By Pastor Glenn Pease
All our lives we are being tested on our ability to wait. Those who fail to learn early become candidates for insanity. Nothing is more frustrating than to have an impatient mind in a world where you cannot control all that is necessary to fulfill all your desires and dreams. Gutzon Borglum, who craved the Mount Rushmore Memorial, was asked if the faces he had craved were perfect in detail? He replied that the nose of George Washington was an inch too long, but that it would erode to exactly the right length in about 10 thousand years. If he had been a perfectionist without patience, he would have worried himself to death over this detail, but he had the wisdom to accept his limitations, and leave perfection to the patient working of nature.
Those who do not learn this lesson, and who just cannot accept their limitations, can never become mature adults, let alone mature Christians. Maturity is directly dependent upon one's patience. When a baby cries the mother usually goes immediately to satisfy it's need. As the child gets older there are longer intervals between its wishes and the fulfillment. Parents ought to make sure of this by design. When we say a child is spoiled it really boils down to the fact that they have not been taught patience. Their wishes have always been fulfilled with only short intervals between. They have not been discipline to wait. They expect the world to jump when they say frog. They are demanding, and they expect to get what they want right now. They are intolerant of anyone or anything that stands between them and fulfillment of their wishes. Immaturity is largely a matter of impatience, just as maturity is largely a matter of patience. Mature people have the ability to endure the postponement of wish fulfillment.
A child is usually by nature impatient, and so also immature. If it wants a piece of candy before supper and you say they have to wait until after supper, there can be quite a storm stirred up in them. The child can act as if the world has lost all meaning, and there is nothing more to live for. They can fall on the floor, kick and cry, and be uttering crushed by this denial. This is all a part of the process of becoming mature. The child must deliberately be made to endure the trials of being denied. This is the only way they can learn that wishes are not automatically and immediately fulfilled in life. Parents do their children a great injustice when they send them into the world unprepared for trial and denial. They must be taught how to suffer and endure postponement.
God is not so unwise in raising His children. James is saying to Christians that they are to rejoice in the trials that come into their lives, for only by these can they learn patience, and only through patience can they ever be perfect or mature. The Christian who is raised in a sheltered situation, and who is never allowed to wrestle with the problems of life, and the problems of faith, and who is never made to confront the challenge of unbelief, is not prepared to live in the world as it is. Such Christians are forced to withdraw from the battle into their own shell, and live in fear lest something makes them lose their faith. This is not what a Christian is to be. He is to be a soldier of the cross. He is to be out on the front lines confronting problems greater than his ability to solve, for only there will he learn to be patient, and to trust that God can work even where the Christian's limitations make him unable to work.
To learn patience is identical with becoming Christlike. Jesus submitted to the limitations of the flesh, and to the slow but sure way of success through patience. Paul in Rom. 15:5 calls God the God of patience. If God was not patient history would have ended long ago. All through the Old Testament we see His patience and long suffering with Israel. Even before that we see His patience with Adam and Eve. Instead of striking them dead for their sin, He let them continue to live, and He promised them redemption. After a multitude of failures on the part of Israel, God persisted in being their God, and He patiently worked and waited for the fullness of time to send forth His Son.
Jesus was not created like Adam. He was not ready to go to work as soon as the breathe of life was breathed into Him. He had to go through the process of growth. He patiently worked as a carpenter until he was 30 years old, even though at age 12 He sensed the call to be about His Father's business. What a demonstration of patient waiting. I have seen men so impatient in their desire to preach the Gospel that they dropped out of college or seminary, and they took a short cut through a board that did not demand high standards of education. Jesus could wait, but they could not. Jesus could patiently prepare, and fully fulfill all that was required, but we often think God's plan needs us now whether we are prepared or not.
I felt this way often, and I wanted to quit my education, but as I look back I can see the impatience was not motivated by God's will, but by the desire to escape the discipline it took to persist in what is hard. It is a real trail to go to school for so many years, and have to meet constant deadlines, and be under constant pressure, but I count it all joy now that I suffered those trials, for through them I learned patience, which is absolutely necessary to do the will of God.
Jesus had to have patience to see men perishing without the Gospel, and yet wait until He was 30 to reveal Himself. Then when He began His public ministry He spent another 40 days being tried in the desert. You would think just waiting that long would be trial enough, but not so. Jesus had to go on demonstrating patience over and over again. Even in the temptation Satan offered Jesus a short cut by which He could rule the world, but Jesus chose the long hard way of the cross. He began His ministry with men whom He came to save opposing Him. He was hated and mocked, and leaders sought to trip Him up by watching every move, and listening to every word, hoping to catch Him in a heresy. He was criticized for every action, and finally His enemies nailed Him to the cross. Yet through it all we do not see Jesus becoming bitter because He was misunderstood. He did not grow sour on mankind because of their ingratitude. He patiently endured, and even on the cross He prayed for God to forgive them. No one has ever demonstrated the virtue of patience like Jesus.
