Many seem to think that comfort, ease, pleasure, and relaxed repose are synonymous with patience — that pain, delay, anguish must be avoided at all costs. But is this true? Do we have REAL PATIENCE, or are we only fooling ourselves?
A DENTIST helped me to learn the lesson of real patience when he decided my wisdom tooth was beyond saving. It had to be pulled. It was not only greatly deteriorated, but also heavily and deeply rooted. Extraction would be difficult, but my gracious dentist would favor me and TRY to remove it. The doctor reminded me of expected difficulty as he laid the dental chair back even further and gave the order, "Open wide!" His mouth was set, serious, somber.
Pain and Patience
My anxiety stretched tight in anticipation of the anguish which seemed to emanate from the huge and menacing forceps. He grappled for a secure hold and then set down hard. His forearm muscles bulged, rippled, became taut and ropy as he began to twist and pull. My hands clawed clammily at the chair arms. My body went stiff. Perspiration popped out. The tooth wasn't moving and the dentist was wondering, out loud, why it wasn't budging. Callously he speculated that the roots might break off as he applied ever-increasing power. Slight movement occurred. There were creeeaking, craaacking, fraaaacturing sounds as the tooth began to let go. The dentist wrenched with increasing vigor. The shivering noise of breaking bone filled my ears and mind as he continued to mutter about this difficult extraction. He tugged manfully, inexorably. Finally, the tooth broke loose! Triumphantly he pulled it out of my mouth and shoved its bloody, broken stump close to my face as he ruefully exclaimed, "Oh, one of the roots broke Off!" I knew that broken root must be removed! My mind was flooded by thoughts of further blood and pain as hammers and chisels would be used to shatter my jaw bone. I fainted dead away. When finally I revived and scratched aside the last of the cobwebbery — like all "good" patients — I was willing, even eager, to excuse my dentist and PATIENTLY ENDURE the ordeal! So far as I knew, he had tried to give me as much ease, comfort and assistance as his trade and, talent allowed. I was even apologetic for troubling him! Willing to pay him for the privilege to practicing his profession on me. This is par for the course. It is expected that a patient should resolutely accept such distress. After all, a patient should be PATIENT. By definition he is the one affected. the object or recipient of an action. Webster's Dictionary therefore defines patience as the bearing or endurance of PAINS, TRIALS, or the like, without complaint. Exercising forbearance under PROVOCATION. Expectant with calmness or without discontent; also, UNDISTURBED by obstacles, delays, failures, etc.; persevering. Able to bear STRAIN, STRESS....
How paradoxical that we can accept this definition when it applies to being a dentist's patient. How contradictory that we respond so lamblike to professional treatment when we do not stand still for even minor "pains" inflicted by our peers, or when we conclude God is responsible for our trials and pains! Let a wife violate her husband's rights and he all too often lashes out, impatiently, heatedly, violently — verbally, if not sometimes physically. If she, in turn, feels "put upon" by her husband there is chafing, stewing, fretting, maybe even hysteria. Her patience rubs thin quickly and thoughts of retaliation clamor for action. Children feel themselves misunderstood, neglected, smothered by adult hypocrisy. The normal reaction is to fume, boil and rage. To "cut out'' and do their "own thing" no matter who gets hurt or what burns. Just so impatience can give vent to its vengeance. Even more to be wondered at, in view of common sense and definition, are gnat-like humans, stamping their feet in the dust and raising their fists in impatience to the God of Creation; ranting, raving, even perhaps cursing Him; accusing Him of meanness and harshness; blaming Him for the misfortunes which plague their lives. Where is their "bearing or enduring of pain — suffering — without complaint"?
