Patience as a Pastoral Virtue

The joke in Christian circles throughout my life has been, “Pray for anything except patience. You don’t want to see what God will give you if you ask for that. Praying for patience is dangerous.”

I’ve laughed and told this joke . Now I think the joke is on me. I never realized how the joke presumes that one can follow Jesus without patience. It also assumes that God will not bother with patience in our lives unless we ask for it. I have been wrong on both counts. One assumption in the joke is true: patience is often learned within the context of trial. The trials seem like interruptions to our otherwise good lives. But more often than not, the trials become the dogs that bark at the impatience and haste that sneak into the halls of our lives. We wouldn’t see the intruder lurking to harm us without such barking. And impatience does harm to us. In God’s eyes, it will do more harm to us than our trials (James 1: 2– 4).

Without patience, love is distorted; faith is not possible; hope fails. Impatience violates love, hurries us into walking by sight, and usurps God by putting the fulfillment of our hopes into our own hands.

Turning to Jesus, a little phrase comes to mind. I had preached on it some time ago: “Eight days later” (John 20: 26). Thomas had said to the other disciples, his friends, that he would not believe in Jesus unless he saw Jesus. I know that Jesus heard those words of Thomas’s. Thomas had once been courageous and willing to die for Jesus. But then the pain of betrayal and the loss of the one he loved became too much for him to try again or believe again. Cynical with loss, Thomas doubted. Jesus met Thomas and gave him the faith he needed. But he waited eight days to do it.

If Jesus’s view of time was clock time, this willingness to wait and let Thomas stew in unbelief seems wasteful.

But Jesus time, or time as Jesus sees it, is not designed to drive us into what we want but cannot get to. For him, time is the means. It’s the gift we are given by which we learn to locate the otherwise “unapparent presence of God.”

~ Zack Eswine,  Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being

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