O who like Thee, so calm, so bright,
Thou Son of man, Thou Light of light;
O who like Thee did ever go
So patient through a world of woe!
We can never fully imitate the patience of Christ, but it is our duty as Christians to try by His grace. We must learn the patience of Christ to a large degree in order to be of worthwhile service to Him. That is why James says that we are to count it all joy when we are tried, for trials present you with an opportunity to learn patience. A concordance will reveal that the New Testament exalts the virtue of patience to a very high level, and makes it clear that one cannot be a mature Christian without it. It is one of the fruits of the Spirit.
It is a virtue of such obvious and essential value that it is universally exalted and praised. This means it is not limited to Christians, but is a value among all people, no person can be mature without it. This means that the Christian ought to give all the more heed to its importance. If a value is held in common with pagans, and even atheists, the Christian ought to be a greater possessor of that virtue than they are.
Tertullian, in a famous sermon preached in the 2nd century, said of patience, "Its good quality, even they who live blindly, honor with the title of the highest virtue. Philosophers, indeed who are counted creatures of some wisdom, ascribe so much to it that while they disagree among themselves in the various humors of their jests, and the strive of rival opinions, yet having a common regard for patience alone, in respect of this one alone of their pursuits they are joined in peace; in this they conspire together; in this they are confederate; this they pursue with one mind in aspiring after virtue."
No pagan religion, or moralistic philosophy, or humanism can get far in producing any virtues in people without patience. For you cannot even be an adjusted and mature person without it. This only shows how much more the Christian needs patience to fulfill the higher ideals and standards of Christ. If one cannot even be a good pagan without it, it is impossible to be a good Christian without it.
Therefore, do not look at trials as evil, but as opportunities to develop patience. It takes patience even to learn patience in trials. So often we are like a child who is so concerned about his present wishes that he does not even consider developing virtues for the future. We often use prayer as a means to cut down the time between our desires and their fulfillment. We do not want to go the long hard way, and so we ask God to give us wisdom without searching for it. We ask God to change us without going through the painful process of change. We ask God to work immediately rather than through the laws He has written into reality. We want a religion like that of the magician. He pulls trees out of the hat right before our eyes, and without all the nuisance of planting, watering, and waiting. In body building people count it all joy to endure trial, for they know that is the only way to build muscle. We forget that the same thing is true for building up the soul.
Who has not had a child or loved one who was sick, and prayed that they would be spared the suffering and be healed, and yet had to go on watching the pain continue until it has run its course? Does God not care? It is because God does care that He does not spoil us like being like those foolish parents who jump at every whim and wish of their children, and never discipline them by keeping them waiting. God wants children who learn to wait, and who can endure. These are the two aspects of the meaning of patience. It is the ability to wait and hope, and to endure without giving up. It is being persistent in your goal of being Christlike when everything seems to hinder it and oppose it.
Being patient is essential for just normal life adjustment. It is of double necessity to live the Christian life. Thomas A. Kempis said, "All men commend the patience, although few be willing to practice it." We must be among those few if we expect our lives to be the best instruments for God's glory. Susanna Wesley had as great a task as any woman has ever had with her large family, but her patience enabled her to do such a marvelous job of it. She raised children that changed the course of history. John Wesley became a famous Christian leader, but it took a lot of patience to raise him. His father once said to his mother, "How could you have the patience to tell that blockhead the same thing 20 times over?" She replied, "If I had told him but 19 times, I should have lost all my labor." She was persistently patient, and that is why her life is used in millions of sermons as an illustration of the Christian life.
Fruit growing takes patience. Most of us want to get the fruits of the Spirit just like we get our groceries. We want to walk along and pick up what we desire and be done with it. This would be possible if we could acquire fruits grown by someone else, but in the moral and spiritual realm every person has to grow their own. The process calls for discipline and patience. Those who cannot persist and wait until they develop and grow will never progress to the point of perfection. If you cannot wait, you cannot win. Hovey said, "Impatience strikes a death blow to all the graces of the Holy Spirit. Not one of them can remain intact in an impatient soul." On the other hand he said, "Every act of real patience, under severe trial, tends to strengthen itself and all other graces." The bottom line is that we can only be all that God wants us to be by learning to be persistently patient.