I'm not a patient person. If "patience is a virtue," it is one of many that elude me. I have trouble being patient with myself. I struggle having patience with others, especially when I am feeling overwhelmed. And I am frankly not patient with God; which is a manifestation of my sin, of my covetous idolatry, and of a futile reliance on my own self-righteousness. I easily become anxious and worried. I am far too quickly frustrated with efforts that seem to produce no results. I grow weary and tired of trying. I get upset, or, more often, I get discouraged and depressed. My sinful inclination is to push harder and faster, or to give up.
It hit me the other day, though, that the Lord meets my gross impatience with His own perfect patience. When it seems as though nothing is happening, as though nothing were getting accomplished or getting better, it is not because the Lord is slow or forgetful or angry, nor even because of my sinfulness and failure, but because He is patient with us; with all of us, but also with me. He bears with me in my failure to bear with Him. And He helps me in my weakness, by persisting in His love and mercy toward me. He does not delight in my sin, because He does not want it to destroy me; therefore, He does not destroy me for my sin, but rather works His work in me to bring me to repentance.
I have been thinking recently about how to provide pastoral care for those who struggle with besetting sins. I was encouraged, then, by the realization that God the Lord is patient with those who so struggle with persistent temptations and recurring sins. It is far too easy for such a person to give up the struggle, to despair of the ongoing fight, and to quit altogether. The strength and comfort to continue the uphill battle, which may in fact be a lifelong contest, comes not from some hope that sufficient effort will finally achieve a permanent victory over temptation and sin, but from the fact that the Lord does not grow weary of preaching His Word, of calling the sinner back to Himself, of loving the weak and heavy-laden, and of forgiving. He is steadfast and faithful in continuing to do all of these things, for a thousand years as for a day.
And then I realized that my impatience is my own besetting sin. And how ironic that suddenly seemed to me. My lack of patience is a sorry temptation to give up before I have even started to resist; it is a failure to persevere, already from the first moment the race has begun. To recognize that propensity and weakness in myself is discouraging and frustrating, and such a reaction is to be immediately at the heart of the problem. I am not steadfast and faithful; I am not long-suffering and slow to anger. I am short-tempered, lazy and selfish; weary and wobbly.
But for all of that, the Lord is patient with me. Patient in a way that exceeds all that I could ever imagine. Patient beyond even the most patient of my family and friends, who do bear with me in love. Patient, He is, and persistent in loving me in spite of myself. He perseveres in His grace, mercy and peace toward me. Because He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and full of kindness. He does not hold my sin against me, no matter how quickly and often I become impatient and either lose my temper or give up hope. Not only does He call me to repentance and forgive my sin, in His loving desire to grant me His own life and salvation, His own patience, persistence and perseverance are established for me as my own in Christ.
He is the Rock that shall not be moved. Even while I am wearing myself out pushing against that Rock, He remains solid and certain, not as an obstacle to my life, but as the firm foundation of my faith, hope and love, unto the life everlasting. When He grants me the Peace of His Spirit through the forgiveness of my sins, including my sin of impatience, then I am able to rejoice in that patience of His, which also becomes mine by His grace. Yet, even when such patience and peace are elusive to me, in my frailty and fear, He remains patient with me, and He shall never leave me nor forsake me. For this I am truly grateful.