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by Ted Schroder

Just as white light is composed of a spectrum of colors, love is composed of a variety of virtues. Pass sunlight through a prism and it splits up into a band of colors - a spectrum that looks exactly like a rainbow. The raindrops act as prisms and split up sunlight to produce a rainbow ranging from red to violet. The love of God entering our lives is reflected in various attitudes and behaviors. Some are more natural and congenial to our temperament, and others are not. One person may find it easer to be patient and others may find it exceedingly difficult. St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 describes this spectrum of love. He begins with patience.

Since love is the nature of God, love comes from God. We know what love is from who God is and what he does. Therefore our understanding of patience is to be derived from our understanding of the patience of God.

In 2 Peter 3:5-9 we read that the patience of God is to be seen in creation: "long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water." The more we know about the universe the older it appears to be. "Long ago" literally means billions of years ago. God is taking his time to create the world and to carry out his purposes of creation and salvation. Just as God is taking his time, and waiting for life to develop, we must also. God has a plan which he is following.

In the meantime we must recognize the relativity of time with eternity. "With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day." Our lifetime can be seen to be but a day in the Lord's economy: "You sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning - though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered." (Ps.90:5) What seems an eternity to us - days and years of waiting impatiently - is but a moment in God's time.

That is why impatience is not a characteristic of the love of God. Impatience is life seen from the human rather than the divine perspective. Impatience is wanting to speed things up, to our human timetable. But if we got our way, in our impatience, we would precipitate the destruction of the world. God is patient because he has a plan to fulfill that includes the salvation of his creation. "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." God is moving slowly to give everyone the opportunity to turn to him and change their lives. He doesn't want to lose anyone. He doesn't want anyone to be destroyed - to perish - so he is patient with each person, giving us enough time to come to him. "God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, so that whosoever would believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16) He is patient for a purpose. His goal is the salvation of everyone who repents.

St. Peter counsels us to "Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation." (2 Peter 3:15). By waiting for us, by not being impatient, God gives us an opportunity to change and be saved. His patience is for our salvation. Helmut Thielecke entitled his book on the parables of Jesus, The Waiting Father. It is his interpretation of the parable of the prodigal son. He sees the father waiting patiently for the return of his rebellious son. This is what God is doing: "our Lord's patience means salvation."

However God's patience is not limitless. God will finally draw the line. There will be a day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. (2 Peter 3:7) Those who are determined to oppose him will be allowed to go their own way. God will give them up to their own desires to reject him (Romans 1:24,25). He lets them have what they want - death, the absence of the Lifegiver. They will remain in a far country and never return home to the Father. The portrayal of God's judgment in the Scriptures is meant to warn us that God's patience is not to be tested.

If God is like this for our sake, then this is how we will be for others. His love enables us to be patient, for the sake of others. His love enables us to be patient with ourselves, for our own salvation (God has not finished with us yet), and for the salvation of others. But we are not expected to suffer interminably. There is a limit to human patience as well as to the divine.

God has given us enough time to complete his purpose before he comes for us. Our mortal life is all that we need in order to do what he wants us to do. James 5:7-11 instructs us to "Be patient.... until the Lord's coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near."

Our life is like the seed sown. We need to be patient like the farmer, who cannot hasten the growth of his crops. He is totally dependent on the natural moisture, and the earth's richness to bring forth his crop. In our lives we must wait on what the Lord is doing in and around us. We cannot speed up what the Lord has planned. We must learn to live at the rhythm of God's seasons for our lives. We must be willing to do the work of preparing the soil, sowing the seed, weeding the field of our lives, and watering the plants of our souls. All this takes time in us and in the lives of others. Just as we cannot birth a baby and speed up its growth before its time, we cannot move ahead of ourselves or God's plans for us. We cannot force others to grow at the rate we prefer. We must wait on the Lord.

Jesus said that the kingdom of God is like: "A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain - first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest is come." (Mark 4:26-29) God is producing his crop. We cannot speed it up. We must surrender our need to be in control, and recognize that God knows what he is doing, and what his timetable is for it. We are not responsible for all the conditions that are necessary for the growth. Our part in the process is minor. Recognizing this enables us to relax and wait, to be patient.

So much impatience is the result of dissatisfaction with the timetable. We think we know better, how and when a thing should happen. We believe that, if we were in control, all things would be more efficient. We think we are more important than anyone else, and that we should have priority with others. So we criticize family and friends whom we feel are dragging their feet, and are not pulling their weight. We get irritated at service people who take too long to do their jobs. We complain about workers who do not turn up when they say they will. We don't understand when people don't return our calls when we think they should. We hate waiting in line. We are used to microwave efficiency, instant internet access, fast cars, news alerts, and text messaging. We laugh at the Slowsky's - slow as a turtle!

James reminds us not "to grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door." (5:9) Let God be the Judge. Don't usurp his position. He is in charge. When we are tempted to be impatient with others we need to recall the times when God had occasion to be impatient with us.

Patience is also translated 'longsuffering.' It is the willingness to suffer long when we are tempted to cut and run. It is to take the long view. It is the willingness to wait and not have to have it all right now. "When we have the patience to accept ourselves, to accept our future in life, in the face of deep loss or persistent frustration, we are living in love's power. When we have learned to believe that our lives have meaning, when we have opened our hearts to some feelings of joy, when we have seen some rays of light that make us glad, we are longsuffering." (Lewis Smedes, Love Within Limits, 8)

We are to note the example of patience in the face of suffering - take the prophets. They persevered in the face of opposition and calamity. Job persevered despite his troubles. He had to patiently endure much suffering, the loss of all things, temptation to despair, and the betrayal of friends. He could not short-circuit what he had to endure. He could not avoid what was part of his salvation. We cannot pick and choose what part of life we can skip. It is all part of our curriculum. All of life is required and not optional. We cannot dismiss what seems to hinder us, slow us down, or interrupt our plans.

Oswald Chambers wrote: "Patience is not indifference; patience conveys the idea of an immensely strong rock withstanding all onslaughts....Patience is more than endurance. A saint's life is in the hands of God like a bow and arrow in the hands of an archer. God is aiming at something the saint cannot see, and He stretches and strains, and every now and again the saint says - 'I cannot stand any more.' God does not heed, He goes on stretching till His purpose is in sight, then He lets fly. Trust yourself in God's hands. For what have you need of patience just now? Maintain your relationship to Jesus Christ by the patience of faith."

A Prayer:

You keep us waiting.

You, the God of all time, want us to wait for the right time in which to discover who we are, where we must go, who will be with us, and what we must do.

So thank you for the waiting time.

You keep us looking.

You, the God of all space, want us to look in all the right and wrong places for signs of hope, for people who are hopeless, for visions of a better world which will appear among the disappointments of the world we know.

So thank you for the looking time.

You keep us loving.

You, the God whose name is love, want us to be like you - to love the loveless and the unlovely and the unlovable; to love without jealousy or design or threat; and, most difficult of all, to love ourselves.

So thank you for the loving time.

And in all this, you keep us.

Through hard questions with no easy answers;
through failing where we hoped to succeed and making an impact when we felt we were useless;
through the patience and the dreams and the love of others;
and through Jesus Christ and his Spirit, you keep us.

So thank you for the keeping time, and for now, and for ever, Amen.

(Iona Community Worship Book)

The Rev. Ted Schroder is pastor of Amelia Plantation Chapel on Amelia Island, Florida

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