The Paradox of Patience
Shawn McEvoyShawn McEvoy is the Managing Editor of Crosswalk.com.
- 2012 Jan 17
Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.James 5:7-8
We all know that patience isn't easy, or fun. What it is, though, is the path of the wise. Or, perhaps it's better to say the "non-path," since it usually involves a decision to do nothing for a while, to be still and know that you are not God, to reflect, or to strategize.
I recently gained new insight into the value of patience and the reason it's prized so highly in the Bible, from verses about "those who wait on the Lord" to "letting endurance have its perfect result."
In the first half of 2010 I raced through a blog of the TV show LOST. The series is replete with Christo-religious metaphors and parallels. One such area it studies in detail is patience. Early on, one of the characters tells another that "Patience, which you lack, is the quality of a leader." It almost flew right by me, like it did the first time. Patience? The quality of a leader? Does that sound right? Not really, not to today's ears. Don't we usually think of leaders as people who make immediate, command decisions, rush into action, tell others what to do, and make people feel safe (which is to say, how they think they need to feel)?
That's part of it; however, those are the very flaws about the concept that plagued most of the characters on LOST. They were so driven to do, fix, run, save, correct, fight, and prove themselves that they often didn't take time to actually ponder the next step or, even better, to wait for the next step to present itself. Their lack of wisdom in making rush decisions and actions was obvious to the audience. We kept wondering why they couldn't remember the miracles they'd already seen, why they couldn't reflect on what they'd already come through, the amazing ways they'd been granted second chances, the redemption they'd been given despite not deserving it, the way they kept longing for home while failing to realize they were building a new one (if they could have just slowed down and seen it).
As I watched it all unfold, I was reminded of the children of Israel. Granted, 40 years in a desert would be a long time to wait for anything, particularly a promised new home. So they grumbled. They longed for the old ways, even though those meant bondage and servitude. They failed to stop and understand that the miracles of manna and the Red Sea meant more were on the way - at the right time. They nagged their leadership, sought unproductive solutions, and just like the characters on LOST, were plagued by always feeling they had to do something, to take control.
The paradox is that control is indeed involved, but it's self-control instead of situational control. Relax. Quiet yourself. Let's remember where we came from and the amazing ways we passed through peril for a while. Let's reflect on the present - the fact we're here - and how amazing the Lord is. Let's ponder our future steps before rushing up them and tripping.
Patience - the "strengthening of the heart" James refers to - then is directly related to another fruit of the Spirit, self-control. Self-control thus leads to maturity, which is completeness, which is wisdom, which is leadership, which is purpose, which is ministry, which is being used of God, which is where we see miracles again. Full-circle we come, eventually, when we patiently wait on the Lord, who is never late and perpetually victorious.
Situational control may provide temporary satisfaction, but it also often makes a situation worse. Patience is a willing temporary dissatisfaction, but it puts your emotions under control and God in control. It might make a situation feel like it's not getting better, but the solution can only be miraculous with it as part of the equation. Patience prevents rash judgment, and judgmentalism. It secures a plan. It is a beautiful paradox of being a non-action and yet a conscious exercise of free will. It is the basis for the merciful ways the Lord deals with us. Patience provides the path in proper time, and promises that faith will be rewarded.
Practice patience this week by seeking not to pursue control in one particularly vexing portion of your life, and ponder whether it's indeed your problem to solve in the first place. Start by remembering the miracle of how God got your attention and delivered you, and his promise that the great work he began in you will not remain incomplete, no matter how long it takes. What miracle will be next? Wait and see. "You will know that I am the LORD; Those who hopefully wait for Me will not be put to shame (Isaiah 49:23)."