Patience is not required in a life that is going to plan. Our plans often involve good things coming to us with speed. However, patience itself is a virtue. It is a good. In our consumer world we often forget that the good things in life are often hard to come by. They take time and the immediate pressures of life cause us to leave character development and quality time on the shelf.
God has a different agenda. He sometimes cares about us enough that he forces us to develop character or live in misery. When we don’t pass a test and have to study hard to move forward it pains us but we either develop patience or despair. When the right girl does not come along we become frustrated with the idea that God might have let us down. When we want a child, but pregnancy is illusive we are enraged that the crack addict has a crack baby. We do not always wait well. Perhaps the goal in waiting is not to get the product that we want, but it is to find God in the waiting and let him develop patience in us.
Psalm 4o is a strong Bible passage to study about patience.
I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
2 He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
3 He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord.
4 Blessed is the man who makes
the Lord his trust,
who does not turn to the proud,
to those who go astray after a lie!
5 You have multiplied, O Lord my God,
your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;
none can compare with you!
I will proclaim and tell of them,
yet they are more than can be told.
6 In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted,
but you have given me an open ear.
Burnt offering and sin offering
you have not required.
7 Then I said, “Behold, I have come;
in the scroll of the book it is written of me:
8 I delight to do your will, O my God;
your law is within my heart.”
9 I have told the glad news of deliverance
in the great congregation;
behold, I have not restrained my lips,
as you know, O Lord.
10 I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart;
I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
from the great congregation.
11 As for you, O Lord, you will not restrain
your mercy from me;
your steadfast love and your faithfulness will
ever preserve me!
12 For evils have encompassed me
my iniquities have overtaken me,
and I cannot see;
they are more than the hairs of my head;
my heart fails me.
13 Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me!
O Lord, make haste to help me!
14 Let those be put to shame and disappointed altogether
who seek to snatch away my life;
let those be turned back and brought to dishonor
who delight in my hurt!
15 Let those be appalled because of their shame
who say to me, “Aha, Aha!”
16 But may all who seek you
rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who love your salvation
say continually, “Great is the Lord!”
17 As for me, I am poor and needy,
but the Lord takes thought for me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
do not delay, O my God!
The psalmist, David, waits patiently. His waiting has faith and lacks frenetic action. He knows his own limits and he realises that if he tries to hurry things along it will be to no avail. In some sense he is helpless. He has no power to control the path to the future he so desires. He is stuck fast in miry clay which pulls him away from freedom.
To deal with his present, David remembers his past. In the past God has provided what he needed. In the past things have a had a way of working out. David concludes that the past shows evidence that God is steadfast in his love and faithful in his focus. He can rely on God in the present circumstances, but God is working out a plan. When he recalls the actions of God he finds a place of gratitude. Gratitude lifts his spirits and feeds a focus away from himself. Often in times of great stress and trial we obsess on ourselves and our needs. David’s thought process works in an opposite direction. He doesn’t implode but explodes with gratitude and dependence on God.
It is problematic in the West in our age to see retribution desired by David. In our insulated and protected existence we forget the fury of living life under the threat of the sword. It is easy to love enemies who call you names, it is harder to love enemies who murder your children. In a harsh environment the scales tip from loving acceptance to a desire for justice. Both are good. Goodness in the Bible is akin to righteousness. When the right thing happens it is good, however to be good does not always mean to be nice. David is not nice, but what he requests is just. If he received justice for what had been done to him, his enemies would suffer. If they repented would he want grace for them? We see in David’s treatment of Saul and his family in 2 Samuel that he does not seek the destruction of all who oppose him. However, he wants liberation and justice because he is oppressed and has no freedom.
God does not delight in slave-like service. God desires hearts to be turned toward him. David shows that he is no concerned with offering empty sacrifices at the temple, he is primarily concerned with relationship. In this time of patient waiting, David can reevaluate and reestablish his relationship with God. This character development and relationship building is of great worth. We do not see the worth of the character developed as in correlation to the magnitude of the suffering or the length of our waiting. In the economy of God, though, the great cost reflects the great worth. This is why James, in his epistle, tells us to consider it pure joy. When we would be inclined to punch someone who gave us James’ advice, biblical characters had a different value system. Just as you can not buy love, so you can not buy patience. Patience comes as a gift to those in the waiting room.
So, in summary, those who wait well are able to focus away from themselves and toward God. God’s wisdom gives them insight into waiting and peace. They develop character and godliness. They grow. The waiting itself does not become a dead-zone which is worthless and wasted. It becomes a workshop where God is the potter and we are the clay. Then, when the time is right and the piece is ready, the waiting is over and he reveals the work which he has wrought to the world.
Answer the following observation questions:
- How did the psalmist wait for the Lord?
- Which verb tense is used in verses 1-3?
- What words describe the psalmist’s condition before and after God’s salvation in verses 1-3?
- What are two possible outcomes in this psalm that can occur when patience is tested?
- In what has God not delighted?
- What words contrast slavish obedience with heart-felt relationship?
- In what verses does the psalmist sing of or tell the works of God?
- What is not concealed from the congregation?
- What is the verb tense in verse 11?
- What words are repeated throughout Psalm 40?
- What is the condition of the psalmist at the end of the psalm?
- On what thought does the psalmist end the psalm?
Answer the following interpretation questions:
- How would you describe patience in your own words?
- How does the psalmist remembering the past help him to endure the present?
- What kind of difficult circumstances did David, the author, endure (scan 1 & 2 Samuel)?
- What does turning to the proud and going after a lie look like?
- How was David saved by God from difficult situations in life?
- What is David’s motive for telling God multiple times that he will broadcast the news when God rescues him? Is he trying to make a deal with God? Does that work?
- If David is in such a difficult situation, why is there so much gratitude in the psalm?
- Why does David recount to God how well he has behaved?
- Was it alright for David to want bad things to happen to those who oppressed him? Why? Why not?
- Why are God’s steadfast love and faithfulness essential to patience?
- If the fruit of the Spirit includes patience, how is it developed in a Christian?
- Would you say the psalm focuses on God, David, or the oppressors?
Answer the following application questions:
- Would others describe you as a patient person?
- For what have you had to wait?
- How has God come through for you in years past?
- How does remembering God’s faithfulness and steadfast love for you help you to wait?
- For what are you grateful?
- Are you good at giving thanks to God when you don’t think you have what you want or need?
- What might prevent God from working more quickly in your life?
- How do you use times of waiting to remove obstacles to God’s blessing in your life?
- How does your life encourage others to wait well?
- What pressures 21st century Christians to seek immediate gratification?
- How do people cope best with pressures toward immediate gratification?
- Why is it often good to wait for marriage, children, healing, peace of mind, tasks to be completed?