July 30, 2013

Practicing patience

Of the American Civil War, a man said, “We all thought that one battle would end it, but we were all very much mistaken.” It is the same with spiritual life. In the beginning, we expect to mature much faster than we have, our temptations will be quickly defeated and we will become more like Jesus in our zeal for change.

Yet those sins and temptations persist, even after years of serving the Lord. I am so aware of how prone my heart is to wander. In the beginning, I saw the glory of life in Christ and grabbed hold of it with great eagerness, but find that even cooperation is exceedingly difficult as He uses all things to shape my character into His likeness. I need prayer and power, and at times both seem so ineffective. At times, I even wonder if Christ is really in my life and why don’t I have more to show for it.

One Old Testament prophet was told that God was going to do something astonishing in the lives of His people. With that vision, God also told him…

For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay. (Habakkuk 2:3)

In his case, it wasn’t something He wanted to see, but the idea of perseverance is in this verse. It is said that faith, hope, and love are great gifts, yet not all of them together will bring a Christian through with honor. For maturity, something more is needed — of all the virtues, perseverance alone wins the crown.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2–4)

Unfortunately for those of us who love comfort, the perseverance that perfects our character is usually won through trials and tribulation, through much suffering. If struggles do not produce it, they certainly test whether patience is there or not.

Waiting on God instead of becoming demanding, impatient, or taking matters into my own hands, can be practiced in the little things. If I lose my car keys, I can search for them with an attitude of annoyance, or one of trusting God that this inconvenience is testing my patience so I can become more like Jesus. If someone cuts me off in traffic, or a certain telemarketer refuses to stop calling my number, I can tense up or respond with patience.

I am reading the story of Job. His faith was tested with great severity. Sometimes he became riled. Occasionally his faith shone as a bright light. Also, as I read the dialog between God and Satan, I can see that this test was not about Job’s ability to believe, but about the faith that God gives His people. It is faith in Him, a trust based on knowing who He is. Because God is God, sovereign and in control, then all that happened to Job (and all that happens to me) is by His permission, even by His design. Even when I don’t understand what He has in mind, because of His character and His proven love for me, I can be patient in my circumstances.

Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you. (Psalm 33:20–22)

This is a form of courage, a trust that when tested and even beaten, holds its ground, not because I am strong, but because God is strong. He has never failed me. I can be patient and wait to see what He is doing. He will see me through any difficulty.

This is true for my spiritual growth also. It is slow, even like dropping food dye into a large pail of water to color it. Drop by drop, nothing seems to change. Then one more, precisely like the rest, and suddenly that change happens. The water is faintly colored at first, but soon the drops show themselves and permeate the entire mass.

In my prayers, I persist in trust. There may not be much to show for some of them, at least in outward appearance, yet because of the promises of God, I know far more is going on than my eyes can see. One day, one more prayer, one more look toward Jesus Christ, and not only will the prayer be answered, but I also will have far more perseverance than I did in the beginning.

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