait as if we are watching for our soul’s true love to appear, we find that the focus of our waiting is not so much about the future as it is about this present moment. This moment we can be right here, right now with our need, with our hunger, with our thirst for the One who is our Home, our Hope, our Help.

This kind of waiting is what the psalmist gives voice to in Psalm 42.

Group Discussion. Reflect on a time when you were separated from someone you love. What was the experience of that separation like for you? How would you describe the experience of being reunited with this loved one?

Personal Reflection. Think about the idea of God being your “soul’s true love.” Do you tend to view and relate to God that way? Why or why not?

In this text the psalmist struggles to hang on to hope, giving voice to an experience that is often a part of waiting for all of us. Read Psalm 42.

1. What words and images does the psalmist use to describe his emotional, physical and spiritual experience of waiting for and longing for God?

2. Why do you think the experience of feeling separated from God creates so much distress for the psalmist?

3. Given the descriptions of what it can be like to wait for and long for God, how difficult is it, in your experience, to stay aware of these deep feelings when you’re in the middle of a season of waiting?

4. What value might there be in staying aware of these feelings and even giving voice to them?

5. Which of the psalmist’s descriptions of longing for God do you most relate to?

6. What were men saying to the psalmist about God?

How do you think their words added to the psalmist’s distress?

7. What contrast does the psalmist draw in verses 3 and 4 between what he remembers and what he is currently experiencing?

8. What truths does the psalmist return to in order to encourage himself in this time of waiting and longing for a sense of God’s presence?

9. What truths and experiences of God do you find yourself returning to in times of waiting and longing for a sense of God’s presence?

10. What does the psalmist say in verse 8 that God is doing for him even through this time of waiting?

11. What can you see God doing in you and for you in your own time of waiting?

Express your longing for God directly to God.

Now or Later

Read the first two verses of this psalm and sit quietly in openness to God for two or three minutes. Repeat this three more times. Write about whatever you experienced in this time.


Waiting Together

Job 2:11–13; 6:1–17; 13:1–5

Times of waiting can be very difficult. But waiting with the support of others can literally make an unbearable situation bearable. One of the ways that God is present to us in times of waiting is through the compassion, kindness and respectfulness of others; they minister the loving presence of God to us.

In his book The View from the Hearse, Joseph Bayly describes an experience with a friend who was not able to be supportive to him and a friend who was:

I was sitting, torn by grief. Someone came and talked to me of God’s dealings, of why it happened, of hope beyond the grave. He talked constantly, he said things I knew were true. I was unmoved, except to wish he’d go away. He finally did.

Another came and sat beside me. He didn’t talk. He didn’t ask leading questions. He just sat beside me for an hour and more, listened when I said something, answered briefly, prayed simply, left. I was moved. I was comforted. I hated to see him go.

The friend who made a positive difference was the one who was fully present to him in his pain. Friends like that are a true gift in the midst of our times of waiting.

Group Discussion. When have you seen well-meaning “support” cause more pain and hurt instead of helping someone? Where did the person offering support go wrong?

Personal Reflection. Imagine yourself waiting by yourself for a friend or family member to go through surgery. What thoughts and feelings come to you as you picture this? Now imagine yourself waiting with a supportive friend. What would you want from your friend? What would it feel like to receive that from your friend?

Job’s experience of friends who sat with him in his time of waiting for God to answer his heart’s cry can both encourage and instruct us. At first these friends were truly present with Job, but they then began to withdraw from him and his pain, offering unwanted advice and criticism. Read Job 2:11–13; 6:1–17; 13:1–5.

1. Job has suffered unspeakable losses. When his friends come to visit him, what is their initial response (2:11–13)?

2. What did these friends communicate to Job through that initial response (2:11–13)?

3. After some time, Job speaks in anguish (Job 3), and his friends begin to offer advice and correction. What is Job’s response to them (6:1–3, 14–17; 13:1–5)?

4. What do you think Job is asking of his friends in verse 6:14?

5. In Job 13:1–5 Job states that his friends’ silence was much wiser than their words. Why is this so often true in times of great anguish?

6. Why is it sometimes difficult to listen in silent empathy and compassion to a friend’s “impetuous” words that seem to indicate a “forsaking of the fear of the Almighty”?

7. What does it feel like to be the one receiving the gifts of silent empathy and compassion from others while we wait?

8. How do you offer the kind of support Job was asking for to your friends? Think of specific examples of times you have offered or could offer this kind of support.

9. How do your friends offer you this kind of support? Think of specific examples.

10. How might this kind of support from a friend help you to experience God in times of waiting?

11. In what situation in your life right now could you use support from a friend?

Pray for your friends, thanking God for the gifts of help and support you each receive from the other.

Now or Later

Spend some time with a friend this week, listening with compassion and respect to whatever they are going through and inviting them to do the same for you.


