Like a child who can’t wait for Christmas, I can’t wait for the first spring flowers to bloom and the green grass to sprout. But between the storms of winter and the full onset of spring, time seems to creep by so slowly.
Every day the warming sun takes bigger bites from the drifts of dirty snow—until it is gone. The tinkle of running water can be heard from the ditches. Buds begin to swell on the poplars. Sap rises in the sugar maples. Tiny shoots begin to appear where forgotten bulbs of tulip and daffodil lie entombed.
We wait in suspense. Will winter counter-attack? Will there be another convulsive storm of snow and ice extending its tentacles over the awakening landscape? Will snowdrops flower only to be buried in a drift of snow? Will the golden blossoms of the forsythia be encrusted with frost?
Yes, suddenly, the temperature drops, a chill wind roars in from the north and we’re enveloped in a late winter blizzard. Just when we had hopes that green would banish white and brown for the season. Groan. More waiting.
We live in a 24/7 culture. And yet, in spite of microwaves to speed up food preparation and e-mail to provide instant communication, we cannot escape the need to wait. School children wait for the school bus, wait for the closing bell to ring, wait for summer holidays to arrive. Commuters wait and wait and wait for buses and trains to take them to work and then back home. Those who drive to work idle in stalled traffic. Those with colds snuffle and sneeze their ways through days of misery. We wait in a multiplicity of lineups at post offices, grocery stores, subway platforms and licensing offices.
Waiting shouldn’t be such a problem. Our mothers spent an agonizing nine months waiting for us to be born. But from childhood we’ve found being patient difficult. We probably told our parents, “I can’t wait for Christmas. Can we open a present—now—please Mommy, please?” Or on a trip, “Are we there yet?”
As we mature we learn to wait—or we should. But without hindrances arising to force us to defer gratification or delay our plans, we’d never learn patience. That is assuming we want to learn. If we do, we’ll gradually develop the ability to embrace delay graciously without griping and grumbling. But if patience doesn’t become an important facet of our personality we’ll become one of those irritating, crotchety characters that people try to avoid—spoiled kids who never grew up.
The Bible has a lot to say about waiting, and by inference—impatience. “You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God you will receive what he has promised” (Heb. 10:36). Joseph’s brothers sold him into Egyptian slavery where he moldered for years before God used him to rescue the Hebrew people. Moses tended sheep for 40 years before God called him to become Israel’s deliverer from Egyptian bondage. And after that he endured another 40 years of wilderness wanderings before he even saw the promised land from across the Jordan. Jesus waited for 30 years before revealing himself as the Messiah.
The Bible gives us a myriad of stories of how God’s children enduring delay while God, slowly, painstakingly prepared the context for their deliverance. And yet we still expect God to answer our prayers immediately, if not sooner. We lament what we perceive as justice delayed when in fact God is delaying so that he can demonstrate his mercy and longsuffering. Paul writes, “Do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you towards repentance” (Rom. 2:4). Paul rejoiced that, although he considered himself the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus displayed patience toward him as an example to others. (See 1 Tim. 1:16.) Peter wrote that the “Lord’s patience means salvation,” that is, that the salvation of sinful men depends on God enduring over an extended period of time their rebellious acts and attitudes.
Growing up as we do in a culture that promises instant gratification, we find it difficult to wait patiently for God to accomplish his will. Our santification—transformation into the image of Christ—occurs so slowly. To use a common expression, it’s like watching paint dry. Not only our sanctification, but a host of the most important things seem to be deferred almost indefinitely: every nation responding to the gospel, those who are oppressed being delivered, peace prevailing, evil being conquered, the kingdom coming, Christ returning. No wonder the apostle prayed that the Colossians would be “strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience” (Col. 1:11).
Oh, blessed Holy Spirit, produce within me the fruit of patience. Enable me to bear patiently the long winter months and the delay in spring’s arrival. Use seasons of waiting to train me to be patient. Purge impatience, irritation, edginess and annoyance from my personality. Give me patience in times of economic stringency, physical challenge or relational strain. Help me to be patience with others—to treat them as I would want to be treated. Remind me not to give up on prayer but to persevere with those requests that conform to your will. And help me to know the difference between stubbornness and patience. Amen. © Eric E. Wright