Be Patient With Your Slow Progress
I became a mum two years ago and since then my daily schedule has been overhauled. My daughter is a joy to the family, we laugh at her cheeky ways, her developing character and idiosyncrasies. Her schedule however has become my schedule and any gaps leftover I give to my work projects. My day to day doesn’t look so cut and dried anymore, time has become a precious commodity and work percolates itself during preschool and nap times.
On certain days, I get impatient with my daughter who has just flung her dinner across the room. I get impatient with my husband who misplaces my journal. I get impatient with the receptionist who insists on mansplaining everything. I get impatient with the postman who doesn’t hand-deliver my package and leaves it outside the building.
My work to do list becomes an itch I can’t wait to scratch and anything that sets me off course causes me to become irritated. My schedule is derailed, my work ambitions have been stalled and my engine has slowed down. The fulfillment I enjoyed from work is being parked to the side and I’m not firing on 4 cylinders like I use to. Impatience has made a home in my heart because my fiery red Ferrari has been traded in for a VW Campervan.
Patience Is Not Easy
As Christians, the bible calls us “To be completely humble and gentle, be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2). Yet the reality is different, there are many moments in our day-to-day life where we give in to provocation and don’t forbear with each-other. Very often our quick-temper doesn’t lead to peace but conflict (Proverbs 15:18).
Paul in the bible had more reason than anybody to become frustrated with his imprisonment (Acts 16:22-36). He was unjustly locked up by the Romans for preaching the word publicly. Paul, the great apostle no longer had a crowd following him. His ambition to reach as many as possible was ebbing away as he was stuck in prison waiting for his release.
As the clock in his jail cell ticks away, his passion for spreading the gospel could have caused immense frustration as he watches the hour pass and another wasted opportunity to reach more. He was kept from seeing lives being visibly transformed and so experiencing the fruit from his work. He could have got frustrated with the prison guards, frustrated with the Roman system, frustrated by the injustice and frustrated with God.
Although his normal pattern of labour had come to a halt, his perspective is dramatically different from what we expect from the “man on a mission”. Paul says “Now I want you to know brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel” (Philippians 1:12). Interestingly, Paul considered his imprisonment an advancement of God’s work.
There are lessons we can learn about patience through Paul’s attitude.
1) Self-Centred vs God-Centred
If you live in the west, we live in the age of expediency. Efficiently and productivity have been elevated to sanctimonious virtues where companies compete to outdo each other in bringing the biggest, sharpest, powerful products to market. Gone are the days where we had to wait months for the latest blockbuster to hit DVD. Now we can digitally download it from Amazon.
This western philosophy of progress can seep into our consciousness and permeate our core as our alarms clocks become the starting block. As we receive the world’s baton and sprint our way to the finish line, bulldozing anything that gets in the path of our productivity.
Frustration, impatience, and anger are all emotional responses that reveal something has a greater hold of our hearts. These emotions play out in daily life when we face resistance. We get irritated with the unexpected salesman or the slow cashier at the supermarket or the unexpected friend who has popped by.
On a less obvious level, we can quietly deflate and become passive aggressive as we sarcastically slam-dunk the object of our frustration. Or we can become so fixated on the next thing on our to-do list that we don’t fully engage with the person right in front of us and see them only for their usefulness to us. The danger with this is we view people in the context of our self-serving ambitions. We objectify them and become hardened to seeing them first as God’s prized soul.
In Philippians, despite the obvious setback, Pauls declared it an “advancement” that he was in chains. Which helped him to understand, he was where he was supposed to be. Although he was unable to do physical work, he understood something of God’s divine work through his present situation. This triumphed over his own sense of self-importance.
Paul knew this deeply so he didn’t make oppositions to his goals all about him. He didn’t put himself at the centre and say “This is unfair that I’m in prison, do these people realise?”. His lack of self, elevated God to his proper place as one that was at the centre propelling his work forward.
2) Self-Entitlement or God’s Goals
In the age of self-entitlement, we are tempted to feel like we’re owed success that we feel antsy and become restless when things don’t pan out according to our time frame. Our appetite for instant gratification means we view “success” as being proportional to “work invested”.
