“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”
– Romans 8:22-25 (NIV)
“Hope that is seen is no hope at all” – We can’t hope in what we can see. We hope in what we cannot see. We hope in what is yet to come. And because we hope, we wait. We wait patiently. We wait confidently. The word patiently in Romans 8:25 can also be translated as to wait eagerly, or to expect fully. When you are waiting eagerly for something, or fully expecting something to happen, what do you do? You prepare for it.
Think about a child on Christmas Eve. They’ll set out the cookies and milk out for Santa. They’ll brush their teeth and put on their pajamas. They’ll go through the bedtime routine more willingly than any other night of the year. Even though their excitement level is enough to keep them up all night, they know they have to go to sleep in order for Santa to show up. They expect it. They’re eager for it to happen – so they prepare for it.
Think about someone getting ready for a date, or preparing for an interview. Up until the moment they’re walking up to the door, or when they’re inside waiting for the person to arrive, or waiting outside the office door – they’re preparing. They’re going over what they’re going to say, checking their hair and make-up in the mirror, adjusting their clothes, looking back over their resume one more time. They’re getting ready. They’re preparing. Maybe they’re excited, maybe they’re nervous, or maybe it’s a combination of both – but they’re feeling all the feelings because they’re eager. They’re expectant. They know what’s coming next, so they’re getting ready for it.
But what about when the thing we’re waiting on isn’t so positive? What if we aren’t so eager, but afraid of what’s coming next. Patience can also be translated as long-suffering. How do you exercise patience in those moments? What if you’re broken down on the side of the road? You’re waiting for someone to come help jump start your car or change your tire. You’re impatient because you’re ready for it to be fixed. You’re impatient because you’re ready to be back on the road and headed to your destination. You’re worried about how much it may cost. What if you’re waiting in a hospital waiting room? Hospital waiting rooms are a scary place to be. You never know what’s going on with the person next to you. One family may be excitedly welcoming a new life into the world, while the other may be preparing to say their goodbyes to the one they love. Maybe you’re hoping for good news – desperately hoping and praying to hear that everything is going to be okay. But you don’t know for sure. The future seems so very shaky, and so very unknown. Sometimes it feels like that strand of hope is slipping through your hands. How can you hold on to hope? How can you wait well in those moments? The first thing to do is to realize you aren’t alone. There is a Great Physician sitting right beside you, holding your hand. He is our anchor of hope and peace in the midst of fear and uncertainty. He is with you, cling to Him. If there are others around you, friends and family, cling to them. If not, find someone to talk to or simply to sit with – A pastor. A counselor. A support group. Know that you are not alone. Look for the good, and focus on it. Even when everything around you seems to be going wrong, there is always something to be thankful for. Find that thing, and fix your eyes on it. There is purpose in this time of fear and frustration. Look for that purpose. Fill your time of waiting with prayer, and worship, and service.
We often think of patience as being something that is passive. We think of it as if there is nothing we can do but sit around and wait for it to happen – but that’s not the case. Patience is active. Waiting is an act of service. Think about servers in restaurants – they are called “waiters” and “waitresses” but they aren’t sitting around passively. They’re actively attending to the needs of the restaurant patrons. They’re on the move – constantly going from table to table, asking how things are going, refilling glasses, and taking orders. That’s how our spiritual waiting should be. Patience is difficult when we’re sitting around watching the clock and counting down the time – but it goes by more quickly when our waiting is active.
There is a song by John Waller called While I’m Waiting and in the song he says, “I’m waiting on You, Lord. And I am hopeful. I’m waiting on You, Lord. Though it is painful. But patiently, I will wait. I will move ahead, bold and confident, taking every step in obedience. While I’m waiting, I will serve You. While I’m waiting, I will worship. While I’m waiting, I will not faint. I’ll be running the race, even while I wait.” We can serve Him and worship Him while we wait. We can continue moving forward with boldness and confidence. In fact, Hebrews 12:1 tells us to “run with patience the race that is set before us” (KJV). It seems odd to run with patience. If you’re running, you’re usually in a hurry to get somewhere or you want to finish the race with the fastest time, but a true runner knows that running is about pacing yourself. Slow and steady wins the race – isn’t that what we learned from the story of the tortoise and the hare?
There is a challenge going around on social media right now called the “candy challenge” – and in this challenge parents sit a bowl of candy out in front of their young kids. They have a hidden camera in front of them and they tell them not to eat the candy until they get back. Then they leave the room. The kids are eager to eat the candy. Many of them immediately stick their hand in and grab a piece. Some of them lick it, smell it, touch it to their tongue – they get as close as they possibly can to eating it. Many of them resist, but it’s not easy. Why do we struggle so much with being patient? We often resist patience because we’re so excited about what’s to come – We’re so excited that we want it right now, but we need to learn to shift our mindset. If those kids would only think – “When mom comes back I get to have this candy!” then the waiting period would be a lot more enjoyable. But instead, all they could think was, “This candy is sitting in front of me right now and I can’t eat it!” They were more focused on the fact that they couldn’t have it right now, instead of the fact that they could have it as soon as their parents returned. That’s often where the root of our impatience lies – We want immediate results and instant gratification.
