Practicing Patience When God Has You Waiting
Photo (Flickr CC) by Margot Gabel
Some days, it is a lot harder to be patient. When we’re bringing our concerns to the Lord again and again, we grow tired of waiting. It soon begins to feel like our prayers are falling on deaf ears. Often our desire is to take control and just “do the best we can;” it is our fleshly reaction to the silence. We know Galatians 5 lists patience as a fruit of the Holy Spirit so we confess our desire to rule our own lives. We ask the Spirit to fill us, empowering and directing us even as we continue to wait on the Lord.
This doesn’t mean circumstances change. Your only child remains sick in the hospital, the thread your marriage hangs on continues to splinter, and the hope you've held on to for years fades with increasing speed. Having prayed fervently about whatever issue you are facing too many times to count, it’s easy to feel your bank of patience depleting once again. On these days, let these reminders on the nature of patience be an encouragement to you as you continue to wait.
You are not alone in the waiting.
“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 as sons, 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 he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” Romans 8:22- 25
Waiting is a common experience. All your brothers and sisters in faith, as well as all of creation know what it is like to wait on the Lord. Consider those who have waited before you: Job, David, a myriad of prophets. There is plenty of encouragement in the Bible concerning a need for patience and those who have excelled in it. James 5:7, Colossians 1:10-12, Psalm 40:1 and Revelation 14:12 are just a few examples of the myriad of passages about the topic.
The New Bible Dictionary defines patience as “God-given restraint in the face of opposition or oppression.” Patience is only needed when there is a reason to not wait. It is only necessary in the face of opposition. This is why seeking patience is in many senses a battle. The promise we can lean on here is that patience is God-given restraint. The Lord is the one who provides us with spiritual armor to go into battle. We often think of patience as mere endurance, but such logic is faulty. We are not exercising restraint on our own strength. In truth, our only responsibility is to trust that God will provide the strength to hold on, and then act accordingly to our faith in that promise.
How is this strength given to us?
We receive this strength by being filled with the Spirit. As Christians, we know that the ultimate source of patience lives within us. Our role is to trust that the Holy Spirit does live within us, and ask Him for strength to persevere in whatever situation we find ourselves in. This is a provision we can claim by faith as taught us in Romans 5:1-5.
Patience as listed in Galatians 5 is often called longsuffering. The original Greek word is makrothumio, meaning “long temper.” We are to keep a long and slow temper towards God, others and ourselves. This spiritual posture calls for grace. It is grace that compels us to trust God, grace that we can extend to others when they hurt us, and grace to forgive ourselves when we stumble and fall.
The experience of waiting on God reminds us that our reality as Christians is not within our apparent circumstances, but rather in the truth of Christ’s love and life in us. This gives us hope, as Romans 8:28 assures us that “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” It is not in our abilities to know the time or way in which God will work things out. Ecclesiastes 3:11 and Isaiah 55:8-9 are great reminders that these rest solely in the domain of God’s knowledge. Our role here is to trust the promise of Philippians 1:6 and wait with hope as God’s brings about to completion the good work He began in each of our lives.
What is our role in the battle?
Consider again the definition of patience as God-given restraint. God allows us to access divine restraint, but it is our choice to accept it and act in willful obedience. Adam and Eve were given complete free will. They were gifted many provisions in the garden so they wouldn’t need to partake in the fruit that was forbidden. However, they chose to not exercise restraint and instead disobeyed God’s command. When we use God-given restraint to wait on His will and timing, we renounce their fallen actions and step out in obedience towards God.
There is purpose in the process. Take a look at Hebrews 12:2. Waiting on God forces us to look to Him. It casts our eyes rightly to Christ as the source of our faith and the assurance of our salvation. It reminds us that Christ’s death and life is the reason we can be filled with and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Trials cause us to persevere by deepening our knowledge of God and relying on him more intentionally. As James 1:2-4 tells us it is here that a mature and complete faith is grown.
Standing patiently when we wait on the Lord does not mean being stuck at a standstill. Consider Ephesians 6 which instructs us to “put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then.”
To hold ground by remaining obedient to the Lord while waiting is not passive. Note that the word stand is repeated three times. Patience is an act of the will to claim ground for the Kingdom of God, and is rewarded richly by Him. Revelation 3:10-11 tells us of God’s care for those who persevere through the battle.
Whether we feel we lack patience to wait on God, or to continue to love those that may be hard to love, we do in actuality have access to all the patience we need. We can trust God to give us the strength to bear our circumstances and instead use the time of waiting to grow in intimacy with the Lord.