When I hear the word straining, a string of activities and images floods my mind: weight lifting, giving birth, finishing the last 3 miles of a marathon and a myriad of others. Most involve sweat, physical pain and potential bodily harm.
It seems that God, through the Biblical writers, adds an activity that I wouldn’t normally put in the strenuous category: waiting.
Qavah, the Hebrew word translated as wait, is used in the Old Testament 49 times. According to HELPS Word Studies, it comes from a root word that means “to twist, to stretch” and carries an image of the tension of enduring. The image of a rope being pulled and twisted until taut and straining comes to my mind’s eye.
When I think of this Old Testament word for waiting, the life of a New Testament saint immediately comes to mind. Although our knowledge of his life comes from only 11 verses written in the gospel of Luke, what is written there is enough to make him an exemplar of the sustained straining that is waiting upon God.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah (Luke 2:25-26).
The word devout used to describe Simeon is the Greek word eulabes, which means aggressively laying hold of what is good or right. The word translated waiting, much like the Old Testament word described earlier, is prosdechomai, which means “to wait actively or expectantly.” Interestingly, this verb is used in the middle voice, which means that while not completely active, there is a high level of personal involvement. This is no passive, easy-peesy, thumb-twiddling waiting. This is a strained waiting and active anticipation that has been sustained for many years.
While Luke moves in immediate succession from introduction to Simeon receiving what was promised in Temple on the day a young Jesus was brought to be dedicated, there is an assumed and suspended lifetime that exists between the two in reality. Day after day, year after year and probably decade after decade of knowing and sensing an intimate and exciting promise that was yet to be fulfilled must be creatively inserted in Luke to understand the sustained straining of Simeon.
We don’t know what Simeon did for a living, though some commentators have their own hypotheses; we don’t know what his daily life looked like; we don’t know what he looked like on the days when the eyes of his soul grew weary from straining to see that which could not yet be seen. We don’t know how many times he was tempted to doubt the promise that the Holy Spirit had given to him or how many times he was disappointed because he thought so and so or such and such was the promised one, only to find out that he wasn’t.
All we know is that the Holy Spirit continually allowed him to show up in expectancy for a lifetime. The life of Simeon reminds me that sometimes Biblical waiting looks like just showing up with eyes open, which sounds simple but is not easy.
I can almost see his aged, wrinkled, sun-spotted face housing the hopeful, yet tired eyes of a man who has spent his life actively waiting for a promise that he had yet to see. I can imagine the Holy Spirit tenderly nudging him to go, yet again, into the Temple in hope that today may be the day when the promise was to become a tangible reality. What I cannot imagine is the joy, the peace, the overwhelming satisfaction that must have come over him as he laid tired eyes and aged hands on the Messiah He had been looking for.
However, I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that in that moment of fulfillment, all the confused mornings, all the nights of nagging longing, all the days wrestling between a comfortably numb indifference and an uncomfortably painful hope, were well worth it.
I know because Simeon said so himself.
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel (Luke 2:29-32).
May we learn from Simeon to live lives of sustained straining so that we can know the deep fulfillment of a life well lived in waiting and faith.