Galatians 5:22-23, James 1:2-8; Isaiah 40:28-31
How many of you have ever heard, or said, be careful what you pray for? Almost every time that phrase is said, it’s attached to – what? Patience. We’re happy to pray for almost anything, except patience.
Isn’t that odd? We seem to believe that if we pray for patience God is going to fill our lives with such struggles that we will be forced to develop a greater sense of patience. Why do we believe that praying for patience is in invitation for hardship to enter our lives? Perhaps that’s what it takes for us to learn patience, as patience is really tough.
As we continue our series of messages on Nurturing A Healthy Heart, this morning we come to patience. Ah. This is a tough one, isn’t it? I know a lot of people with a lot of gifts, but the gift of patience may be the most rare of all. And make no mistake about it – patience is a true gift.
As we talk about patience this morning I want to break it down into three areas where we need patience – patience with ourselves, patience with others, and patience with God.
Patience with ourselves.
There are some things I would like to see more often in people, and one of them is the ability to be patient with one’s self.
People can be really, really hard on themselves. And maybe that’s because someone has been really hard on them. The person trying desperately to live up to the expectations of someone else will struggle to be patient with himself. No matter how much they push, and they strive, no matter what they do or what they accomplish, it’s never enough.
Maybe they need to turn off the media images that fill our minds as to how we should look, act, and live. Those images aren’t real anyway.
Maybe it’s living in an instant gratification society, where we think everything has to happen right now, and we have to be what we want to be right now. I want success right now; I don’t want to have to work years for it. I want to be financially sound, and I want it to happen right now and without any sacrifice. I want to be physically fit, and I want it to happen right now, and with very little effort. I want to be spiritually fit, but I don’t want to put out the effort that it requires.
When I think of someone who was patient, I think of the Old Testament character Job. Job, you may remember, had it all, and then lost it all. He had three friends, who were not at all helpful, because they kept blaming him for his circumstances. Their plea was for Job to confess what he had done wrong and hope that God would restore him. I don’t admire Job’s circumstances, but I admire Job, because in spite of his condition and though he had a lot of questions to ask, he remained patient.
Patience with others
If you want to measure the ability of someone to be patient with other people there is a very simple test – put them behind the wheel of a car. And then have them sit at an intersection where another driver is sitting at a green light as they punch a text message into their phone. Have you been there before? Surely you haven’t been the person tapping out the text.
People may frustrate you, they may drive you crazy, but you know what? You probably do the same to somebody. We are all works in progress, and we must learn to be patient with one another. Every one of us has struggled to be patient with other people, but we are called to practice patience with one another.
Paul writes in Ephesians 4:2 be patient, bearing with one another in love. Jesus was often frustrated with his disciples. In Luke 9:41 he says O unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I stay with you and put up with you?” The disciples were often slow to understand the teachings of Jesus. After hearing many of the parables they would ask what those parables meant, but Jesus never gave up on them, and his patience was certainly rewarded. Look at the faith they attained and look at what they eventually accomplished.
Patience with God
Frank Schaeffer has written a book titled Patience With God. It’s an interesting thought, isn’t it, that we would need to be patient with God.
There are a lot of people who need to make peace with God. They have lost their patience with God. Job lost his patience with God. He wanted an audience with God. He had some questions to ask.
One of the best prayers I ever heard came from a 5th grade young man. I don’t know if it was original to him, but it sure had some great theology. He volunteered to give the benediction and part of his prayer was Lord, help us not to see you as just a vending machine, putting a little in to get out of you what we want. That’s pretty good, isn’t it?
Our relationship with God is not a simple transaction where we put in $2.00 worth of faith and expect $5.00 worth of blessing in return. It doesn’t work that way. It’s not an I’ve given you this God, now give me that type of relationship. Many times we don’t understand how God works, and it requires a great deal of patience on our part while we try to understand his plan.
I believe that the Bible is a long treatise on patience, because there are so many passages that are what I would call hang in there passages. They are passages such as Isaiah 40:28-31, that we read this morning. Passages like the 23rd Psalm. I Corinthians 13. Philippians 4:13 – I can do all this through him who gives me strength Hebrews 11:1 – Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
When we read through Exodus, we find the people of God wandering in the wilderness, often losing patience with God. We find them struggling to understand the ways and the purposes of God, and their impatience led them to some tragic choices, such as fashioning and then worshipping a golden calf. We read through Genesis and find that Abraham and Sarah take matters into their own hands and decide that Abraham should have a child with Hagar instead of patiently waiting upon God. We read that Esau traded away his birthright to his brother Jacob instead of patiently waiting. We read Luke’s gospel and the parable of the prodigal son and his impatience that leads him to take half of his father’s wealth and belongings to waste as he squanders his life. And perhaps most tragic of all, we read of Judas, who was impatient as he waited for Jesus to be the kind of Messiah that he desired, and when Jesus did not fulfill the plan of Judas, Judas betrayed him.
I am not a person who can grow anything. I don’t garden and I am just not very good at growing anything. Perhaps it’s my lack of patience. There is a great lesson of patience in the plant world, and it comes from Chinese bamboo. When you plant this kind of bamboo it must be watered and nurtured for an entire growing season, but it never breaks through the ground, not even an inch. The second growing season, it must be watered and nurtured, and again, it does not grow even an inch. Even in the third growing season, it doesn’t grow even an inch. And a fourth year. Most people would never make it past the first growing season, believing their efforts to be wasted. But four years? That’s a lot of time and patience and to see nothing happen. All the work for absolutely no evidence of a return.
But in the fifth year, something surprising happens. All that work suddenly pays off, and the bamboo tree can grow to over eighty feet tall in that one season. It’s not that four years of inactivity took place. During those four years there is a lot of activity under ground. The roots are growing to provide a system that can sustain the growth that is to come.
Be patient with God. We never know what he is doing below the surface, out of view of our senses, but never doubt that he is at work.