Numbers 21:4-9 – Being Impatient

grumbling

“From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.’  Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died.” (NRSV)

Impatience.  Grumbling.  They go together like a hand in a glove.  The impatient person sticks his hand in the glove of complaints, voicing and animating his missed expectations for all to hear and see.

The ancient Israelites had been delivered with the miraculous and mighty hand of God.  But the celebration soon turned sour.  Out in the desert with millions of people, the Israelites had no food or water.  We have no account of the people reflexively using their spiritual connection with God to ask him for help.  Nope.  They just grumbled against God and his servant Moses.

God had enough of their constant complaints.  He had shown mercy and committed love to them over-and-over again.  Yet, the people still put on their grumpy faces any time something didn’t go their way.  God kept showing patience toward the people, but the people kept demonstrating impatience toward God.

If you stop and think about the pathology of your impatience and complaining (which we all do – come on, admit it) you’ll likely discover that at the heart of it all is a picture in your mind of how you think circumstances ought to go for you to be happy.  The Israelites expected a nice clean break from Egypt with a smooth transition into the Promised Land.  They didn’t sign up for hard circumstances and trouble to get there.

You go to church expecting to be fed and encouraged.  You expect that school will be enjoyable and that you’ll get a good paying job when you graduate.  You expect to go to work and have healthy working relationships and a good boss.  You expect your kids to listen to what you say and do what you tell them.  You expect your spouse to give you focused attention.  You expect the weather to be better.  You expect the little plastic things on the end of your shoelaces to last for the life of your shoes….

You get the picture.  No matter what scenario we posit, its more than likely it isn’t going to go as planned or expected.  The rub comes when those expectations aren’t realized.  Then, what?  In a perfect world we would always respond in a reasoned, wise, and healthy manner.  But if we’re feeling like we’re in an emotional place of insecurity out in the desert, our response is more likely going to be impatience, grumbling, and complaining about things which aren’t going as planned.

A great deal of disobedience, bad behavior and speech, and poor decision-making has its beginnings in impatience.  The minute you become impatient, take a long deep breath before you make your next mental decision.  Check-in with yourself.  Be mindful of what your real expectations are for the circumstance or person in the present moment of becoming upset.  Make the decision not to complain or argue.  Instead, choose to say what you want without grumbling.

It is truly possible to stand for holiness, live for righteousness, and uphold the words and ways of Jesus without being a jerk about it through impatient sighs, annoying facial expressions, and terse words of carping and criticizing another person made in God’s image.

Monitor yourself throughout the day today.  Notice the times you become annoyed.  Stop and take a minute to analyze what it is you are expecting.  Instead of grumbling, ask God how he wants to strengthen your faith through the situation or encounter.  Because God is there to help you, not to pick on you.

Holy God, your patience is incredible in the face of human impatience.  Yet, your boundaries are firm, and you will not put up with our petulant ways forever.  Help me to live into the model of your Son, the Lord Jesus, who with you and the Holy Spirit are attentive to come alongside me to your own glory and honor.  Amen.

2 Peter 3:8-13

            Sometimes, from our puny human perspective on things, it seems as if God is doing nothing.  Evil consumes the world in all kinds of insidious forms:  human trafficking and the sex slave trade; corrupt governments with no concern for the welfare of its nation’s citizens; oppressive regimes that rule on the backs of the poor; terrorism with no regard to innocent life; Christians displaced from their homes and martyred for their faith; human rights violations in all kinds of sweat shops and dangerous working conditions – and that is just to name a few – not to mention what we personally might be facing in the hard circumstances of life.  We might wonder why God seems so silent in the face of such injustice.
 
            It is into such concerns that the Apostle Peter wrote to a group of struggling believers in Jesus who could not rectify their present difficult situation with the promise of God to act justly.  In fact, Jesus was supposed to return and make everything right.  Where is he?!  Peter’s response:  “Dear friends, don’t forget that for the Lord one day is the same as a thousand years, and a thousand years is the same as one day.  The Lord isn’t slow in keeping his promises, as some people think he is.  God is patient, because he wants everyone to turn from sin and no one to be lost.”
 
            The seeming inactivity of God is really him showing patience and forbearance, graciously and carefully reaching out in the darkness so that more and more people can be saved from their empty ways of life before it is too late.  Where, from our angle it seems like a lack of concern, from God’s perspective is a show of incredible grace.  The Lord will return.  Until then, we are participate with him in showing grace and love to those who need the light of Christ, even if it means we must endure some of the evil muck of this world.
 

 

            Patient God, you show steadfast love even when I am slow to recognize it.  Enable me to be patient and endure to the end.  Bring more and more people under your benevolent rule, and reach the unreachable with your massive mercy, through Jesus Christ.  Amen.

