Ecclesiastes 3:1-15, Matthew 6:25-34
September 20, 2009
Last week we took a break from our series on the fruits of the Spirit. It was our annual service of Ordination and Installation, and we took a little jaunt – a little excursion – back into the book of Deuteronomy. Well, this week, I’m afraid we need to do something similar. We’re going to have to put off our message on “patience” one more week. I know we read the scripture lessons associated with it, but there’s another subject I feel we need to address this morning. So, like last week, this becomes an “object lesson” on patience! (Pause…)
Nah, I’m just kidding! We’re doing patience today! But I couldn’t resist that! Because that is what we’re talking about! As we’re living our lives “walking by the spirit,” one of the “outward signs” that we will have – that the spirit will give us the power to choose, remember – is this thing called “patience.” Patience is the ability to wait, graciously. And I think, of all the fruits of the spirit, this one may be the hardest to fit into our minds.
Think about it. How can you talk about patience in a world where speed is everything and where people upgrade their computers on a regular basis only to save themselves, not minutes, but seconds in response time? How can you talk about patience in a world where I can’t get shift into gear and get to the gas pedal before the guy behind me is honking his horn? And in a world where people will probably be running through very red lights coming across the intersection, because they don’t want to wait. And three more people will follow them!
How can you talk about patience in a world of “instant gratification,” where gone are the days when a person would work for something long before they obtained it? How can you talk about patience in a world where the importance of one’s social security number has been replaced with the importance of one’s credit score? Where we’re told constantly that we want to have a high one of those because we want to be sure to be able to get whatever we want when we want it! Because the American dream – the dream of obtaining things here and now – is pursued right along with the “happiness” proclaimed in our Declaration of Independence. But the lines between the two have become blurred, because too many people today think that pursing “things” will make them happy. (Ironically, it is the pursuit of those “things” that enslaves us more than any oppressive government ever dreamed it had the power to do!)
I could go on! (And on an on!) But how do we talk about patience in such a world? When I was young, and I would get anxious about doing or getting something, my mother would sometimes say to me, “Patience is a virtue.” But I’m thinking today’s sermon title is actually more the truth these days! Patience was a virtue! Patience used to be a virtue! But not any more!
Waiting graciously can be hard, can’t it! For me, it can be especially hard when I don’t know how long I am waiting! That can be very frustrating! And I’m not just talking here about the excited kind of waiting, like waiting for Christmas as a kid, or waiting for a package to arrive in the mail. I’m talking about the anxious kind of waiting. (“Anxious” as in “anxiety!”) I’m talking about the kind of waiting where we are frustrated and upset. And that can be hard! Because patience means that we are subject to someone else’s timing. And I think it’s no wonder that patience comes in this list right after “peace.” Because the two go hand in hand. When we have less patience, we experience less peace!
Paul tells us that patience is one of these “outward signs” that we will have as God’s people have when we are “Walking by the Spirit.” (Again, that’s in Galatians five.) And I’m sure as he wrote that word, Paul was thinking about all of those scripture passages about “waiting on the Lord.” They’re found throughout the Old Testament, and echoed in the New. Now to a certain extent, that means “listening for,” or “being attentive to” God. But it also has the literal meaning of “waiting,” which means “accepting God’s timing.” And that means “putting ourselves in God’s hands,” doesn’t it? And while that sounds good, it isn’t easy, is it?!
As I said, patience is about time. And time is a precious thing, isn’t it! Sometimes when I’ve seen a movie I didn’t like, my comment is, “There’s two hours of my life I’ll never get back!” Our time is important to us, isn’t it? And patience is all about whose timing we are willing to accept. Impatient people insist on their timing alone. Because this is also a matter of “control.” When we’re feeling impatient, we’re feeling “out of control,” don’t we! Some people can’t accept that. They are unable to allow anyone else’s control in their lives. And because of that there are many people who cannot begin to fathom what it really means to accept God’s will, even though they actually go to Church each week and pray “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” They’re ok with God’s will for the world, but they’re very reluctant to extend that to their own lives. (Wouldn’t it be different if that line said, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done in my life?”)
As God’s people, we need to give thought to God’s timing in our lives. Do we even allow that? Do we seek to “synchronize” our lives with God’s timing? If we really think about it, that is a wise thing to do, because God knows the future! And we need to trust that! Learning to “wait on the Lord” is so important in our lives that it’s no random choice on Paul’s part to make this fruit the fourth on the list – right after love, joy, and peace. And if we think about it, patience is an integral part of those first three!
I had us read from Ecclesiastes today. Ecclesiastes is a wonderful book written by Solomon, who was thought to be one of the wisest people in history. And when I read this book I believe that! In it he gives an incredible perspective on life! The part I had us read today is perhaps the most well known passage. In chapter 3, Solomon tell us, “There is a time for everything under the sun.” Maybe you remember the song from the ‘70’s that was based on that passage. (I believe it was done by “The Yard Birds.”) That passage is about gaining perspective on everything in our lives. There is a time for everything, he said. Take some time and read more of that book. It’s about seeing what is truly important. It’s about patience!
Along with that, I had us read some of Jesus’ words about patience from the end of the Sermon on the Mount. “Which of you,” he asked, “by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life?” Think about that! Actually, we now know these days that it’s the opposite! Anxiety and stress can subtract time from our lives! In his amazing wisdom, Jesus told the people, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the days own troubles be sufficient for the day.”
Does our world even think in those terms? Can people today even conceive of that kind of perspective? So many people are so worried about tomorrow! While you’re thinking about that, let me say this also. We’re talking here about “trust.” We cannot choose someone else’s timing, someone else’s control over things, unless we trust that person. And notice again, that is also a choice! We need to choose (!) to trust God if we’re ever going to accept his will, his guidance, or his timing! And we cannot choose to trust God unless we know that God is trustworthy! (Do you see how that goes?)
So let me tell you, if you don’t believe it already, that God is trustworthy. So choose in your mind to believe that. And don’t take it just on my authority. Check it out! Try it! Trust God! I believe that process of learning to trust is so important when we think in terms of relying on God’s timing, and when we’re thinking about this “virtue” of patience. (I hope you see that progression!) And we’ll find that all the many concerns of our lives Jesus was talking about that day can be so much better managed if we have this spiritual fruit of patience!
That’s what God wants for us! And that’s what’s great about this! God wants us to have patience – and all these other fruits – not just as an outward sign, but because he wants us to have lives of peace, and joy, and fulfillment. He knows what will bring that about in our lives! And he wants what’s best for us. And so he wants us to have these fruits of the spirit!
With that in mind, let’s ask the practical questions. Are you walking by the spirit? Do you have – or do you choose to have – love, joy, peace? And now, are you a patient person? And do you know that God wants you to be?! And if you find you’re not, will you give some thought about how to be. Think about what it means to be gracious about accepting someone else’s timing. Think about what it means to choose to trust that person, and have peace about it. Practice that with others, but know also the importance of seeking and accepting God’s timing. Learn each day to choose to trust him with your life. Seek to find in your life the fruits of love, joy, and peace. And know that the natural progression then is to desire and to have patience.
Eternal God, you know us better than we know ourselves. You know the beginning and the end of all things. Help us to choose to trust in you. Help us to wait upon you and your timing. Help us to rely on you for more and more of our lives. Help us to know the love, the joy, the peace, and the patience of walking by your spirit. For these things we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.