By Pastor Glenn Pease
A young boy, who had reached the age where having a watch made life worth living, was bugging his parents to get him one. He was told he would have to wait until he was older. But he continued to beg for one until his whole family was sick of it. His father finally laid down the law and told him he would get one later, but for now he was not to even mention the subject again. The next Sunday, as was the custom, each child in the family read a Bible verse at the dinner table. When it came to Edward's turn, this was the verse he chose to read-"What I say unto you, I say unto all: Watch!" For every rule there is someway to get around it, and here was a lad who found a way to even use the Bible to disobey his parents.
Most of us can identify with him, for we have had an obsession with getting something, and we could not rest until we got it. This puts our patience to the test, and we realize it is no easy virtue to achieve-this ability to wait for what we want with a calm and undisturbed spirit in the face of obstacles and delays. In our age of instant gratification, nobody enjoys waiting for satisfaction, but God demands that His children learn to discipline their desires, and to persevere and not give up because they do not reach their goals as soon as they hoped. Shakespeare said, "How poor are they who have not patience. What wound did ever heal but by degrees?" Waiting and persevering are a part of God's plan for His people, and those who can't endure this part of it miss out on God's best.
The Bible is constantly urging Christians to look at life long range. Job is the greatest example of patience because he was able to endure and persevere. He did not give up even though all the evidence seemed to support that he should. He had the fruit of patience, and held on to see a happy ending to a very difficult story. All's well that ends well is the message, and all is guaranteed to end well for those who wait on the Lord, and never give up, but let patience be their guide.
Dr. Wilhelm DeNejs heads the Services for the Blind in Santa Anna, California. He helps blind people learn that by patient perseverance they can do what they never dreamed possible. He even helped an electrician who became blind continue his vocation of wiring new houses. He had to learn how to tell the difference between black and white wires by touch. It was a slow process but he finally gained enough confidence so he could do the job as fast as a sighted person.
Dr. DeNejs had good reason to believe in the possibility of achieving the seemingly impossible by patient plodding. He lived in Indonesia when Sukarno came to power, and was determined to kill all of the royal blood line, and he was in that line. He and his wife had to flee in a canoe at night to Singapore. They had to get to the Netherlands where their five children were in school. He spoke at a local Rotary Club, and told of his plan to drive his Tempo to Holland, and then get to the U. S. where he could aid those who lost their rights. He was not blind but he had lost much of his vision. An executive in the audience from Shell Oil Company was moved, and gave him the use of his credit card for his journey.
Fifty miles out of Singapore the road ended, and they had to drive over open fields. They got stuck and needed to get farmers to pull them out. They came to rivers with no bridges, and he would have to take the engine out, put it on the roof of the car, and he and his wife would push the car across the river. Sometimes friendly natives would build a raft for them to float the car across. They often had to clean the road of debris and underbrush, but the made it to Pakistan, and then across India. It got so cold in the Khyber Pass going into Afghanistan they had to drain the water out of the radiator at night, and wait until the water thawed again the next morning to put it back in.
They got through Iran and Iraq, but at the Syrian border they were denied entrance. What a blow! But as they sat there praying for an answer, a stranger came to the window of the car and said, "just wait here, tomorrow or the next day, or soon, a sandstorm will come. No one will be able to see you and you can drive across the border. No one will risk coming after you, for these sandstorms can kill a camel.
So they waited, and waited, and waited, and finally it came. The sand began to blow and the guards retreated into their guard house. DeNejs could not see, but he had the car pointed in the right direction, and so he started the car and drove straight ahead. He drove quite a way across the border, and then stopped to wait out the storm. When they could see again, the road was covered by sand. They just followed signs, like dead camels caught in the storm, and kept going across the desert. They had to drink water out of the car radiator to survive. In Yugoslavia they tipped over into a ditch, and it took seven days to repair the car. The doors were tied on with wire, and the motor was coughing and missing as they crossed the Austrian Alps, but they made it into the beautiful green hills and valleys of Germany.
They made it to the factory where their Tempo had been made, and their story so impressed the manager, he repaired their car without charge. From then it was smooth riding to the Netherlands, and to the waiting arms of their happy children. Six months and 20,000 miles of hardships were behind them. When asked what kept them going DeNejs said, "We believed deeply that if we had the patience and faith, nothing was impossible. We had faith in our Lord." It is the fruit of patience that keeps people from giving up when it seems hopeless.
Joseph had to endure the pit and the prison before he got to the palace. Without patience he would have given up and stopped pursuing his dream. This can happen to God's people when they go through tough times and that is why we read in Heb. 6:11-12, "We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised." Only those with the fruit of patience will be able to hang in there until the story has a happy ending.
Charles Jefferson in his book, The Character of Jesus; points out that Jesus had to the superlative degree both aspects of patience. Patience is one word, but it is like many stars that look like one star, but which are really two. Double stars are very common, and so are words that have double meanings. Patience is an example. It means, says Jefferson, both-a calm waiting for something hoped for, and the unruffled endurance of pain and trouble. The two are different. In the first case patience is waiting for what is hoped for with nothing to endure but the time it takes for the goal to be achieved. In the second case their is the need for endurance and perseverance for their are many obstacles to be overcome.
