in pursuit of critical and compassionate living and thought. in surrender to courage & delight of Christ.
Patience is more than waiting well.
Patience is inseparable from contentment, trust, faith, and prayer.
To be patient is ‘to grow in contentment with God’s time’. I have loved Henri Nouwen’s description of the difference in our temporal perspectives: God works in “right time”, while we work in “clock time”*. I see this as God having the view of all things in their right, ordained time, whereas we see things only in linear fashion. For this reason ‘we cannot see or know things from beginning to end’ (Ecclesiastes 3:11). The “right time” for things to happen is not based on our temporal world’s systems and schedules, but by the ticking of God’s eternal heartbeat. In the same way that you do not need to ration a drink that comes from an overflowing fountain and time its portions, or worry about missing an opportunity when you have all power, or rush to finish plowing a field when you control the sun, God does not need our clock time. Clock time is the resource of the limited – of those who cannot will things whenever, who does not have all things in their hands, who does not know when or where things come from or will come again, who cannot see the bottom of every water source, and enjoy the sunset and sunrise everyday at the same time. There is no need to time things by the clock when You operate the Universe with rivers of overflowing Love. God’s timing is determined by infinite wisdom, power, and immeasurable goodness. He wills as He wills – and He is good and purposeful.
For this reason, what can we worry about? What reason do we have to be impatient? To be impatient is to forget that this is the God who frees us from all earthly time. In Him, we do not die, nothing is wasted, and “all things are made beautiful in their time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). We struggle with patience because we struggle with remembering His eye is always on us, and He does not forget us, He is always working for us. We do not know the mysteries and miracles He accomplishes in the periods we perceive we are “waiting” for something that is in fact, already in the works or accomplished – in His Good timing. We struggle with patience because we struggle with being content with what God has planned for us, over what we desire and plan for ourselves. We struggle with patience because we struggle to trust that ‘His thoughts and ways are higher than ours’ (Isaiah 55:8-9). We struggle with patience because we struggle with faith that He is who He says He is; we are like children afraid of the dark because we secretly wonder if the Sun will not rise again as it always has.
To be patient is not so much to wait for God to respond to a request or fulfill a promise, as it is to grow in trust of his good timing. When we speak of “good and right timing” we seldom mean “God’s timing” but rather, we selfishly mean “when I want”, or naively and pridefully mean “when I think is best”. When we say we are “patiently waiting for God” but in the back of our mind mean “…to fulfill my request at the time I requested” what we are really praying for is that God have mercy on our impatience and relieve us of it. To be patient is not just to wait for God to work, it is to trust His active working. Because of our limited view of ‘time’ and, because of our tainted perception of “good and right timing” being bound to a clock and our desires instead of God’s nontemporal desires, this growing in trust is only accomplished by faith. We must have faith for the things we do not know of His ways. And in only being accomplished in faith, patience is an act of growing in dependent communion with Christ – of knowing more of our limitedness, of coming closer to understanding his ways (with time) in understanding his heart and character.
For these reasons, you cannot be patient without prayer. Prayer is the work of coming closer to God to understand Him. In doing so, we do not so much get better understanding of what His timing for things will be, nor of what his response to our prayer requests will be (though we may), so much as we grow in trust of Him. To grow in patience is not to become more hopeful or confident in our prayer requests being answered as we want or when we want, but it is to become more hopeful of the steadfastness of His goodness and in this, the goodness of his “right timing” when it is different than our own. To be patient is as a mother is with a child in her womb, is not to await the due date and the baby, but it is to be content in whether this baby may come early, late, on time, or not at all. Only when we are content in God and His timing, will we be able to work for our prayers while waiting (actively wait) without this being a contradictory effort to do on our own what we pray God will do, speed up his work, or hold him hostage to rewarding our efforts. Rather, we “eagerly await” because we know He is good no matter what. We press forward in actively pursuing what we pray for because we know our God does delight in fulfilling our desires. We know that whatever we put our hand to that was already His will and in His workings will be blessed. We know that sometimes being faithful in working for something is the blessing itself. We must pray for a request in our hand while praying that God pry our fingers from our grasp around it; we cannot pray with a fist to God’s timing. He fills empty hands. We have every reason to pray – and even more so in patient waiting since it is a unique circumstance of drawing us closer in faith.
Perhaps this is why the word is related to “long suffering” and in the Hebrew to “slow to anger”, since to be patient is to grow in trust of God, and in doing so, you cannot be irritated or angered or wholly “grieved” by His timing or response when you trust He is good, caring, and actively working for your good and His glory. To be patient is to suffer the dying of our flesh in growing dependency.
Patience is a virtue from which many others may grow. Patience is the practice of trust, the result of faith, and the work of prayer. It is the life of contentment – a life well worth the waiting.
I pray our Lord grows our patience for our desires, our circumstances, and for each other with knowledge of His steadfast presence.
*Clowning in Rome, 1979.
**Thank you to Biniam Woldie for stirring these thoughts with his words on Patience on Sunday, Nov. 27th.