Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Fruit of Patience

July 7, 1996

One of the most marked characteristics of our time is impatience.  We're always in a hurry and we want everyone else to hurry.  This is dangerous.

Several years ago a Navy jet fighter shot itself down over the Nevada desert while testing a new cannon mounted on its wing.  The plane was flying at supersonic speed but the shells were subsonic.  The jet actually ran into its own shells which had been fired several seconds earlier.  It was traveling too fast for its own good.

In a culture that loves fast food, one-hour-photo processing, one hour dry cleaning, CLIF notes, and cramming for finals, waiting seems like a throwback to evolution.  Yet the Bible describes many benefits of patience.  It says, "A patient man has great understanding, but a quick tempered man displays folly" (Proverbs 14:29).  "Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city" (Proverbs 16:32).  "Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone" (Proverbs 25:15).

I would love to have a great understanding, calm quarrels, be better than a warrior, and be able to persuade rulers.  I would like to be a patient man, but I'm so impatient with the process that it takes to acquire patience.

I am not the only Christian who has wants to get patience and spiritual maturity- right now!  Rick Warren writes, "With book titles like Four Easy Steps to Maturity and The Key to Instant Sainthood doing well in Christian book stores, it would seem a lot of folks are looking for shortcuts."

Christians get fooled by looking for a spiritual encounter that will be the end instead of a beginning.  They look for a seminar or a revival speaker, or a book that will instantly transform them into a mature believer. This kind of search is futile.  We may be able to make instant coffee, instant potatoes, liposuction for instant weight loss, but there is no such thing as instant maturity.  Some Christians have spent so much time looking for the magic short cut- that ten years after they began their journey with Jesus, they are as immature in faith as the day they started.  Spiritual growth takes time, patience, and waiting for Jesus to guide.

The good news is, you can become more patient by understanding and also practicing the Bible's teaching on patience.  Start with Galatians 5:22.

This verse reminds us that the indwelling Spirit provides resources to resist and defeat impatience.
Impatience ultimately is a question of confidence in God, and especially His timing.  That doesn't mean waiting is supposed to be fun.  In Psalm 13:1 David expressed his pain in waiting when he asked, "How long, O Lord?  Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me?"  This is during a time where David is running from Saul with a price on his head.

Who likes to wait?  Who chooses the long lines at the bank or grocery store?  Who says, when you don't get the check you were expecting in the mail, "O good, I get to wait at least one more day?"  But really this (lines, letters, phone calls) is minor league stuff.  What about the waiting of a childless couple for a baby?  Or the waiting of an unemployed person for a job?  Or the waiting of a sick person for health?  Or the waiting of a single person for marriage?

Waiting is one of the big challenges of life.  But pushing down closed doors isn't a lot of fun either.  In fact, one of the definitions of patience is, "a willingness to wait rather than try to force circumstances."  Impatience is "not putting up with delay."  Patience is putting up with irritations whether they come in the form of people or circumstances.

It is easier to joke about patience than to be patient.  Frequently Christians advice each other to not pray for patience because if God is going to develop patience in you, He will have to allow frustrating people and circumstances to cross your path.  But if that is true, you shouldn't pray for more Christian love, either.  You see, Christians love their enemies.  You don't impress God when you love an easy to love person.  You impress God by loving the hard to love.  It is easy to be at peace when things are going good.  Real peace is for times of outward chaos.

In fact, God produces more intense levels of the fruit of the Spirit by allowing us to experience the opposite challenges.  God is far more concerned with our character than our comfort and prosperity.  His plan is to bring us to maturity not please our every whim.  God may be so serious about developing patience in you that He will allow some of your wants, and dreams, and perhaps even needs to be delayed.

More often, we create our own school for patience by insisting on short cuts and quick fixes.  The farther we get from an agricultural setting (fruit of love, peace, joy, etc), the easier it is to expect short cuts.  There are very few short cuts on the farm.

The law of the farm is without mercy.  Stephen Covey asks," Can you imagine a farmer forgetting to plant in the spring, taking a long summer vacation, and then hitting it hard in the fall- "ripping the soil up, throwing in the seeds, watering, cultivating- and expecting to get a bountiful harvest overnight?"

