I am speaking tonight at Crittenden Drive Church of Christ in Russelville, Kentucky and this is my lesson on patience. It’s not the typical lesson on patience you might hear…
I am struggling at speaking with you tonight because the topic assigned to me is one that I immensely struggle with. I struggle with it because it has to do with something that cause counterintuitive to every fabric in which God has wired me. To illustrate this I want to share a personal story with you. I am a youth minister and I consider that a pretty stressful job. If all you think a youth minister does is hang out with teenagers and eat pizza and play XBOX all day is what youth ministers do then either 1) you have no clue about what a youth minister does or, 2) you have a lazy youth minister. . When we are stressed our ability to persevere becomes stretched and unfortunately our impatience is forced against those who are closest to us.
I was stressed this particular day and to make matters worse I had to go shopping with my wife at the place where Satan reigns: Wal-Mart. I am a pretty likable guy unless I cross the threshold of the den of iniquity known as Wal-Mart and then my attitude suddenly goes sour and I forget that I am even a minister. I just lose it. People cutting you off, the cart pulling to one side, the whole in the milk jug, people in the 20 items or less with 30 items. I could go on and on. On this day I was irritable from work and then irritable from Wal-Mart and then to top it off my kids were possessed by demons in Wal-Mart. Again, that’s because Satan owns it but I digress. So the kids are terrible, we are crunched for time and I had a bad day at work. We get home and our routine is that we put all of the groceries on the kitchen floor and after we have unloaded all of them from the van we then begin the process of putting them away. After the second load I come to the kitchen to find my oldest son Kaleb (who was very young at the time) emptying the contents of the bag on the floor. So I lose it. I don’t have to define what I mean by “lose it” because you have been there. I screamed at him (because a 4 year old is supposed to know every rule I have ever created for them) and then told him to go to his room. I will never forget his response to this day. He looked at me, and with tears in his eyes said, “But daddy, I was just trying to help.”
We are closing this summer series out with a doozy. A tough one for us to handle. I find it strikingly ironic that we saved patience for the last lesson. I would have expected us to hurry up and let it be the first one but here we are with it being the last one. What we are going to do tonight is first define patience from a biblical perspective, then we are going to look at some thoughts on why we are not patient and finally I want to offer some suggestions on how to improve.
Over and over again I hear good churchgoing people who mean well completely butcher what patience is. There is this pervasive thought that patience is this passive mentality where you sit and simply act as a nice person with a Christian smile on your face. That’s not what Biblical patience is. There is a strong element of waiting that is tied in with patience but the waiting is always about participatory expectation. The Greek words for patience (hupomone, makrothumeo) might be best defined as “steadfast endurance.” It means you bear under intense trial and tribulation. We think an intense trial or tribulation is waiting at McDonalds for them to biggie size your French-fries. Patience is intense endurance under some of the most painful circumstances. To illustrate let me quote a verse from 2 Peter.
“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness (you already see the first century Christian’s impatience here) but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).
God is patient with all of creation so much so that he does not desire to have us perish. The word for perish in other contexts means to be destroyed. God is patient with us. God suffers long for us. Think of a person in your life who constantly has disappointed you and has done everything wrong no matter your wishes or desires. Then think of having an intense desire for this person who has disappointed you time after time to still succeed. That is like God except at an infinitely different level. Think of how many times you have sinned and disobeyed God yet he still loves you at a deep level. That, my friends, is patience.
But in my experience we are impatience with the small things which means we are impatient with the large things. How many times have you gone through a season of suffering, pain, affliction and you threw up your hands and said, “I’m done with you God! The pain is too much. I’m done!” I think we are impatient for a few reasons…
We can probably list a bunch of different reasons here but there are two that I can think of that come to my mind that probably stand out more than others…
Ever since the fall there is one thing that has been on our minds more than anything else combined: ourselves. We think about ourselves all the time and this leads to our impatience. Think about when the people of Israel built the golden calf in Exodus. Their main reasoning for building that calf was because they were too impatient to wait for Moses and they wanted something right now. We are selfish. I wanted to lead and say that we are impatient because of the culture that we live on but then I thought that in order to have culture you have to have people. Our impatient culture is a product of our own impatient people. Every generation might think they are the worst of something but I really think we are the worst generation at waiting. The concept of delayed gratification is about as a foreign as bipartisanship or something else. I see it most often at a fast food restaurant.