Waiting with Hope

Luke 1:1–25, 57–80

The Gospel of Luke begins with the story of a promise within a promise. In the opening scene we meet a man named Zechariah who has been waiting for many years with his wife to be blessed with a child. He and his wife have also been waiting, along with all the people of Israel, for the promised Messiah.

Luke recounts how an angel comes to Zechariah and announces to him that what he has been waiting for is about to happen. He and his wife will have a son. And that son will prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah.

But the waiting has been long, and it is not easy to wait with hope. Over time hope tends to dim and discouragement, doubt and even despair begin to set in. By the time the angel appears to Zechariah, he has all but given up. The message is almost too much to grasp, too much to hope for; he expresses doubt that the events will actually come to pass.

But as the story unfolds we are reminded again that our hope is in God—God who is lovingly, powerfully active in our lives, in our story, in history.

Group Discussion. How would you define hope?

Personal Reflection. Why is it sometimes so difficult to hang on to hope in times of waiting?

In the text for this study we listen in as an angel tells Zechariah that his time of waiting is about to become a time of receiving. And we watch as Zechariah struggles to hope. Read Luke 1:1–25, 57–80.

1. What title would you give to the first section of this text (vv. 1–25)?

What title would you give to the second section (vv. 57–80)?

2. Elizabeth and Zechariah had been praying and waiting for a child for decades. They had probably given up all hope. The nation of Israel had been waiting for the promised Messiah for hundreds of years and may have been struggling to hang on to hope. In what way can you relate to this kind of experience?

3. Put yourself in Zechariah’s place. What do you imagine he is experiencing during his encounter with the angel?

4. How might the “sign” of being temporarily mute have been a gift to Zechariah in his time of waiting for their son to be born?

5. What does the angel say that the promised son will do to prepare people for the coming of the Messiah (v. 17)?

6. What does Zechariah say that his son will do to prepare people for the Lord (vv. 76–77)?

7. Which of these preparations for receiving more of God might God be doing in your life at this time?

8. How have you seen God prepare you for gifts from God that you’ve been waiting for?

9. The two primary human actors in this story are Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth. But the primary Actor in this story is clearly God. Take a few minutes to reread the story with this perspective in mind. How does this perspective change how you see this story?

10. How does seeing God as the major Actor in this story change how you see your own story?

11. Verses 78 and 79 offer a powerful image of God acting in ways that move us from hopelessness to hope. Reread these verses out loud slowly. Sit quietly and prayerfully with this image. Invite God to speak to you. Share or write about whatever came to you in this time.

12. How does this story offer hope to you in your time of waiting?

Ask God to fill you with hope and to speak to you of God’s faithfulness, trustworthiness and purposefulness in the midst of your waiting.

Now or Later

Read Psalm 33:20–22 several times, sitting in silence for two or three minutes between readings, inviting God to open your mind and heart to whatever God has for you.

We wait in hope for the Lord;

he is our help and our shield.

In him our hearts rejoice,

for we trust in his holy name.

May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord,

even as we put our hope in you.


God’s Presence and Purposes in Our Waiting

Genesis 37:12–36; 39:1–23; 50:15–21

Joseph was a man who was hated and betrayed by his brothers and then later falsely accused and put in prison for seven years. Yet all the time, God was with Joseph, unfolding a greater plan.

It could not have been easy for Joseph to stay connected to the reality of God’s presence with him in all he suffered, any more than it is for us in times of distress. Yet we are called to trust that God is with us, that God is good and loving, and that God is at work in ways unknown to us, bringing good even out of our times of distress.

Group Discussion. When you think about times of waiting in the past, what made it difficult to trust that God was with you? What helped you in those times to trust that God was with you?

Personal Reflection. Think of a time when you felt unsure of God’s loving presence with you. What was the experience like for you? Now think of a time when you had a sense of God’s presence with you. What happened that reassured you that God was with you?

The life story of Joseph is a story filled with heartbreak, betrayal, injustice and waiting. In this study we follow Joseph through a series of traumatic life events, any of which could have left him believing that God had abandoned him. Yet in Joseph’s times of waiting for deliverance, God was with him, working to bring blessing to many. Read Genesis 37:12–36; 39:1–23 and 50:15–21.

1. What scenes stand out to you as you read through these stories from Joseph’s life?

2. From a human point of view, what might Joseph have thought and felt about himself, other people and life in general through these experiences of betrayal and injustice?

3. What might he have been thinking and feeling about God?

4. What parts of Joseph’s experiences can you relate to? Explain.

5. Some time later, Joseph was able to see God’s hand at work bringing good out of what others meant for harm. How did Joseph respond to his brothers (50:15–21)?

6. What do you think made it possible for Joseph to respond in this way to his brothers?

7. What thoughts do you have about Joseph’s conclusion that what others meant for harm, God intended for good?

8. What does this story show us about God?

9. In what ways have you seen God at work in times of difficult waiting?

How have those experiences (or your lack of such an experience) changed your times of waiting?

