I’m speaking this morning around a very particular word which will become clear as you read the following verses from Scripture:
I waited patiently for the LORD to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the LORD. Oh, the joys of those who trust the LORD, who have no confidence in the proud or in those who worship idols. O LORD my God, you have performed many wonders for us … You have no equal. (Psalm 40:1–5)
The word I particularly have in mind is patience. It recurs very frequently in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. The Apostle Paul speaks of it: ‘Tribulation works patience, patience works experience, and experience works hope’ (Romans 5:3–4). Christ tells us to possess our souls in patience (Luke 21:19), and it’s also one of the descriptions of God, in a lovely title that Paul uses: ‘the God of patience and consolation (Romans 15:5).
The word ‘patient’ is derived from a root meaning ‘to suffer’. But it has evolved from that to taking the meaning ‘suffering with calm’, and then it has become ‘enduring with a calmness’. For us patience is very much associated with a calmness and serenity, and not being irritable when we’re having to wait for something. We all have different temperaments, and some will be more naturally patient than others. I have an object lesson in this at the moment, because we have moved to a house where my garden to me is a stony wilderness, and it is not pleasing to my eyes. I keep reminding myself that my previous garden hadn’t been an awful lot better when we moved to that house; but by the time we left it was definitely a green oasis. And one day that might happen again. But there’s no point trying to be a gardener if you don’t have patience, because that garden took 20 years to establish. I don’t know if I’ll be here for 20 years, but I’m hoping that maybe in about five years it will be transformed from a stony wilderness into something much better.
Patience is needed in the spiritual life for fruit to grow and for the fruits of the Spirit to develop, not just in our own lives but in the life of the church and in other people’s lives. It takes patience to watch over a younger soul in Christ, to let it grow and Christ take root and to let change be effected. It does not happen overnight. And to find our way into the deeps of the knowledge of God there is, I think, no fast route. It takes time, it takes endurance. And patience is really a lovely word, because it does contain this sense of a calmness such as the farmer has to have at times – not when the harvest has to be gathered in and he has to beat the rain coming! – but there is a certain patience in sowing the seed and waiting for growth to come. And so with the kingdom of God.
That kingdom of God, Christ says, is within us. And patience is an absolutely vital quality for us to have or to learn. It is a patient waiting on God: I waited for Him and He heard my cry. Why do we need patience? Because we don’t always get the answer right away. And indeed in my calendar today there was a nicely relevant reading about Daniel. The angel came to him and said: ‘Your prayers were heard from the moment you offered them,’ but he had done spiritual battle on the way to come to Daniel. Often for us to see the answers to prayers and the fulfilment of God’s promises, we don’t know all that has gone on in the hidden spiritual world. But He is on His way. There are promises that are unconditional: I will never leave you. I will never forsake you. I will care for you. I’ll be with you to the end of the way. And there are lots of other promises He may have given us that are very personal – though we do have to be very careful that these are definitely of God, and not just our own wishes.
To find somebody who is a patient person, and patient in their following of Christ, is very heart warming. But there is an aspect of it that we have to be slightly on guard about, and it just occurred to me as I was reading in Revelation about the church at Ephesus. This was one of the most successful churches, with a very numerous membership, and it was the one associated with the apostle John. I often feel it must have broken his heart when he got the message, because at first everything that Christ was saying to them was good:
I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people … You have patiently suffered for me without fainting. (Revelation 2:2–3)
But then He says:
I have this complaint against you. You have left your first love. (You don’t love me or each other as you did at first) … If you don’t repent (come back to that), I will take away your candlestick.’ (vv.4–5)
It caused me really to ponder. We can go on enduring with patient endurance, we can keep going, but we have got so wearied with that, that we are just trudging along, and our first love and our zeal and passionate love for Christ, we have lost. The Ephesus church is so good, but because they have lost that first love they are in danger of losing the candlestick altogether. I don’t think that was an arbitrary judgment on God’s part. I think it was rather the inevitable outcome of having lost their first love: that right at the heart was a deadness that would eventually spread out to the perimeter, and the church candlestick would have gone.
What do we do at times in life when the pressure is such that we feel we’re doing quite well if we’re managing to go on patiently enduring? We’re not suffering persecution like the church at Ephesus. But how then do we keep the first love? How do we avoid falling into that trap? And if we think it’s beginning to happen, what do we do?
I have no short answer to that. The true answer is we return and look towards Christ, and we keep looking at Him. As I was thinking on this, I felt, well, it’s not quite enough, because we can do that, but still we sense we’re just trudging along. I remember someone who had been very full of zeal for Christ being in terrible, deep waters, and they said to me: ‘You know, I’m just trudging along now. Where I bounded over the road with joy, I’m trudging along.’
What do we do when we sense that is happening? Well, we do look towards Christ. But we really wait on Him with faith, with patience, till He hears our cry and He gives us the enduement of the Holy Spirit. There is no substitute for that. It is vital. It’s as vital as putting oil or fuel in the car to make it go. D L Moody was an outstanding preacher, but he was nothing like as successful as he was after the Holy Spirit had fallen upon him one day in the streets of New York and flooded him with the love of God. He was then a different man and a different preacher. And it is just as it was for the Israelites having to gather the manna. The falling dew brought the manna – and they needed it every day. And when we discover in our spirits that we are just holding on and no more, and the joy and zest has gone out of spiritual life, ask Him to let the dew fall upon your spirit, for the dew will bring the manna, and the manna is Christ. And your first love is renewed in a moment. But it is vital; we need that. And we hold to His promise that He would give us water that we would not be thirsty.
But I think if we are honest with ourselves we know that there are times when we feel: ‘God, I’m holding on, but that’s about it.’
‘I can do better for you than that. Hold on until you feel the enduement again.’
We think of Christ. Patience is something we associate with Him, a serenity and a calmness. But we don’t think of Him as trudging. Stumbling up Calvary’s hill, but in His spirit – it says in that same psalm:
Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me. I delight to do thy will, O my God: Yea, thy law is within my heart. (Psalm 40:7–8)
And we see that Christ’s love blazed in Him always, upon the cross still loving: Father, forgive them … Father, into Thy hands I commend My Spirit.
Our privilege is to do the same: to have that love for God, love for others, a love and a faith that says: Into Thy hands I commend my spirit.
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