Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The LORD drove the sea back with a powerful east wind all that night and turned the sea into dry land. So the waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with the waters like a wall to them on their right and their left.Exodus 15:21–22
This is not what really happened. At least not according to Cecil B. DeMille’s famous 1956 movie The Ten Commandments starring the late Charlton Heston as Moses. In that film, the parting of the waters happens quickly and spectacularly.
But in the actual biblical account, it takes all night. Commenting on this story, Heather Thompson Day says: “What God could have done in a moment, he chooses to do in a process. We’re concerned with the product, God is always concerned with our process.”
We live in a culture that expects results immediately. Information is at our fingertips whenever we want it. So is all manner of distraction and entertainment. Thanks to smartphones the world is in our pockets, easily accessible with the swipe of a finger. Sometimes a blessing, but perhaps more often a curse.
And we know from all kinds of studies and statistics that smartphones, social media, and the internet have not done our attention spans any favours. Spending an inordinate amount of time on screens actually has the effect of rewiring our brains. We lack patience and are increasingly becoming a society largely ill-equipped to spend serious time in quiet reflection.
And in prayer. Especially insofar as prayer means–indeed, requires–waiting on God. Thinking that prayer is all about the answers rather than the actual communion with God that prayer is, even many who follow Jesus are impatient with God himself. We’re virtually unable to spend more than a few minutes or moments quietly in his presence, seeking him rather than simply seeking what we want from him.
If we were in Moses’ sandals, would we have the patience and willingness and trust to wait all night for the parting of the waters? What about days, months, or years of seemingly unanswered prayers? Or instead do we wait for the answers to our prayers like we wait for a text? Perhaps we want God and his answers to our prayers to operate like an app, with notifications letting us know when he’s received our request and alerting us to his response?
But God certainly doesn’t act according to our timetable. Because it’s not always or only about the end, but about how we get there. Who are we becoming while waiting for God to act? What happens to our souls when we pay as much attention to the process of waiting on God in prayer as we do on what we hope to get from the process? Could it be that God seeks to teach us to want him more than what we pray for?
Our God is not an “instantaneous” deity, ready to respond to our hastily cobbled together and impatient prayers with the convenience to which we have become accustomed thanks to our ubiquitous WiFi culture. No, he means to form us, to shape us, and often this process is decidedly inconvenient. And it takes time, especially given how profoundly our habits have been moulded by our technology. Prayer, seeking God, and growing in spiritual wisdom and maturity require different habits other than those we acquire through hours on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
The question perhaps is not whether our God is still a God who answers prayers and acts miraculously, but whether we are patient enough with the process of prayerful waiting to have the eyes to see it.