By Laurel Brunk
We run up escalators, race through yellow lights, and make reservations at restaurants. We text because calling takes too long. We self-diagnose on WebMD, so we don’t have to schedule an appointment with the doctor. We don’t live in a patient society.
But when we follow Jesus, we should be patient because it’s a fruit of the Spirit living in us. Unfortunately there’s really only one way to learn patience, and that’s to wait. Waiting, however, is hard. And while it’s possible to wait without being patient, it’s impossible to learn patience without waiting. So how do we do it? How do we wait without getting angry or bitter (in other words, patiently)?
To find out, I went to some waiting warriors—people I know who are waiting well. Some have waited longer than others, but for all of them the time is measured in years. They have been on their knees, begging God to bring their wait to an end. He hasn’t. Yet they aren’t bitter or angry. Better still, they have hope. When I asked them why, here’s what they said:
“God is God.”
Tim is waiting for God to unlock the resources he needs to take his company to the next level. He’s an entrepreneur, a visionary who follows where he believes God leads him, no matter the cost. Five years ago Tim and his wife gave up financial security to launch a tech startup. Since then God has provided just enough funds, just in time; it means Tim’s been in a state of constant fundraising, always working to get the next investor check. Tim is tired. “We weren’t designed to never progress,” he said.
But Tim knows he’s not the center of the story. God is. Which means that impatience is simply a form of control and even pride, he explained. If patience is a deferral of what we want for a period of time, and God is God, then we should be able to defer indefinitely without complaining.
Since that’s easier said than done, Tim finds encouragement in reading about Abraham, who waited for decades for what God promised him, and Joseph, who had huge visions from God but spent years unable to pursue them, or David, who was anointed by God as king but waited 15 years for the throne. We just hear the highlights, Tim said, but God’s people have always had to wait on the Lord.
Deb is waiting for her son to come to Jesus. Right now her son’s life is all about fitting in with friends. He’ll buy the right clothes and attend the right social events, even when it means missing a rent payment or going into credit card debt. People tell her not to worry; he’s not a bad kid. And he’s not. But to her, that brings no comfort. “At the end of the day,” said Deb, “it’s his salvation that matters.”
For Deb, patience is hardest when prayer feels fruitless. She makes a deliberate choice to believe that God hears her. She said God is teaching her to keep praying. In Luke 11:5-8, Jesus tells a parable about a man who asks his friend for bread in the middle of the night. It ends like this: “I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.” So Deb keeps praying and asks others to join her. “Then God’s got more people nagging him,” she said. Of course, what she calls “nagging,” God calls “shameless audacity.”
“Give up control, not hope.”
Jon is waiting to become a dad. He and has wife have desired to be parents for some time. According to the doctor, it’s Jon’s body that’s the problem. With a stark monthly reminder that their wait continues, Jon goes through a grieving process over and over again. But he says the worst part isn’t the constant roller coaster; it’s when he and his wife mishandle each other’s feelings. Then there’s not only a level of frustration with the problem but also with how it’s been handled. For him it feels like a double failure.
It’s easy to say God is in control when you’re not talking about a specific situation, Jon said. We learn that x and y lead to z. It seems to work for others. It’s when we come face to face with the fact that we’re not in control that we realize we never really were. Jon focuses on the gifts he does have—through no control of his own. If he doesn’t savor those, he said, it’s ingratitude. Jon feels confident that God placed the desire to become a father in his heart, but he knows he’s not entitled to a certain story. Maybe he’ll have to wait a long time; he’s still hopeful. On his best days, Jon said, waiting feels like Christmas Eve.
“When God makes the plan, God gets the glory.”
Jane is waiting for a husband. It’s not that she’s unhappy on her own; she has a life full of friends and adventures. But the truth is, Jane didn’t plan to be single at 34. In a conservative Midwestern city, her singleness feels like an exception to a rule. She believes God has a husband for her. Once while digging in her garden, Jane asked God if he had anything to say to her about marriage. A few minutes later she dug up a ring. A wedding ring.
Six years later, she’s still waiting.
In the toughest times, Jane clings to Ephesians 3:20, 21: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” When we make plans and they happen, said Jane, we get glory. But when God makes a plan and it happens, he gets glory. Not to mention, she added, his plans are better. Immeasurably better.
So we wait.
I’m exploring patience because I’m waiting too. Like Jon, I’m waiting for a baby. It’s been four years. In that time my husband and I got tested, had surgery, did procedures. I spent a summer dragging a cooler of hormone shots wherever I went so my husband could stick them into my thigh at the right time every night. It didn’t work.
So I wait. To be honest, it’s not easy. My job is writing curriculum and church experiences for kids and parents, which means kids are always on my mind. Sometimes I feel indignant. Or worse, sorry for myself. But I want to wait well. I want to submit to whatever God plans—or allows—because he is God. I want to ask him for good things audaciously. I want to keep hoping for the desires that I believe are from him. And I definitely want whatever happens in my life to bring God glory.
The verse that keeps me going right now is Psalm 37:7: “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.” A few weeks ago I had “be still” tattooed on my arm. Of course I’m not recommending that. It’s just that, for me, patience requires a drastic and constant reminder. True surrender isn’t easy, but that’s what it means to follow Jesus. If I’m following him, then whatever happens will be worth the wait.
Laurel Brunk is Kids’ Club Content Director at Crossroads Church in Cincinnati, Ohio (CrossroadsKidsClub.net).