Patient Impatience

We are saturating ourselves with 1 Thessalonians and I am fixated with one phrase of verse 5:14: “Be patient with everyone.”

I think many people are called and are good at being patient in a “passive” way. They can really wait! They are good at being quiet and receptive. So they can wait for what God is going to bring to them.

I am becoming better at that, but I am still more of an “active” patience kind of guy. I have to be patient in my impatience. That’s why I was so glad to see that the word translated patience in 5:14 has the sense of letting your feelings embrace others, be “far feeling,” don’t keep you heart closed off. It is an active kind of patience that trusts God to be present in a difficult relationship or circumstance. Patience is like a corral one builds for unbroken relational broncos; it is the best atmosphere for spiritual domestication.

I happened to run across James talking about patience today, as well, and he encouraged the idea I had about patient impatience. In his chapter five, James ponders what it feels like to wait for the Lord’s return to set things right in the midst of difficulties: “Be patient, then, beloved, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.”

A farmer does not just sit around doing nothing while the Lord plants and tills the field. He can’t make it rain, but he can’t resist looking at the sky to see if there is going to be enough rain to bring in a reasonable harvest. He can’t resist digging ditches and cisterns in expectation. He is impatient, but patient. Being a spiritual farmer, a church planter and cell tiller, I relate. When the crop needs rain, I want it to fall. When we’re dry, I feel desperate. I’ve got to trust God, but crying out to God to get on with it and getting on with it myself is part of the process. If we don’t have any impatience with what is and what could be, I’m not sure we’re paying attention.

But of course we are all paying attention. We’re feeling anxious right now about how messed up we are, about how our relationships are not working, about how the world at large seems hell-bent. Today is probably full of stuff that could push us right to the edge.

I know that this week, apart from my own personal development lag, I am impatient for reconciliation. Pen was enlightening me about further reasons Christian church buildings are attacked in Malaysia last night. Harry Reid is on the hot seat for saying stupid things about President Obama’s electability and highlighting how we can’t talk about race in this country. The very idea of “race” imposed on us bothers me. The domestication of Martin Luther King bothers me. There is a lot to be downright, properly angry about!

I don’t think I am going to get passive and quiet about all that very soon. Some things don’t deserve that kind of patience. What to do? I won’t be perfectly patient, any time soon. I will have to trust God to be who God is, coming to me in Jesus as a demonstration of his own great far-feeling, walking with me in my small turmoil and settling me down in him. My breath prayer for today is: patient impatience yes, untrusting anxiety, no.

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About Rod White

Pastor for Circle of Hope. Graduate of Fuller Seminary, PhD in MFT from Eastern University.
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