"Lord, how long?"
Patience is one of the traits listed as "fruit of the Spirit." (Galatians 5:22) And, yes it can be an elusive and frustrating thing that is difficult to learn. We joke, "Lord, give me patience. I need it right now!" Patience is a tricky thing, that you cannot achieve by pursuing it. We have to be trained in it, and Jesus is the master teacher and the master in the art of patience.
Psalm 40 is an entertaining study in patience. David starts out, "I waited patiently for the Lord; He inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, ... He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. ..." Everything sounds completely filled with faith -- until v. 13 "Be pleased , O Lord, to deliver me! O Lord, make haste to help me!" and v. 17 "You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God!" What happened? Why such a change?
That is the nature of patience, and why it is so closely interwoven with faith. Patience in the Bible is the character of waiting for a promise and very specifically not being allowed to see it ('cause then it would be neither patience nor a matter of faith). God asks us to know that He will act. He is not telling us when or how. But He has been faithful through all those times in the past, in fact through all the centuries as they have slowly unfolded. So we can trust Him. He will do what He has promised at exactly the right time.
I learned a lesson about patience some years ago. I was staying with Bishop David Tswaedi in Soweto. I wanted to buy a gift for my wife at a shopping mall. Bishop Tswaedi dropped me off and was supposed to be back in a couple of hours. But he was delayed. It was 3, then 4, then 5 hours. I was alone in a strange country, no phone, no means of transportation. The mall closed. They had a waiting area for shoppers waiting for a ride. I sat there thinking, "What could possibly have happened? Should I worry? But he said he would return. He has always been faithful. Could something have happened? But he has told me how it is different here. In America you show up on time. But here when cars break down or when trains are not running, he said, "We trust each other that we will get there somehow. Even if we have to walk, we will be there."
Finally he arrived. The car had broken down. The mechanic did not have the parts and had to travel across town to get them. What's more the mechanic had to borrow a car, and the rental car places had none. But he was there. He had promised.
Now as we wait for problems to be solved and disease to be figured out and cured, we have an opportunity to learn something about patience.
God has promised. He is faithful, far above any other friend. We can have all kinds of thoughts going through our minds; and all sorts of emotions going on inside of us. What is going to happen? How many ways could things go wrong? Do the doctors, researchers, the President, and others know what they are doing? What if everything falls apart? What if the economy crashes and everyone around me loses their jobs? (And our own special worry, "Where am I going to find toilet paper?")
But He is faithful. He has promised. He has always been trustworthy.
And patience has then become an exercise in faith. Remember how we keep on saying it this way, "Faith is believing the words and promises of God; no matter what." What is your measure of "no matter what" today? That is also the measure of how much God is asking you to trust in Him and believe that He is faithful and He will be there.
Since Jesus is the Author and Perfecter of faith (Hebrews 12:2) He is also perfect in patience. From Gethsemane to Calvary Jesus had to wait without seeing, trusting only in the promise, enduring the hours of darkness and praying with absolute faith, until all was done and blessings and joy were restored, and He had redeemed and won us for eternal life.
God measures out the "no matter what" in our lives for a reason. He is building our relationship with Him leading us through times of blessing and times of needing to trust. Time after time He tells us, "Trust in the Lord." "Wait for the Lord." David had learned the lesson. That's what the beginning of Psalm 40 is all about. He knew the times of blessing. But once again it was time to wait. That's what the end of Psalm 40 is about. Patience all over again.
Because, finally, the lesson of patience is knowing who we are trusting and knowing He is faithful. It is what Paul had learned when he wrote this from prison in Rome, "but I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day." (2 Timothy 1:12)
Lord Jesus, this is a time of waiting and not knowing. But You have promised, and You have been faithful every day and hour of my life. Even when I have been weak in faith You have been with me "to the end of the age." Help me to wait, and know that you will be faithful and You will act. Through the in-between times help me to grow in hearing Your promises and trusting Your constant care. Amen.