Many of the patriarchs provide us excellent examples of patience. They lived their lives, moving through time, as one circumstance after another occurred to provide various painful experiences for them. They made choices - both good and bad — and PATIENTLY enduring the distress and punishment which beset them. And as they resolutely adjusted their actions to conform to God's way, they developed in character and moved toward ultimate success. Abraham is a case in point. He grew up in a pagan society; and this, in itself, seems to have delayed his direct association with God until he was seventy-five years old. Most people are so set in their ways by that age that nothing will change their minds. Yet Abraham quickly responded when God finally told him to move. Remember now, here was an older man, well respected, successful, rich, who was suddenly told to abruptly leave his nation, friends, business, family and go wandering off across the desert into a hostile land. Once there, even the elements turned against him as drought and famine shriveled the land and forced him onward to Egypt. Abraham was sufficiently frightened of Pharaoh that he deceitfully pretended Sarah was not his wife. He allowed her to become a part of the royal harem. Finally he admitted his sin and repented. About as soon as that embarrassing state of affairs was straightened out, he found himself involved in a range war. To end the feud he gave his nephew, Lot, first choice of where to live, and it seemed that Abraham got the worst of the deal — the high, dry land. When Abraham had been called out, God made a promise that he would be the father of a gigantic and powerful nation from which would come the World Ruler — the Messiah — Jesus Christ. Yet, about ten long years later, when Abraham was 85, his wife was still barren and showed no signs of pregnancy. Certainly there was suffering in all this. Sarah impatiently decided to "help" God solve the problem and proceeded to talk her husband into having an illegitimate child by using her maid, Hagar. Abraham succumbed to the reasoning and temptation. Hagar became pregnant and made the most of her status. Sarah had not expected that and worked herself up into a highly emotional state of mind. There was a big "blow-up" and Hagar was sent packing For a while but she returned to give birth to Ishmael. When Ishmael was thirteen, God told Abraham he should circumcise all the males in the camp, including himself. Review the definition we found for patience and see what this must have been like for a ninety-nine-year-old man. It was a bloody, painful, agonizing ordeal! But Abraham patiently obeyed — in faith — and it paid off. The next year — after 25 years of agonizing, patient endurance — Isaac was miraculously born! This boy was the legitimate and rightful heir to all the promises that God had made to his father. Isaac grew into young manhood. When he was thirty-three (according to Adam Clarke), God told Abraham to sacrifice him. This was the ultimate test to absolutely prove Abraham's and Isaac's complete submission to the authority of God. What a horrible jolt! Young, strong, submissive Isaac held all of the hopes of his father. There was seemingly no purpose to all of the problems through which they had been working if lsaac must die. Where would the promised nation come from if not from Isaac? More important, where would SALVATION come from? The Messiah was to be among the progeny of this young man and Abraham knew it. God had told him about the good news which would affect all mankind. He was looking forward to the Savior who would pay the penalty for his sins and make salvation possible. Now God was asking Abraham to destroy all of the hope he had. Without Isaac and his promised descendant, Jesus, there was nothing to look forward to but death! But contrary though it was to his aspirations and his very nature as a father, Abraham BELIEVED GOD was always right! He was willing to do what God said — to be patient. He realized even death was not too large an obstacle for the Great Creator God. He was fully ready to plunge the sacrificial knife into the heart of his son. What painful anguish — PERFECT PATIENCE — BEAUTIFUL CHARACTER! Once the willingness to do exactly as God said was conclusively established, God intervened before Isaac was slain and provided a goat to be sacrificed in Isaac's place — a type of Jesus Christ who died in our place. What a wondrous lesson! But how does all this apply to us, today?
Problems and Penalties
Carnal man doesn't comprehend that there are laws which penalize him whenever he strikes out in retaliation — instead of having patience, which is simply learning to stiffer. Nor does he realize that the pleasure and ease he prefers to pursue are actually self-indulgence and selfishness. What man's mind conceives — his own inward desire — seems so enormously attractive and powerful. It pulls irresistibly and he sees no reason to fight against it. But the fact remains that painful trials result when men choose a wrong course — an illegal course. A law defines the right way and the wrong. When we learn the lesson — admit our error — then change, choose a different way, do right next time, we will no longer suffer the penalties. For this reason we should not resent it when trials, troubles, problems beset us. Don't bristle up and summarily reject them as useless, nettlesome intrusions. Learn about yourself from your trials. Face your errors. Out of such ground grows the character which results in spiritual maturity and perfection in us as it did in Abraham. Pain, even death, is the natural result of wrong action — broken law. We must face up to this reality and be willing to pay the penalty our mistakes demand, in order to really learn the lesson, so we can avoid bringing the same penalty on ourselves again. Then we won't have to suffer again — as a patient — for that wrongdoing. But why should we have to suffer at all?
