“One night the Lord said to Paul in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to harm you, for there are many in this city who are my people.’ He stayed there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them” (Acts 18:9-11). As I read this I consider how much more patient God is with people than I am. How many times have we given up too soon? How many times have we moved on before the time needed for people to hear? And as I read this I wonder how many people there are in our neighborhoods, schools, and offices there are of whom God would say, they “are my people?”
A. W. Tozer makes a great point: “To treat an imperfect brother or sister impatiently is to advertise our own imperfections.” When I am impatient with someone because of their flaws, I reveal my own. On the other hand, I have noticed that when people are impatient with me, it often says more about their flaws than mine. Truth is, there’s enough sin to go around. Love wins!
Through the years the words of Eugene Peterson have encouraged me as a minister. These words are no exception.
“Impatience, the refusal to endure, is to pastoral character what strip mining is to the land — a greedy rape of what can be gotten at the least cost, then abandonment in search of another place to loot.”
–Eugene Peterson in The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, p. 49.
This week I have been considering the importance of patience, particularly with how my prayers often reflect a lack of patience. I want what I want. I want it now. My prayers can so easily slip into demanding for God to do my will instead of being in God’s presence, knowing Him, and seeking His will.
The following prayer means a lot to me.
“I call to you, O Lord, from my quiet darkness. Show me your mercy and love. Let me see your face, hear your voice, touch the hem of your cloak. I want to love you, be with you, speak to you and simply stand in your presence. But I cannot make it happen. Pressing my eyes against my hands is not praying, and reading about your presence is not living it.
But there is that moment in which you will come to me, as you did to your fearful disciples, and say, ‘Do not be afraid; it is I.’ Let that moment come soon, O Lord. And if you want to delay it, then make me patient. Amen.”
–from A Cry for Mercy by Henri J. M. Nouwen
“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no partiality and is always sincere” (James 3:17).
A couple of years ago Lourene and I had the opportunity to visit a mega church in Southern California. When the assembly was over we spent some time looking around the campus before heading to one of our favorite restaurants, The Claim Jumper. As we supposed, many in the huge crowd at the mega church had the same meal plan.
By the time we arrived at The Claim Jumper (if you are ever near a Claim Jumper location, check it out), the hostess told us the wait would be over an hour. That was no problem, we knew it would be worth the wait. People were standing everywhere while waiting to be seated at a table. Many of them, like us, had just been in a worship gathering that was centered on being like Jesus.
For a while Lourene and I were in our own world of conversation, processing what we had experienced at the mega church. It was an interesting assembly, so very different from what we were accustomed. The assembly featured two songs, one brief prayer, and a 57 minute sermon (yes, I admit, I timed it). They even experienced a technical glitch with their state of the art projection system. After we shared our initial thoughts on the assembly, we then turned to discussing what those initial thoughts revealed about our hearts. The conversation was deep, the minutes were ticking.
When we finally paused the conversation long enough for me to glance at my watch, we realized we had been waiting for one hour and 10 minutes. It seemed there were still a number of parties who arrived before us who were yet to be seated. We had a while longer to wait, but we didn’t care. It was then that I became aware of a family next to us. They, too, had been at the mega church and had arrived just before us. They, too, had a while longer to wait. They cared.
To say they had grown impatient with the wait would be an understatement. They were beyond impatient, they were becoming angry. Members of the party took turns going to the hostess stand to ask, “How much longer?” They rolled their eyes at the young teenager who assured them it wouldn’t be much longer. They sighed. They grumbled. They pressured the hostess. And then a woman in the party said something I remember to this day: “I’m about to lose my church mood!”
When I heard those words, I confess, I laughed out loud. My church mood. What’s a church mood? Is this what church is about – a mood? And what good is a church mood if it can vanish while waiting in line at a restaurant where you know you are going to have a delicious meal prepared for you and served to you? Can we ever expect our Christianity to survive a season of persecution if we can’t even endure a wait at Claim Jumper?
Well it wasn’t long until Lourene and I were seated and the conversation turned to the woman and her church mood. But I have to tell you, we didn’t spend our time bashing her. Lourene and I spent most of our time discussing how I had recognized myself in that woman. I think that’s why I laughed out loud. I wasn’t laughing at her as much as I was laughing at me. How can I sometimes be so impatient? Why do I sometimes fail to practice what I have preached?
The discussion turned to real life changes that I (and to a lesser extent, Lourene, too) need to make regarding patience. As we enjoyed a delightful meal (have I told you how good Claim Jumper is?) we remembered the passage in James 3 about heavenly wisdom. One line seemed especially meaningful – “willing to yield to others.”
How do we become more patient? Training. Exercise. You have to practice doing things to develop patience. Perhaps the best way to begin the training is to choose situations in which you are going to yield to others. Exercise one may be yielding to other drivers by allowing cars to merge in front of you when in a parking lot or on the road. Exercise two could be yielding to shoppers when they are racing to beat you to the check out line. Perhaps we could even allow someone who looks hurried to cut in front of us. Exercise three might be yielding to others in conversation, allowing them plenty of time to say what they want to say before offering a response. Exercise four probably needs to be some act of yielding in a restaurant line, whether letting someone go ahead of you or consciously maintaining your composure when the seating time (or the food) is delayed.
We need the exercise, after all, we don’t want to lose our church mood, do we?
I got a chuckle out of a bumper sticker I saw the other day – “I’m tired of stupid people.” Truth is, I laughed a little too hard as I drove along.
Once again, I am reminded of the need to allow God’s word to shape me, especially passages like Colossians 3:13 –
“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” NIV
“You must make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive the person who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” NLT