Patience and the Timing of God
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But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. – Galatians 5:22-24
And behold, a hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. 11 And he said to me, “O Daniel, man greatly loved, understand the words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for now I have been sent to you.” And when he had spoken this word to me, I stood up trembling. 12 Then he said to me, “Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. 13 The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia, 14 and came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come.” – Daniel 10:10-14
Hey God! You say that a thousand years is like a day, and a day is like a thousand years.
Yes. That’s true.
Well I was thinking that maybe that means 1000 dollars is like a penny to you.
You could say that.
So…could I have a million dollars?
Sure…just wait a minute.
So goes the joke. God’s timing isn’t subject to ours. We are subject to his. And he has chosen to work within the boundaries of time and space by entering into the human story through Jesus. Jesus is God in the flesh. God in time. That’s because God has placed us into the realm of time and space and has not removed himself from us. He has not, therefore, removed his work entirely from the passage of time.
That becomes even more clear when we read of the encounter between Daniel and this mighty messenger of God. Daniel hears distressing news. His first response is to pray. And apparently his prayers were earnest and not fleeting. When the angel shows up 21 days after Daniel prays, he brings a message that is startling. God heard the prayer on the first day he prayed it. But this angel was prevented from coming to Daniel by the “prince of the kingdom of Persia.” There were spiritual battles and powers at play here.
Not everything that happens happens in a straight line from God’s will to the resulting action. There are are many facets to the workings of God among women and men. And one action is never completely removed from 20 others. There is also the spiritual realm to deal with, and God is not interested in fighting for the good of his people only in this life, but in the spiritual realm as well. The working out of his will is always good. But it is not often quick. And – as I love to say – we over-estimate what we can accomplish in the short term and under-estimate what God can do in the long term.
This has everything to do with the fruit of the Spirit: patience. It is only by the Holy Spirit’s power and presence that we would give any attention or place to the workings of the unseen world. The world of powers, principalities, demons, and angels is not the invention of Hollywood or fiction writers. It is the real stuff of the full dimension of God’s creation. The seen and unseen are very real. And God is at work in both.
Patience is the ability to keep in mind the myriad of connections with others and within the spiritual realm while we struggle against the currents and obstacles of life in a fallen world. The movie Bruce Almighty is a cute but irreverent movie about God giving Bruce all the powers and prerogatives that God has (but not the wisdom). In frustration at one point of the movie Bruce decides to answer all prayers, “Yes.” Chaos ensues. God’s wisdom shapes his prayer answers, his moving through life and death, and his providential care for us all.
Patience is born of the awareness of our limited understanding of all things, and faith in God’s goodness, power, and grace for us and our neighbor. We see this most perfectly in Jesus. Not only is he the Prince of Peace, but he is the giver of patience.