The Bible puts it this way: "... is your life full of difficulties and temptations? Then be happy, for when the way is rough, your patience has a chance to GROW. So let it grow, and don't try to squirm out of your problems. For when your patience is finally in full bloom, then you will be ready for anything, strong in character, full and complete" (James 1:2-4, Living Letters). We should be able to admit we are usually responsible for our own troubles. If so, we can go on to agree that God is righteous and we should be penalized for making mistakes. This prevents them from escaping our attention! Only then can we take corrective action. And when we repent, God will forgive us and shower His mercy upon us. But having come this far we discover a principle which is even more far reaching. Says the Apostle Peter: "After all, it is no credit to you if you are patient in bearing a punishment which you have richly deserved! But if you do your duty and are punished for it and can still accept it patiently, you are doing something worthwhile in God's sight. Indeed this is your calling. For Christ suffered for you and left a personal example, and wants you to follow in his steps. He was guilty of no sin, nor of the slightest prevarication. Yet when he was insulted he offered no insult in return. When he suffered he made no threats of revenge. He simply committed his cause to the one who judges fairly. And he personally bore our sins in his own body on the cross, so that we might be dead to sin and be alive to all that is good. It was the suffering that he bore which has healed you. You had wandered away like so many sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls" (I Pet. 2:19-25, Phillips translation). Strong, uncompromising words those. Do you catch the full significance? Do you comprehend how far patience must extend? Explains the Apostle Paul: "Let Christ Jesus be your example as to what your attitude should be. For He, who had always been God by nature, did not cling to his prerogatives as God's equal, but stripped himself of all privilege by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born as mortal man. And, having become man, he humbled himself by living a life of utter obedience, even to the extent of dying, and the death he died was the death of a common criminal. THAT IS WHY God has now lifted him so high, and has given him the name beyond all names, so that at the name of Jesus 'every knee shall bow,' whether in heaven or earth or under the earth" (Phil. 2:5-10, Phillips). Having this attitude, having been this PATIENT with and for us, Christ expects that we will actually imitate Him. To be willing to suffer — patiently — even when we are NOT to blame. Even to suffer for others' mistakes!
Christ has made it possible for us to get out from under the burden of our own sins. We can use His sacrifice for this purpose He paid — once and for all — our death penalty. He is our Sacrifice — our Redeemer. Knowing this, we should fill our minds with patience — the very PATIENCE OF CHRIST. Notice the words of Paul again: "Jesus died for our sins and rose again to make us right with God, filling us with God's goodness. "So now, since we have been made right in God's sight by faith in His promises, we can have real peace with Him because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. For because of our faith, He has brought us into this place of highest privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to actually becoming all that God has had in mind for us to be We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials for we know that they are GOOD FOR us — they help us learn to be patient. And patience develops strength of CHARACTER in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until our hope and faith are strong and steady. "Then, when that happens, we are able to hold our heads high no matter what happens and know that all is well, for we know how dearly God loves us, and we feel this warm love everywhere within us because God has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love" (Romans 4:25; 5:1-5, Living Letters). Christ set us an example. He endured patiently. How much patience have you developed? How patient are YOU?
God has made every provision for us to develop perfect, Godlike CHARACTER. He made us out of the dust of the ground — made us of grimy dirt. He fashioned our minds with the capability of being tugged and pulled away from His way — His LAW, but for a good purpose. If God had not created us capable of sinning, how could we ever develop character by resisting sin? If we are to be His very sons, we must have opportunity to overcome the temptation to sin. Only by going through the process of overcoming is it possible to develop Godly CHARACTER. The individual must come to know, through free choice, what is right and then CHOOSE TO DO IT! By its very God-designed nature, character simply cannot be given outright to a man. To build eternal rightness into a creature would leave it only a decisionless automaton. God demands more than that of us. He has determined that we must BUILD character within ourselves if we are to become acceptable to Him as SONS! God has given man life — and a lifetime — to experience the result of his chosen actions. God expects man to finally realize wrong action produces pain, PENALTY. This should motivate man to look for a better way — God's way. Man is intended to discover his inherent wrongness and joyfully accept the rules of proper conduct found in the Bible — the Law of God. Experience will positively prove that this way is rewarding! Man, then, is simply to admit his way is wrong, God's way is GOOD, and this being the case, he should choose to continue to live according to the Law of God.
