Be careful for what you wish; you just might get it. Patience is a common request made of God, and yet, are we sure we know what we are in for? It is, of course, a necessary Christian virtue, but it is not for the weak. Unlike Egypt, which was built for the Egyptians on the backs of slaves, no one will build patience for us. Patience will be built by the perspiration of each individual, fervent Christian. No, Christianity is certainly not a faith for the faint-hearted. When Christ said, “Take up your cross and follow me,” [Matthew 16:24.] He was not talking about the pendants that are so commonly seen in the secular Christianity that is thriving nowadays. He was speaking of the perils, afflictions, and heartaches that are bound to follow any person who has the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
The “hurry-up-and-wait” patience that modern day America demands at their beckon call is not the patience that Christians are called to exhibit. The word “patience” comes from the Latin word patiencia, which means “to suffer and endure”. Patience in America means waiting in the check-out aisle on a Friday afternoon whether you like it or not. There is nothing in American living that would induce patience. We live in a fast-paced world; we have fast food, we drive fast cars, and we have super fast computers. We are programmed to be in a hurry. We are in such a rush that God, who created time, is sometimes too slow to fit into our overdrive schedules. We demand what we want or need right away, as if our lives were going to end if we did not get it now. Sometimes we get so impatient with God and charge on ahead of Him without knowing which way He wants us to go, all the while saying that we want to do His will.
God, who is infinitely patient, calls us back to reality, though, through the dead ends we run into when we run on ahead of Him. As Christians, we will have enough struggle in our lives simply in enduring the devil’s attacks; we certainly do not need to get in our own way, or God’s. Every decision in life from scheduling our day to deciding on a career is to be made with great care and prayer. Acting hastily and running ahead to grab something that God may not have in mind for us only serves as a setback. God is methodical and steady; He is in no rush and knows what is best for us and when it will be in our best interest. If we are in such a hurry that we run on ahead of God, we may find when we come to a dead end that He wanted us to take a left a few intersections ago. What then? We would have to retrace our steps, turn left, and then gain momentum on the course God had in mind for us before we even started on the journey. There is great wisdom in the saying “haste makes waste.”
We often ask for patience, pleading and begging with great fervency, and when God grants our request and commences building it in us, we gripe and moan over the hardship suddenly being heaped on our heads. I wonder if God ever looks down at us in utter exasperation with a look of, “Make up your mind; did you ask for it or not?” In His mercy, though, He will not let up until we have learned the lessons and have mastered the attribute. He knows the importance of patience in our lives. God knows that, while we are on earth, we will be afflicted on all sides. The Christian race is not a sprint; it is a long distance run requiring strength and stamina to endure the agony of the marathon. Patient endurance is needed to reach the finish line. We will ache and burn inside and out, in our relationships, our careers, our families, and in our spiritual lives. Satan is a fierce enemy who never tires of his tormenting. He will do everything in his power to break us. It is a lovely thought, though, that God uses the weapons of the enemy for His glory. But we must be willing to let Him. If we moan and groan and lose faith, the devil is defeating us.
Christ warned us that hardship paves the road of Christianity just as it did for the Saviour. “We are in a world of suffering. Difficulty, trial, and sorrow await us all along the way to the heavenly home.” Mind, Character, and Personality, vol. 2, 459. Satan hates Christians as much as he did Christ. Until we go home to our heavenly Father, the devil will do everything in his power to make us miserable and, if possible, achieve our fall. God’s people are being watched constantly; is there a difference in what they see by way of a reaction to the hardship? Do they see God’s peace in us? Do they see our trust in a Father who is larger than anything afflicting us? Do they see Christ’s behavior and his forbearance?
God knows that a large portion of our happiness depends on how we respond in the times of trial. We will either bear the burden with a joyful heart, knowing that nothing comes to us except through Christ and that He is making us strong, or we bellyache and moan because life is so very miserable and get angry with God because life is not enjoyable. The difficulties are not going to be enjoyable; however, knowing that God is in them and He has a purpose for it all is a joyful thought and the burden is then borne not on our shoulders alone, but on His as well. James 1:2, 3 says: “Count it all joy when you fall into diverse temptations [trials]; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.” It is a matter of what is best for us, what we need to learn, that God allows us to be tried and tested. Anytime we wish to develop a spiritual strength, it comes by trials which will exercise the attribute we are asking God to grow in us. In other words, when we ask for patience, what we are truly asking for are the trials that will build that muscle. No matter what test we are undergoing, though, patience is something we will need in each. Patience does not mean just waiting till the Lord decides enough is enough; it is bearing the burden with a joyful heart and a quietness of spirit.
“We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.” II Corinthians 4:8, 9. We can believe, say, and live this because Christ conquered the battle ahead of us. The human psyche is a funny thing. Before 1954, running a mile in under four minutes was said to be humanly impossible. Because of this “fact,” no human had ever been able to beat four minutes; many came dangerously close, but none made it. None, that is, until Roger Bannister. He made running history in 1954 at a meet at Oxford University where he broke the four-minute barrier by one second (back then they did not count nanoseconds). Since then, though, male athletes have made the mile in even less time than Bannister’s—because they knew it could be done. Christ’s life gives us knowledge that it can be done. His character and His triumphs over evil can be ours. The catch? It takes training. Bannister could never have accomplished the supposedly impossible without training. And was it fun and easy and painless? No way! Will it be fun and easy and painless for us? No! But it can be done! The main challenge is in developing the patience that is going to get us through it. It can be easily compared to the strict diet to which Bannister and other professional athletes must adhere in order to optimize their performance. It is the basis of their training. It is what allows them to maximize their training. Patience needs to be our diet. Patience is what is going to allow us to get the most out of our training.