2 Chronicles 36:11-21

            There are parts of the Bible’s Old Testament that are just plain sad.  Perhaps the most pitiful commentary of all is that God’s people acted like a spouse who was so distant and dissatisfied that they did not know how good they had it.  So, they looked for relationships with other gods, other lovers.  Despite God’s furious and longing love for his people, they spurned his advances and his appeals.  Judah’s King Zedekiah “did what was evil… He did not humble himself before Jeremiah the prophet, who spoke from the mouth of the LORD… He stiffened his neck and hardened his heart against turning to the LORD.”  What is more, Judah’s leadership was “exceedingly unfaithful, following all the abominations of the nations.”
 
            God was patient, he was persistent, and he was long on love for his people.  “The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place.”  Finally, after centuries of chronic neglect of God and active pursuit of idolatry, Judah reached the point of no return, and they lost it all.  Yet, even in this abject stubbornness and lack of love from Judah, God had compassion and did not forget.  The Chronicles end with a note of grace, letting the reader know that God’s mercy always has the last word. 
 
            God’s wrath is the servant of God’s love.  His punishes so that he can pursue; levels natural consequences so that he can meet needs; and, rebukes so that he might bring rest.  The end game for God is always restoration, renewal, and revitalization – a reviving of relationship between himself and his people.  This ought always to be our purpose, as well, to persistently, patiently, and lovingly pursue lost people because God rescued us from the dominion of darkness and has brought us into the life of his Son, the Lord Jesus.
 

 

            Merciful God, your anger flares but lasts only a moment.  Yet, your love is eternal and everlasting.  Thank you for sniffing me out and saving me by your amazing grace.  May I demonstrate the love you have shown to me toward others, so that your purposes are accomplished in my life today and always through Jesus Christ, my Lord.  Amen.

God’s Patience

 
 
The Christian Year begins with the season of Advent.  Advent literally means “anticipation.”  It is an awareness of God’s actions in the past, in the present, and in the future.  While we wait for Christmas and the birth of Jesus, we also anticipate Christ’s second coming at the end of time.  Our Lord’s coming again always stands in the background of our yearly Advent anticipation.
 
We are often impatient people. It is important to understand that God’s timing is different than ours.  There are two words for time in the New Testament:  Chronos and Kairos.  Chronos is where we get our English word “chronological.”  This is time measured by the clock.  This is the way in which much of our lives are governed.  The other term for time, Kairos, is seasonal time.  It is not determined by the clock, but is event-oriented. 
 
God is not time-oriented in the sense that we are; that is, God is not ruled and controlled by the clock.  God is actually event-oriented which is why God’s understanding of time is that a thousand years are like a day and a day like a thousand years (2 Peter 3:8-15).  In others words, God does not measure time like we do.  When the Bible says that Christ is coming soon, that means there are no redemptive events left in the course of history except the Day of the Lord, the return of Jesus to judge the entire world.
 
I admit that I am a clock-oriented guy.  I also admit that my wife and girls are not.  Since this is our reality as a family, I end up waiting on them – a lot!  I have spent countless chronological hours of my life anticipating their readiness to go somewhere.  I used to get frustrated and impatient because I thought they should be clock-oriented like me.  But, over the years, I have learned to accept this reality.  Now I take the time of waiting and read.  I have actually read a lot of books over the years through my waiting.
 
What we need to get a hold of is that God has all the time in the world, and he is not frustrated about it.  It is us that get antsy and impatient because we think that God has to operate on our time schedule.  But what looks like tardiness to us is really something else.  God seems slow in keeping his promises because of his mercy. 
 
In the face of so much that is not right with the world we might wonder why God is not just stepping in and taking care of all the evil and unjust situations on this earth.  The truth is:  God is patiently waiting for all kinds of people to come to the point of repentance.  God is waiting for that lost soul to make his/her way to himself.
 
But the repentance that God is looking for is not just for other people outside the church; it is for Christians, as well.  God is waiting for us, too.  What should we be doing in the meantime while we wait for Christ’s Advent?  We ought to be living holy and godly lives as we look forward to Christ’s coming and speed its coming.
 
When I worked a factory assembly line, the reality of the situation was that the assembly line is only as effective as its slowest worker.  One person could determine the outcome of getting the product out the door in a timely fashion, or not.  God is not a factory manager, but the principle is still the same:  the church is often only as effective as its most mediocre member.  In other words, God has chosen to use us to accomplish his purposes.  If we do not participate in those purposes or procrastinate, the next event on God’s agenda (the Lord’s return) may well be slowed.  God has all the time in the world, and he is waiting. 
 
God is gracious.  He is not going to kick and prod you like an earthly boss.  He is not going to bully us or strike us with lightning when we disobey by failing to do his will.  God does not operate like us.  If we sin or disobey, he is patient, wanting us to come to him to receive mercy.  He is waiting for us to avail ourselves of his help to live holy and godly lives.  Our Lord’s patience means deliverance from all that disconnects us from Jesus so that we might rightly attach ourselves to Christ.
 

 

There is no better season to mend fences and deal with all that divides and angers.  The Lord is coming.  Let us be ready by living grace-filled lives reflecting our status as God’s people.