The Patience Test

Today is Mother’s Day and I want to take just a moment to acknowledge and express appreciation to all the mothers who are in the audience this morning.  Abraham Lincoln was not exaggerating when he said, “All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my mother.”

            Mothers demonstrate the love of God in so many ways, but perhaps one of the most important qualities of a good mother is patience.  I love this African proverb I found, “Patience is the mother of a beautiful child.”

            A good mother needs to have patience, and a good mother needs to teach patience to her children.  And that’s such a difficult thing to do because patience involves waiting, and nobody likes to wait.

            Let me show how one of our mothers in this congregation is teaching her son patience.  Kelsey Saracco did a little experiment with her son, Landon, and she recorded this video

            Show VIDEO

            I’ve got to say that I’m quite impressed.  Landon held out a lot longer than I would have.  But Kelsey isn’t the only one who gives tests like this.  So does God.

            Last week, we started looking at some of the ways that God tests our faith.  Because James told us, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” (James 1:2-3)

            As we said last week, a trial isn’t always a bad thing, it’s just a test.  And once we understand that, we realize that we all encounter various trials all day long.  Every interaction we have with another person is a trial.  Every time we open our mouth to say something is a trial.  The way we spend our money is a trial.  The way we spend our time is a trial.  We are being tested every single day, all day long.

            Last week, we talked about how one of the tests of our faith is the wilderness test.  There are times when we all find ourselves in difficult situations, times when we don’t have what we think we need, and God wants to see how we respond to that.  We looked at three questions God asks on the wilderness test:

  1. Do you really trust God?
  2. Are you going to obey God?
  3. Do you remember what God has done for you in the past?

            This morning, we want to take a look at another test that God gives us, and that’s the patience test.  And the person that I want to talk about who took this test and passed it is Abraham.  Now, normally when we think of Abraham being tested, we think of the time when God told Abraham to take his son, Isaac, and offer him as a sacrifice.  And that was indeed a test, a very difficult test.

            But there was another test that God gave Abraham that lasted much of his life.  When God first came to Abraham, he gave Abraham three promises:

            1.         He would have many descendants that would form a great nation.

            2.         God would give Abraham’s family the land of Canaan to live in.

3.             God would bless the entire world through one of Abraham’s descendants, which we now know was Jesus.

            God told Abraham, “I promise that I will do these three things for you.”  And, on the basis of God’s promise, Abraham left his family and traveled to a distant land.  But, those three promises involved a lot of waiting.  It would be 400 years before Abraham’s family would grow large enough to become a great nation, and Abraham would never see it. 

            During his lifetime, Abraham didn’t own even one piece of land and it would be 440 years before God would give the land of Canaan to his descendants, and Abraham would never see that either. 

            And then it would be approximately 1900 years before Jesus would come to this earth and die on a cross to provide salvation and be a blessing to the whole world.  And Abraham definitely did not live long enough to see that.

            The Hebrew writer tells us in chapter 11, “It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance.  He went without knowing where he was going.  And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith — for he was like a foreigner, living in tents.  And so did Isaac and Jacob, who inherited the same promise….All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it.” (Hebrews 11:8-9,13, NLT)

            And in Hebrews 6, “For when God made a promise to Abraham…he swore by himself, saying, ‘Surely I will bless you and multiply you.’  And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise.” (Hebrews 6:13-15) 

            Abraham patiently waited.  Because, before God could give Abraham all of those things that he promised, there was one thing that he had to do first.  Before he could give Abraham many descendants who would form a great nation who would inherit the land of Canaan.  And before one of Abraham’s descendants, way down the line, blessed the world, God had to first give Abraham a son.

            And that was a problem.  When God first called Abraham, Abraham was 75 years old and Sarah was 65 years old, and they had no children.  They had probably been married for about 50 years and, no doubt, had sex on a regular basis, but Sarah had never gotten pregnant.  The odds of them having a child at this point were extremely slim, but God promised they would and Abraham believed him.

            And I’m sure that Abraham and Sarah were excited and anxious to know that she was going to get pregnant soon.  And every month that went by, I’m sure there was a little bit of disappointment when it became apparent that Sarah wasn’t pregnant yet.  That went on for 10 years.  At that point, Abraham was 85 years old, and Sarah was 75.  Sarah basically said, “Abraham, God told you that you would have a son, but he didn’t tell me that I would.”  So, she came up plan B that involved Hagar.  And Ishmael was born.

            But that wasn’t God’s plan.  Thirteen more years went by, and Abraham and Sarah still didn’t have a child.  Abraham was 99 years old and Sarah was 89.  And God came to them and he said, “This time, next year, you’ll have a son.”  It was too unbelievable.  It seemed absurd for them to expect a child at that age, especially after Sarah had been barren for all those years. 

