An attribute of God that isn’t much talked about and that is often rather neglected is His patience. God is patient. Listen to how it is described in Nehemiah 9:17 (NIV) “They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles you performed among them. They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery. But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them.” During their wilderness trek of forty years the people of Israel persisted in their stiff-necked and rebellious ways, yet God in His patience didn’t judge and destroy them, He exercised His patience. It always brings a smile to my face when Jonah used much the same kind of language lodging a complaint against God. Jonah 4:2 (NIV) “He prayed to the Lord, ‘O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.’”
I want to look at a couple of ways God demonstrates His patience. Both Nehemiah and Jonah said that this patience is highlighted in God’s delaying judgment. Peter also reminded us of this dimension of the patience of God. 2 Peter 3:9 (NIV) “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” Jesus told His disciples that He would return and that this return would mark His coming as judge and punisher. But His love and patience make Him want to postpone this day. His default position is one of mercy and love and not judgement and condemnation. Every year, every day, every second that Christ’s return is delayed gives people one more opportunity to turn to Him in faith. Peter reminded his readers of this – God doesn’t want anyone to fall under judgment, He wants every person ever born to find His forgiveness. God said it so eloquently through the prophet Ezekiel. Ezekiel 33:11 (NIV) “Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?’” Remember that in John 3:16 we read that “God so loves the world.” That includes every person who has ever lived. His love is so broad and so intense that that He was willing to sacrifice the life of His one and only Son to open a way of salvation. It is this remarkable patience that has stayed the hand of our judging God, allowing more and more people into His magnificent kingdom.
But there is another way that God’s patience is demonstrated and that is through His continuing work in our lives to perfect us and fit us for heaven. A sculptor was once asked how he could work on a stone and turn it into a beautiful sculpting. He said that if he were working on sculpting a horse he would begin with a chisel and mallet and chip away all that doesn’t look like a horse. God uses a similar logic in His work on me. His ultimate goal is to make me like Jesus, but I am like an unshaped block of marble. He takes His mallet and chisel and chips away what doesn’t look like Jesus. I have to confess that there have been times when this process has been more than a little bit painful. Some of those excess bits that don’t look like Jesus have become somewhat precious to me – I don’t want them to be chipped away. Every day I recite a prayer asking God to continue His patient work of removing from me all selfishness, pride, laziness, irresponsibility, unrighteousness, covetousness, greed, arrogance, vindictiveness, and judgmentalism. There is occasional pain as I watch God chip away at my character and grow in me His divine fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Despite my discomfort and even pain, God continues His patient and magnificent work of turning me into a masterpiece of His grace and mercy.
Without God’s patience I might never have found Him. But He never quit wooing me, inviting me to Himself and now that same patience won’t be satisfied until He has shaped me into a likeness of His Son Jesus Christ. So, as difficulties come into your life, look for ways that God might be exercising His patience in making you what you were originally created to be – a picture of Jesus. In the meantime, remember to Keep the Son in Your Eyes.