I remember when wisdom dawned on me, regarding patience. Early in our ministry God did many things to show His power and grace in our lives. Stephanie and I marveled at how God provided for us, guided our steps, opened doors for local church ministry and onto the global mission field.
Those were heady times. We were very zealous for the Lord. Those divine coincidences gradually became fewer, with increasingly elongated periods between them. It made sense. We were maturing in our faith, and we no longer needed the high octane precision events to fuel our hope. We were learning to trust God without them.
The next phase in ministry was a series of sufferings. Not only were the extreme probability situations in decline, but sufferings kept coming. Learning to trust Christ in ministry was much more fun than trusting Him to sustain us in sufferings. Still, there were seemingly paradoxical increases in faith, hope, love, and peace.
In the midst of setback after setback, I read Thomas Watson’s The Art of Divine Contentment. It was the balm of Gilead for me. It made nonsense make sense. Through it all, we had less and less money, but I bought and distributed many copies of Watson’s book when I could. We were not the only ones who struggled.
Suffering requires patience because you are rendered helpless. When I was a rich Christian, I respected names like Larry Burkett and Dave Ramsay. When I was made poor, I loathed hearing their names and seeing photographs of their mansions. Job was made helpless, and no book, video, seminar, or high-priced conference could remedy his plight. Bad providence simply cannot be managed, but it will work together for good, by His grace, and God will be glorified. Patience is required.
Christ was obedient and he suffered loss. Paul was desperately poor, with little support from the churches. When he had learned to be content, Paul went so far as to count gains in this world as losses (Phil 3:8). He said they were feces (Gk. skubala).
Rich people do not need faith because they believe they have already received their due blessings from God. Prosperity theology affirms them. Poor people need faith every moment of every day. We may not have much of the kingdom of this world, but we possess the kingdom of God (Rom 14:7). The token of our better hope of a better country sustains us while we wait.
Patience (Gk. makrothumia) is a fruit of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Like the rest of the spiritual fruit, it manifests best under difficult conditions of external resistance. The increased yield comes from within. It is slow, undetected by the naked eye, but sure.
When I was a child, my dad and I planted a tree in the front yard of our old family home in Michigan. For over 50 years, the oak tree we planted resisted wind, deluge, arctic temperatures, snow and ice accumulations, careless climbers, errant lawn mower blades, and even one tornado. Its roots are deep, and its branches are high and broad. All these years it has just stood still in the same spot…suffering and growing. Grace has shined upon its leaves. Grace has quenched its thirst with mysterious, underground rivers of living water. Quietly, that old oak tree raises its branches, in a patient posture of worship, towards the One who sits in the heavens.
Man always makes his plans, but God always has His way with the vessels of His own making (Rom 9:22–23). He is the Potter, and we are the clay (Jer 18; Rom 9:18–21). It is God who directs a man’s steps (Prv 3:5–6), and each man must acknowledge, it is God who accomplishes what concerns him (Ps 57:2). God knows the end from the beginning because He is the Alpha and the Omega and the ever-present, I am (Jn 8:58; Rev 1:17). Man is in a rush to achieve magnanimous things for the greatness of his own namesake, but God says, “Be still and know that I am God (Ps 46:10).”
When a Christian is still, he has ceased striving. He knows the servant of the Lord must not strive (2 Tim 2:24), even being patient when wronged, not seeking revenge. David was anointed king, but he suffered at the hands of Saul. The king in waiting was a counsel to himself, “Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him (Ps 37:7).” Patience of spirit is better than a haughty spirit (Eccl 7:8). That which facilitates patience is usually producing humility, too. The debtor says to his creditor, “Have patience with me, and I will repay you everything (Mt 18:26).” He then prays, “Forgive us our debts.”
If God’s man or woman is to be sanctified, God will hold him captive. Abraham waited years for baby Isaac. Hannah suffered patiently, praying with tears for baby Samuel. Elizabeth waited for baby John. Simeon waited for baby Jesus. All of these found favor with the Lord because they suffered patiently in the right way (1 Pet 2:20). Faith, hope, and love abideth.
