Editorial: February 2010
The ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes 400-325 BC) was sitting as usual, under a tree, sweating, scooping pasty gruel from a weathered bowl. (When asked by Alexander the Great if he wished any favour, Diogenes requested only that Alexander not come between him and the sun). The court philosopher was being carried home in a palanquin for his lunch and afternoon siesta. He lifted the curtain and asked the bearers, "Who is that beneath the tree?" They answered, "No one of any consequence, Sir. A fellow called Diogenes. A waster. All he does all day is sit under the tree, and yap with whoever comes along." "Take me to him," directed the philosopher. He asked Diogenes, "What are you doing?" "Why, I am eating this gruel," responded Diogenes.
"You fool. If only you would learn to get along with the king, you wouldn't have to spend the rest of your life eating that miserable gruel." "My dear Sir," answered Diogenes, "If only you would learn to eat this gruel, you wouldn't have to spend the rest of your life trying to get along with the king."
We must all learn to eat that gruel.
Patience is among the many qualities that the Spirit of God develops in the life of believers. It is the quality of character that develops within believers as they learn to put up with people and things that test, try or annoy them (Eph.4:1-2;Jas.1:3-4). The specific feature of Christian patience is that believers exercise it in a spirit of love, joy, humility and forgiveness (1Cor.13:4,7;Col.1:11;3:12-13). "Patience is the ability to put up with people you would like to put down."
Patience is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal.5:22). Demonstrations of impatience reveal the sour fruit of our fallen hearts, not the sweetness of Jesus in our lives. When we abandon patience, we miss the opportunity to show the glory of God to the world through our lives. When we burst with impatience, we are demonstrating that we are more concerned with our own agendas than the needs and struggles of others. Patience gives us the privilege of sharing the refreshing fruit of God with others. "Be patient, show the world what God is really like." "Never cut what you can untie."
What we wait for is far less important than what God is doing while we wait. He works in us to develop the spiritual virtues of meekness, kindness and patience with others. More importantly, we learn to lean on God alone and to "rejoice and be glad" (Psa.70:4). God stretches our patience to enlarge our soul. "Never think that God's delays are God's denials. Hold on, hold fast, hold out. Patience is genius."
Often, our patience evaporates when we are late for a critical engagement and are caught in a traffic jam. Being forced to wait increases our stress and shortens our fuse. When that happens, we fail to be patient. Also, we undercut the Spirit's work in our lives. We have all heard the prayer, "Dear God, please grant me patience-I want it right now." David prayed, "Make haste to help me, O Lord" (Psa.70:1).
God is patient with sinners, withholding His judgement, and providing instead a way of salvation (Psa.103: 8-9; Jon.4:2; 1Pet. 3:20). Those who respond to His patience in faith and repentance receive His forgiveness. Those who ignore it fall under His punishment (Exo.34:6-7; Rom.2:3-4; 9:22; 1Tim.1:16;2Pet.3:9). Why is He delaying His judgement? The delay is only because He wants sinners to come to Christ and be saved from the coming wrath.
Each of us is formed by God in a unique way for a unique work. "We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Eph.2:10). Though we are created for good works, we are not yet finished. We must experience the kiln of affliction. Aching hearts, weary spirits, ageing bodies are the processes God uses to finish the work He has begun. Don't fear the furnace that surrounds you. Be "patient in tribulation" and await the finished product. Let patience have its perfect work, that you may be "perfect and complete, lacking nothing" (Jas.1:4).
Through the emotional and physical thorns that God allows in our lives, we learn what it means to trust Him. In the process, we learn patience and kindness toward all. "Comfort the faint-hearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all" (1Thess.5:14).
Jesus' example assures us that patience is more than tolerance; it is endurance and steadfastness (2Thess.3:5; Heb.12:3). We must be prepared to endure insults, hardship, injustice, persecution, suffering and trials of every kind (2Thess.1:3-4;Heb.11:25-27;Jas.1:12;5:10-11). "The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it open."
As we bear the trials of life patiently, the expectancy of Christ's return gives purpose to our perseverance (Heb.6:11-12;Jas.5:7-8). It also acts as a constant incentive. It is proof of the genuineness of faith and leads to spiritual maturity (Jn. 8:31;Acts 14:22; Rom.5:3-4; Col.1:21-23; Heb.3:12-14; 4:1-11; 6:11-12). It provides proof of their salvation. It shows that their faith is genuine (Mk.13:13; 22-23; Lk.21:36; Phil.3:13-14; 2 Tim.4:7-8).
