Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

“Waiting upon the Lord: Thy Will Be Done,” Elder Robert D. Hales, Oct. 2011 (RS/MP 4th Sunday)

Posted by jennywebb on January 10, 2012

Disclaimer: The following is not intended as a complete study of this conference talk; rather it represents my notes taken during my study of the talk as if I were preparing to teach it. That is, what follows contains what I think are interesting points for discussion in a Relief Society or priesthood lesson.

At first glance, Elder Hales’s talk here seems to be concerned with the Big Questions: Why am I here? Why am I suffering? And while Elder Hales certainly addresses these issues, the answers are not necessarily new or unexpected.

“As we ask these questions, we realize that the purpose of our life on earth is to grow, develop, and be strengthened through our own experiences.”

But Elder Hales takes his talk in an interesting direction with what follows:

“How do we do this? The scriptures give us an answer in one simple phrase: we ‘wait upon the Lord.’”

The underlying question around which the rest of the talk hangs is what it means to wait upon the Lord. And it is certainly a question worth asking.

The answer Elder Hales gives to this question is complex. He tells us that “in the scriptures, the word wait means to hope, to anticipate, and to trust. To hope and trust in the Lord requires faith, patience, humility, meekness, long-suffering, keeping the commandments, and enduring to the end.” Following this definition, Elder Hales provides an expanded list characterizing “waiting” as

  • “planting the seed of faith and nourishing it,”
  • “praying as the Savior did,”
  • pondering in our hearts and ‘receiv[ing] the Holy Ghost’ so that we can know ‘all things what [we] should do,’”
  • “to ‘stand fast’ and ‘press forward’ in faith”
  • relying on Christ and His grace
  • keeping the commandments
  • keeping our confidence

I think it is significant that Elder Hales characterizes “waiting” in active rather than passive terms. It is common to think of “waiting” as something inherently passive, even simple, and yet to wait upon the Lord is clearly an active mode of waiting. We plant, pray, ponder, stand fast, press forward, rely, and guard. To wait upon the Lord is to be actively involved in nurturing and strengthening one’s own testimony, faith, and commitment.

Why this emphasis on active waiting? Let me sidestep a moment and ask why Elder Hales considers an understanding of “waiting upon the Lord” essential to our own understanding of our lives and their trials. By understanding what it means to “wait upon the Lord” we come to understand the contours of our own lives. But I don’t think it’s a simple “understand A = answer to B” equation. Instead, it seems more like understanding “waiting” is like understanding faith: one can discuss it theoretically to no end, but actual understanding arrives (and its arrival is demonstrated) through action / enacting. Thus, understanding “waiting” entails a faithful enactment of that waiting and it is through that experience, through a shift from pursuing (I am in charge) to waiting (God is in charge) that we are able to “read” the contours of our lives with fresh eyes.

Another element of active waiting is that of choice. In describing Christ’s life, Elder Hales begins:

“His preparation began in the premortal life as He waited upon His Father, saying ‘Thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever.’ Beginning in that moment and continuing today, He exercises His agency to accept and carry out our Heavenly Father’s plan.”

At every turn, Christ’s life is cast as a series of choices that place the will of the Father above the will of the Son. The action of choosing the Father’s will over one’s own is the active core to waiting upon the Lord. I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to say that Elder Hales equates the choice to wait upon the Lord with the choice to say “Thy will be done.”

After describing the sorrow that accompanies our challenges in life, Elder Hales asserts that “in the dawn of our increased faith and understanding, we arise and choose to wait upon the Lord, saying ‘Thy will be done.’” The imagery here is beautiful: we do not sit in passive waiting. We “arise,” an action that evokes the father running out to meet his prodigal son, the return to life of Lazarus and the young maid, and even Christ himself rising from the dead. Waiting upon the Lord allows us to return to the Father, repent, and be reborn.

***

For further scriptural discussion of waiting upon the Lord, I found the scriptures listed in footnote 12 to be most useful.

  • Psalms 37:9 Here, waiting = an action that leads to inheritance; to becoming an heir (child) of God
  • Psalms 123:2 Note that the actual word “wait” here is not in the original. Another translation that conveys the same meaning but doesn’t insert “wait” would be “so our eyes look upon the Lord our God until he mercy upon us.” However, the connection here between the implicit waiting and sight is very interesting and worth exploring. (Elder Hales makes a similar thematic connection near the end of his talk: “I pray that we will be strengthened to watch with Him and wait upon Him through all our days” [emphasis mine].)
  • Isaiah 8:17 Waiting here is again presented alongside the theme of sight: the Lord is someone to be sought, i.e., looked for. A possible parallel evident in this verse between waiting upon the Lord and looking for him.
  • Isaiah 40:31 Waiting here is again presented as a source of power and renewal
  • 2 Nephi 18:17 (see note for Isaiah 8:17)

***

In addition to a discussion of waiting upon the Lord, I found the following quotes worth exploring (and a way to take the lesson in a different direction altogether if one so desires).

1) “In my life I have learned that sometimes I do not receive an answer to a prayer because the Lord knows I am not ready. When He does answer, it is often ‘here a little and there a little” because that is all that I can bear or all I am willing to do.”

The end of this is fascinating: the answers we receive to our prayers are contingent upon our own willingness to do; to follow through, to commit, to act, etc.

We seem more comfortable saying that God gives us pieces of an answer because that’s all we can bear—that explanation acknowledges our own human frailty (something we’re generally ok with admitting to ourselves, at least on some level). But when our willingness to act or obey limits our answers, it becomes a question of our own pride (something much harder to admit to). Again, the point Elder Hales seems to be driving at is our need to make the choice to turn our will over to the Father. Saying “Thy will be done” is one thing; actually being willing on my end to act according to my Father’s will is another.

