13. Aspiring to Patience

(We pick up again and continue our series on ‘Aspiring to…’)

Aspiring Meditations: 13.  Aspiring to know Patience

Gal 5:22   the fruit of the Spirit is …. patience

Rom 9:22  What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath–prepared for destruction?

2 Pet 3:9  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

2 Tim 4:2   Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.

The importance of patience is indicated by the variety of the verses above. Very simply, it is a fruit of the Spirit, an outworking of His indwelling life within us. It is a characteristic of God that has been revealed in the way He has dealt with Israel and also how He is with each one of us as He waits for our slow responses to Him. Thus the call is also there to all of us in the way we cope with each other’s slowness to change.

In addition to these starter-verses the apostle Paul tells us that, Love is patient, love is kind.” (1 Cor 13:4) and even as he encouraged Timothy to teach patience, so he did with the Thessalonians: “And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” (2 Thess 5:14) Likewise to the Ephesians: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Eph 4:2,3) and to the church at Rome: “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” (Rom 12:12).

But it is also a call in respect of the Second Coming: “Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.” (Jas 5:7,8)

So before we go any further let’s state what may be the obvious, just what is patience?  Patience is the ability to wait (in the face of delays) in a state of peace (free from annoyance or anxiety). In my definition I have highlighted in the brackets the NEED and the potential EFFECT. We need patience when there is delay. We need patience to counter the potentials of annoyance and anxiety.

In our group of starter verses above, God is patient as He waits for our slow responses to Him. He was patient with Israel and He is patient with us. He waits for our slow responses to Him, and He is at peace and rest as He so waits on us. Likewise He encourages us to be patient while we wait for unsanctified believers to get sanctified! Be at peace while God works in them and simply accept that we are all at different stages of growth. To the Thessalonians and Ephesians in our follow-on verses he backs this up, recognising this as a primary need in the church. To the Romans, he touched on another need – to be patient when we are under pressure from the world, waiting for God to deliver us from opposition, and if we put our trust in His coming back, then just learn to be patient about that because we never know how soon – or late – that will be.

Now I have a feeling that patience is linked with temperament and so there are some of us who are more naturally patient and are able to simply wait at peace for whatever it is.  In the early days of our marriage my wife exhibited an almost over-perfect case of patience. We had agree to meet outside a particular Underground station entrance in central London, not being aware that there were about six entrances! I waited outside one and gave up and went home after twenty minutes. She waited outside another and waited two hours before giving up and coming home. Perhaps that was a case of “Love is Patient!” I have got better over the years, but have never been allowed to forget that incident!

But perhaps our perception of our need for patience is also linked to our perceived need of the thing we are waiting for. Only yesterday I had a phone call from a national utility (Gas & Electricity) and after the person at the end of the line had quizzed me about a future course of action, said I qualified for something else and would transfer me to another department. I could hear the call signal going on and on for the other department and as my wife was listening to my despair over the whole call, I found myself muttering, “Oh, for goodness sake! It doesn’t matter anyway. I’m hanging up,” to which I got a stinging rebuke, “Come on, be patient!” A few seconds later the other department came on line for a further few wasted minutes.

The patience thing crops up all over the place. When you are caught behind that slow driver (who really shouldn’t be allowed on the road!!!!), or when that call centre takes ages to answer your cries for help when your online banking isn’t doing what it should, or when Windows insists on taking hours on yet another upgrade (oh not again! Why couldn’t they have got a foolproof system from the start that doesn’t need constant tweaks!!!) or…… well the list just goes on and on.

The common feature is a delay that we so often consider unwarranted, whether it is God, the church leaders, the rest of the congregation, the government, the train drivers or whoever. The ‘natural’ response is frustration and frustration is exhibited by anger and that does no one any good. No, I need more patience. I don’t know if the concept of ‘grumpy old men’ is a worldwide one but I have noticed that the older you get, the more the words, “I just don’t believe it!” come to my lips signifying, almost invariably, my displeasure over some delay in life. The speed, or rather lack of it, of people serving behind a counter is another of those things. It’s people, they are so slow! Oh Lord, I seriously need to aspire to greater patience.

