Psalm 37:7, “Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for Him”
Isaiah 30:18, “Blessed are all those who wait for Him”
Patience is a quiet virtue. No medal is stamped to recognize it; no fire chief, mayor, or president makes a speech honoring its practice. Nevertheless, patience is a foundational ingredient in the Christian character, a mark of demonstrative and spiritual maturity, and an essential characteristic of the life of faith. The young, who seem to have plenty of time before them, are impatient. “How much farther?” children in the car ask repeatedly. “Are we almost there?” “When will it be Christmas?”
Later, in adolescence, they have large appetites, and it is hard for them to wait. They like fast food, fast cars, and quick results. The young are not the only ones who struggle. Impatience, the expectation of instant gratification, is part of the very wiring of our society that promises fast pain relief, rapid weight loss, instant success, and quick and easy money. However, the Bible offers a different view, linking patience with wisdom and faith. Far from offering a formula for fast pain relief, James reminds us that the follower of Jesus Christ must learn to regard painful circumstances as opportunities for growth in their spiritual lives.
Just as a hard and consistent athletic training produces physical toughness and endurance, difficult trials in the life of a believer are necessary for the maturity of their Christian character. “The trying of your faith produces patience,” James counseled. “And let patience have her work, so that you may be perfect (mature), lacking nothing.” This is the road to wisdom. “If any of you lack wisdom let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally.” Thus, patience means perseverance, a willingness to accept the sometimes-uncomfortable process of maturation.
In the midst of painful circumstances the impatient and immature person cries, “Why is this happening to me? I want to get out of this!” While the patient person asks, “What can I learn from this? I want to be wiser.” The impatient person learns nothing from his trials. He asks for wisdom on his own terms, not God’s. He is like the student who goes to his teacher to ask how to do better in the course he is taking, and then refuses to submit to the hours of disciplined study that success requires. He wants a formula for quick and easy success, and there is none.
My beloved, there are no shortcuts or easy rides in acquiring patience. We speak of “the patience of Job.” Nevertheless, Job’s patience was actually the refusal to accept any quick, defective formula to account for his suffering, or to end the suffering by his own means. “Curse God and die,” Job’s bitter wife urged. Very simple, and utterly wrong. In his patience and wisdom, Job took a wider view: “Shall we accept good from God but not trouble?”
His friends offered yet another formula: “There is a direct correlation between specific sin and specific suffering. You must have done something bad to deserve this kind of punishment. You had better admit it. Confess your sin, and your suffering will end.” Applying the same flawed formula, Jesus’ disciples asked about the man born blind: “Who did sin, this man, or his parents?” (John 9:2). Jesus replied, “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.”
Many times in our walk with the Lord, we are hemmed in by uncontrollable circumstances. We slowly stop, moving only occasionally, and then not very far. We wish we could see what’s up ahead, and impatience and even anger on our part often compound the situation. Patience for many people is hard to acquire… especially those who:
(1) Drive to one-hour photo shops,
(2) Take their clothes to one-hour cleaners, and
(3) Get breakfast, lunch, and dinner at a drive-through window.
We cook dinner in microwave ovens and gulp down remedies that offer “fast relief.” Overnight mail is too slow, and we get irritated waiting for a fax. People we live with, work with, play with, and worship with can absolutely unnerve us. They can be obstinate, frustrating, selfish, and insulting. Thus, it’s hard to be patient with them, and it’s even harder to wait patiently on the Lord. However, we must choose not to fight life’s traffic jams, but rather to view them as opportunities to learn to wait patiently for God.
Life can be frustrating, even exasperating. Yet, many times impatience is just a reflection of our own self-centeredness in response to life’s disappointments. Real love is pictured in the Bible as self-sacrifice (John 15:13), and one demonstration of that love is patience toward others. “Love suffers long and is kind; love … does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5). It sets aside our personal agenda and seeks to model Christ. Sound impossible? It is, if we attempt it in our own strength. But as we pray for help, God provides us with patience that reflects His love – even during frustrating circumstances.
Thus, through the emotional and physical thorns that God allows in our lives, we learn what it means to trust Him, and in the process, we also learn patience and kindness toward all. Patience is a lost skill we need to cultivate in our lives, and if we do, we’ll find God will give us what is best, but in His time. Those who wait on the LORD will never be disappointed! So, how are you doing in the area of patience? We all can use more including myself!
When you’re tempted to lose patience with others, think how patient God has been with you!