Love is the key fruit out of which all the others grow. But love does not always get a positive response. If love only lasts until people who are loved become unlovely, then love is a very flimsy foundation. Love needs patience to last. When only one of ten lepers came back to thank Jesus for the healing, He had every reason to be tempted to give up on healing the sick. Many of us may have said I have had it with these ungrateful wretches. They deserve to be the outcasts of society. I am not going to be giving out miracles so freely from now on. But Jesus did not give this response, but just patiently went about doing good even if people were not responding with gratitude. He continued to love because His love was linked with patience, which makes love last and not give up. Anybody can be loving for awhile, but no virtue is of great value, even love, if it does not last, but is only temporary. Virtues only become Christ like when they last, and become persistent in the face of obstacles. This is only possible when they are linked with patience.
The fruit of patience is what makes every virtue a Christian virtue. Christian virtues are those that last, and do not disappear when there are obstacles and opposition. You cannot eliminate any one of the fruits, for they hang together like grapes on the vine and the removal of any one of them spoils the whole cluster. None of the fruits can be truly Christian without this fruit of patience, for if they do not last they are virtues that any pagan can have for a time. It is impossible for us to have these fruits all the time, and that is why we need the Holy Spirit, for they are not produced by human resources but by the resource that only God can provide. They are fruits of the Spirit.
Jesus could only respond as He did to life's trials because He was filled with the Spirit. Chuck Swindoll in his book, Laugh Again, writes,
"How could any man be as patient as He was? How could He
keep His cool under constant fire? How could He demonstrate
so much grace, so much compassion, and at the same time so
much determination? And when faced with the Pharisees'
continued badgering and baiting, how could he restrain Himself
from punching their lights out? As a man, He had all the emotions
we have as human beings. What was it that gave Him the edge
we so often lack? It was His attitude. To return to Webster's
words, He acted and felt as He did because of His "disposition,"
His "mental set." You only get this mental set by having the long range perspective of the mind of God.
The essence of Christian theology is this-if God is love, then in the final analysis all that is right and good will win, and, therefore, we must not fight evil with evil, but overcome evil with good. This means the Christian does not have to win every battle to confident he will win the war. If evil is strong and they have to suffer at the hands of evil people, they do not sink to their level, but respond with love-the kind of love that Paul says in his great love chapter of I Cor.13, has as it's first characteristic that it is patient. That is, it looks at the long run, and recognizes that the only wise response to evil is love, for it will always have the last word.
Three of the greatest personalities of the New Testament-Jesus, Stephen, and Paul illustrate the patience of love in the most trying of circumstances. Jesus on the cross said, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do." Stephen is being stoned by an angry mob and he prays, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." Paul's patience was tried by believers who failed him. He writes in II Tim.4:16, "At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them." How could they all be so forgiving? Because they had the fruit of patience. They had the ability to endure and put with the weakness and folly of human nature, because they knew, in the long run, all such weakness will not prevent the victory of God's love.
You can put up with a lot when you are assured the negative stuff will not win in the end. Patience is what makes you able to live in this fallen world, and still have love, joy, and peace, and all the other fruits of the Spirit.
Able to suffer without complaining,
To be misunderstood without explaining;
Able to give without receiving,
To be ignored without any grieving;
Able to ask without commanding,
To love despite misunderstanding;
Able to turn to the Lord for guarding,
Able to wait for his own rewarding.
Dr. A. B. Simpson may sound too Pollyanna in his little poem, but this is what Christian patience is all about.
Wait, and every wrong will righten;
Wait, and every cloud will brighten,
If you will only wait.
This does not mean the Christian never takes action to fight evil. It means he never uses evil means, but waits for the power of God to overcome evil. It is an optimism that says, I will always chose the way of love, for in the end love will always win.
Paul makes it clear in Rom.12 there are many commands impossible to obey without the fruit of patience.
In verse12, "Be joyful in hope patient in affliction."
In verse 14, "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse."
In verse 17, "Do not repay anyone evil for evil."
In verse 19, "Do not take revenge."
In verse 20, "If your enemy is hungry, feed him, if he is thirsty, give him something to drink."
In verse 21, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
Paul takes the Sermon on the Mount very seriously, and he expects the average Christian to live it. But how is it possible to not be overcome by evil? Evil men crucified Jesus and stoned Stephen to death. The point of Paul is not that you will never be defeated by evil people. The point is you must never let their philosophy and methods become yours. If you fight evil with the same spirit of hate and injustice, you have been overcome by evil. You are now in their camp using the weapons of hell rather than those of heaven.
The weapons of good often seem weak and inadequate compared to the violence of evil, but the Christian with patience will wait, and not give in to violence, for he is convinced the way of love will win in the end. It may seem impossible, and to the flesh it is, but to the Spirit who produces the fruit of patience it is the key to victory.
O God of the impossible!
Since all things are to Thee
But soil in which Omnipotence
Can work almightily,
Each trial may to us become
The means that will display
How o'er what seems impossible
Our God hath perfect sway!
