How Long O Lord: The Power of Patience

In his book Objects of His Affection, Scotty Smith says the most often repeated question in the Scriptures is, “How long oh Lord?” Smith says God’s most frequent answer is, “Do not be afraid.” Our patience grows when we really believe God is for us no matter what we may be experiencing in the present moment. Belief in His goodness reduces our fear and impacts our ability to be patient.

However, looking at patience from the perspective of my own restfulness makes it only about me and hinders me from growing into more of it. Because Christ in us is naturally other-centered I am more motivated to change when I consider others. Having the courage to look at how I am hurting someone or not loving others well can lead me to Gospel-infused repentance that develops my patience. This can be especially true for parents because it is so easy for a hormonal teenager to get lost in themselves in a way that incites impatience.

It helps to recognize that patience is an active word that is more other-centered than self-centered. Patience is the ability to see unformed character in a person and the desire to help them form it. We offer patience on behalf of others – it is not just about our lives being more peaceful.

In Luke 17:1-10 Jesus instructs his disciples on how to help others deal with sin.  Essentially, he says, “The presence of sin is so important that I want you to deal with it in your midst.  Therefore, don’t contribute to others falling into sin. When a friend is caught in sin he doesn’t see, uncover it; if your friend is fighting to overcome sin, endure with him (forgive him seventy times seven) as a way to help him triumph over evil.”  Seventy times seven seems like a lot.  But remember what it leads to – it is part of joining in another person’s story and helping to birth righteousness in their life.

Unfortunately, the shortcomings of others tend to engender our impatience. It may be your daughter who stays stuck in her phone when she is talking to you or your son who never picks up after himself no matter how you try to help motivate him. Whatever the case, we often fail to offer patience where those we love need it most.

In those instances, we may need to refocus our Gospel eyes and consider what redemption might look like in that person.  It is so easy to camp on another person’s sinful tendencies or to see him or her “according to the flesh” (2 Corinthians 5:16).  Paul uses that phrase to encourage the Corinthian believers to refocus their attention on the life of Christ in each other. In the Message Eugene Peterson translates that verse, “Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it!” If you are able to see the work of Christ in the lives of those you love, you can be part of patiently birthing more of Christ in them.

I have seen this with my middle daughter Abby through the years. She has tons of courage and passion. At first, I was afraid of it (yes, even when she was a 3-year-old) and wanted to manage or control it. In my fear I labeled a great deal of what Abby expressed as rebellion or defiance. During that season as I prayed for her, guided her, and loved her, I began to see my fear and tendency to rush to judgement was causing me to be overbearing.

As I began to sorrow over my sin and find God’s comfort, it opened me up to more patience and helped me recognize how Abby was courageously exposing patterns that were wrong in me or our family. I began to see the best way for a three-year-old to expose her dad’s sin was to throw a fit on the floor. She was much smaller than me and just learning to express herself verbally, and I couldn’t see how uptight and afraid I was as a young parent.  As a small child trying to communicate to a bigger person in the midst of tense moments she was doing that far better than I first imagined. As I formed more patience with her it provided better soil for her to grow into her courage. I am glad I started growing that ability when she was younger because it was a theme we returned to more than once!

During that season there was one moment when the Lord helped me see I was moving in the right direction. While Abby played with her sisters in the community pool, a nearby boy took one of her sister’s toys. Her two sisters stepped back but she stepped forward and patiently kept telling the boy it was her sister’s toy. After the third time she calmly told him it wasn’t his, he dropped it and walked away.  She offered her courage well on behalf of her sister with a determination that was clothed with tenderness.  That was the first of many times I watched her do this. I was grateful that the Lord helped me change course by showing me what real patience helps to birth.  It has been two decades since that time I first began to help shape Abby’s courage and I am more grateful than ever the Lord helped me stand up to my fear and patiently nurture her strength.

Patience is not just for us. It is a gift to others.  As we are able to see the impact of our patience – or impatience – upon others, we grow into more of it and become a richer part of God’s kingdom by nurturing the life of Christ in others.