Saturday, March 6, 2010


I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. (Psalm 40.1)

The Patience Component

We’re nearing the midpoint of our wilderness adventure, and odds are many of us are grappling with impatience. We sense the work underway in our spirits, yet it’s still too early to predict its final shape. We feel ourselves drawing closer to God, yet perhaps not as close as we hoped to be by now. We’re growing fatigued with our fast and longing to return to “normal” life. While our joy and commitment haven’t waned, our stamina may be wearing thin. This is by design. The patience component is a perennial fixture of Lent. Our focus and needs change from year to year, and hence the tone and texture of our odyssey also changes. Patience, however, always figures into the process.

One assumes Lent’s fixed duration has always been problematic. Yet this annual test has never been more necessary, because patience is now a rare quality. Modernity has drained our appreciation of it. In the half-century I’ve been alive, we’ve gone from waiting for the mail to faxes to FedEx to email to instant messaging. What once took the better part of a week now happens in split seconds. These “conveniences” have made patience ridiculously inconvenient. The moment we hear something will take time, our first response is to see if there’s a way to do the job more quickly. We’re forever asking, “When?” And the answer is always the same: “Not soon enough.”

Pre- and Postmodern

In our haste, we forget God is pre- and postmodern. He embodies time, which makes Him immune and impervious to its pressures and progress. Speed and efficiency don’t concern Him because He is all the time in the world. Thus, He doesn’t equate “when” with “how soon.” In God’s lexicon, “when” means “the perfect time.” Since He’s eternal, clocks and calendars have no influence on Him. As we’re told in 2 Peter 3.8: “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a day.” Thus, setting deadlines and contingencies on anything we ask of God sets us up for frustration. Worse still, growing impatient with Him exceeds our station. He’s the Master. We’re His servants. He doesn’t wait on us. We wait on Him.

David is blessed to live in a world where patience is as much a necessity as it is a virtue. Even so, God’s timing doesn't synch up with humanity’s sense of urgency. David still has to deal with holding on until God chooses the perfect time to respond. “I waited patiently for the LORD,” he writes in Psalm 40. “He turned to me and heard my cry.” (v1) This sounds a lot less stressful than it is, considering David’s trapped in a situation that closely resembles Dante’s third ring of Hell—a “slimy pit” filled with “mud and mire.” (v2) Seeing him there removes any inclination to mistake “patiently” for “politely.” David is up to his neck in a cesspool whose filth weighs him down and threatens to pull him under. God is his only hope, which means his salvation will only appear in God’s own time.

David has no choice but to wait for God. But he can choose how he waits. He can wait impatiently and in doing so only compound his misery. Or he can wait patiently, trusting God will turn his way and hear his call when the perfect moment arrives. In the end, his patience is rewarded. He’s lifted out of the pit, given a firm place to stand, and sings a new song: “Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods [or “falsehoods”].” (v4)

Taking Time

The desert journey is intended for taking time, not telling it. It tries our patience simply to demonstrate calendars and watches are useless when we wait on God. His answers may come at any moment, depending on when the perfect moment comes. More often than not, they arrive later than we’d prefer. But their delay serves a greater purpose than exasperating us. It reinforces the nature of our relationship with our Creator and reminds us nothing is ever lost to time. Everything we ask or need already exists in Him, just as the whole of eternity resides in Him too. If we misinterpret “when” to mean “how soon,” we risk losing patience and giving up before God’s “when”—the perfect time—appears. Telling time wastes time. Taking time saves us.

Living in a world obsessed with speed and efficiency, we can gain much from Lent’s patience component.

Postscript: You Can’t Hurry God

This is a real treat—an early recording of the classic “You Can’t Hurry God” by one of gospel music’s first titans, Dorothy Love Coates. As someone who was raised on this song, I can personally attest to the benefits of locking it away in your heart. Many have been the times it carried me through inexplicably long waiting periods.


You can't hurry God. You just have to wait.

You have to trust Him and give Him time

No matter how long it takes.

He's a God You can't hurry.

He'll be there--don't worry.

He may not come when you want Him

But He's right on time.

Job was sick so long 'til the flesh fell from his bones

His wife, cattle, and children--everything he had was gone

He said, "You put these afflictions upon me

"You ought to come see about me."

Job said, "He may not come when you want Him

But He's right on time."

You know He's Alpha and Omega

He's the Man John called Jesus

He's God and He's God alone

He's a High Tower mighty and strong

He said, "I'm God all by Myself

"And I don't need nobody else."

You know, He may not come when you want Him

But He's right on time.

Some say He's coming in the morning

Gonna make His journey by train

Some say He'll be riding in a chariot

Shaking like the angels wings

Well, I don't know how or when He'll come

But don't let Him catch you with your work undone

You know, He may not come when you want Him

But He's right on time.

You can't hurry God...


Anonymous said...

Patience disappears just before lamentations begin.
But I'm reminded recently that even when we are struggling with God, even when we are in the depths of lamentation, that is an act of worship. That is an act of praise.

Sherry Peyton said...

Patience is something I sure struggle with a lot. It is one of those things that must be practiced again and again. Someday it may get easier, but it's frustrating. I am continually amazed that so much wisdom can reside in one person Tim. You simply take my breath away with your thoughts.

I don't know what your standards are for GLBT friendly churches are, but ours, Christ Episcopal in Cedar Rapids IA, blesses same sex couples and our bishop publically recognized the courage of two of our parishioners, who were lead plaintiffs in the recent IA marriage case. Just to let you know. :)

claire said...

Hm, thank you for the encouragement, Tim. My heart is having a dip today, so my remembering patience is a good thing -- and the fact that we are nearing mid-point. There is still time to get closer to Godde and for a sign that changes are indeed taking place... Maybe even a call soon to be heard. Ah.

Tim said...

Missy, Sherry, and Claire--what a delight to open the "comments" and find all three of you waiting! It felt like a holiday...

Missy, I love the linkage between patience and lamentation. You're so right about it being an act of worship and praise. When we make all of it--patience, understanding, lamentation, etc.--an act of praise and worship, we're expressing trust. It changes our mindset from "Where is God?" to "God is here."

Sherry, you're too kind. I too have fluctuations with my patience levels. (Walt can tell you all about it.) But I'm finding my awareness of patient's merits is increasing steadily, helping me reach for it more often than I have in the past. As for the wisdom, I'm basically a magpie; I've been blessed to know incredibly wise people and I just pass it along. Finally, it blesses me to hear about your church's GLBT supportiveness and compassion. I truly believe we're in the first waves of what will be a historical correction of centuries of exclusion. The churches that are catching this wave will be honored for heeding God's call to justice.

Claire, be encouraged. Patience and exuberance are often contradictory emotions, but they're also complementary. When our enthusiasm dips, patience is our answer. God(de) is doing something significant in all of us--He/She is teaching us to wait, something that will be essential for us to experience the changes at work in us and in the Body. There will be joy. A call will be heard!

How grateful I am for all three of you, my great sisters and friends. God has been so good to bless me with your friendship and wisdom. You make my life sweet!

Blessings and love,