            But, one year later, Isaac was born.  After 25 years of waiting, Abraham finally had the son that God had promised him.  “And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise.” (Hebrews 6:15) 

            I think one of the most difficult tests that God gives us is the patience test.  Times when God makes us wait, to see how we respond.  To see if we will continue to have faith in him, continue to follow him, even when it looks like God has totally ignored us.

            I’ve said before that patience is a difficult thing for us, especially in the 21st century, because we are so used to having whatever we want almost immediately.  Many of us order on Amazon Prime and we have a package sitting on our porch within two days.  This past week, I ordered something from Sam’s Club on Tuesday morning, and it was delivered that same afternoon.  When you always get what you want that quickly, you get used to it, and you expect it. 

            And so, when we ask God for something, we expect the same kind of results.  I mean, if Amazon can get me what I want within two days, surely God can get me what I want in a week or less.  We don’t like to wait, especially on God.

            But, there are a lot of times when God wants to see if we can pass the patience test, and so he makes us wait.  The Bible actually says a lot about waiting on God, especially in the Psalms:

            “Lead me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation; On You I wait all the day.” (Psalm 25:5)

            “Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for Him; Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass…Do not fret — it only causes harm.  For evildoers shall be cut off; But those who wait on the LORD, they shall inherit the earth.” (Psalm 37:7-9)

            “I waited patiently for the LORD; And He inclined to me, and heard my cry.” (Psalm 40:1).

            “Therefore I will look to the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation; My God will hear me.” (Micah 7:7)

            So, what do you do when you find yourself waiting on God?

            There are some people who are waiting for God to bring healing. In some physical way, they are suffering.  And they are waiting for God to heal them, or at least to alleviate the pain.

            For others, it’s a matter of dealing with depression — life seems to have no purpose, no meaning, no joy.  And that person is waiting for God to restore all of that.

            What do you do when you find yourself waiting for God?

            There are people who are waiting for God to restore relationships.  Have you ever been in a situation where you want the forgiveness of someone you have hurt – you do everything you can to say I am sorry and to make things right and that person simply will not forgive you – And you are left waiting for God to soften that person’s heart.

            Or maybe you’re on the other end.  Someone has done you wrong and you’re carrying a terrible grudge.  And living with anger is like living with cancer – the anger just eats away at your soul.  But you just can’t seem to get over it.  You can’t seem to bring yourself to forgive and you’re waiting on God to equip you with the serenity and the strength to say those simple words “I forgive you” – and to really mean it.

            What do you do when you find yourself waiting for God?

            Or maybe it’s the teenager who’s waiting for God to build a sense of values and morals in a culture that far too often is filled with vulgarity, crudeness and disrespect. That teenager is waiting on God to provide the courage to reject all of the pressures that come from peers and from the media.

            Or maybe you’re waiting for God to provide justice. I think about the experience of so many minorities in this country.  All of the promises of equality before the law – equality of opportunity – equality of education – equality in the recognition of basic human dignity.  And yet, there are many who are still waiting for that equality, and that justice.

            What do you do when you find yourself waiting for God?

            And then there are those who are waiting for peace.  We pray for peace.  But none of us have actually known a world at peace.  Nor have any of our ancestors.  What do you do when you find yourself waiting for God to bring peace to this troubled world?

            Then there are those people who wait more desperately than any of us.  People in our own country who are homeless and hungry. People around the globe in desperate struggles to feed their children.

            In many African villages, there are children who are in a desperate struggle to survive – because the adults have died of AIDS – the orphanages are overcrowded and ill-equipped – and there’s nowhere to go and no one to take care of them.

            What do you do when you are waiting for God like that?

            I want to try to answer that question by looking at a passage in Acts 1.  This is a chapter where the disciples are waiting.  And they’re waiting because that’s exactly what Jesus told them to do.  After his resurrection, Jesus spent 40 days with his disciples.  Then, shortly before he ascended back to heaven, we read:

            “And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father…” (Acts 1:4).

            Specifically, what they were to wait for was the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, and the establishment of God’s kingdom through the church.  We have the advantage of knowing that they didn’t have to wait very long.  In fact, it was only ten days later that those things happened and we read about them in Acts 2.

            But the disciples didn’t know that.  They didn’t know how long they needed to wait.  They didn’t know if it was a matter of hours or days or months or even years.  All they knew is that Jesus said to wait.

            I’d like for you to notice with me a few things about their wait that may help when we have to wait on God.

I.          Realize that God will act in his own good time

            In Acts 1, the disciples got a bit anxious.  They asked Jesus in verse 6, “Are you getting ready to restore your kingdom?”  In other words, how long do we have to wait?  Is it going to be soon?

            And Jesus’ answer in verse 7 is this:  “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.”

            In other words, “I’m not going to tell you how long you’re going to have to wait. God will do things in his own good time.  You don’t worry about how long it’s going to take him.  Your job is just to wait.”

