Have a Little... Patience (Part 1)
Have you ever considered how much of your life is spent waiting? Whether it be waiting at the bus stop, or waiting to hear back about a job, waiting for tea to be ready or waiting for the arrival of a new baby, so much of life is spent in that time in between times. Waiting is something inherently passive; nobody chooses to wait, it is a state invariably forced upon you by the very thing you are waiting for. You can do things while you wait, but even then your primary goal is not the waiting itself, rather it’s passing the time and will end once the main event arrives. Consequently, it’s understandable that many people dislike waiting. The old adage 'Patience is a Virtue' seemingly recognizes the fact that so few of us possess it. Similarly, if you wish to witness true dissatisfaction you have only to be on a station platform or an airport departure lounge at the moment that a delayed train or flight is announced. Even closer to home, poor Andrew Headley has been waiting weeks for me to finally deliver this article for the blog (perhaps I was trying to teach him a deliberate lesson in patience the whole time?)
The reality is that in this life you will spend most of your time waiting, whether it be for big things or small things. It's therefore surprising that we don’t give more consideration to mastering this activity (or lack of). Rather than begrudging the waiting, we should embrace this fact of life and learn to wait well, if that is indeed possible. This is especially important for us as Christians. We are a people living in hope and expectation; so many of God's promises have already been fulfilled in the person of Christ, yet we know that there is also much more to come. The Bible tells us that God has good things for us in this life, as in the classic verse from Jeremiah 29; ‘For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’. Beyond the promises that God has made us about our lives here and now however, we are also a people waiting for something even greater. We are waiting for a day when Christ returns and dwells with us, as Revelation 21 beautifully describes; 'And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away”. We are an exiled people in waiting.
This has been the way for God's people throughout history of course. In Genesis, Abraham is promised descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky, yet he has to wait until he is 100 years old before his wife Sarah gives birth to Isaac. Jacob waits fourteen years before Laban finally allows him to marry Rachel, twice as long as he was initially promised. In the New Testament, Simeon is told by the Spirit that he will not die without seeing the Messiah, and he waits years, with no idea when that could be. Just like the heroes of the Bible then, we are a people in waiting for the fulfilment of God’s promise, both in Earthly things and beyond. How then can we be a people who wait patiently for the things of this world and of the next? And why should we?
Here in the 21st century UK we live in an age of immediacy. Amazon Prime, Deliveroo and digital streaming services mean that when we want something, we can have it in our home almost immediately. Similarly, if we want to get somewhere, cars, planes and high-speed trains allow us to do so faster than ever before. Personal relationships have even become more immediate with the advent of the telephone and the internet; gone are the days of waiting weeks for a letter, or months for a face to face meeting. We live at a faster pace than any prior generation. Living in such an age, is it really surprising that we often grow frustrated and impatient when something demands patience? God is not spared our impatience either; all too often I see myself and others growing frustrated that the good things God has promised us aren’t falling into our laps. Why do we as a church not have a building yet? Why has that friend still not come to know Christ? Why am I not married by now? There is nothing wrong with chasing after the things that God has for us and eagerly asking for them, as we see in the story of the Persistent Widow (Luke 18: 1-8), but let us do so with humility. Our God is timeless and wise beyond our comprehension, and his timing is perfect. If we attempt to make everything happen on our timetable then we are trusting in our own wisdom before His. If we really believe that God has our interest at heart and truly works all things for our good, then even a time of waiting is a blessing from Him. If God hasn’t given me a job yet, then that is because it is not in my interest to have one. If I’m not married yet, then that is because God knows now is not the time for that. By joyfully and patiently waiting, although it may feel passive and empty, we are in fact trusting ourselves into God’s hands day by day and conceding to his infinitely superior wisdom.
Let us not forget of course the immense patience of the very God we serve. He has borne with our bungling, bumbling efforts for decades and still pours out abundant blessings upon us. When we fail time and again, both individually and collectively, our God continues to show mercy after mercy, sustaining us through our errors and consistently reaching to draw us back to him. We don’t deserve any second chances, and yet we have already received abundant opportunities from our Father. We have in fact received the greatest, most scandalous ‘second chance’ in history- redemption through Jesus Christ. In case you’re still unsure, the Bible makes it clear that God’s nature encapsulates the very definition of patience. God is love (1 John 4:8)- His character is what defines the nature of love, not the other way around. We also know that love is patient (1 Corinthians 13). What this means then is that our God is the very definition of patience. Our motivation to wait without grumbling or frustration is then to be like our Father in Heaven- “Be perfect therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
So far we can acknowledge that waiting is a fact of life, something that we must accept as part and parcel of our day to day existence and also our story as God’s people. We can also see that waiting well, with patience and humility, is something that we should strive to do, both as an act of trusting God and as a means of emulating Him. Before we consider what this actually looks like in real life however, and before it sounds like I’m just telling you off for being so impatient, let’s acknowledge something else: waiting can absolutely suck.
It’s very easy for me to sit here and tell you ‘be patient like your Father is patient with you’, but if what you’re waiting for is relief from a debilitating condition, or deliverance from a dire financial situation, it might fall a bit flat. Life is full of waiting, but to compare waiting for a bus to waiting for your mum to be healed would be deeply insensitive, and I acknowledge that. I myself have experienced long periods of uncertainty and doubt about how situations would turn out, in many ways I’m still waiting for some of those things now, and I know that waiting can be the most painful, disheartening and terrifying thing to do. With all that in mind, my encouragement would be this; God sees you, He knows you, and He knows your pain. It is at those kinds of uncertain times that I am most comforted by the knowledge given in Hebrews 4; ‘We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin’. Christ, our great High Priest, knows your pain and has suffered it himself- He is completely able to sympathize with us. Know that God sees your patience and perseverance, He honours that obedience and I believe He will honour you for it, if not in this life then in the next. Your reward in Heaven will be no joke.
How do we turn all these nice ideas into practical realities then? Well if you’ve read this far then you’ve already exhibited great patience with my rambling and must be part of the way there (many thanks). Now I shall call on your patience once again. In the interests of time and space, and not wanting to occupy too much more of your time today, we’re going to leave things there for now. In fact, let’s think of this as a clever device employed by this author- what better way to cultivate your patience than forcing you to wait a week for the rest of this article hmm? Thank you again for your time, I hope you enjoyed and I hope you tune in next week. In the meantime I shall leave you with this delightful passage from the book of James- as always the scripture puts things infinitely better than I ever could…
‘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’ (James 5: 7-9)
About the Author
Jonathan has been a member of the City Church since 2013 and was formerly a student at UKC studying Military History. Last year he completed the ID internship year with City and now works in admin at the University of Kent. Hobbies include Dungeons & Dragons, war films and making flapjack.