Can you imagine planning to run a marathon but not training until the day before?  Students violate the law of the farm all the time.  They play all semester and then cram during finals week.  Some even think they've learned something when they get a passing grade.

Urgency is a challenge to patience.  God defines urgency differently than I do.  It is amazing that Jesus was never in a hurry.  There are no pictures of Jesus frantically scrambling in a chaotic frenzy.  He came on the most important mission the world has ever had, yet He never panicked or looked for short cuts or was in a hurry.

Charles Hammel writes, "We live in a constant tension between the urgent and the important.  The problem is, the important task rarely must be done today, or even this week.  Extra hours of prayer and Bible study, a visit with a non-Christian friend, careful study of an important book:  These projects can wait.  But the urgent tasks call for instant action - endless demands, pressure every hour and day."

Patience can sort out the unimportant, urgent demands from matters of importance.  But the best kind of patience is supernatural patience.  You get this through close intimate contact with Jesus.  Jesus invites you to Himself- in one place- specifically in order to set you free from "the tyranny of the urgent."

Read Matthew 11:28-30.

In this passage, Jesus addresses several issues that deal directly with the concerns of an impatient person. First, Jesus knows all about your impatience.  He knows you are wearied, and burdened, and irritated, and annoyed with the demands of the urgent.  You're just the person He is looking for.  He wants you with all your frustration, and irritation, and impatience to come to Him.

Second, Jesus wants to give you a new way to live.  To do this He proposes an exchange of yokes.  A yoke is a kind of harness, normally used to pair up two animals so they can pull a plow.  It was also used in the ancient world by conquering armies to subjugate defeated foes and make them slaves.  Ancient rabbis also spoke of their schools as yokes.  In a symbolic way, when you entered a certain rabbi's school, you took on his yoke.

Now Jesus proposes an exchange of yokes.  You have one that is irritating, heavy, and burdensome.  He has one that is light and very comfortable.  Now your question is- why do I have to wear a yoke at all?  In fact, some of you are saying, "I don't wear a yoke!" I say you do, and more importantly the Bible says you do, but if you insist you don't- I'm sure you are a very happy person never touched by grief, emptiness, loneliness, or confusion!

I'm inclined to think that yokes are temporary (70-90 years tops)- just for this life.  After we've learned what Jesus wants to teach us in this life, we won't need a yoke in the next life.  At any rate, our sin has created a heavy and irritating yoke which we are tied to and Jesus wants to make the exchange.

It is interesting that the Old Testament forbid a mature ox and a young ox to be yoked together on identical terms.  In this situation a training yoke was required.  The mature animal carried a much heavier side and the way it was arranged, pulled a far bigger share of the load.  All the younger ox had to do was walk in step with the mature animal.  The young, rambunctious trainee had to give up the right to lead, the right to choose the course, and the pace, but they also did not have the responsibility for carrying the burden.

As we team up with Jesus, He will carry the heavy part of the burden and set the pace and choose the direction that fits us.  The impatient disciple/apprentice will want to pull ahead, or go around the difficult terrain or take a short cut to the barn.  Jesus is never in a hurry!  You and I almost always are.  Our impatience wears us out.  Sometimes we think Jesus wears us out, but that is not the case.  Jesus said He wants to, "Give you rest."  Have you ever noticed how the impatient want to skip the rest stops- they are uncomfortable with a day off?  If they have to stop for a break, they're pushing others to, "hurry back so we can get going!"

The weekly day of rest is God's idea.  Waiting is a spiritual event.  David who waited ten years to become king after he had been anointed wrote, "Wait for the Lord" (Psalm 27:14).  God does not come to the impatient.  He does not show up for those who are not waiting.

The prophet Isaiah said, "Even youth grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not fall" (Isaiah 41: 30, 31).

Jesus knows your frustration and the source of your impatience, He wants to exchange your heavy and irritating harness for His easy and light one.  You need to let Him carry the load, choose the direction, and set the pace.  It will involve waiting on occasion, but it is in these times that He is giving you rest.

David reported in Psalm 40:1, "I waited patiently for the Lord; He turned to me and heard my cry."

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