Now I have been overplaying it a bit for in many ways I am very patient, but here is the funny thing: you can be patient as a saint over some things – that drive others mad – and yet find other mundane things seriously aggravating (those are the ones your partner points out to you as needing a serious dose of sanctification). But we are all different and your frustration is probably not mine, nor mine yours. We each of us have our points of stress, but whatever it is, the answer is the Lord’s grace in the form of patience. It is, I suspect, one of those things where we can make a declaration of intent: “I will not let this traffic jam upset me! I will take it as an opportunity to catch up on some listening on the radio!”

Patience comes with understanding the other person. Patience comes with the grace of God. Patience comes with humility. Patience comes with the understanding of an opportunity to see change. Oh dear, I suspect that the Lord is going to allow situations today to help me grow this particular fruit. I had better get close to Him. (with clenched teeth) Thank you Lord.

3. Shining more Brightly

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:  3. Shining more brightly

Prov 4:18  The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.

2 Cor 3:18  we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit

Why these verses? Because they won’t go away when I pray. So, let’s see what the Lord might want to say to us through them. The Proverbs verse speaks about the righteous and the 2 Corinthians verse speaks to Christians who are God’s righteous ones. Both of them speak about changing lives but the second one gives the reason for the change – the Holy Spirit.

The first thought that hit me when I got these two verses is that they are more about the Lord than they are about us. We know that we cannot change for the good left to ourselves and so any changes for good in our lives has to be the Lord. I know that when I came to the Lord I left behind a life of self-centred godlessness which was marred by failure. The transformation that took place when I came to Christ happened because He put His Holy Spirit within me and He was now my guiding, directing, teaching power. If I shone brighter now it was because of His Holy Spirit.

Of course Prov 4:18 says it is “the path of the righteous” that is shining ever brighter and I suddenly realise that Jesus said “I am the way” (Jn 14:6) and another word for ‘way’ is path. He is my life, his Spirit lives in me and therefore he is the one who grows brighter with the passing of each day – in and through me. Indeed, as I respond to him and allow his Spirit to lead, guide and change me, my life generally will be brighter, expressing him – but it is him. When the apostle Paul spoke of Jesus’ glory he said, But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Cor 4:7)  Our bodies are like jars of clay but they contain the glory of God and it is the glory that shines, not the clay.

Now if we accept these foundational thoughts – that these verses apply to us Christians and that the source of the brightness is Jesus and his Holy Spirit – there is something very basic that must flow out of this and it is so simple that it is something we take for granted, and that is that God purposes for us is to change for the better. Now I’ve just said that this is so basic that we probably take it for granted, and if we do I suggest that familiarity had bred contempt and so we don’t actually believe it for our lives. Note again what we are saying: God purposes good changes for us and in us. He loves us so much that He wants something better for us that what we are today.

Seriously, check that out. Are you completely happy with all that you are today? Are there aspects of who you are that you are not happy about? I don’t mean things like you feel you have big ears or you don’t like the colour of your hair. No, I’m referring to things like anger or lack of patience, or constant worries or jealousy, say. There could be a whole raft of issues we could choose from. Are there bits of the New Testament, say, that you skim over because they are uncomfortable? You know deep down that there are things where you don’t match to Jesus’ expectations of you in his word.

Now we have to make a simple clarification. We don’t mean things that very rarely you stumble over. We are all of us still imperfect this side of heaven and so there may be times when you are physically low and that in turn seems to sap your grace and you are not as patient, say, as you normally are. No, these are one-off rare failures; what I am talking about is a regular behaviour. You find you snap at people too often, you find you are impatient with others, you find you are constantly worrying about what might happen next week or how you might handle tomorrow. These are the sort of things which, when we feel safe and secure we can confess to being unhappy about in our lives.