2) “Let us not give up on the Lord. His blessings are eternal, not temporary.”

Characterizing the Lord’s blessings as eternal and not temporary can be read several ways:

  • God’s blessings are not embedded in time
  • God’s blessings are more like modes of being rather than quick fixes for a specific problem
  • (By extension then) To be blessed by God is not the same thing as receiving an answer to a prayer

Why the exhortation to not give up on the Lord? Why or when are we tempted to give up on God? When we fail to remember who he is, what he’s done, and what he’s doing to / for us. When we think of him as a temporal tool rather than an eternal God we nullify the power of our faith and testimony.

***

I have barely scratched the surface here, but hopefully there are some thoughts that may be useful in preparing a lesson from this talk. Further questions worth pondering might include:

  • Elder Hales says that “there are many who wait upon us.” What does this mean in relation to our waiting upon the Lord?
  • How are waiting and watching related? How can we actively watch just as we actively wait?
  • What is the relationship between agency and waiting?
  • How does understanding waiting upon the Lord deal with the question of why we have trials and challenges?
  • What is the relationship between waiting upon the Lord and covenant?
  • Elder Hales appears to equate waiting upon the Lord with the choice to say “Thy will be done.” Why? What is the significance of that alignment?
  • In what way do our temples function as spaces for waiting upon the Lord?
  • Consider the relationship between this talk and Elder Dallin H. Oaks’ talk “Good, Better, Best” from the October 2007 General Conference.

4 Responses to ““Waiting upon the Lord: Thy Will Be Done,” Elder Robert D. Hales, Oct. 2011 (RS/MP 4th Sunday)”

  1. Robert C. said

    Jenny, this a very nice post, and a fascinating topic.

    I looked up the Hebrew verb, chakah (“to wait”), and some cognates (qavah and tiqvah) in the Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament (TLOT). There is some fascinating discussion regarding how the Hebrew word focuses on the verb aspect whereas the Greek word focuses on the noun aspect.

    This difference between the noun and verb aspects is also explored in the Book of Job in a few places (note how many of the scriptures using the roots linked to above are in Job—it’s also very common in Isaiah…). In Job 7:2 and Job 7:6, for example, there is an interesting tension. First Job talks about hope in terms of a worker waiting/hoping/looking for wages (v. 2). Then Job talks about days passing by “without hope” (v. 6). Westermann writes of this:

    In an apparent contradiction, the same existence described in v 2 as a hope for something is an existence without hope according to v 6. This contradiction resolves itself, however, when one understands v 2: it is an enduring hope that never acquires the object. (TLOT, p. 1128)

    Anyway, I’m not sure what all to make of this, but I think it intriguing in light of your discussion (of Elder Hale’s discussion) of active rather than passive waiting. In our Greek-inflected modern culture, I think there’s a deeply-embedded danger of focusing on the hopelessness of situations (like the noun-sense of Job 7:6), rather than just engaging in the activity of hoping/waiting.

    This, then, can also be related to my understanding of Jim F.’s take on the problem of theodicy—for example, in his “Rethinking Theology” and “Something Else I Don’t Know” articles—on how the point of evil and suffering is perhaps to get us to mourn evil and truly wait on the Lord, rather than trying to explain it away, so-to-speak.

    Finally, this same danger is perhaps even more poignant with regard to the way we often reduce our conception of having or exercising faith (a verb-rooted understanding) to a notion of merely holding to some propositional belief (as a noun-rooted, understanding—indistinguishable from creeds?).

  2. jennywebb said

    Robert, that tension is really interesting. And I think you (and Jim F.) are right on with regards to how this relates to understanding the problem of evil/suffering—I don’t think there is any good “logical” answer to these problems, but I also don’t think answering them is the point. We’re down here to become; it seems like the problems we encounter are therefore meant to change who we are, how we act/think/exist/etc.

    Another take on this that I’ve been mulling over are the various English ideas behind the word “wait”: there’s the passive/patient waiting, but there’s also the active/serving waiting (like a waiter). In English, substituting the phrase “serving the Lord” for “waiting on the Lord” makes clear sense, and I think adds something to what’s going on in the Hebrew.

    Thanks for the response!

  3. Dawn Bradbury said

    This is a wonderful article that I’m going to share with my Beloved. In light of Elder Hales’ health issues, he is truly “waiting on the Lord.” My question/comment is a sideline. I have a friend who recently died as a result of cancer. His comment, “Why does the Lord want me to suffer?” “What am I supposed to learn from this?” — bothers me. My supposition has always been (taught as a little seed by the missionaries) that our bodies are mortal and therefore designed to eventually wear out. Some have bodies that wear out too early. Having said that…I don’t think the Lord WANTS us to suffer. It’s part of having a body. If He wanted us to suffer, why would have doctors, remedies, surgeons to prolong life and those who try to negate suffering? I wonder sometimes if we think of the suffering as the learning experience…rather than the way we cope with it being the learning experience. While we are “waiting” on the Lord, we are still serving, doing our very best and yet we may still have pain. Maybe this is all redundant and primary thinking. I’m a convert so I’m a little behind in my quest! But I love this blog and that the writers care so much about truth and the Gospel and also are willing to impart what they/you think. It is a great blessing to me. Thank you, thank you! Dawn

  4. Sally said

    Thanks so much for these. I was just called to teach the fourth Sunday RS (after being in YW and primary for past 5 years) and have been trying to figure out how to make a good lesson out of a conference talk. These examples will help alot. (by the way, Elder Bednar “The Hearts of the Children is coming up…”

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