Thirty or forty years ago – or perhaps even longer – Roy Odgers (no, not Roy Rodgers) told me that “church work is slow.” Over the years it was often repeated to me by John H Smith (no, not John L Smith). Yet, still today, I have to keep repeating it to myself on a regular basis. Patience rightly is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5.22) for which I regularly need pray be produced in my life.
Read the story of Abraham and you will know that God works in his own way and on his own time schedule. If you miss it there, it is repeated in the life of his grandson, Jacob. Surely the Old Testament people of God throughout the centuries that followed must have become impatient in their waiting for God to do what he promised to do. And since “church work is slow” and God “continually works in his own way and on his own time schedule” it was not until “the fulness of time had come, that God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption.” (Galatians 4.4-5)
What that “fullness of time” was exactly we can only speculate because, as the Lord himself declares, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55.8-9). I am sure that this is one reason why we are told to “Trust the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3.5-6). God speaks of those “straight paths” as the word through Isaiah continues, “My word that goes out from my mouth will not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. You shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace.” (Isaiah 55.11-12) … in his way and in his time.
Yesterday morning I had two or three important things to do on my check list. As I arrived at the office, the list was quickly superseded by a list of things that were not only important, but also urgent. The patience I needed was with myself – not rushing through these things to get to my agenda. Rather, recognizing that in God’s good time, the important things would get done – provided they are a part of his plan.
The day before (Tuesday) my early morning meeting was extremely profitable … and much longer than anticipated. It prompted my late arrival at our monthly circuit pastors’ gathering (which of course, rightly started without me). But this also went much longer than anticipated (especially when one colleague asked to speak with me privately afterward), making me almost a half hour late for a home visit. I called on my way to beg forgiveness – which was graciously given – and then called the second house I was to visit to warn of the delay, but they were ill and about to call me to postpone until a later date. A little frazzled, I arrived at the first house and promptly knocked over a large glass of water – initiating another round of apology from me and gracious understanding from my host.
And all of this happening while Lent is approaching its 40 day climax and I am feeling pressured and wearied by what I deem to be important.
So now my mind goes back to Abraham. How many times and ways did he try to manipulate God’s plan and timetable? I know how that worked out for him (miserably), yet here I am doing the same thing. And the whole while – whether we are talking Abraham or me – God is at work patiently doing things his way, and on his schedule … patiently demonstrating his patience with us.
I now see that the “don’t cry over spilled water” visit was for my benefit – and that the unexpected events God brought into my week were the really important things … a young couple making wedding plans … a new believer initiating dialogue … a new acquaintance requesting a baptism … a grieving daughter getting back to me months after our previous contact … Often my internal reaction is to say, “How am I ever going to get the important things on my list done?” But, when I am willing to listen, God is saying, “Let me show you what is really important. Trust me and lean not on your own understanding.” In other words, “Patience, my son, patience.” Now, while I doubt that any of you are ever as impatient with the Lord as I am. However, if by chance you happen to be, I suggest you consider rereading the third paragraph again. I just did. And I won’t be surprised if I need to read it a few more times before this week is done.