The very storms that beat upon
Our little barque so frail,
But manifest thy power to quell
All forces that assail.
The things that are to us too hard,
The foes that are too strong,
Are just the very ones that may
Awake a triumph song.
O God of the impossible,
When we no hope can see,
Grant us the faith that still believes
ALL possible to Thee!
In the simplest language I can come up with, I define patience as the deep conviction that it can never be wrong to be Christ like, and it can never be right to be un-Christlike. If I chose to be Christ like and I suffer for it, I will still be the winner, for I please God. It is a no lose choice to be like Jesus, and never cease making that choice when all the natural emotions are screaming, get back, get even, and get violent.
George Horne says, "Patience strengthens the spirit, sweetens the temper, stifles anger, extinguishes envy, subdues pride, bridles the tongue, restrains the hand, and tramples on temptation." In other words, it is the key to being like Jesus. Christians almost always fall and fail because of a lack of patience. Adam and Eve could not wait to learn why it was in their best interest not to eat of the forbidden fruit. Their impatience was the beginning of sin. Sarah could not wait for God to keep His promise, and so she gave Hagar to her husband to produce a child. The result of this impatience has been a history of violence between the Arabs and Jews. Moses could have obeyed God and spoken to the rock to get water, but he impatiently struck it, and lost his chance to go into the promised land. David was filled with sexual lust, which by its very nature is impatient for satisfaction, and made the biggest mistake of his life for himself and his family.
The record goes on and on, for Satan knows he can win a lot of battles if he can get God people to be impatient. When you want something very strongly right now, you can count on it, Satan has a foot in the door of your life, and you are open to suggestion to make foolish choices. There is a right time for everything under the sun, but if Satan can get you to jump the gun he knows he has the battle won. Once the power of patience is turned off, every other virtue becomes weakened.
In the movie Jurassic Park, the elaborate control system to keep the dangerous creatures safely confined was turned off. The result was the Tyrannosaurus Rex was able to break loose and turn the paradise into a devils island. The point of the movie was, without absolute assurance of control man cannot live in the same environment with dangerous creatures of violence, and, therefore, the whole idea had to be abandoned.
God did not abandon the project of saving the world, however, and making it into a part of the eternal paradise. Instead, He provided a Savior to atone for the sin of man. Then He gave the Holy Spirit to provide a control system whereby the beast in man could be restrained. That is what the fruits of the Spirit are all about. By their power every evil tendency in man's nature can be restrained. The last one of the nine is self-control, and that final link in this chain of Christ likeness is reached by means of the fourth fruit we are looking at, which is patience.
You do not build a control system overnight. Rome was not built in a day, nor were the Roman Christians. It took a lot of teaching, training, commitment, and trial and error, just as it does for any of us to become Christ like. It the Christian gives up and ceases to grow because they lack the patience to persevere, they will stay as babes in Christ, and be underdeveloped Christians the rest of their lives. The world is filled with Christians who stopped praying because their prayers were not answered. The world is filled with Christians who stopped giving because they did not get rich, as some preacher told them they would. The world is filled with Christians who do not go to church because they were bored, or did not understand, or were not treated the way they felt they should have been. What is the basic problem of all these discouraged Christians in the world? Impatience! It takes time to develop any skill or relationship. The Christian life is a process, and those who demand that it be a finished product handed to them like a Bible are setting themselves up for failure.
We can learn a lesson from the American soldiers who were taken prisoners in the Viet-Nam war, and kept in the infamous Hanoi Hilton. Most of them were flyers who had to endure this setting for 3 to 5 years, and some as long as 9 years. Those endless months of monotony and loneliness could have driven them crazy, but someone started the idea that they were in the university of North Viet-Nam, and they were there to improve their future. Some began to learn a foreign language. Others played on imaginary instruments using their memory of strings and key boards. One group put together a Bible from a composite of all the verses they could remember, and then memorized that Bible together. One officer played golf in his imagination, and returned to the U.S. and became a tournament-level competitor. The point is, they made a choice to either grieve about their mess and give up in despair, or have hope there would a bright future, and patiently began to plan for it by pursuing some goal that would prepare them for that future.
They could not control their circumstances or their environment, but they had the choice of being impatient and thus depressed, or of being patient and building something positive for the future. This is the spirit Christians need to keep growing when they find it easier just to give up and stay at the level where they are. One of the most beautiful things in the world is an old Christian who still loves to learn. That is patience on display. Robert Schuller, a fairly old Christian himself, speaks these words of wisdom that represents that which is experienced by many pastors-
Don't try to rush God.
Mountains don't move overnight.
Give God time to work miracles,
I have seen God dissolve resentments,
fill lonely hearts with new love,
and wash away hurts like a new wave
washes away scars on sand
scratched by children's sticks.
God can get you out of a rut,
onto a new road,
and over the mountain that seemed impassable,
if you will be patient.
I have seen God turn juvenile delinquents into great men,
criminals into good citizens,
alcoholics into church elders.
His point is, the present is never the end of the story. No matter how discouraging it seems now, God will have the final word, and we can wait for that victorious word if we let the Holy Spirit produce in us the fruit of patience.