How do I know if it’s time to act right now or wait?

In a few weeks I will be preaching on Acts 1:1-11. In this passage Jesus instructs the disciples to stay in Jerusalem and “wait for the gift my Father promised.” This command has a clear historical root: The disciples had not yet received the Holy Spirit and so were not yet fully equipped to carry out the Great Commission. We should be cautious in applying this historical command to “wait” in our modern context. However, sometimes God does tell us to wait. Sometimes he has something for us to do, just not yet. Whether it’s going on a mission trip, changing your job, starting some new endeavor, taking care of an interpersonal issue, or something else, how do we know when the time is right?

First, don’t put off what you know you need to do now. I’m talking to myself here. Some other people may be more likely to “run ahead” of God’s timing but I’m far more likely to use “not yet” as an excuse to put off something I know I need to be doing now.

Some things just can’t wait. Jesus emphasizes the importance of reconciling to a brother immediately when he says, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). When Paul calls people to be reconciled to God through Jesus he urges them by saying, “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2 emphasis added).

Second, act in accordance with wisdom. God does not call us to be unwise. It may be controversial, but I would apply this to church debt. Should your church go into debt for a new addition? Would doing so be an act of faith or an act of foolishness? While I would leave a little ground for the former I think in most cases it would be the latter. Would acting now be foolish, for financial or other reasons? If so, wait. That new addition (or that new job, or getting married) may still be a good idea, but maybe God is calling you to wait.

Third, listen to the voice of the community. God has not left us alone. We are created to think and act within a community of believers. Your friends, families, and mentors can all provide a perspective broader than their own.

Fourth, balance the urgency with the situation with the sovereignty of God. Don’t panic. Don’t get lost in the situation. Don’t act out of knee-jerk reactions. Remember that God stands sovereign over history and time. There are very few “one time offers you have to take right now or it will be lost forever” kind of events in life. God does sometimes calls us to act right now (see point number 1), but those situations are rare. God is in control and has the ability to carry out his will in his own timing even if it doesn’t match yours. Don’t use this as an excuse to procrastinate what you know you need to do. But it’s just as unhealthy to carry around the feeling that everything is urgent. Such an attitude demonstrates a lack of faith in God’s timing.

I’m sure this list isn’t exhaustive. What advice do you have for discerning God’s timing?