Now here’s the thing: God is more concerned to help you move on from these failure repetitions than He is to punish you. He understands you and loves you and sees the ultimate cause why you are like you are (so often it is poor self-image, not realizing who we are in Christ) and why you seem to be unable to break out (so often it is because we just haven’t realised our position of freedom in Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit in us). He understands these things and understands that there is coming a time where you are going to be just ripe to receive His word and, hey presto!, it will be dealt with and you will be changed. Suddenly you will be shining brighter!

This is it. The good news is that he is on our side and He is working to help us change so that we will indeed be changing from one degree of glory to another. Why? Because He loves us and He knows we will enjoy life more, enjoy being ourselves more, when these things have been dealt with and we change. But it’s not a big heavy thing; it’s just part of the wonderful process that started the moment we came to Him and were born again.

One final thing. Very often the changes are slow and almost indiscernible and therefore we will not realise that this process IS being worked out in us. Don’t worry about it; just thank the Lord that these two verses DO apply to you and it is happening, because you want it to deep down, and He wants it for you because He loves you so much. Rejoice in it!

51. More on Patience

Meditations in James: 51:  More on Patience & Perseverance

Jas 5:10,11    Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

The temptation to give up is sometimes a very strong temptation. We have a poster which includes some of the following lines: “People are unreasonable, illogical and self-centred. Love them anyway….. What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway…. People really need help but may attack you if you help them. Help people anyway….. Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you’ve got ANYWAY.”  Whoever originally wrote those words knew that sometimes life in this world is tough but we have to decide to keep on anyway. To give up is to let Sin and Satan win. To give up is to be trampled on and to lose wonderful possibilities of a better tomorrow.   When we’re tired, feeling jaded, worn out, and the enemy seems to jeer at us, he’s trying to get us to give up. It’s a strong temptation, but Paul wrote: No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it. (1 Cor 10:13 Message version) The words of that verse tell us a) our temptation is common to life, b) God won’t let you be pushed further  than you can cope with and c) He’ll be there to help you.

James has just said, You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near (v.8), the ‘too’ referring to the example of the farmers he had just spoken about as having to wait patiently for their harvests. In the face of unrighteous people or, even, of having to struggle with our own unrighteous attitudes or behaviour and sometimes failing, the temptation to just give up is often strong. Hence we need these words of encouragement: be patient and stand firm and now these words about the prophets. Look what James says.

“Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.” The subject of his concern is having patience, waiting for God, or God’s grace, to turn up when we are suffering. If you want an example of how this worked out, he implies, look at the Old Testament prophets. He goes on,As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered.” In the teaching of the day, the prophets were revered for their loyalty and faithfulness to the Lord. Despite the opposition they received, they hung on in.  The reality is that despite what was thrown at them, they survived and were triumphant.

You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about.” James then cites the particular example of Job who persevered in the face of lots of bad things happening to him.  Yes, the enemy afflicted him but the end of the story was God blessing him and restoring him to what he had known previously – in fact twice as prosperous as he had been before! (Job 42:10).

“The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.The fact that tough things happen in this world, doesn’t detract from the truth about God’s character. He is still full of compassion and mercy. He is still a God who feels for His people and is moved by the plight of His people.  Remember Moses’ first encounter with the Lord: The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them.” (Ex 3:7,8). Compassion is a heart moved by plight. God doesn’t stand afar off when we are going through tough times. No, He is right there and He feels and understands all we are going through and is there working to bring good through it (Rom 8:28). More than that He doesn’t assess every situation and say, “Oh well, they deserve it!” and leave us to it. No, He knows our frailty and despite our stupidity, so often, He comes and rescues us. It is an act of pure mercy. Not deserved but nevertheless given.

