Sunday, 15 December 2013

Patience...



It has been said that Patience is something we admire in the driver behind us, but not in the driver in front of us.
Patience is an essential part of mature Christian character. Patience is mentioned as one of the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22- “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Patience is also mentioned as a characteristic of love in 1 Cor 13- “Love is patient; love is kind…” In Colossians 3:12 we read, “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” Over and over again when the Bible describes the character of someone who is a part of the Kingdom of God we read that patience is a part of their character.
It seems like this is something God has been trying to teach his people for a very long time. The Patriarchs were taught patience. For example Abraham and Sarah were told they would have a child in their old age. In their impatience, however, they try to make this vision come through with Sarah’s servant, Hagar. The patriarchs were told they were part of a plan that would bring blessing to the whole world, but this plan moved slowly. It would take thousands of years, in fact. Their decedents, the Hebrews, would have to be patient as they awaited release from slavery in Egypt. Then when they were released, they wandered for 40 years in the wilderness before they entered the Promised Land. They eventually were taken by the Babylonians into exile and learned patience as they longed to return. The people of Israel learned patience as they longed for the Messiah to come and save them.  James mentions the prophets, who stood and spoke God’s words to a community that didn’t want to hear them.  The disciples of Jesus had to be patient as they awaited the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost. Jesus’ disciples continued to be hopeful and patient as they awaited the day when Jesus would come again. In numerous places Christians are told that as they await this day they should be patient (Rom 8; 1 Thess 3:13; 2 pet 3:4; 1 John 2:28). This is the context for our reading from the letter of James today, “Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord”.  The early Christian community would endure numerous hardships and persecutions. It is patience that allowed the martyrs to endure to the end.  
Over and over again in the stories of the Bible, and in descriptions of Christian character we see patience mentioned or implied. It is a characteristic that we are to develop as followers of Jesus. God wants to help us develop patience.  
We learn patience in numerous ways. We might learn patience as a part of our job. If you are a carpenter, or a farmer, or a lab tech, you won’t be very good at your job until you learn patience. I once read a story about a little girl who was part of a farming family. She was very excited to see the seeds the just planted start to grow. She would go out into the fields every day looking for green shoots. Day after day she would ask her father when the seeds would grow and her father just told her to be patient. One days she did see little shoots spring up out of the soil all over the field. She was very excited, but she grew impatient again as she watched the young plants. They didn’t seem to grow at all. So one night she snuck out of bed and went through the field and pulled each plant up just a little to help it grow a bit quicker. Well, we know how that story ends. If you don’t have patience, you won’t be a very good farmer.
We need patience to learn certain skills. To learn a musical instrument you need to spend a long time doing scales. Without patience you’ll give up.  To learn a language you need to spend time memorizing vocabulary and repeating grammatical structures. It takes patience.
We are also taught patience as we endure circumstances that are beyond our control. The weather is out of our control. It requires patience to endure the cold day after day, week after week.  Waiting in line at the grocery store or the coffee shop can be an opportunity to learn patience. Rather than grumble and complain and get snarky with the cashier, instead use it as an opportunity to learn patience. Difficult people will also teach us patience. I often think that God gives us at least one difficult person in our lives to help us learn patience and kindness. Instead of grumbling against this person and casting judgement on them, learn patience.  Use these circumstances as a gift from God to train your character in patience. If we pray for patience we are likely to be given circumstances that will teach us patience. God will allow you to experience a difficult person, or you will stand in long lines, or you will be stuck in traffic.   
I remember a Palestinian man I met once. He was working for a moving company who we hired to help us move back to Alberta from Toronto. When he asked what kind of building I was moving out of I told him it was a seminary where they train priests and theologians. They he replied, “I am from Bethlehem! Do you believe in Bethlehem!?!” He told me about his experiences as a Palestinian Christian in Israel and in more colourful language than I will use here he said, “When Jesus comes back it is going to hit the fan!” He gave judgement to Jesus. Rather than strap a bomb to himself, he exhibited patience and gave judgment to God.        
We are taught patience as we wait for something good. The instant the snow hit one of my sons was sure Christmas was “tomorrow”. He has had to learn to be patient.
We can use difficult circumstances to teach us patience as well. Illness can be a powerful teacher of patience. Understand that I don’t believe God causes suffering, but that God can bring good out of suffering. Patience can be a good fruit God brings out of difficult circumstances. Sometimes we learn patience because God feels absent to us in our prayers. We just feel like our prayers bounce off the ceiling and we are alone in the universe. Persisting in our prayers when we feel like this will teach us patience.   
It is important that we develop patience because it is a part of being like Christ. Jesus was able to love those were beating and torturing him on the cross partly because of his profound patience. God is very patient. He works slowly and incrementally throughout history. Even in my own life I’m amazed at God’s patience to watch me take two steps forward and then three back. God’s goal is transformation over a lifetime, not a moment. If we are to become more like Christ, then it is essential that we learn patience. If we learn patience then we will be able to stand against injustice and oppression. If we learn to be patient in the grocery store, and in learning an instrument, and with difficult people, then we will become stronger when it comes to dealing with the big things. We will be ready when God needs us to stand against some evil. If we are not patient in these small things, then we will not have the character to stand in these big things.    

God is not finished with this world. He is working in history to bring about his promises. But we will have to be patient because this is on his time-line not ours. We might want all the jerks in our lives to be made into nice people, but God works over time. Small changes over a long period of time. God is patient, but a time will come when God’s world will become what He always wanted it to be.   
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