Although I was weary from a long flight, the sign on the mission guesthouse bulletin board made me laugh aloud. It said, “Lord, please make me patient—and do it right now.”
Patience was one of the first lessons we had to learn in childhood. The child who does not learn to be patient is not likely to learn much of anything else. It takes patience to be able to learn to read, to spell, to write, and to master multiplication tables. It even takes patience to grow! God has ordained that maturity is a slow process, not an instant experience; and I am glad that he arranged things that way. It gives me time to get accustomed to growing up.
Impatience is usually a mark of immaturity. At least James felt that way. “But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:4). Little children think you have arrived at your destination when you stop for the first spotlight. A short wait at the doctor’s office is unbearable. I once asked a lad in Scotland how many years he had left in school, and he replied, “I don’t know, sir. I’m just trying to get through next week.”
But adults have their share of impatience. Abraham got weary of waiting for the promised son; so he hurried and took Hagar as a second wife, and she bore him Ishmael. Moses got impatient and killed a man. This necessitated forty years of postgraduate work in the pastures of Midian. Years later, Moses became impatient again, smote the rock, and lost a trip to the Holy Land.
“Do not be like the horse or as the mule,” warns Psalm 32:9, and it is a warning that we need. The mule is stubborn and has a tendency to hold back. The horse is impulsive and wants to rush ahead. Personality differences may enter in here, but we all have the same problem—it is difficult to wait on God.
Part of the problem is that we are prone to walk by sight and not by faith. God assures us in his Word that he is busy on our behalf, but we still want to see something happen. At the exodus, the Israelites were sure that God had deserted them and destruction was on its way. Listen to that wind! See how dark it is! And yet God was working for his people in the wind and in the darkness. “All these things are against me,” cried Jacob (Gen. 42:36) when, in reality, all things were working for him.
I believe that it was F.B. Meyer who used to say, “God’s delays are not God’s denials.” They are usually the means which God uses to prepare us for something better. God is always at work for the good of his people, and he is working in all things (see Rom. 8:28). This includes the things that perplex us and that pain us. The only way God can teach us patience is to test and try us, and the only way we can learn patience is to surrender and let God have his way.
God can grow a mushroom overnight, but he will take time to grow an oak or a giant sequoia. It took him thirteen years to get Joseph ready for the prime minister’s office in Egypt, and he invested eighty years preparing Moses for forty years of service. David was a youth when Samuel anointed him king of Israel, but David had to experience a great deal of suffering before he finally ascended that throne. We are the richer for it, because out of those years of preparation came many of David’s greatest psalms.
Our Lord spent thirty years getting ready for three years of public ministry. He patiently obeyed the Father’s will as he carried out that ministry. “My hour has not yet come,” he told Mary (John 2:4). “Are there not twelve hours in the day?” he asked his impatient disciples (11:9). God has his times as well as his purposes, and to miss his times is to delay his purposes.
When I was a student in seminary, I was privileged to pastor a church on weekends. God blessed in many ways, and at one point I was tempted to leave school and devote my full-time to the church. My faculty counselor set me straight. “God has waited a long time for you to come along,” he reminded me, “and he can wait until you graduate. Don’t sacrifice the permanent for the immediate.” He was right, and today I am glad I followed his counsel.
Perhaps the hardest place to wait is in the furnace of suffering. God does not always explain what he is doing or why he is doing it. It is in the hour of suffering that we need to “imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Heb. 6:12). “For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise” (10:36). Knowing that the Father is near us and that he is working out his wonderful purposes ought to encourage us, but we often get impatient just the same.
“Why has God made me this way?” a suffering saint once bitterly asked her pastor. Gently, he replied, “God has not made you—he is making you.” How true! And how easy it is for us to forget this truth!
If God can make a believer patient, then God can trust that believer with whatever is in his gracious will. But the school of patience never produces any graduates, and it never grants any honorary degrees. We are always learning, always maturing. Sometimes we fail the examination even before we know what the lesson is! No matter; our loving Father is guiding us and making us more like his beloved Son, and that is all that matters.
“Lord, make me patient!” God will answer that prayer, often in ways that will startle us. “And do it right now!” That prayer he cannot answer, for even Almighty God must take time to turn clay into useful vessels. The best thing you and I can do is to stop looking at our watches and calendars and simply look by faith into the face of God and let him have his way—in his time.
About the Author:
Warren W. Wiersbe is the Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary, Warren Wiersbe is the author of more than 100 books. Billy Graham calls him “one of the greatest Bible expositors of our generation.” Interestingly, Warren’s earliest works had nothing to do with scriptural interpretation. His interest was in magic, and his first published title was Action with Cards (1944).
“It was sort of imbecilic for a fifteen-year-old amateur magician to have the audacity to write a book and send it to one of the nation’s leading magic houses,” Warren says. But having a total of three books published by the L.L. Ireland Magic Company—before the age of 20—gave him a surge of confidence. In later years, he applied his confidence and writing talent to the Youth for Christ (YFC) ministry.
Warren wrote many articles and guidebooks for YFC over a three-year period, but not all his manuscripts were seen by the public eye. One effort in particular, The Life I Now Live, based on Galatians 2:20, was never published. The reason, Warren explains with his characteristic humor, is simple: it was “a terrible book…Whenever I want to aggravate my wife, all I have to say is, ‘I think I’ll get out that Galatians 2:20 manuscript and work on it.’” Fortunately, Warren’s good manuscripts far outnumbered the “terrible” ones, and he was eventually hired by Moody Press to write three books.
The much-sought-after author then moved on to writing books for Calvary Baptist Church. It was during his ten years at Calvary that Expository Outlines on the New Testament and Expository Outlines on the Old Testament took shape. These two works later became the foundation of Warren’s widely popular Bible studies known as the Be series, featuring such titles as Be Loyal (a study on Matthew) and Be Delivered (a study on Exodus). Several of these books have been translated into Spanish.
His next avenue of ministry was Chicago’s Moody Memorial Church, where he served for seven years. He wrote nearly 20 books at Moody before moving to Lincoln, Nebraska, where he and his wife, Betty, now live. Prior to relocating, he had been the senior pastor of Moody Church, a teacher at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and a producer of the Back to the Bible radio program.
During all these years of ministry, Warren held many more posts and took part in other projects too numerous to mention. His accomplishments are extensive, and his catalog of biblical works is indeed impressive and far-reaching (many of his books have been translated into other languages). But Warren has no intention of slowing down any time soon, as he readily explains: “I don’t like it when people ask me how I’m enjoying my ‘retirement,’ because I’m still a very busy person who is not yet living on Social Security or a pension. Since my leaving Back to the Bible, at least a dozen books have been published, and the Lord willing, more are on the way.”
Some of Wiersbe’s recent books include Your Next Miracle, The 20 Essential Qualities of a Child of God, The Bumps are What You Climb On, Classic Sermons on the Fruit of the Spirit, Classic Sermons on Jesus the Shepherd, Key Words of the Christian Life, Lonely People, A Gallery of Grace, Real Peace: Freedom and Conscience in the Christian Life, and On Being a Leader for God. The article above is adapted from Chapter One in his book God Isn’t In A Hurry: Learning to Slow Down and Live. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994.