Yes, James knows that living in this world brings both opposition from other people and opposition from sin that we struggle with. He knows that we struggle with the temptation to give up, and so he encourages us to persevere, patiently waiting for the Lord to turn up and intervene. He cites working illustrations – farmers – and spiritual illustrations – Old Testament prophets. Having to wait and be patient is a familiar thing, a normal and natural thing in this Fallen World.  So his word comes: hang on! But it’s more than that; it is, hang on – because God WILL turn up, as surely as harvest does and as surely as He did for His prophets of old. So look up and look around. The Lord is coming for you in your situation!

49. Be Patient

Meditations in James: 49 : Be patient, stand firm

Jas 5:7,8   Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.

There is a general principle in life: looking forward to the future helps us cope with the present. People working in offices, factories, or wherever else it may be, know this. They look forward to that two week holiday that they have booked and the thought of the time away helps them through the tiredness of daily routine until that time of escape comes. Perhaps they even look forward to the weekend, to help them through Friday. It is also a Scriptural principle. The writer to the Hebrew wrote: Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:2). Jesus coped with the Cross knowing it was the necessary way forward that would result in him being restored to the glory of heaven, and an even greater glory now he had achieved the purpose of God to bring salvation to the world.  Faith is all about believing in the outcome of what God says. For example, By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world.” (Heb 11:7)  Noah believed God when He told him to build an ark to escape the coming flood. He worked on the basis of what was to come.  Speaking about the various things Abraham did, the writer to the Hebrews said, For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (Heb 11:10). In other words Abraham stepped out in obedience to God in the belief that the Lord would lead him to a place a permanence, of security. He was motivated by that sense of something yet to come in the future.

Now we have commented previously on the use of the word ‘then’ and James uses it again here: “Be patient then…”.   It is a word that links the present with the past, with what James is now saying with what he has just been saying. There are two ways we could interpret this. The first is to consider, as we mentioned briefly two days ago, the possibility that the rich are in fact those who have been persecuting the poorer Christians and making life difficult for them – so they would be looking for a future escape from their present plight. The second is to view the past paragraph as applying to Christians who fail in this present world but need to persevere in getting it right, because the Lord is about to come. Both may be true.

James is saying, cope with all these things, triumph and overcome in all these things, because the Lord is coming. The problem about that is that we don’t know when. That’s why James then gives us an illustration of patience – See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. Farmers learn that patience is an essential commodity; you have to be patient and wait for the plants to grow, the seasons to pass and harvest to come. In the same way, James implies, we need to be patient in waiting for the Lord to come.

Now at this point we run into a difficulty.  We find that James has a high expectation of the Lord’s immanent return: the Lord’s coming is near. It seems that the early church had a very high expectation that the Lord’s return would be in their time. The New Testament clearly testifies to this: The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.” (Rom 13:12) and let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Heb 10:25) and The end of all things is near(1 Pet 4:7) andHe who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” (Rev 22:20). Now we could try and explain this with,With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” (2 Pet 3:8) but the more likely answer, we suggest, is that when prophetic people exercise their ministries (and the New Testament writers were each being prophetic when they wrote like this), it is as if in their spirits they are transported forward to the time of fulfillment and so it seems, when they later think about it, as if it is very close.

Now there are three ways that Jesus can ‘return’ or come into your experience in a tangible way. The first is when you die, and at that point you come face to face with him. Of course we never know when that will be. It could be tomorrow or next year.  The second way is when the Lord comes in revival. This is simply when God turns up in great power, as has been seen many times in church history of the past two thousand years, and when that happens it is like you are face to face with the power and presence of the Lord. The third is when Jesus will return at the end of time, a time when he will clearly be visible (see Acts 1:11, 1 Thess 4:16 [note, ‘loud shout’], 2 Thes 1:7) and when the whole earth will be brought face to face with him (Rev 19). The message behind each of these possibilities is, make sure you are ready to face the Lord when he comes. Yes, James’ encouragement is in respect of holding on until the Lord comes, but his coming is also a time of accounting, and therefore if anything we have considered in the past two meditations applies to us, then we need to do something about it. As Jesus said, When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8). That applies to each of us.