Paul’s view of work runs contrary to this perspective. In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, Paul says “To the weak, I’ve become the weak in order to save the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible mean, I might save some”. Notice that when Paul does the biblical maths, we get a different result : All + All + All = Some. Our humanly logic defies Paul’s attitude who makes every effort and works all hours even if the outcome is just “some”.
As millennials, we can possess a posture of self-entitlement where we believe we’re owed “All” things and not “Some” things. In reality, God response is “some” for certain things. This can be incredibly hard for us as we surrender to God our dreams of owning our own home or being in a relationship. When this occurs, its crucial to keep in mind that God doesn’t even owe us a tomorrow. Anyone who has had a near-death experience or suffered a bereavement of a lost one will identify with this, each day we have is truly a gift of God’s unmerited grace.
However desirable our dreams or noble our tasks are. God’s plan is greater and he is always on course “for we know in all things God works for the good of those who love her, who have been called according to his purposes” (Romans 8:28 NIV). That’s right, God works through all things – perhaps to refine our characters, perhaps to protect us from something, perhaps to recourse our direction to something else.
In our daily life, we can surrender to God when we are stuck in traffic or when our friend is late for our meeting. Because God is the one behind the steering wheel and we can give up being shackled to our rigid schedule. Through all the setbacks, he is still achieving his goal for our day because God works everything out to its proper end (Proverbs 16:4 NIV). Perhaps you are God’s instrument to show grace to your friend who is late, perhaps God wants you to meditate on his goodness whilst you’re stuck in traffic. Perhaps these setbacks are protecting us from a danger around the corner.
In our hearts, we humans map out our days but it is God who puts one foot in front of the other (Proverbs 16:9 NIV). Do you believe that God can work through the major and minor setbacks during your busy day? Is he trying to avert your attention for a reason? Do you believe you are where you are supposed to be?
3) Scarcity or Contentment
A race wouldn’t be one unless we had competitors in the lane next to us. In life, we are regularly thrust into the social web of Instagram and Facebook’s feeds of the world’s progress. We glance over our shoulder and our anxiety is compounded as we faced the holidays’ others can afford, the promotions they are getting, the cool and perfect spouse they are joined to. Without being aware of it, we insidiously inherit a scarcity mindset of “not having enough” or “things being inadequate”.
Like our forefathers, we become like Eve in the grandeur of the garden of Eden whose “scarcity mindset” focussed on her “lack of”. Rather than delighting in the bounty of luscious fruit from all the other available trees. She raced to the very tree that she was unable to eat from. Her heart became deceived by the impression that God was stingy and she suffered a holy discontentment with the current state of things.
If this feeling is familiar, there is a spiritual remedy. The secret to Paul’s joy despite his circumstances was his ability to cultivate a joy through all situations. Whilst in prison, Paul had entered another season of his life where God was shaping other aspects of his character. Paul learned the power of patience through the discipline of being content in all circumstances. Which is why he was able to say in prison “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). He could say this because “I know what its like to be in need, to have plenty. Whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:12-13, NIV).
God’s Perfect Progress
Imprisonment to Paul wasn’t a futile meaningless wait but a purposeful and joyous decision to wait on God. This was the time where Paul wrote his best letters, recorded for us today (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon). From the letters, it is clear that Paul’s passion and faith remained steadfast and unwavering throughout his arrest.
Patience for us today is simply waiting on God’s perfect progress every day. God’s progress runs counter-intuitive to the world’s progress. When everything about our lives leans towards a quickstep upward mobility. God at the highest of heights unable to move further up instead comes down in flesh and dies unjustly on a cross so that we would have a hope. How many times have we messed up? How many times have we turned away from God’s love? How many time have we relied on God’s forgiveness? Because God models patience to us throughout our lives, our tanks can be filled so we can be patient with others.
Whilst my red Ferrari is being parked in the garage. I understand it’s undergoing crucial maintenance work. Whilst it’s there, I’m learning the secrets of contentment in every situation. God had used my circumstances to teach me how to slow down and to see that patience is not a weakness. It’s not being passive and non-assertive but it’s a willful decision to act and then leave the rest up to God. Understanding that God’s plans are always perfect because he is perfect.
Written by Ann Ajet
Ann Ajet is a lead writer at Bread and is based in London. She covers real-life issues in the Christian walk. When she’s not writing, she’s exploring street food markets with her husband and daughter.
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