10. In what ways have your experiences of God’s presence with you changed you?

11. How might this story of Joseph help you trust that God is present even in times of difficult waiting?

Express your gratitude to God for God’s presence with you in times of waiting and always.

Now or Later

Read more of the story of Joseph in chapters 40–47 of Genesis, looking for evidence of God’s plan unfolding and God’s presence with him.


The Gifts in Waiting

Psalm 40

We have seen that when we are going through a time of difficult waiting, on the deepest level what we are really longing and waiting for is an experience of God-with-us-as-we-wait.

When, by grace, we encounter God in our waiting, we are changed. The gifts we receive in these times of experiencing God’s tender mercies toward us can have a profound and lasting impact on our awareness of God’s personal love for us. This deeper trust in God’s unfailing love, in turn, can strengthen us, heal us and free us in ways we might never have known otherwise.

Group Discussion. How do you tend to express your gratitude?

Personal Reflection. Think of a time recently when you felt grateful. What was the experience of gratitude like for you?

In this study we join the psalmist in his boundless gratitude to God for God’s many kindnesses in times of waiting—kindnesses which have allowed us to experience God-with-us, loving us and caring for us. Read Psalm 40.

1. What does the psalmist say that God has done for him (vv. 1–3)?

2. When have you sensed that God heard your cry in a time of waiting? Explain.

3. What experiences have you had of God lifting you out of a slimy pit of mud and mire and giving you a firm place to stand?

4. What new song has God put in your heart?

5. What is the psalmist’s response to the gifts he has received from God (vv. 4–5, 9–10)?

6. In what specific ways have you responded to the gifts God has given you in times of waiting?

7. In verses 6–8 the psalmist makes the statement that God does not desire religious observances (sacrifices and offerings) as an expression of our gratitude but instead wants our heart. What contrast would you draw between verbal expressions of gratitude and the kind of loving surrender (as an expression of gratitude) that is described in verses 6–8?

8. Why do you think the psalmist is making this point that God does not desire our religious observances but instead desires our wills and our hearts?

9. What would it mean to “desire to do [God’s] will” and to have God’s law “within [your] heart” (v. 8)?

10. What does the psalmist continue to ask for from God in verses 11–17?

11. What do you want to continue to ask God for at this time?

Thank God for all the gifts you have received from God in your times of waiting.

Now or Later

Paraphrase verses 6–8 to make the statements more personal for you. As you are ready, pray this prayer of surrender every day as an outpouring of your love and gratitude for God’s personal love and care for you.


The God Who Waits

Luke 15:11–32

Waiting through difficult times can be so challenging that we might sometimes feel that the waiting itself is a form of suffering. And indeed, it can be. This is, in part, why we often experience renewed hope and strength when we are able to trust that God is with us to help us, keep us and bless us in our waiting.

We may be equally moved to learn that God knows what it is like to wait. In one of the stories that Jesus told, he described God as the waiting Father. God, our Creator, our Sustainer, our Life, waits for us.

As you study this powerful passage, may the beauty of the grace of our God speak to you in ways that allow you to truly meet God anew in your times of waiting.

Group Discussion. What words would you use to describe an ideal relationship between a father and child?

Personal Reflection. What words would you use to describe your relationship with your father?

The story that Jesus tells in this text is often referred to as the story of the prodigal son. But it most importantly paints a stunning portrait of God, the waiting Father, who waits for us, scans the horizon looking for us and runs to embrace us when we are still far from home. Read Luke 15:11–32.

1. What words would you use to describe the two sons in this story?

2. How are they different, and how are they the same?

3. In what way do you see yourself in each of them?

4. What character traits are evident in this father’s waiting?

5. What responses do you have to the father’s waiting?

6. What did the father do when his waiting was over?

What emotions does the father’s reaction stir in you?

7. What does Jesus teach us in this story about who God is?

8. What does Jesus teach us in this story about how God sees us?

9. How does Jesus’ picture of who God is compare to your images of God?

10. How does this story’s portrayal of how God sees us compare to your ideas about how God sees you?

11. How might knowing that God is a God who waits speak to you in your times of waiting?

Thank God for being a God who waits for you with love and compassion.

Now or Later

In a time of quiet, let yourself reflect on the following images from Jesus’ story:

Put yourself in this story as the son or daughter who is returning home after a time of doing things your own way. You have been longing for home, but no longer feel worthy. You have a speech planned about how unworthy you are. But suddenly, you see God, your true Father, running to meet you on the road. His arms are open, his eyes are full of joy, he calls your name with great tenderness. Let him wrap his arms around you. Listen to him say, “Welcome home, my dear child. I am overjoyed to see you. I love you.”[1]

[1] Ryan, Juanita. Waiting for God: 8 Studies for Individuals or Groups: With Notes for Leaders. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Connect: An Imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2013. Print. A LifeGuide Bible Study.