September 5, 1982 (Morning)
Bethlehem Baptist Church
John Piper, Pastor
GOD WORKS FOR THOSE WHO WAIT FOR HIM
One of the rare delights of this summer was that my 2˝ year old Abraham became a
preacher. One morning I came up from downstairs and awakened the family with Psalm
20:7, "Some boast of chariots and some of horses; but we boast of the name of the Lord
our God." I announced it like a general to his army: this is the banner over our family.
From then on Abraham has become a preacher. He climbs on the kitchen stool and calls
out, arms waving, "We not trust in chariots, we not trust in horses; we trust in Lord our
God!" And that has made my summer!
I want to speak this morning on why every family and every person should raise that
banner over your front door. The reason is given in Isaiah 64:4, "From of old no one has
heard, or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides thee, who works for those
who wait for him." The reason everyone should say, "We not trust in horses, we not trust
in chariots, we trust in 'ord our God," is that God works for people like that. And if God is
working for you surely things will turn out better than they would if everyone else in the
world were working for you, but not God.
On this Labor Day Sunday I want us to lift up and enjoy the God who labors for us. If
everything that we needed in this life and in the life to come could be achieved by mere
human labor, then it would be fitting on Labor Day just to celebrate man and his labors.
But, in fact, everyone knows that the things we need most are not owing to our labor. Did
we labor to be created? Did we make our eyes so we could have the joy of sight? Or our
ears for hearing? Or our nose and mouth for smelling and tasting? Did we create our wives
or husbands or parents or friends who give so much delight to our life? Did we supply the
earth with water for drinking? Did we make the sun and station it at just the right distance
to hold the earth fast, warm our days, tan our skin, make our crops grow? Did we surround
the earth with air to carry clouds and birds and oxygen for our lungs? Do we paint the
sunrises and sunsets that never cease but make their way endlessly around the globe for
all to see? And when we come to die, will it be by our labor that a holy and just God can
acquit us of all our sin, take away all fear and pain and guilt, and give us new resurrection
bodies for ever and ever in the age to come? All the things we need most will be achieved
for us by the labor of God or not at all. And so as Labor Day approaches tomorrow I want
to leave this great truth ringing in your ears: "God works for those who wait for him."
I will mention briefly three things about this work which God does:
1) its uniqueness;
2) its competence;
3) its condition.
First, the uniqueness of such work. The text suggests that in working for those who wait
for him God does something utterly unique. "From of old no one has heard or perceived by
the ear, no eye has seen a God besides thee, who works for those who wait for him." No
one has ever heard or seen the likes of this God. Isaiah contrasts Jehovah with the
Babylonian gods in Isaiah 46:1-4. Bel and Nebo are the Jupiter and Mercury of Babylon
and they are as helpless as their falling images. They have to be carried. Their subjects
have to work for them. But the Lord of Israel is the creator and he does the carrying.
Bel bows down, Nebo stoops, their idols are on beasts and cattle; these things you
carry are loaded as burdens on weary beasts. They stoop, they bow down together;
they cannot save the burden but themselves go into captivity. Hearken to me, O
house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel who have been borne by me
from your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am He, and to grey
hairs I will carry you. I have made and I will bear; I will carry and will save (cf. Jer.
What sets Jehovah apart from all the other gods is that he does not need to be carried. He
has made and he will carry. He will work for those who wait for him. The distinguishing
mark of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus is that he magnifies his greatness by
coming down to work for us. It says in Isaiah 30:18, "He exalts himself to show mercy to
you." God aims to be an utterly unique, wonderful and exalted God, and the way he does
it is by condescending to forgive sinners and work for those who wait for him. Therefore, no
eye has ever seen the likes of such a God; it is without parallel anywhere that the Creator
should come down and work for the creature.
Second, we should consider for a moment the competence of this work. We've all had
work done for us. I had landscaping work done for me so water would drain away from the
back door. They did it wrong twice and had to come back a third time. I had work done for
me on my transmission and it's still not right. We all know what it is like to depend on a
workman and then to be let down through incompetence in one form or another.
But things are altogether different when God becomes our workman. God is not lacking in
any of the things that cause human workmen to let us down in the service we need. They
may lack a sufficient concern for the reputation and honor of their firm. They may lack
sufficient understanding of how to do the job. They may lack sufficient strength or
endurance to finish it. In other words, their motivation, their knowledge and their power
may be inadequate for what needs to be done and so they sometimes let us down.
But with God things are utterly different. His motivation to preserve his honor and avoid the
reputation of a bumbler is infinite. His knowledge of how everything works and how to meet
every need is infinite. And his strength and endurance are infinite. God cannot fail. As he
says in Isaiah 46:9,10,
I am God and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the
end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, "My
counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose."