Think about the time and effort it takes to cook hamburgers and make French fries. It may take 20-30 minutes of prep work and then the grilling may take 10-15 minutes and so you might have a meal in an hour if you’re lucky. Yet, when we get to a fast food restaurant we somehow lose the capacity to think and freak out when we don’t get our food immediately. If I don’t get my food in three minutes I start sweating and getting irritated. After 5 minutes I am usually livid screaming, “How long does it take to make a Baconator?” If they are longer then 5 minutes I usually say, “Guess they had to go slaughter the cow and pig to get the beef and bacon.” At the core, I am selfish. On a serious level we place time constraints on God as if we know our will better than he does. That leads me to the next point.
- WE ARE LIMITED IN SEEING THE BIG PICTURE
I love the book of Nehemiah. The book is filled with so many different leadership lessons but for time’s sake the lesson I want to share with you from this book is the lesson of patience and sticking to God’s vision. The story of Nehemiah is one of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. Nehemiah commissions workers to build this wall not knowing what the wall was to look like. He simply was there to work and trust that God would lead them through this process. There were all kinds of distractions coming from wicked men who wanted to deter Nehemiah from building this wall. Nehemiah withstands the criticisms from without and probably from within and builds the wall. Now Nehemiah did not know how things would turn out and at the end of the day the people would still be in exile under the rule of a foreign nation. But…he trusted God with both the little things (finishing the wall) and he trusted God with the big things (ultimate purposes of Israel).
Cancer… wars… financial hardship… divorce… sudden death… accidents… genocide. I could go on and on. Like the Psalmist we are oft-tempted to proclaim, “How long, O Lord?” If you are a Christian for longer than a baptism and if you are honest with yourself there are times when you throw up your hands and think, “This is it God, I can’t take this anymore! This Christian walk thing is not all it’s cracked up to be.” I understand your pain. I get it. But we are not given the plans that God contains. Sometimes God gives us a window and let’s us see the big picture but sometimes we are left with more questions than answers. Our anxiety, our impatience, and all of our brokenness should lead us to long for something more. Something deep. Something true.
“Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord” (James 5:7-10).
There is a lot to unpack here but notice how, at least in the book of James, the themes of suffering are linked with patience and joy (James 1:2). Suffering, persecution and affliction were common in the first century and very much expected. So there was an intense desire for something greater and that’s why the Second Coming of Jesus was a major theme throughout the letters of Paul and other epistles. Patience was not a subject about how to deal with cutthroat bankers or shady investors or slow Taco Bell workers (all though that’s important too) but how do we reconcile the pain and brokenness of this world with God’s redemptive purposes. Their solution was, “we may never find healing in this life, and we may never find peace in this political climate but one thing is for sure, there is something better and we long for that!” How often is the Second Coming of Christ a conversation in your churches? How often is it a conversation in your families? Patience comes from an intense desire to have all things made right through the glory of God. Part of experiencing the Christian life means we bring in now in part what we will experience in full later.
Waiting on the Lord is not a passive, idle response as Paul was strongly opposed to those people who just wanted to go to heaven but did nothing about their faith (2 Thess. 3). Waiting on the Lord and patience as a fruit of the Spirit means patience comes with anticipation! Anticipation means we make ready our lives to wait on the coming of the Lord. I think Isaiah alludes to the same concept in a popular verse:
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint. (Isa. 40:30-31)
This is most comforting because we all like to know that our life here on earth does not go in vain. We like to know that if we do have cancer that God’s purposes will come forth through that. We like to know that if we do lose a loved one that the glory of God will come forth through that immense pain. That is where patience moves from passive time-killing to steadfast endurance. That is why the other verses in Scripture about make sense when we understand that patience is about endurance…
But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Rom. 8:25)
Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. (Rom. 12:12)
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant. (1 Cor. 13:4)
“If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.” (2 Cor. 1:6)
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Eph. 4:1-3)
“And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” (1 Thess. 5:14)
“But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” (1 Tim. 1:16).
We could go on and on but you get the gist of the idea. Patience is more than a virtue, it is a way of life. When it comes to difficult times it is not a matter of if but when and when it comes you must be ready.
So may you be ready. May you look at your impatient lives and discover the source of your angst and may you replace that source with an insatiable desire for what Jesus offers to us. May you who have lost loved ones cling to the almighty who knows all, sees all and understands all and may you long for a day when you will see your loved ones again. May you, who are dealing with cancer or some other life-threatening illness, trust in the promises of God that he will heal you if it is his will but if no healing comes God will use your illness to bring others closer to him and receive glory. May you who are going through difficult marriages and tough finances place your allegiance to Jesus Christ who died, was buried and rose again for our sins. May you who are addicted find healing in your difficult time. May you, who long for Jesus to come, anticipate his coming and help others to do the same. In the word of John in the book of Revelation, “Come, Lord!”