Is waiting a waste of time?


‘Time is money’, or so we are told.

In the West we have turned time into a commodity. We talk of ‘spending time’, ‘making up for lost time’ and ‘wasting time’ – all conveying the sense that it is a currency we trade in. In such a context one of the big draws of mobile devices is that they are ‘time-saving’, there to make our lives more efficient (where efficiency is productivity/time). So any moment that you are waiting, and therefore not maximising your productivity, your hand reaches for your phone to check your messages, emails, Facebook or Instagram account. And what’s the problem with this, after all, isn’t God in favour of productivity? Aren’t we told in Ephesians 5:16 to ‘make the best use of time’? While there are of course many verses in Scripture to warn against laziness, one of the casualties of our pursuit of saving time is the art of waiting well. Notwithstanding the fact that much of our frantic activity is actually not very productive (for example there are numerous studies that show multitasking is actually not as efficient as working on one task at a time), waiting time is not a waste of time.

Here are four ways in which waiting, just waiting, without nervously checking messages, emails or social media on your phone, can be a blessing.

1. Waiting cultivates patience

Patience is one of the nine virtues of the fruit of the Spirit and a rare virtue today when we expect everything instantly. 1 Corinthians 13 famously reminds us that ‘love is patient’, Ephesians 4 calls us to be ‘patient, bearing with one another in love’, Romans 12 exhorts us to be ‘patient in affliction’. But how can we be patient, waiting on God and His timing, if we can’t wait. Why not try next time you are waiting for someone or something just to wait? Don’t think because you are not doing something that there is no benefit to you: you will be ingraining the virtue of patience.

2. Waiting gives space to meditate on Scripture

We are told that the blessed person is one who meditates on God’s word (Psalm 1:2) but if our phones are always filling every bit of space in the day then when will we do this? Why not use the next time you are waiting to bring to mind Scripture, perhaps from your daily reading or from the sermon on Sunday, and use the time to mull it over and reflect on its implications for your life?

3. Waiting enables us to be mindful of God’s presence

David wrote in Psalm 16:8 ‘I have set the Lord continually before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken’. God is always with us by His Spirit, but one of the challenges we have is to be conscious of that and letting it shape our lives. Life can be busy and in the busyness it is easy to forget this foundational reality in our Christian walk. Waiting can be a great opportunity to press reset and remind ourselves that God is with us by His Spirit, to be attentive to Him and what He is doing in our lives.

4. Waiting provides space for others

Sociologists note that we live in a monochronic culture where time is seen as one continuum and great emphasis is placed on meetings starting and finishing ‘on time’.

While there is much that is good about this, polychronic societies (like African and Latin-American cultures) emphasise relationships over time. One of the ways we can soften the hard edges of our focus on being ‘on time’ is to make use of the gaps. Think of waiting at a bus stop or in a queue. Today most people will be on their phones and as with all decisions there is a cost, supremely the cost to the relationships you are not forming with those you are waiting with. Why not wait without looking down at your phone and engage in a conversation? Perhaps the Lord will use it to deepen a friendship, start a new relationship or to give you a context to share Christ with someone.

Getting over feeling awkward

As with anything that is new and unfamiliar, waiting will probably feel odd at first. Don’t let that put you off, you are just getting used to a new norm. You may feel awkward and find insecurities exposed, and it may highlight to you that you are actually a bit (or a lot) addicted to your device. That would be a good thing. Either way stick with just waiting and give yourself time to habituate a new virtue, remembering that in Scripture waiting is not just what we do until God gives us what we want, but waiting is often the process by which God makes us into what He wants.

Pete Nicholas is co-author of Virtually Human: Flourishing in a Digital age. For more resources visit