If God undertakes to work for us, he cannot fail. He will succeed in providing all the
services we need. As Paul says in Philippians 4:19,20,
My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Finally, we must ask about the condition of this divine service. For whom does God work?
In one respect God works for everyone. He works to produce life and to provide sun and
rain and harvest for all his creatures, even those in rebellion. He gives health and
prosperity to millions who ignore him or give him token acknowledgment. All this is meant
to lead them to repentance and gratitude and worship. But if their hearts remain cold
toward God, even his kindness will heighten their guilt in the end (Rom. 2:4,5). This
general work which God does for all his creatures is called common grace. It is common
to all men.
But the work of God referred to in our text is a special grace. It is work done only for those
who have a certain disposition. "No eye has seen a God besides thee, who works for
those who wait for him." The work mentioned here is more than creation and preservation.
It is more than meeting a few natural needs. It is the investment of all God's energy in
every way for our eternal good. This he does only for those who wait for him.
So the big question for all of us who want to have God working for and not against us is,
how do we wait for him? What does waiting mean? In Isaiah "waiting for God" implies that
the people of God are in trouble. They are in danger from enemies and the temptation is
very great to hastily seek the help of men instead of waiting for God to act. But in Isaiah
31:1 it says,
Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, who trust in chariots
because they are many or in horsemen because they are very strong, but do not look to
the Holy one of Israel or consult the Lord.
Waiting for the Lord means first of all then, looking to the Lord, consulting or seeking his
will before any human aid is pursued. In short, we wait for the Lord when we pause to pray
before we act. It says in Psalm 106:13, "They soon forgot his works; they did not wait for
his counsel." The first act of waiting is to seek God's counsel in prayer before any attempt
is made to solve the problem ourselves. And it should go without saying that when we wait
for God's counsel we are submissive and open to it. We are not telling him what he must
do. We are like patients phoning the doctor for advice on how to treat the rising pain.
The answer may come from the Lord in two forms, both of which involve more waiting for
him. He may tell you to do nothing or he may tell you to do something. For example, in
Isaiah 30:15 the Lord says,
"In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength."
And you would not, but you said, "No! We will speed upon horses," therefore you shall
speed away, and, 'We will ride upon swift steeds," therefore your pursuers shall be swift.
In other words, God's will was that they let him save them in quietness and rest. But they
preferred to escape their own way and God did not work for them. So when we pray for
God's counsel we must be prepared to hear him say what Moses did at the Red Sea,
"Fear not, stand firm, and behold the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you
today... The Lord will fight for you and you have only to be still." So the second thing
waiting means is, trust the Lord enough to be still when he says to. Then he will bare his
arm and work for you.
But the Physician may answer your phone call by saying, "Take your pill." God may say,
"Enter the battle." In 2 Samuel 5:19, when the Philistines were pursuing David it says,
"David inquired of the Lord, 'Shall I go up against the Philistines? Wilt thou give them into
my hand?' And the Lord said to David, 'Go up. For I will certainly give the Philistines into
thy hand."' He did not take matters into his own hands. He waited for the Lord. Then the
Lord said, act.
But the thing we have to remember (and this changes all of life) is that we do not cease to
wait for God when we begin to act ourselves. For we know the lesson of Proverbs 21:31,
"The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord." Even
when we follow the Lord into battle we carry with us a spirit of waiting for his help. We say
with the psalmist (33:16-22),
A king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.
The war horse is a vain hope for victory and by its great might it cannot save… Our
soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and shield. Yea, our heart is glad in him,
because we trust in his holy name. Let thy steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even
as we hope in thee.
If the Lord instructs us to take certain precautions against the enemy, even in the midst of
that activity we must keep on waiting for the Lord's help because we know Psalm 127:1,
"Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stays awake in vain."
Therefore the third way that we wait for the Lord is by having a sense of reliance on his
work even when we are most active. We are waiting for the Lord when we have a spirit of
expectancy that, though all our labor is fragile and vulnerable, nevertheless, God never fails
and the final result is in his hands.
In conclusion, then, these three things. When circumstances arise in which you feel that
something must be done, for safety or for service, wait for the Lord and he will work for
you. First pray, seek his counsel, submit to his wisdom and power. Second, if he says to
be still, then leave it all in his hands, trusting his supernatural involvement in the situation.
I don't mean laziness or shirking of duty. I mean that when you are most prepared, most
capable, most primed for battle and think that most hangs on you, he may say, "Stay
home, be quiet, pray and watch me act." Third, if the Lord says, "Prepare, train, work,
fight, argue, struggle," even then maintain that humble reliance on the Lord. Have a spirit of
expectancy that, though your labors are shabby, the final issue is the Lord's and he loves
to work for people who wait for him.
© COPYRIGHT John Piper.