Wandering before Upheaval

WALKING WITH GOD. No.8

Gen 37:14,15 When Joseph arrived at Shechem, a man found him wandering around in the fields

Sometimes in Scripture, a few apparently innocent looking words actually reflect an amazing truth. Consider, for instance, Matt 24:1, “Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings.” All very innocent and yet as we think about it, we see that there is God (in human form) walking away from the temple supposedly built for His habitation – and the disciples don’t realize this and only comment on the grand appearance of the building. One ‘temple’ (the glorious, divine body of Christ) was walking away from another Temple, built in fact to glorify a man (Herod). The disciples were incapable of ‘seeing’ the significance of what was happening in front of them.

Perhaps we will only see the significance of what was happening in our verses above as we look at what happened in Joseph’s life. Joseph is his father’s favourite (Gen 37:3) and is now hated by his brothers (37:4). Joseph has also had prophetic dreams that implied that all those around him would bow down before him (37:5-9). Now that was the word of God that had come to this young man. He’s going to become a mighty ruler!

Having watched a lot of people receive prophetic words, I’m sure that when most people receive such a word, they really don’t understand the significance of it. The point is that with most such words, God takes time in fulfilling them and the fulfillment requires a change in us, and there is a long process to bring about that change. The reality is that so often that process is having to bring to death certain things in us before He can resurrect new characteristics in us.

So if God says He will give you great patience, you will go through a long waiting process where your impatience will have to die and patience will grow in you. If He says He will give you great endurance, He will take you through long times of difficulty where your old temptation to give up will die and the ability to hang on in and keep going will grow in you. If God says He will make you a great leader, that is a leader after His style not the world’s, the world’s tendency to bully or to connive or to scheme will die in you and He will develop righteousness and godliness in you together with grace and wisdom.

Joseph, like most of us, doesn’t realize this. He’s just filled with the thought of becoming a great man. He doesn’t think about the process. What was the process in this case? His sinful brothers were about to kill him (37:20), but instead they sell him to slave traders (37:28). He is bought off them in Egypt by one of Pharaoh’s officials (39:1) to work in his home. There he is falsely accused by the official’s wife (39:17,18 ) and thrown into prison (39:20) where he stayed for many years. It was only after he gets interpretation of dreams from God in prison (40:12-22, 41:25-) that he was released and made Prime Minister of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself. It’s an amazing story!

So, here is Joseph in our verses, wandering (walking aimlessly) in a field, in between the time when he received his prophetic promises and the start of the process to bring about the fulfilment of the promises. Do you see the elements of our verses?

First note that he was ‘wandering’. Very often after a major prophetic word comes, people get excited and full of faith – and then nothing seems to happen! I’ve seen it like this many times. They go into a period of ‘wandering’ as far as the prophetic promise is concerned, aimlessly wondering what it had all been about.

But note also that he was ‘in the fields‘, the place where shepherds work – for that is what they all were – the place of ordinary, everyday work life. So after the word comes, we just continue in the place of ordinariness, in our ‘wandering’ in our life at home, college or work, and life just seems to just go on and on, and in our ‘wandering’ we wonder how God can possibly do what He said.

And then ‘a man found him‘. So often in these situations God sends someone along to just gently start the ball rolling, of this process we’ve got to go through. The man puts him in contact with his brothers, and the rest, as they say, is history. The problem about these things, is that we aren’t warned that this person is carrying our ‘starting pistol’!

For the moment Joseph hasn’t a clue what is coming but at the end of the process he’s able to say to his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.(Gen 50:20). If you’ve had a great word and are now just ‘wandering’, don’t worry God’s timing and process is perfect. When you are being squeezed and changed, don’t panic, it’s just God’s process, working to fulfil His promises to you. You may not be able to see it like that at the moment, but the time will come when you will – so why not rejoice in God’s goodness to you and His grace that is available to help you change. Be blessed!