One of the most frustrating aspects of justice work is waiting for your hard work and dedication to finally pay off. Why must we wait so long to see change actually happen?
It is not uncommon for a person to work their entire life toward affecting change and never get the result they desire. Following in the footsteps of our ancestors and the prophets of the Bible, when our patience is tested we begin to petition God and solicit God's presence and activity in our society. Where are you God? How long will you allow the unrighteous to reign supreme and for injustice to pervade our world?
This becomes one of the biggest tests of faith. Do we truly believe God will be faithful to the promise to bring about justice? If so, when we become involved in a social movement of protest where the central methodology is nonviolent resistance, are we essentially agreeing that we must wait on the Lord?
If the answer is "No," then we fall victim to the temptation to be in control. We become stuck in our own limitations as humans. To concede that certain things are outside of our control is a difficult task, and history shows us that we struggle with this far too often. If we take the work of justice into our own hands without being guided by the imagination of God, then our resistance is futile. We run the risk of utilizing the same oppressive and destructive ideologies and methodologies that are used by the dominant culture — thus perpetuating cycles of violence and marginalization, instead of becoming the transformative force we are called to be.
This is why it is essential that the answer to, "Must we wait on the Lord?" be "Yes." By waiting on the Lord we are acknowledging that we have faith in God's plan. We are acknowledging that God's vision for a just world is greater than our vision and that God's strategy for implementing justice is more qualified and complete than our strategy. We are doing what God has always required us to do; to place matters beyond our control into God's hands.
But what does it mean to wait on the Lord?
We are actually waiting, in a chronological sense, because as humans we are bound by time. But was there more to what the prophets meant by this?
When asked about the prophet's insistence on waiting on the Lord my father's response was, "...In general they are imploring us to not get our desires ahead of God's intentions. Alignment between our will and God's design is critical for our work to bear fruit. Therefore, it is not a temporal wait, but a plea to put God's will first."
This perspective frees us from the bondage of our impatience, because it becomes less about when and more about how. Waiting on the Lord is not something done passively. Much action is demanded from us.
The Hebrew words used to mean "to wait" in passages such as Isaiah 30:18, Micah 7:7, and Habakkuk 2:1-3 could also be used to mean "to put hope in."
In his sermon on the meaning of hope, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "Genuine hope involves recognition that what is hoped-for is in some sense already present...What is hoped-for is not present and it is present. It's not present in the sense that it is not fulfilled, but what you really hope for is present in the sense that it is in you as a power that drives you to fulfill the hope."
To seek justice in this society and to seek liberation from our oppressors we hope for love, peace, and the presence of God. God's action is not dependent on our action, but if we are active, God is active. When we surrender our lives to be used by God for the sake of justice, we become empowered by the Holy Spirit — which, in part, makes us the embodiment of God's activity in this world. In this way, what we wait on or hope for is not only present but at work.
Despite our attempts to create a world where results come instantaneously, justice never comes overnight. In fact any real or substantial change comes over time. We see this in nature and in the nature of God. Transformation is a process.
As Dr. King remarks in another sermon, "...God seems to work in strides. He does not do all things at once. Even the Genesis writer realized this. In his conception, God could have spoken and the whole universe could have come into being all at once, but instead he chose to spread it out over six days. Apparently, God sees his purpose in the universe can best be realized by working in strides. An all-at-once method of creation would not give man a chance to grow and develop. He would be a blind automation."
If we stomped out the flames of oppression today without transforming the hearts and minds of those around us, then the deep seated embers of hatred would lie dormant waiting to spark the fires of tomorrow.
Though it is essential, it is not enough for the time to merely be opportune. For our work to have the maximum impact on society we must be in the right position when time becomes pregnant. What is required of the current social movement to obtain the same beloved community that Dr. King envisioned is for our stride to be in tune with the stride of God in the cosmic dance toward justice and equality.