It is through difficulty that God teaches us the lessons we need to learn. We can learn these lessons best if we are not spending our emotional, mental, and physical energies on worry, self-pity, and desperate efforts to change a circumstance outside of our control. Rather, we can put our efforts into biding through the trials and strengthening our faith in God. Yes, it does take lots of energy and dedication. Faith is an absolute to patience. Our ability to withstand the hardship that we face on earth is through the faith that we have in God—faith that He sent His Son to die for us that we may be saved: faith that Christ has conquered so we too may conquer: and faith that we cannot be touched by anything, except that God allows it and His allowance is to work out an end to our benefit. Without this knowledge, life for Christians would be over. And yet at times, it has not sunk down far enough to reach our hearts, or our patience and endurance would see a drastic turn for the better. A runner can push the pain out of mind to achieve the medal awaiting him at the finish line. We, too, can endure because we know that God has something far better awaiting us on the other side of the trial. We persevere, knowing that this too shall pass.
It is quite audacious for us to complain about our treatment here on earth; what servant would expect to be treated better than the master? Satan was working overtime on Christ during His brief time on earth. If the devil could get Jesus, our only chance at salvation, to fall, he would have claim as conqueror. And those three-plus decades were Satan’s only shot. He tortured Christ with every temptation, grief, peril, and pain he had at his command to effect Christ’s fall. From the moment of His birth, Jesus was wanted dead. He grew up poor, knowing the fatigue of physical labor. As an adult, He owned nothing, living a nomadic life in order to spread a truth rejected with vehemence by most, and in His darkest hour, deserted by every earthly companion; even His heavenly Father was being blocked from His vision. In Gospel Workers, 56, Ellen White says, “Angels of God stand amazed, and ashamed of this lack of self-denial and perseverance. While the Author of our salvation was laboring and suffering for us, he denied himself, and his whole life was one continued scene of toil and privation. He could have passed his days on earth in ease and plenty, and appropriated to himself the pleasures of this life; but he considered not his own convenience. He lived to do others good. He suffered to save others from suffering. He endured to the end, and finished the work which was given him to do. All this was to save us from ruin. And now, can it be that we, the unworthy objects of so great love, will seek a better position in this life than was given to our Lord? Every moment of our lives we have been partakers of the blessings of his great love, and for this very reason we cannot fully realize the depths of ignorance and misery from which we have been saved. Can we look upon Him whom our sins have pierced, and not be willing to drink with him the bitter cup of humiliation and sorrow?”
“All heaven is interested in the happiness of man. Our heavenly Father does not close the avenues of joy to any of His creatures.” Steps to Christ, 46.
It may seem that developing patience is more trouble than it is worth; yet God, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, is quite determined that we obtain this attribute. Although it may seem a strange thing to say in the face of the nature of the tools used to grow patience, God is very concerned with our quality of life. Not one person goes through life without feeling the terrible effects of sin. Some face the trials feeling fearful, weak, and bitter; others experience the inevitable sorrows patiently, knowing that God intends to use the devil’s attacks to His good purpose. They endure, and while remaining peaceful, are able to feel some degree of joy. Which class of people is happier? Obviously, those who endure the difficulties with patience. But we cannot do this without practice. Trials are unavoidable, and God wishes us to be at peace through them; one area where practice does indeed make perfect. On-the-job-training is the best way for God to teach us how to lean on Him and be patient. Nothing could be more effective in foiling the devil than to be gracious in trial and use his attacks to bring glory to God.
The patient endurance of those persecuted for their faith has been a testament through the ages to believers and unbelievers alike. However, their trials and suffering would not be noted whatsoever had they not the quietude and contentment that accompanied them; many, even unto death. No one admires anyone who moans and groans over their lot. The heroes whom we admire are those who accepted their fate without a word of complaint or despair. The attitude with which they underwent suffering is what defines them from others who have shared in the same agony. Although at the time we may not be staring down death in the presence of onlookers who would be affected by our placidity, we are being watched by others in our daily lives, most of the time without knowing it. They see how we respond to hardship; whether we are enduring quietly and trusting a loving heavenly Father with our best interest, or struggling with inconsolable doubt and frustration. Our lives are testimonies for others to see Christ’s strength, patience, peace, and joy. Once again, this takes practice, and both the devil and God will ensure that we have the practice we need. Our duty is to shake off Satan and let God conquer in our lives. “We are examples to others … we can see the importance, then, of having true faith, for it is the motive power of the Christian’s life and action.” The Signs of the Times, November 24, 1887. Through our patience, we may be giving someone else the opportunity to see just a glimpse of Christ and what He has to offer in the lives of every person.
Do not make light the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when He rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as a son. For what son is not disciplined by his father? (See Hebrews 12:5–7.) We serve a loving God who has our best interest at heart. He longs to see us at peace here on earth as well as for eternity. Anything that will achieve this end He will allow to come our way. It may at times be what we tend to call “tough love,” yet anything that comes from God is for our good, and we can thus patiently endure and lean on Him who carries the burden with us.
Sandra Rowlandson is part of the Landmarks team and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.