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Waiting to surrender

I'm not sure where I first heard the term "waiting worship" - maybe in a blog post, maybe in Lloyd Lee Wilson's Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order. I definitely remember the "aha" moment when I heard it, feeling words finally start to capture what my experience of silent worship in Quaker meetings had been.

While there are days when I fear that some people waiting in meeting are waiting for the end of the meeting (as people in churches often seem to wait for the end of the sermon), "waiting worship" describes both a longing for God and an understanding that God, the Light, isn't always just there when we turn around, ready to provide guidance and support. God, the Light, is always there - but we're not always so close.

"What are we waiting for?"

God. Silent contemplation is an opportunity for us to clear ourselves of the barriers we place between ourselves and God, to listen to the Light and let ourselves be lifted.

A recent post by Robin reminded me that this basic message seems to have survived the various changes to Quakerism over the centuries:

It is our job to trust that God will transform us into what or whom we are called to be. It is God's job to do the transforming.

George Fox and James Nayler preached transformation and submission to God, letting God work through us. So did the Quietist Quakers who came after them, and so did 19th-century revivalists like Hannah Whitall Smith, whose The Christian's Secret to a Happy Life inspired Robin's post. I'd suggest that most modern Quakers, whatever the details, still keep a similar thread near the heart of their worship.

Following this path is more difficult than contemplating quietly in meeting - it means letting God lead, a terrifying prospect that puts all we have at risk. (One of Quakerism's wisest aspects, it seems to me, is providing a framework for when we seek the help of others to discern what leadings came from the Light, and which came from the confusion of our own wants and needs.)

Letting God lead seems, however, to be the path to peace, both inward peace and outward peace. Our greatest strength lies in surrendering our strength to God's strength, leading when called to lead, serving when called to serve.

"Giving your life to God," in this context, doesn't necessarily mean becoming a monk or a nun or a priest or a missionary, but rather listening to God, discerning what God wants in your life and following that leading. It might even suggest a path forward with that most challenging bit of scripture, Matthew 5:48:

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

"We can't be perfect," people complain; "Why does God have to be so demanding?" And the imperfection of humans seems to be widely accepted, even by George Fox. Where then, can this perfection come from?

From God - if we listen, and follow.


I think it's important to remember what kind of perfection we're talking about in "being perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect."

We are not talking about infallibility; we are not talking about perfect adherence to anybody's law book or anybody's list of virtues. We are quoting from Jesus' description of his Father as a Being of unlimited benevolence.

So it isn't "Be perfect or my loving Father will get you!" As I see it, it's saying: "God is like this, and therefore there's no need for your human fears or your human demands for vengeance or your calls to be protected by violent means."

Thank you, Friend Simon, for this wise, simple and nourishing reminder of what our calling is.

About our call to be "perfect, as our Father in heaven is perfect:" Matthew puts that as the punch line of a pericope (Matt. 5:43-48)that begins with the call to love our enemies, so it's not some impossible demand that we have Christ-like courage, impeccable manners and absolutely no pimples or cellulite, but rather an exhortation to "be perfect" in not withholding love from those who treat us ill.

The original Greek word we translate as "perfect" is derived from _telos_, "end," and to me suggests not so much flawlessness as maturity. In my reading of it, therefore, Jesus is telling us that the final condition toward which we're growing is one in which we dispense blessings freely to friend and foe alike, and that there's no excuse for not striving to get to that condition.

It breaks my heart to think of people opening the Bible to "be ye perfect" and then closing it again, thinking it's asking the impossible of its readers.

Thy Friend John

Thank you for this. I became a Quaker this year and I printed this out and read it in preparation for meeting this past Sunday. It was very helpful. Beautifully written, too. Thanks.

The central idea of "waiting worship" is, of course, not that we are waiting for God — that would be silly, since we know God is already present — but that we are waiting upon God, as a waiter waits upon her customer, or a courtier upon his king.

To wait upon someone means to be unobtrusively present and paying total attention to that person, ready at every instant to leap to fulfill whatever desire that person may display. And so it is with the gathered Quaker meeting, vis-à-vis God.

There are indeed several meanings for "waiting" in English, and I think that I've seen at least "waiting upon" and "waiting for" used in connection with "waiting worship."

I think here I've tried - perhaps not clearly enough - to support both uses.

You're quite correct that waiting for God "would be silly, since we know God is already present," but I think there's a problem which keeps many of us (myself included all too often) from waiting on God:

God, the Light, is always there - but we're not always so close.... Silent contemplation is an opportunity for us to clear ourselves of the barriers we place between ourselves and God, to listen to the Light and let ourselves be lifted.

We're waiting, in a waiting for sense, for us to clear our path to God, so that we can connect with God, and wait upon God.

God is always there, but we're not always so "ready at every instant to leap to fulfill whatever" God wants. And you're right that meeting is an opportunity for us to gather and do just that.

The title of this post is perhaps too cute, but I hoped to suggest our own hesitation to surrender, and the waiting upon that comes with that surrender.

Hi! The command to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect (Mt.5:43-48) is not the only place this idea is spoken of. Eph.4 tells us the Apostles, etc. are given for the perfecting of the saints--till we all come unto a perfect man. Too many ministry gifts that I have personally seen are busy perfecting the saints for the work of the ministry and not bringing them into perfection--unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. I believe we should all be pressing on as Paul to the prize of the high call--to be perfect--even if we don't comprehend what that looks like or how it will manifest. Lord bless you all.