Our culture values speed. Technological advances are all about saving time. The printing press. The assembly line. The car. The train. The plane. The telephone. The cellphone. The computer. The internet. The microwave. They all have allowed us quicker ways to communicate, to travel, to produce and manufacture goods, to prepare food, to access information. We now have an encyclopedia of news and information right at our fingertips. Literally. We can have anything we want delivered to our front door in a matter of hours. Even our Bible studies and devotionals are often labeled based on the amount of time it will take us to complete it – “The 1-Minute Bible” or the “The 5-Minute Bible Study.” There are get rich quick schemes, and weight loss programs that try to guarantee you the weight will fall off in 30-days or less. There are apps to help you find love with the swipe of your finger. There are life hack videos and meal prep videos. They all want to save us time, but what are we doing with all this saved time? It almost seems as if we actually ended up with less time than before.
Waiting involves slowing down, and we don’t want to slow down. We want to speed up. We’re constantly in a hurry. We want to do more. We want to accomplish more. We value productivity. We want to do as much as possible, in as little time as possible. That’s why we get irritated when we have to wait in long lines at the store or when the car in front of us doesn’t immediately press on the gas as soon as the light turns green. We get impatient in long lines at amusement parks, in traffic on the way home from work, and when we’re on hold over the phone with a bill collector. We’re in a global pandemic right now, that almost feels as if our whole lives have been put on pause. We don’t know what to do with it, because it is so counter-cultural.
We want quick fixes. We want all our problems solved in as little time as possible, so we grow impatient the longer we have to wait. We become irritated when we’re forced to slow down. But it’s important for us to remember that spiritual growth takes time. James 5:7 says, “Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.” Planting takes time. Farming takes time. Harvesting takes time. Sometimes droughts come. Sometimes we have to till up the ground and start again. How does it impact our spirituality when we live in a culture of drive-thru’s, curbside pick-up’s, and next-day delivery – but serve a God who operates as a patient Farmer? What happens when we pray and God doesn’t immediately answer our prayer? We start to lose faith. We start to lose hope. Even in worship services – We grow impatient if we don’t feel like we’re getting something out of it. In our minds, we’re thinking about what we’re going to have for lunch or what chores we need to be doing at home. We open up our Bibles and skim the pages, but how often do we take the time to read, reflect, and respond to the words? How often do we just sit in the silence and listen for God to speak? In Life on the Vine, Phillip Kenneson writes, “Perhaps our fixation with productivity instills in us a deep sense of impatience that might partly be responsible for our lack of joy in worship. How can we joyfully engage in worship if we are continually mindful of all the other more productive things we could be doing with our time.” It’s a dangerous place to be spiritually. It is counter-productive to our spiritual growth. We need to go against the grain of our society. We need to be more like Jesus.
When we look at the life of Jesus, we see that He was never in a hurry. He allowed Himself to be interrupted. When the woman with the issue of blood touched His garment, He felt it, and He turned around and made notice of her faith. When a father came asking for a miracle for his daughter who had died, Jesus got up from His teaching and went and followed the man (Matthew 9:18-26). When the disciples saw children coming to Jesus as a distraction and tried to rebuke them, Jesus welcomed them and blessed them and told them the Kingdom of God belonged to them (Mark 10:13-16). When Jesus went to the well for water, He didn’t turn around and leave as soon as He got the water, but instead He sat down and talked with the woman He saw there (John 4). Jesus lived in the moment and was attentive to the needs of those around him. He welcomed distractions. He used interruptions to build relationships, bring healing, and bring salvation.
Like all other Fruits of the Spirit, patience is a characteristic of God. God is love (1 John 4:8) and love is patient (1 Corinthians 13:4). He is slow to anger (Psalm 103:8). As Christians, as followers of Jesus, we should strive to demonstrate this same loving patience and slowness to become angry. James 1:19-20 says, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” It’s important to realize that scripture does not say God did not become angry; it says He was slow to become angry. There is a such thing as righteous anger. In John 2:13-22 we see Jesus making a whip and driving people out of the Temple who were there selling cattle, sheep, and doves. Then in Matthew 21:12-17 we see Him flipping tables in the Temple when He sees the same thing happening again. In Life on the Vine, Phillip Kenneson writes, “God’s patience does have a purpose; it is not simply restraint for the sake of restraint. God is slow to anger, but God does get angry. God bears with people for a long time, but a time of judgement is coming.”
Bearing with someone is a form of patience. Praise God He bears with us. Praise God He is slow to anger, and quick to forgive. Let us imitate His love. Let us imitate His patience. Let us imitate His mercy. Colossians 3:12-14 says, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” In Ephesians 4:1-3, Paul says, “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 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.” When we are patient with others, we are showing the love of God. When we are patient with others, we are striving for peace. And it isn’t easy; it takes effort. But it is worth it. And love makes it possible.
We can’t take God’s kindness and mercy for granted. We can’t take His patience for granted. It is purposeful. It leads to repentance. Romans 2:2-4 says, “Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” What kind of example are we setting if we return to the sin which God so mercifully freed us and forgave us? We cannot grow weary in doing good. Galatians 6:9 says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” When asked how often we should forgive someone who wronged us, Jesus responded, “…not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” That requires an immense amount of patience. But it is possible. We can forgive others because He first forgave us. We can be patient with others because He is patient with us. In 1 Timothy 1:16, Paul says, “But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” Let us be an example of God’s love and patience.
In the words of Paul, I pray this prayer:
“For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience.”
– Colossians 1:9-11