On Patience

(This picture is a reenactment of my hands and are not at all my real hands. As shown by the fact that they are normal adult size, unlike mine which are not).

It is actually a little off-putting to me how often the Bible tells us to wait.  “Waiting” upon the Lord is an invitation to trust God and God’s timing, but in my experience this is almost never easy to do.  I am not the first person to struggle with this.

This past week, I preached about Saul, the first king of Israel.  God chose Saul to be king, even though Saul was pretty hesitant about it. Even after he’d been anointed, he hid when it was time to be presented to everyone, and when he eventually did come out people still grumbled that he was the wrong guy.  Eventually, though, things went his way. He saved a bunch of his people from having an eye gouged out by an invading army, which is a great way to win friends and influence people.  Then everyone decided he was the bee’s knees after all, and threw him a big party.   

It would be really nice if I could say things were all uphill from here, but , regrettably, this is not the case. Sadly, Saul goes on to lose his Kingdom, and one of the first blows to his throne comes from his inability to wait.  

The story is told in 1 Samuel 13.  It says that the Philistines (Israel’s enemies) have “assembled to fight Israel, with 3000 chariots, 6000 charioteers, and soldiers as numerous as the sand on the seashore.” Saul’s army is pretty much freaking out.  A bunch of them have already left.  Lots of them are hiding (“in caves and thickets, among the rocks, and in pits and cisterns”).  The rest of them are with Saul at Gilgal, “quaking with fear.”  Knowing that the Philistines could attack any second, Saul has been waiting for Samuel – the prophet and priest – to come and offer sacrifices in order to ensure God’s presence with them.  It says he had waited seven days, as Samuel had told him to do, but Samuel has not come and the already terrified men are beginning to scatter.   

Can’t you almost feel Saul’s frustration?  His army is dwindling before his eyes, even as the Philistines are getting stronger.  He decides that he cannot wait one minute longer, and, although God’s laws absolutely forbid him to do it, HE makes the sacrifice.  Confession: I cannot say I blame him one little bit.

I often feel like Saul probably did.  I come to a situation where I feel urgency in my heart, a sense that I have to do something before things all fall apart. It’s not that I don’t trust God is looking out for me, except that I kind of don’t.  This is well illustrated by how I deal with something seemingly minor – answering emails.

I sometimes get emails (or facebook messages, etc.) that make me feel anxious. Perhaps the email expresses frustration with something happening at the church. Or it asks a question I’m not sure how to answer. Or it presents a scenario difficult to address. Of course most emails I get do not make me anxious, but once in a while it happens.  The interesting thing is that I’ve discovered that the greater the anxiety that an email causes me the faster I want to reply.  Why? It’s because I want to immediately fix it.  I want to make it better.  Something happens in my head that (falsely) tells me that if I just reply RIGHT NOW then it will be “dealt with” and my anxiety will subside.

It never works this way.

Instead, time and again, my quick reply only causes me more anxiety, as I then have to wait for a follow-up reply, or (most often) as some time passes and I think about what I SHOULD have said if I had just waited a little bit longer, when I was calmer, when I had taken time to pray, when I wasn’t driven by worry, but instead by God.  I almost always regret the email sent in urgency. 

It probably sounds silly, but I think that, for me, my challenge to wait on God is lived out more often in waiting to answer an email than in almost anything else.  Yes, this is embarrassing to admit.  Of course, I have waited on God for far more serious things – healing for loved ones, peace in uncertainty, answers to big questions. Yet, I can now see that the image of myself anxiously typing a reactionary email at my computer is not so different than the image of Saul standing over an altar making a sacrifice he shouldn’t make.  Both of us are failing to wait, to trust, to give God time to give us wisdom and peace.

For Saul, the consequences of his impatience are dire. As soon as Saul makes the sacrifice Samuel shows up and is grieved to hear what he has done.  Saul tries to explain it – he felt he had to.  He couldn’t wait anymore.  He needed to do something.  It is, however, too late.  His impatience has been his downfall.  Samuel tells him that because of what he has done his dynasty will not continue.  

The sad news is, Saul’s struggle is alive and well all around us.  We are an impatient people, and it hurts us over and over. Consider this:  How many difficult things do you know that could have been avoided if someone had just WAITED a couple of hours to calm down before posting a Facebook post?

I believe I have made my point.  

It may be that right now you are in a Saul-over-the-altar season.  You are waiting, and you want to be patient, but you can’t figure out where God is and you feel like  it’s time to do something.   Saul’s story again is a great reminder.  Saul thought he had to do something because he didn’t believe Samuel was coming. But you know where Samuel was when Saul made the sacrifice that lost him his legacy?  

Right around the corner.  

God hadn’t forgotten Saul.  God was working. Saul’s deliverance was on the way, literally about to walk up the road.

Do with this what you will.  

For me, it reminds me to choose patience.  And it reminds me that I can practice patience by doing something as simple as closing my computer screen after I receive a challenging email. I am still learning, but the great news is I know I will get lots more chances to practice. * 

May you too find ways to practice patience, and in so doing discover that God is not so far down the road after all.

(*Please do not send me fake angry emails to test me in this.  Real angry emails still accepted, but may not be answered immediately because see above). 

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