Love waits. Isaac waited for Rebekah. Boaz waited for Ruth. Jacob worked overtime for the love of Rachel (Gen 29:20). Joseph waited for Mary. The church waits for Christ to come for her.
The man of God must wait, too. As examples, consider the prophets who suffered with patience in the name of the Lord (Jam 5:10). Joseph’s stay in Pharaoh’s jail was elongated, for the chief cupbearer forgot him (Gen 40:23), but God was with him. Moses needed forty years at Midian, on the back side of the desert. Yahweh knew where and when to meet him for his next assignment. Later, in the wilderness wandering, Joshua was a patient apprentice to God’s continued crafting of Moses. David waited for Saul, and spent his time writing words like, “How long, O Lord?” (Ps 6:3; 13:1; et al).
Paul knew the value of suffering with patience as a mutual encouragement (2 Cor 1:6). Patience was one of the items on his ministry resume (2 Cor 6:6). The man of God must be patient when wronged (2 Tim 2:24). Timothy followed Paul’s exemplary patience (2 Tim 3:10). To be a pastor, according to Paul, requires “great patience” (2 Tim 4:2). Jonah was a pastor, who tried to run from his dutiful calling. He was compacted in the belly of the big fish before his successful preaching ministry was accomplished at Nineveh. Whether it be fiery furnaces or lions’ dens or Roman prisons, God’s people regularly confess, “I waited patiently for the Lord, and He inclined to me and heard my cry (Ps 40:1).”
We learn patience from God, who suffers vessels of wrath with patience (Rom 9:22). It is not wise to try the patience of Almighty God (Is 7:13), who is a God of wrath (Eph 5:6; Rev 19:15). God waited patiently for Noah to finish the ark (1 Pet 3:20). In the same way, God is patiently waiting for Christ to build His church, not wishing for any of His people to perish (2 Pet 3:9). Being slow to anger, His kindness, tolerance, and patience are the avenue of repentance for the contrite (Rom 2:4). God’s patience with you is your salvation (2 Pet 3:15).
God is love (1 Jn 4:8), and love is patient (1 Cor 13:4). Yahweh waits on high to have compassion on you (Is 30:18). Knowing this, Paul encouraged patience as a practice for believers (Eph 4:2; Col 3:12). He saw steadfastness and patience as things to be attained (Col 1:11). In other words, God produces patience in us, often using external trouble, but we should want to have it on our resumes, too.
Where is the standard? Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “be patient with everyone (1 Thess 5:14).” The writer of Hebrews suggests we should be imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises of God (Heb 6:12). Abraham was given a spectacular promise, a son in his old age, and the patriarch believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. However, Sarah did not bring forth the fruit of her womb for years. Faith and hope matured in Abraham, and patience was there with them. Because sanctification is a process, we can give thanks to Jesus Christ, who demonstrates His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life (1 Tim 1:16).
How long do we wait? James answers, “Therefore, be patient, brethren until the coming of the Lord (Jam 5:7).” Christians wait eagerly for Him (Ps 39:7; Is 26:8), without shame (Ps 69:6), and for His lovingkindness (Ps 147:11). As we wait for our full salvation (Prv 20:22; Is 25:9), He renews our strength (Is 40:31).
So, we have seen some different facets to patience. There is the patience we see in God, and especially in Christ. We have acknowledged patience, being an attribute of God, manifested by the work of the indwelling Spirit as spiritual fruit in the believer. It is grace from God. Patience can be long suffering with others. It can be long waiting in time. It is something to be practiced and something worth attaining.
In conclusion, we must pray for God to give us patience. We must consciously subject ourselves to the Holy Spirit for the manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit. We must recognize God’s providence in ordering our steps to wait upon the Lord. May you find contentment in Christ alone, and may you redeem the time, from now until the things hoped for have come to fruition. As you wait, remember, patience comes to you by His grace, so be sure to give Him thanks. I know you will grow in patience…just wait.
Spokane Valley, Washington
April 3, 2021