Sunday, November 23, 2008

Our Need of Patience - Sunday Next Before Advent

In the Epistle today (Jer. 23:5f), Jeremiah spoke of wonderful spiritual blessings that God would bring His people in “the days to come.” Jeremiah surely delighted in the prospect of these blessings, but he never saw them. Indeed, he knew he would not see them for he knew that seventy years were appointed for his people to be under God’s judgment in Babylon. In the years that followed Jeremiah’s prophecy, Daniel knew the days that Jeremiah had foreseen were approaching and prays for the Lord to fulfill his promises. The angel Gabriel, in reply to Daniel, told him that the spiritual aspect of the prophecy of Jeremiah, the coming of the Branch, the King, the Messiah, would not be fulfilled for seventy times seven years - hundreds of years later. By the time of Jesus, the Jews had been waiting for Jeremiah’s prophecies regarding the Messiah to be fulfilled for almost six hundred years.

Why does God sometimes wait so long to do the things we wish He would do? Oswald Chambers, when writing about walking with God, once spoke of the difficulty Christians have of “getting into stride with God.” He outstrips us. His whole approach to our day by day existence is different from ours. The oft spoken, “God is not in a hurry,” is really an understatement. God does everything in His appropriate time, according to His perfect wisdom and purpose. Being imperfect and unwise, plus being Americans, we are often filled with impatience, fretting and frustration. We are not like God when it comes to how we think our circumstances should be dealt with or our lives scheduled.

Now if you couple with these observations God’s revealed purpose to renew His image in us through the sanctifying work of His Spirit, it is easy to see how the issue of patience looms before Christians so largely. We are regularly confronted with a need for patience. God wants us to be patient as He is patient, and so He endeavours to teach us patience and to develop patience in us. He is determined to do this, knowing precisely how undisposed to patience we naturally are. He does it all for our good, as a wise, loving Father.

How often have we had to deal with impatience in our children? We know what it is like to have a different perspective than they, to know things they do not know, and to purposefully withhold things until the time is right, simply because of the nature of the matter, or to just teach them how to be patient and to wait for things. We know it is good for them. How much more does our perfect Father in heaven know the value of patience for us.

In Luke 21:19, Jesus says to us, “In patience possess your souls.” He says this in the middle of a discourse in which he is telling his disciples about the future destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. That was something they could fret about! Yet, he does not want them to fret. He wants them to possess their souls; to be in control of their spiritual condition.

Many circumstances in our lives bring stress and difficulty, tempting us to all kinds of strong emotions that can lead us away from the path of faith and into sin and unbelief. We can find ourselves fretting and anxious to do various vain things to deal with our problems. I recall one time, when we lived in Columbia, SC, while I was finishing a degree, that I received a letter from the IRS saying I owed some large sum in unpaid taxes. We didn’t have much in those days and I was immediately threatened by this. I couldn’t understand how this could happen. Later, I was able to confirm that our church treasurer had simply made a mistake, but in the meantime I was really troubled. My peace, which was so vital for my spiritual heath, went right out the window. But there was nothing I could immediately do to alleviate this threat. That was so frustrating! I believe God allowed this to happen to help me see how easy it can be for strong emotions to trip us up in our walk with Him. He allowed this to teach me patience; to teach me how to possess my soul and not let it get distracted by unexpected troubles.

When problems arise, we must not lose our faith, lest we injure our souls. Here in Luke, our Shepherd tells what will help us to possess our souls: patience. Patience acts as a watchful guard over our faith and obedience. Patience is very important for us. We dread having to be patient about things, but patience is of great value for our lives. Our Father’s disciplines to teach us patience make our souls richer and, as Jesus’ words remind us, safer as well.

Consider the life of Christ. How was it that He became our complete Mediator? Hebrews tells us that He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. Christ was both active and passive in his obedience to His father. He actively did the things He was given to do, but he was also obedient by what he did not do. We speak of this as his passive obedience. He was willing to let things happen to Him and to wait upon the LORD to help Him. This is the path of the cross. We do not put ourselves on crosses; others do that. As people afflicted Christ, He did not fight back at them but committed his soul to his Father. Just as both his active and passive obedience made him a perfect Mediator for us, so our active and passive obedience makes us complete Christians. Aquinas considered patience the root of all our graces. It enables us to endure in every aspect of our duty. As one Puritan put it, “Patience bears all, and quiets the soul, and in so doing removes the evil of our trouble, that it becomes no impediment to our graces.” Christ calls us to become like Him: patiently bearing all those difficulties that come in the path of obedience. It is by patience that we become more like Him. It is by patience that our Father‘s image is renewed in us. It is by patience that we keep our feet upon the narrow road to the Celestial City, for without holiness no man shall see the Lord.

We especially need this grace in light of the turbulence of a fallen world. The future is always uncertain. We feel threatened by it at times. In patience, we are to possess our souls. The LORD knows what He is doing and all authority in heaven and earth lies in the nail-pierced hand of our Saviour. Let us have faith. Let us be a believing people. Let us be a praying people; let us ask for the patience we need. Let us wait on the LORD and He shall strengthen our hearts and fulfill all His wonderful promises to us.

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