            But it’s hard to wait.  And we don’t like to wait.  We want God to do things on our timetable – not on his.  We want him to do something right now!!!

            And we sometimes need a reminder that God will do something.  He always does – in his own way – in his own time – based on his marvelous wisdom.

            I love the book of Habakkuk.  Now I’m going to guess that it’s probably not one of the books of the Bible that you read a lot.  But you should.  It’s not a long book; it’s only three chapters.  But it’s the record of a very honest struggle of faith in the heart of one of God’s prophets.

            You see, Habakkuk was bothered by something.  He looked all around him and all he was saw were Jews who were claiming to be God’s people, but they weren’t living like God’s people.  They were lying and cheating and stealing.  And so, Habakkuk cried out to God and he said,

            “O LORD, how long shall I cry, and You will not hear?” (Habakkuk 1:2)

            He’s saying, “Lord, I’m so tired of waiting.  I want you to do something.  I’ve been praying and praying and praying to you about this situation.  And I keep waiting.  When are you going to do something?”

            And God says in response, “Don’t worry.  I’ll take care of it.  In my own time, in my own way.  I’m going to bring in the Babylonians and use them to punish the Jews.”

            And Habakkuk says, “Wait a minute, Lord, you can’t do that.  As wicked as the Jews are, the Babylonians are even worse.  They need to be punished, too.”

            And God says, “Don’t worry.  I’ll take care of that.  In my own time, in my own way.”

            And then the book of Habakkuk closes with a beautiful passage, one of my favorite scriptures in all the Bible.  Habakkuk says,

             “Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord!  I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!” (Habakkuk 3:17-18).

            In the end, Habakkuk finally learned to be patient and to wait on God, and to realize that God will act in his own time, in his own way. 

            Getting back to Acts 1, we see that…

II.         Waiting for God should be a time of activity

            After Jesus told the disciples to wait, you’ll notice that they didn’t just sit around staring at each other.  The book of Acts tells us that the disciples took care of some practical business.  Verse 14 tells us “They all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication.” 

            When you’re in a situation when you’re having to wait on God, I suggest that you spend a lot of time doing what the disciples did – praying to God.

            Then, in verse 15, Peter stood up and told all the rest that they needed to replace Judas – to appoint a new apostle.  And so that’s what they did.  They made up a job description, looked at the candidates – there were two who fit the bill – and then they cast lots to allow God to choose between the two men.

            What I want us to learn from that is that any time we’re forced to wait for God, we should spend that time being busy doing what God wants us to do.

            If we are waiting for God to solve the problem of famine victims or tornado victims or flood victims in this country or around the world, we can also be doing something.  We can start by praying like the disciples did. Then we can do what we can to help the situation – we can give of our money or our time to bring relief to those folks.  Being patient doesn’t mean doing nothing.  It means doing what we can while we wait.

            If we’re waiting for God to provide direction in our life – we can do something while we wait.  We can investigate our options – we can get the proper training – we can talk to other people – listen to their suggestions – We can pray for guidance.  We’re patient, but we don’t just do nothing.

            And while we’re waiting for God to establish peace in this world, we can become peace-makers. And we can pray about peace.  Again, we’re patient but we don’t just do nothing.  Waiting for God should be a time of activity.

III.       We need to wait patiently

            In Romans 8, Paul writes, “Who hopes for what they already have?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” (Romans 8:24b-25)

            When God makes a promise to us, we know that he will keep that promise.  And so, we wait.  And we should wait patiently, without worrying, without grumbling or complaining.  God will always keep his promises.

            That was Abraham’s problem at one point in his waiting.  God promised him a son, and Abraham came to a point where he said, “I’m tired of waiting.  I’m going to take matters into my own hands and do things in my own way.”  And, as we find out, Abraham created quite a mess in the process.  It’s important for us to patiently wait for God to do what he said he would do.

            While we wait, it may seem like absolutely nothing is happening.  But that’s not the case at all.  Even when we can’t see it, God is working behind the scenes.  I love Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Romans 8:24-25: “Waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting.  We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us.  But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.” (The Message).

            I would imagine that every expectant mother has asked the question, “Is this baby ever going to come?”  Mothers will especially ask that question if they are past the due date. But all you have to do is look at them and you know that baby’s going to come.

            “Waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting…the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.”

            God will always do what he said he do.  And our job when God calls us to wait is to wait with patience.

            There may be some of you here this morning who are taking the patience test right now.  There’s something that you’re waiting for God to do.  And perhaps, some of you have been waiting for years and years without an answer,

            Maybe there’s something in your life that you wish that God would fix, or some way that you wish he would act and you don’t understand why he’s not doing anything.  Don’t ever forget – God will always keep his promises to us.  Our job is to remember that God will act in his own time, not ours.  It’s our responsibility to be active and serve God while we wait.  And we need to wait with patience.

            “Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, But those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:30-31).


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