The Lost Art of Longing: Meditations for the Beginning of Advent
Updated: Dec 15, 2020
by J. Aaron White
Waiting is hard work. Granted, it seems like a contradiction in terms, but I assure you that it is true. Titles such as waiting room give the impression that waiting is a passive affair, one marked by twiddling one’s thumbs and staring at the ceiling in a stale office lobby while nauseating light jazz drones in the background. Although this may have been the unfortunate experience of some, it is not what the Bible has in mind.
Perhaps an alternate term would clear the linguistic fog. Rather than waiting, Christians may rightly use the term longing. A young, betrothed woman does not idly wait for her wedding day; she yearns for it to arrive. A soldier nearing the end a year-long deployment does not lazily wait to return home to his family; he aches to see them again. In Scripture, longing is the visceral culmination of faith in God’s past acts of mercy and a settled hope in what he promises to do in the future.
Advent is a season marked by longing. We join with the Old Testament saints who looked forward with eager anticipation for the promised serpent-crusher to arrive (see Gen. 3:15). If we tune our ears and hearts rightly, we can almost see the weathered eyes of Abraham and the tear-filled eyes of David straining to catch a glimpse of the coming Redeemer. Yet, ours is a complicated longing. Not only do we look back in sympathy with our Old Testament brethren, but we also look forward to the second coming of the King.
As we, the Redeemer church family, prepare to enter a large-scale study of The King’s Mission this Advent season, I want to offer some meditations from Psalm 63 to help us. In this precious chapter, King David teaches us what biblical longing looks like and exhorts us to look in three directions:
Note the ways that David looks back, highlighting God’s grace in his past: “…when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help” (Ps. 63:6-7a, emphasis added). From Genesis to Malachi, we are afforded innumerable examples of God’s past acts of grace, mercy, faithfulness, kindness, and patience toward undeserving sinners. The ark, the tabernacle, the myriad animal sacrifices, and the uplifted bronze serpent conspire to make our hearts ache with longing for the One to whom all these things point. Moreover, our personal testimonies (whether three days ago or seventy years ago) of God’s sovereign grace that brought us to saving faith in Christ Jesus remain stones of remembrance in our lives. Cultivating a biblical sense of longing begins with looking back.
David would not settle for merely living on his laurels. His experience of God’s past mercy gave him confidence for the experience of God’s present mercy and help: “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you…My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me” (Ps. 63:3, 8). Many of us know exactly what David is referring to in these stanzas. In our lowest moments and darkest hours, we have found the Lord Jesus to be a very present help (see Ps. 46), a friend who stays closer than a brother. David is looking straight down at his feet, fully aware of God’s sustaining grace in the here-and-now. Cultivating a biblical sense of longing includes looking down.
Rejoicing over what God has done in the past and being grounded upon his sustaining grace in the present, David is poised for action. Perhaps the opening verse of Psalm 63, one of the clearest expressions of a longing heart, makes greater sense considering all we’ve seen thus far. David explodes with eager anticipation: “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Ps. 63:1, emphasis added). This is clearly not idle waiting. David is lovesick for God; he is besotted with the desire to worship and enjoy God in the days to come. He knows that his is not a vain hope; the Lord has proven too faithful in the past and present to doubt the future. David is straining forward with all his might. Cultivating a biblical sense of longing culminates in looking ahead.
This Advent season, may we take our cues from David in Psalm 63. Let’s look back at the promises made regarding the coming Savior and rejoice at the multifaceted ways that God’s sovereignty worked in human history to bring them all to pass. Let’s look down, noting God’s preserving grace in our lives in this very moment in history. As faith rises in our hearts, let’s train our gaze on the horizon as we await the fulfillment of the promise of the King’s return: “Surely I am coming soon” (Rev. 21:20a). Advent is a season marked by longing as Christians ponder over the past, plod in the present, and pine for the future. May we see the glory of Christ in The King’s Mission so that we join the apostle John in declaring: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 21:20b).