I waited patiently for the Lord, he inclined to me and heard my cry.(Psalm 40:1)
The word patience is derived from the Latin word for suffering. It suggests the thought of being under the constraint of some power from which we wish to be free. At first we submit against our wall; experience teaches us that when it is vain to resist, patient endurance is our wisest course. In waiting on God it is of infinite consequence that we submit not only because we are compelled to, but because we lovingly and joyfully consent to be in the hands of our blessed Father. Patience then becomes our highest blessing and our highest grace, it honors God and gives Him time to have His way with us. It is the highest expression of our faith in His goodness and faithfulness. It brings the soul perfect resting the assurance that God is carrying on His work. It is the token of our full consent that God should deal with us in such a way and time as He thinks best. True patience is the losing of our self will in His perfect will.
Such patience is the growths d fruit of lessons in the school of waiting. To many it will appear strange how difficult it is truly to wait upon God. The great stillness of soul before God that sinks into its own helplessness and waits for Him to reveal Himself; the deep humility that is afraid to let one’s own will or one’s own strength work anything except as God works to will and do; the meekness that is content to be and to know nothing except as God gives His light, the entire resignation of the will that only wants to be a vessel in which His holy will can move and mold; all these elements of perfect patience are not found at once. But they will come in measure as the soul waits upon God.
Impatience is a commonly shared thing. Even from infancy it is present. Every parent has seen this in their child. When that child is hungry, there is the cry of impatience. They want to be fed now and if it takes some time to prepare the bottle, they express their impatient cry until they have it in their possession. We have all joked about the question, “Are we there yet?”, usually said as soon as the car door is closed. Impatience seem to drive us throughout our life. We can’t wait to start school and then we can’t wait to finish school. We can’t wait to get that first job and then we can’t wait until retirement, and on and on it goes. We can’t wait to grow up and be on our own and get our first car and our first home. We get frustrated with others if they seem to be blocking our instant gratification. For example, hopefully we have only observed road rage and not been a participant, but road rage is usually due to someone slowing our mad rush to get somewhere and our impatient self reacts.
We hear Christians say, “Don’t pray for patience or you will receive tribulations”, as though we can only learn patience if we are forced to and it take difficulty to do so. Might we not learn patience through trust rather than trouble. In other words could we not choose to wait patiently, trusting God who love us to work the best plan for us. Could it be that the infant impatient cry or the child impatient question stem from mistrust?
How do we learn patient waiting? By experience. Both with God and humans. If you’ve ever set a time to meet with someone and they keep that time of meeting, you know that they can be counted on to show up and therefore you will wait patiently for them. If they are habitually late or infrequent in actually showing up, you will find yourself waiting impatiently. Patient waiting comes through experience that has created trust. While humans are subject to fail, no matter how hard they try and their ability to keep their promises can often be beyond their control, God has no such limits. Let’s consider what Paul says about patience.
“Therefore, since we have been justified [that is, acquitted of sin, declared blameless before God] by faith, [let us grasp the fact that] we have peace with God [and the joy of reconciliation with Him] through our Lord Jesus Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed). Through Him we also have access by faith into this [remarkable state of] grace in which we [firmly and safely and securely] stand. Let us rejoice in our hope and the confident assurance of [experiencing and enjoying] the glory of [our great] God [the manifestation of His excellence and power]. And not only this, but [with joy] let us exult in our sufferings and rejoice in our hardships, knowing that hardship (distress, pressure, trouble) produces patient endurance; and endurance, proven character (spiritual maturity); and proven character, hope and confident assurance [of eternal salvation]. Such hope [in God’s promises] never disappoints us, because God’s love has been abundantly poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
He begins by stating that we have been justified. This is a legal term indicating that through the act of the sovereign Lord, we have been acquitted of the penalty of our sin and found in Christ, not guilty. God calls us holy legally before the work of grace makes us so. In other words God declares our future state while we are still in the process. He further tells us that we have received peace with God and the joy of reconciliation, telling us that now we are the friend and child of God. No longer are we separated from God by our sins. He goes on to say that we have access to faith through grace and in this faith we stand. He instructs us to rejoice in the hope and assurance of experiencing and enjoying the glory, the manifestation of our great God.
Now we come to the oft misquoted and misunderstood portion of scripture.
Remember that Jesus said that in this world we will have tribulations. He also taught that it rains on both just and unjust. In the parable of building on the rock and on the sand, Jesus said both houses experienced storms. So let us begin with the premise that everyone is subject to tribulation. Paul is not suggesting that somehow we can escape it. Let’s carefully examine this scripture.
He has told us to rejoice in our hope, the hope of being fully in the presence of God. We call that heaven. So let us keep our hope in that promise in every situation. Now we come to this difficult part, for Paul tells us that with joy we exult in our sufferings. Now this in itself sounds crazy and impossible. I am to have joy in my suffering. Frankly, like most of us I don’t want to have joy in my suffering. As a matter of fact, I want to be miserable, impatiently waiting for my deliverance, and the sooner the better. Furthermore, if I’m suffering, I want others to be aware and to be miserable as well. You’ve heard the statement, “Misery loves company.”
Paul doesn’t give us this instruction without helping us to see the why. So he says that through hardship and suffering, we learn patient endurance. Ah, here’s the revelation. If we are going to experience tribulation or trouble, and Jesus said we would, can we gain anything from it? Should it be only a dark terrible thing that we begrudgingly endure in misery or can we find something wonderful to gain.
The answer is yes. Through tribulation we gain patient endurance, waiting on God to fix, help, deliver us from those things which we have no control over. It is in tribulation that we pray for patience. We are not given tribulation as an answer to a prayer for patience. When things are going well we usually aren’t struggling with being patient. Mostly it’s in tribulation that we become impatient.
Paul says we joy in tribulation because it works in us to produce patient endurance. This is our witness, when we quietly trust God in our troubles. Paul then says that their patient endurance produces proven character. Mark Rutland wrote a book a few years ago that he titled, Character Matters. And it does. Gods whole design is to develop us into the character of His Son, Jesus. So Paul says, tribulation produces patient endurance and patient endurance develops proven character. So we joy in our troubles because we know God will use them for our benefit of growing us into the image of Christ. Then we read that proven character produces hope and assurance. Hope in God’s promises and hope in our future comes from seeing the faithful sustaining of God in the times of tribulation. For us to believe that God created tribulation for us in answer to our prayer for patience has no foundation. Indeed, Paul’s summation of this scripture says otherwise for he concludes with these words, “because God’s love has been abundantly poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
Love never gives tribulation, but love takes tribulation and turns it to usefulness that benefits the one who is loved.
So go ahead, pray for patience. Trust the God who loves you. Find joy in tribulation, knowing that God will use it and turn it for your benefit because He loves you. Wait for Him, wait patiently, He always shows up and comes through. You can count on that!
Dr. John Thompson