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Archive for Patience


Staying Put

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Now Elijah, who was from Tishbe in Gilead, told King Ahab, “As surely as the LORD, the God of Israel, lives—the God I serve—there will be no dew or rain during the next few years until I give the word!” Then the LORD said to Elijah, “Go to the east and hide by Kerith Brook, near where it enters the Jordan River. Drink from the brook and eat what the ravens bring you, for I have commanded them to bring you food.” So Elijah did as the LORD told him and camped beside Kerith Brook, east of the Jordan. The ravens brought him bread and meat each morning and evening, and he drank from the brook. But after a while the brook dried up, for there was no rainfall anywhere in the land (1 Kings 17:1-7, NLT).

God sent Elijah to Ahab’s palace to deliver a prophetic word: God’s not happy and its not going to rain. Perhaps Elijah anticipated that his next step would be to take the message to the people in the streets. But God sent him to the Kerith Brook to hide. There, Elijah would be fed by scavenger birds and drink from the brook. His assignment? Wait for further instructions. The Bible doesn’t tell us how long he waited there at the brook. Scholars estimate that he remained there between six months and a year. The remarkable thing is not that Elijah went to the Kerith Brook. Its that he stayed there until God gave him his next move.

Brooks don’t dry up all at once. They dry up little by little. With each passing day, Elijah watched his water supply gradually diminish. The Jordan River was just over the hill, and while it certainly experienced the devastation of the drought as well, it would have certainly have provided a more ample and fresher water source than the brook. But Elijah didn’t pull up the anchor and go to the Jordan. He stayed put and waited for God’s next word. I wonder if I would have done the same thing.

Each of us face circumstances in life when we’re tempted to pull up the anchor and strike out on our own. Heaven is silent to our prayers and we see no visible evidence that God is doing anything about our challenges. When we find ourselves waiting for further instructions we often wrestle with the Jordan River that is just over the hill side. If Elijah modeled anything for us in the early stages of his biography, it was his willingness to stay put and continue to trust God. When God plants us somewhere and tells us to wait, he hasn’t forgotten us. He’s preparing us for the next stage of our lives.

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For all the talk I hear about the important role that patience plays in the Christian life, I’m surprised by how little the Bible actually has to say about the subject. As I mentioned in an earlier post, patience in the New Testament concerns our appropriate response to difficult people, while endurance concerns how we are to approach difficult problems.

If you read each of the Bible references on the word “patience” or the word “patient,” you’ll find a good measure of them refer to God’s patience with people like you and me. Solomon has a little to say about the topic, connecting patience with virtues such as strength of spirit and wisdom. But we have to look to James 5 for any kind of substantial treatment of this particular Fruit of the Spirit.

Here are some summary observations about patience from Jesus’ half brother:

1. Difficult people will be in our lives as long as we are alive. “Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return…” (James 5:7, NLT) Yes, we are to patiently wait for the return of Christ, but we need to remember that God’s waiting room is usually crowded with others, many of whom have challenges that infringe on our comfort levels.

2. Sometimes patience is required simply because God is trying to do some heart work in a person’s life that isn’t quite complete. “Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen. You, too, must be patient” (James 5:7, NLT). Like fruit that ripens over time, we cannot rush the work of God in a person’s life.

3. Patience builds strong character. “Take courage, for the coming of the Lord is near” (James 5:8, NLT). There is an old saying that goes something like this: Give a child everything he wants and a pig everything he wants and you’ll have a very fine pig and a very poor child. We don’t want patience. When we do, we want it now! But exercising patience doesn’t hurt us. Rather it builds us. Think of it as eating your vegetables.

4. Complaining about problem people only makes things worse. “Don’t grumble about each other, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. For look—the Judge is standing at the door!” (James 5:9, NLT) When you criticize and complain about “problem people” to others you risk the danger of making the problem bigger than it is and give it a life of its own. Keep the circle small.

5. Others have exercised patience successfully. If others have done it and are doing it, so can you. “For examples of patience in suffering, dear brothers and sisters, look at the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord” (James 5:10, NLT)

6. Patience produces the blessing of God. God is compassionate and merciful and will reward your patience. “We give great honor to those who endure under suffering. For instance, you know about Job, a man of great endurance. You can see how the Lord was kind to him at the end, for the Lord is full of tenderness and mercy” (James 5:11, NLT)

I hope these simple observations will encourage you today as you deal with difficult people. I know the temptation is great to “fix” those challenging people, but keep in mind that God may be using those difficult people to knock a rough edge or two off of your character!

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Practice What You Preach

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As long as I can remember, I’ve heard the worn phrase, “practice what you preach.” Sometimes it’s in reference to the burden that pastors feel to perfectly implement into their lives the material they present to their congregations each Sunday. After all, who is inspired by, “You should obey God in this area of life, even though I don’t?” Sometimes it’s used colloquially as a challenge to those who hold opinions that may be inconsistent with their behavior.In my ministry I’ve discovered that God’s sense of humor allows me to live out whatever I’m preaching, whether I think I need to experience it or not. Take for example a Bible study I’m presently leading for a small group in our church on The Fruit of the Spirit. I love teaching the Fruit of the Spirit. It’s always relevant and draws out tons of conversation. In the past month I’ve observed that each fruit that I teach has been a point of challenge in my personal life. The week I taught “love,” for example, I had the chance to unconditionally love and forgive a family member. The week I taught “joy,” our rescue dog, Jackson, ate, of all things a razor blade (he’s fine, thanks for asking). The week I taught “peace,” I was confronted with a circumstance that was literally imploding before my eyes.

This week I get “patience.” My biblical understanding of patience is that patience deals primarily with difficult people, whereas endurance deals primarily with difficult situations. Of course my patience is being tried big time as I prepare to teach tonight’s lesson!

When I was young I would hear saintly people say things like, “don’t pray for patience or God will give it to you!” I’ve learned through the years that if God determines I need patience, it doesn’t matter if I ask for it or not, He’s going to work on that area of my character. And when he does, he uses difficult people to do it.

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