Watching Versus Waiting
People use the words 'watch' and 'wait' synonymously. However, there is a subtle difference between the two. To wait means to be in readiness or to remain at rest in expectation. To watch is to look and wait expectantly or in anticipation. You can wait while doing other activities. Watching encompasses the concept of waiting and requires full attention from the watcher. A person may be waiting and still miss the thing they are waiting for, but this is unlikely to happen if they are watching. The following story illustrates the difference.
Gina, a young girl, asked her grandmother to watch for her as she was coming to visit that day for the weekend. And naturally, Grandma Lisa promised she would. Wanting to stress the importance of her request, Gina repeated it several times to her grandma, asking, "You'll watch, won't you? You'll watch for me grandma, right?" Lisa, who was now becoming exasperated, responded several times that she would. On the day that Gina was due to arrive, Grandma Lisa thought, "I still have time to complete a few chores before Lisa visits, so I'll just do them and then go outside and wait for Gina and her parents." However, despite Grandma's best intentions, she became engrossed in her tasks and lost track of time. Suddenly, Grandma Lisa heard the bell. "Oh no, she thought, that can't be Gina already." Running to the door, Lisa opened it expecting to see an excited Gina. But instead, Gina was sorrowful. "Why the sad face Gina, aren't you happy to see your Grandmother?" Grandma Lisa asked. To which her granddaughter responded, "Grandma, you did not watch for me like I asked you." "Honey," said Grandma, "I was preparing things for you, while I waited for you." "But Grandma," replied Gina, "I did not want you to wait for me; I wanted you to watch for me." She wanted her grandma to be outside expectantly looking for her.
This story reminded me of the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25). Christ portrayed them as standing or sitting expectantly awaiting the groom who could appear at any time. As the night grew old, the bridesmaids fell asleep. While asleep a loud cry woke them in the middle of the night, "The Bridegroom cometh, go ye forth to meet him." As they opened their eyes, the night was dark, and they could barely see, so they rushed to light their lamps. We know the rest of the story; some could light their lamps because they had extra oil. Others, unprepared with extra oil, could neither light their lamps to herald his coming nor enter in with the Bridegroom. What is represented by the oil? Ellen White is quoted in the devotional, "That I May Know Him," with an answer to this question.
In the parable, the foolish virgins are represented as begging for oil and failing to receive it at their request. This is symbolic of those who have not prepared themselves by developing a character to stand in a time of crisis. It is as if they should go to their neighbors and say, 'Give me your character or I shall be lost.' Those that were wise could not impart their oil to the flickering lamps of the foolish virgins. Character is not transferable. It is not to be bought or sold; it is to be acquired (That I May Know Him, p. 350).
In contrast to the foolish virgins, the wise virgins had righteous characters. So, although the wise virgins appeared to be as indolent as the foolish ones - none of them were watching for the Groom - the wise virgins had retained oil, and therefore were prepared for the wait. Living by faith, they were enabled to receive the groom. With that said, what would have pleased the Bridegroom more: if the virgins had been waiting or watching? Or both?
As the Groom approached the bridesmaids, he must have noticed that they had been sleeping and that five were missing. We can only imagine his perplexity and disappointment, as he questioned, "Weren't they supposed to stay awake and light the way to the banquet hall? How is it they all fell asleep? And why were only five prepared for the delay?" "They all knew I could come at any time. …" It did not look good.
Was this a sign of things to come? This incident revealed that the bridesmaids became weary after the long delay. And that while they anticipated a delay, they did not expect an extended wait period.
There are things hidden deep within the recesses of each of our minds, things which only the Holy Spirit through time and circumstances can reveal to us, that we may through repentance and forgiveness, receive its blotting out. Whenever the Lord gives a promise, a period of waiting ensues before He fulfills His promise to us. His goal is neither to drive us to distraction nor to frustrate us. Instead, He desires us to wait patiently, expectantly, watching, enduring and persevering until its fulfillment.
Waiting is not a natural human tendency. We want whatever it is right now. And our selfish natures find many ways of attaining our desires. Often subconsciously we present our thinking or behavior in the most moral or rational light, as we attempt to conceal our true purpose, for self to gain the promised blessing now.
Jesus implied that in the Christian's life, waiting patiently would be an issue; that's why He went so far as to say, "When I come, will I find faith on the earth?" The delay which He is using for our good, to reveal our true hidden state to us while there is time to repent, is instead used by many to fulfill self's goals, which is to avoid true self-knowledge.
By remaining in union with the source of renewing energy or power, the Holy Spirit, we are enabled by faith to 'be renewed in the Spirit of our minds' (John 15, Romans 12:1). The battle, after all, is for our minds as well as our affections. Watching and waiting patiently are not inactive pursuits; they require vigilance, as well as resting and reposing in the Father.
"Without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that comes to God must believe that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek (inquire of) Him." "You therefore beloved, seeing you know these things before, beware lest you also being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness" (Hebrews 11:6; 2 Peter 3:17).