Have you ever been to one of those prayer meetings where everyone is gathered in a circle, heads are bowed, people may even be holding hands, and the person praying audibly voices a prayer of—you guessed it—patience? James 1 stuff. “Count it all joy when you fall into trials, knowing the testing of your faith produces patience.” You know what I’m referring to. Particularly if they prayed for you.
The word “patience” has become more than just an ugly word in prayer circles. We’ve moved now to feeling as if the attribute of patience is a literal curse on our lives. And it’s easy to see why. Patience is difficult. In fact, the root word for patience is patior, meaning “to suffer.”
But we’ve done ourselves a grave injustice by denigrating this necessary attribute. I sadly admit I agree with what A.W. Tozer said about modern day Christians (including me):
I am afraid we modern Christians are long on talk and short on conduct. We use the language of power but our deeds are the deeds of weakness. We settle for words in religion because deeds are too costly. It is easier to pray, “Lord, help me to carry my cross daily" than to pick up the cross and carry it; but since the mere request for help to do something we do not actually intend to do has a certain degree of religious comfort, we are content with repetition of words.” 1
We all want to get to the next level in our relationship with Christ. That’s not the problem. The problem lies in our fear. We’re afraid to pay the price to walk the narrow road. I think we too often forget that “narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:14, NKJV). I don’t know about you, but I want to be one of the few.
I overheard Zach’s baseball coach tell the boys in practice one day that the best and brightest baseball players are taking 400 to 600 swings of the bat a day. As a mom, I think that’s quite crazy to ask of my son. But I also understand that if he wants to get to the next level, he’s got to work hard to get there. Statistically speaking, of all boys 9-14 who play travel baseball, 10 in 5000 get full scholarship to play in college, and only 1 in 5000 makes it to play professionally. The road to the next level, no matter what you do, is never easy.
Take Christ’s journey to Calvary for instance. We may use religious comfort and repetition of words to ease our pain, but Jesus took the narrow, difficult way. He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey (Luke 19:28-40). As Henri Nouwen explains, “Jesus entered into Jerusalem…on a donkey, like a clown at a parade. This was His way of reminding us that we fool ourselves when we insist on easy victories…The way from Palm Sunday to Easter is the patient way, the suffering way.” 2
Jesus did not come to heal all of Israel or take away every pain we experience.
Many of us have forgotten the path we must take to get to the next level in our relationship with Christ. It has been pushed out by a society thriving on instant gratification, faster technology, and a fear of commitment. We want it now or we don’t want it at all. Even committing to a two-year cell phone agreement is considered a courageous feat these days. It’s no wonder we balk when we hear the word “patience.” Our culture has denied it, and most of us have forgotten it.
To discover God’s dream for our lives though, we’ve got to rediscover the forgotten path. Surely, it’s a path paved with patience, but if you live your life trying other routes, hoping that a quick devotion in the morning and ten-second prayer for your neighbor with cancer will get you to the next level, you’re likely to grow frustrated and resentful. We learn patience as we embrace tough times. As Nouwen posits, “To learn patience is not to rebel against every hardship. For if we insist on continuing to cover our pains with ‘Hosannas,’ we run the risk of losing our patience. We are likely to become bitter and cynical or violent and aggressive when the shallowness of the easy way wears through.” 3
Learning patience, as Nouwen admits, is not about denying tough times. As we’ve seen, it’s about finding joy “when you fall into various trials knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience” (James 1:2-3 NKJV). No one wants to have her faith tested in difficult ways, but that’s the only way. So when you’re angry at God, when you don’t understand Him, and when you feel abandoned by Him, know that His reaction does not depend on your feelings or your circumstances because “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). He loves and cares for you and wants to you to experience His glorious presence (John 17:24).
Speaker Lois Evans uses an illustration about a silversmith to teach us the value of patience. Silver takes a long time to be refined enough by fire to be workable, a silversmith can’t just put it in the fire and walk away. He knows that he might be working with silver of varying quality and he has to set the temperature accordingly. Once it’s set, he has to stay until he sees his image in the silver.
Notes Lois, “Jesus Christ is going to stay with you in your fiery situation because he’s a good silver smith. He’s going to stay there until he sees his image and what he’s wanting to do in your life become a reality.”4 Jesus is willing to be patient with us, and we must be willing to be patient with ourselves and our faith as we take the time necessary to move it to the next level.
As those tough times in life come and go, remember the forgotten path…even though you have to put up with every kind of aggravation in the meantime, pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine. When Jesus wraps this all up, it's your faith, not your gold, that God will have on display as evidence of His victory” (1 Peter:6-7 MSG).
When you’re facing difficult times, remember the hope found in the Easter story. Life can come after loss, and we can bear it because of Christ. The question isn’t whether or not you will have tragedy and loss in your life. Those are givens. The question is, what you decide to do with the tragedy and loss? Will it take you under? Will it make you stronger? Will it take you deeper? Will you allow it to take you to the next level?
1. A.W. Tozer, Gems from Tozer (Camp hill, Pennsylvania: Christian Publications, 1979), 85.
2. Henri Nouwen, Turn My Mourning into Dancing (Nashville: Word Publishing, 2002), 10.