I wonder how many of you consider yourselves patient.
I am sure that many of you have heard the brief prayer, ‘Lord, give me patience; and I want it now!’
Peter Marshall prayed,
‘Teach us, O Lord, the discipline of patience, for to wait is often harder than to work.’
Joyce Meyer says,
‘Patience is not simply the ability to wait – it’s how we behave while we’re waiting.’
But Pope Francis said,
‘This is me, a sinner on whom the Lord has turned his gaze. And this is what I said when they asked me if I would accept my election as pontiff. I am a sinner, but I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I accept in a spirit of penance.’
Pope Francis gets patience a little closer, because Peter, in writing to the Early Church does not speak about humans being patient, he speaks about the Lord’s patience:
The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)
Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. (2 Peter 3:14-15)
The Lord is patient with us in order that we come to salvation and because he is patient we have salvation. Thank God for his patience. Of course we should argue that if we are created in the image and likeness of God, if God’s nature is to be patient, then it is in our make-up to be patient as well.
There is a danger, of course, as American journalist Kin Hubbard recognised, ‘Lack of pep is often mistaken for patience.’ As we know from the gospel, God’s patient salvation was not without effort in bringing about his hope for our salvation. Patience is not an excuse for doing nothing; it is bound up with the hope of the thing to be achieved, and working toward its achievement with endurance.
makrothumei – longsuffering, forbearing, patience – 3rd person, singular
Here Peter is telling each and every member of the Church that they are the object of God’s salvific patience. It is not directed at the collective church, but each individual. God has been patient with you in order that you may come to salvation and continues to be patient in order that others may come to salvation as well.
From the Old Testament we can understand God’s patience as his gift to us. God acknowledges that we are sinful, that our humanity is corrupted by the sinful nature. God understands that we are never going to be perfect. This does not mean that we are not saved. Instead God works patiently with us so that we can continually turn more and more toward God’s self.
We see this nature of God in Jonah’s response to the repentance of the Ninevites, he prayed to the Lord and said,
O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. (Jonah 4:2)
God’s patience is not just with the church, those who are being saved, but also with those who yet do not know him; and he sends his people to those with whom he is patient in order that they may come to his salvation because of his patience. God does not hatch chickens by smashing the egg and we should beware doing the same. What God has done for us, we should reflect for others.
Despite this acceptance by God of our corrupted human nature, as the Rabbis reveal, patience does not equate with lenient permissiveness; allowing us to get away with whatever behaviour we can imagine. As Peter writes,
But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home. Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish. (2 Peter 3:13-14)
We are to attempt to live out our lives according to the promise, according to what we understand God has promised us, according to how we understand God to be at this point in time. The word ‘peace’ here meaning secure in our relationship with God that he has patiently waited for us to have. It is this that sees us as ‘without spot or blemish’; not that we are perfect, as we have already understood. As I say, God looks at us through Jesus coloured glasses.
There is an old bumper sticker that read, ‘Be patient with me, God has not finished with me yet.’
In the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant caught out owing his master ten thousand talents, he falls on his knees before his master, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” (Matthew 18:26) and his master showed him more than patience, forgave him his debt, which is of course the purpose of God’s patience. However, when that slave went out and came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him money and was asked the same question, “Have patience with me and I will pay you,” (Matthew 18:29) he did not display the patience toward him that he himself has received. For this he was accused by his master, being found, as Peter would have it, ‘with spot or blemish’. What we have received, what we have understood, we are to display to others. So Paul lists patience among the fruit of the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22)
This of course may lead to that aspect of patience which is endurance, to which Jeremiah testifies,
O Lord, you know;
remember me and visit me,
and bring down retribution for me on my persecutors.
In your forbearance [patience] do not take me away;
know that on your account I suffer insult. (Jeremiah 15:15)
Living with and in the patience of God for us and for others can be tough. English clergyman, Richard Cecil, said ‘God’s way of answering the Christian’s prayer for more patience, experience, hope and love often is to put him into the furnace of affliction.’ We learn patience through the challenges that life throws at us.
Horst argues that patience is a central theme to Peter’s second letter. He is explaining why the Lord has not returned in glory with the fulfilment of his kingdom as soon as they had expected. The glass-half-full Peter is explaining that this is a positive thing because it allows time and space for others to turn back to God.
As we celebrate Advent, not just as our preparation for Christmas, but also as a foreshadowing of the preparation of the ultimate return of Jesus, there is a tension in our praying for Christ’s return. On one hand we desire to see the kingdom fulfilled in his return, but we also recognise that there is so much more work to be done in enabling others to turn again to God. We wait patiently, actively and with endurance until that time comes.