According to Warren Wiersbe, the formula looks like this: testing plus Christ equals patience; patience plus Christ equals character (experience); experience plus Christ equals hope (Rom.5:3-4).
Trials can produce patience. God put young Joseph through thirteen years of testing that He might make a king out of him. Peter spent three years in the school of testing to be changed from sand to rock! Paul went through many testings, and each one helped to mature his character. It takes faith to trust God during trials, but the knowledge that God has a divine purpose in mind helps us to yield to Him. "All comes at the proper time to him who knows how to wait." "The times we find ourselves having to wait on others may be the perfect opportunities to train ourselves to wait on the Lord." "God often permits us to be perplexed so that we may learn patience."
We should not be double-minded; such Christians are not stable during trials. Their emotions and their decisions waver. Faith in God during trials will always lead to stability. Grace is provided through the disciplines of life. When we suffer, we come to the end of ourselves and learn to lean on Him. As we suffer, He equips us, confirms us, and puts a foundation under us. Oswald Chambers said: "Don't jump to conclusions too quickly; many things lie unsolved, and the biggest test of all is that God looks as if He were totally indifferent."
Does this mean that we should patiently suffer all the wrongs? Not at all. For example, Apostle Paul lost patience with the slave girl, possessed of a spirit, and exorcised the spirit in the name of Jesus (Acts 16: 16-18). God's seeming indifference to sin is due wholly to His patience, the aim of which is to induce repentance. Hard impenitence is an investment in divine wrath at compound interest to be realised on the Day of Judgement. This shows that God's patience is not without limits.
Ask God for patience and a positive perspective to handle life's setbacks in a mature Christian way (Jas.1:2-5). When things go wrong, ask God for strength and wisdom. Then thank Him for working to increase your faith. The Psalmist was in a state of despair over the guilt of his sins (Psa.130:1-3). He prayed and gained assurance of forgiveness (v.4).
Think of Christ's patience with Peter after the time Peter sinned against Him. The Corinthians did not have patience with each other in the assembly (1Cor.14:29-32). Love not only patiently bears with wrongs, but also positively acts in deeds of kindness.
The apostle John addresses himself as "companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ" (Rev.1:9). Having surveyed the achievements of the past heroes of faith, the author of Hebrews confronts us with the inspiration and challenge to run with patience, find encouragement to patiently face reproach and persecution by deliberately filling our minds with thoughts of Jesus and His triumphant achievements (Heb.12:1). He encourages us to be spiritually diligent throughout our lives. We are urged not to become sluggish, but to "imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises" (Heb.6:12).
Though we often desire immediate results in our walk of faith, it is a matter of patient practice. Persons who fight for a cause are impatient to see the cause prevail. This testifies to their commitment to the cause. But every change takes time-the deeper the change, the longer it will take. For a long time it appears as if all the effort is having no effect at all. When you have done all you could, the only thing left is to wait patiently until God vindicates you.
We must have no price. And everyone must know that you cannot be bought. When you are committed, you should be prepared to face the consequences of taking a stand. In this operation, expect the least from everyone else.
Gandhiji wrote, "Every good movement passes through five stages: indifference, ridicule, abuse, repression and respect." This applies equally to issues we take up in regard to all figures of authority-in churches as well as other organisations. Hence the need for patience. If we persevere, and if the cause is just, we will be vindicated in due course of time. Either the correctives prescribed will be adopted, or the consequences will befall the organisation and/or its controllers.
Quite often, the problem is that we define success very narrowly. If the demand is not conceded immediately, we feel discouraged. But the controllers look at the demand as indiscipline or disloyalty. They know that what they have been doing will not stand any scrutiny. They are not looking for discipline, but servility. The ailment therefore remains uncorrected and the character of the organisation is corroded. "God engineers our circumstances as He did those of His Son; all we have to do is to follow where He places us. The majority of us are busy trying to place ourselves. God alters things while we wait for Him."
Let us keep practising the Lord's instructions as we walk patiently by faith to the fulfilment of all He has promised. "We count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the patience of Job" (Jas.5:11).