How much disappointment can you take before you lose completely heart?
One of my favorite stories is about the man lost in the desert. As the sun beat down on him, he got thirsty. Seeing a stand in the distance, he hiked up to it and asked, “Do you have any water?” “No, sir, we don’t,” the clerk replied, “but we do have bow-ties — striped bow-ties, dotted bow-ties, even flashing bow-ties.” “No, I don’t need a tie,” the man said. “I need water.” So off he staggered for several more hours until he came to another stand. “Do you have any water?” he asked. “No,” the clerk replied. “But we do have neck-ties — long neckties, wide neckties, even bright and flashy neckties.” “No,” the man grumbled. “I don’t need a tie. I need water!” So on he crawled until he was about to collapse. Just then he spotted a restaurant in the distance. Dragging himself up to the maître de, he croaked, “Do you have any water?” “Yes, sir, we do,” the maître de replied. “We have lots of cool, refreshing water. But I’m sorry. I can’t let you in without a tie!”
Life is like that at times. Full of frustration and disappointment! In fact, like me you’ve probably discovered by now that no one gets through life without facing countless hardships and heartaches. God sends His rain on both the righteous and unrighteous. Both good and bad people catch colds, lose jobs, have their cars break down on them, and are wounded by family and friends, to name just a few of life’s trials, many of which we have no control over. In fact, so often what’s the only thing we can control about them? How we react to them!
So let me take a moment to ask you a few revealing questions. How long can you sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic or wait in the grocery checkout line before you start grumbling under your breath? How much pain can you bear and how much negative criticism can you listen to before you’re ready to lash out in anger? How long can you wait for the diagnosis to come back or pray for the spiritual well-being of a loved one before you lose faith and give up all hope? How you answer each of these questions reveals how much of a certain character trait you have, one that most of us have in short supply but which is extremely abundant in God. What virtue is that? Patience! Or what the Bible calls “long-suffering,” the ability to endure great disappointment with faith, hope, and love.
For the last few weeks, I’ve been blogging about the Person of God—what He’s like, how He acts, and what He thinks about you and me. So far we’ve looked at several of His attributes such as His wisdom, His justice, His goodness, and His faithfulness. However, in this and the next few posts I want to focus on one of His most important traits towards us sinners, and that’s His incredible patience.
Perhaps you remember the question Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:21-22) In other words, stop keeping track of how many times you forgive others, and forgive them as often as God forgives you, which is every time you sin against Him. The Psalmist David wrote, “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love…He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him.” (Psalm 103:8-11)
This post is my introduction to the topic. In the next three posts, I will spotlight the patience of God in the context of three vital relationships we have with Him: His patience with us as our Savior; His patience with us as our Father; and His patience with us as our Judge. My hope is that by the time I finish we’ll be more thankful to Him and love Him more because of His long-suffering towards us.