Hebrews 12:6-8 tells us that God chastises us because He wants us to be His sons. Isn't it reasonable for a loving father to be interested enough in his child to properly correct him? A child — even a child of God — must be taught what is good and what is bad. A LOVING FATHER properly intensifies his child's experiences to impress useful lessons. This is what God does when He penalizes us for breaking His law when we try to live in some manner other than a child of God should. God wants us to be like Him! To have His HOLINESS (Heb. 12:10). This is possible only if we live by the same rules as He does. We are to make the same choices. We are to develop the same character. Only in this way can we qualify to become VERY GOD! The punishment He administers for sin is not immediately enjoyable. While it is happening it HURTS! But have PATIENCE! Afterwards we can see it was right and for our good. Growth in character occurs in those who realize what is going on and so accept correction in a proper attitude. Now that this has been explained to you, don't fret, rebel, or retaliate the next time you find God correcting you — His law penalizing you. Don't allow yourself to give vent to uncontrolled emotions. Don't lash out passionately when your SELF is endangered. Be willing to be acted upon for a change. Don't insist on being the active agent. The whole world is ablaze today because patience is such an uncommon ingredient. Be willing to be the PATIENT.
Proof of Parenthood
Make no mistake. God has not designed His plan for the purpose of making men suffer. He positively is NOT harsh, cruel, sadistic. His plan is the only way by which we can become His sons. It is absolutely good that we learn how and where we are coming up short so changes for the better can be made. Here, then, is the surprising reason for the statement "... that we must through much tribulation enter into the Kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). This is why God says, "Many are the AFFLICTIONS of the righteous: but the Lord delivereth him out of them all" (Ps. 34:19). When, finally, we recognize the need to change from our own ways and begin to wholeheartedly submit to God, He will see to it that we receive His Spirit (mind, attitude). But this is a continual process, beginning at baptism and lasting throughout the Christian life. As a loving Father, God watches us carefully, knowing we wish to receive His instruction in righteousness. He intervenes correctively whenever it is necessary for our own good. This should not seem at all unusual. It is not strange for a father to test his children to see if they have learned important and necessary lessons. If their very lives will be lost unless they can meet emergencies with sureness, one would expect rigorous training and examination. So it is with the growing Christian and the tests which our loving Father allows (I Peter 4:12-13). Such action ought to make us eternally grateful, for it proves the love of God for us. It makes us Christ-like. It readies us to rule with Him. It should give us "exceeding JOY"! The duress of being penalized is expected to temper us. Suffering is intended to discipline us so that we will avoid wrong action. Knowing this we should develop a willingness to suffer the consequences of error whenever necessary in order that we may GROW. We will come to fully understand that every error, even if not our own, results in suffering. We must grow to the place that we will endure (patiently suffer) the penalty for the sins of others. Love IS an outgoing concern for others. We know that! We know that two wrongs cannot make a right. Therefore, we must not indulge ourselves in retaliation.
If we are able to demonstrate our patience in a dental chair — trusting some mere man to remove a decaying, useless, encumbering tooth and expecting the end result of this painful ordeal to give us peace and contentment in spite of the temporary distress of the dental operation — how much more can we be assured that a gentle, loving, Father — God will allow us to suffer only as much distress and pain as is absolutely necessary to extract the rottenness of human nature which would keep us from full participation in the rich, happy, blessed Family of God? Says the Apostle Paul: ".... we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the GLORY which shall be revealed in us" (Rom. 8:16-18). Let us, therefore, be thankful for our trials and tests — our opportunities to develop patience, to endure suffering, remembering the priceless CHARACTER that is being built into our lives. How WONDERFUL, to be willing to hurt!