SEPTEMBER 29, 1999
This past Tuesday evening I rushed into my assistant’s office and picked up a freshly typed 23-page manuscript for today’s message on patience. You see, I was in a big hurry because I had a church function to attend directly after work but I planned to wake up early on Wednesday morning and begin the message preparation. I took the document, put it in my trusty briefcase, walked out to my truck and this time I put the briefcase with the sermon inside it, inside my truck. Let me say something parenthetically. If you have been around here the last year, you know that on two different occasions I have put the briefcase with sermon on top of my truck and driven off without it.
Sadly, today we are continuing the saga of the missing sermon. When I arrived at the function, I took the briefcase into the home. During the course of the evening, I decided to jot down some notes and began to write on the back of the manuscript. A friend of mine noticed that and provided me with a legal pad to use instead. I wrote on it for awhile and when finished, put it in the briefcase. I left the house with the briefcase but without the freshly typed 23-page manuscript on patience. The next morning I woke up early, fired up to study. I couldn’t wait to think about patience. The phone rang and my wife answered it. She turned to me and informed me that I had left the sermon where I had been the night before. As my temperature began to rise, she made a comment that the subject was patience. I couldn’t believe how dumb I was, how forgetful.
I tried calling the church office. I called the office five times before the switchboard opened at 8am. Finally, my helpful assistant was kind enough to fax me another copy of the message. While she was faxing, I pulled each page off as it arrived. Finally I had them all and got myself ready to begin the sermon preparation when suddenly it hit me. I realized that I had let the situation upset my entire emotional equilibrium at the very time I was studying about patience. God must have a sense of humor. So today I have put this message together for me. I will give you a chance to listen and if it can help you in any way, great. But this message is for your pastor, as we talk about patience.
I want to ask you a question. What is it that makes you loose your patience the fastest? For some, it is when you are at a drive through line at a bank and the person in front of you is negotiating a second mortgage on his home from the front seat of his car. And when you finally get up to the drive through window, the canister is hot to the touch because it has gone back and forth so many times.
For others here it is when you are flying on a long business trip and the person in front of you crushes your knees with his seatback and you want to pull some hair out. For Moms, maybe it is when your little six-year-old daughter has watched her fourteenth episode of Barney in one afternoon. Maybe for Fathers, it is when you take out your Big Bertha driver and realize that your son has used it for a sword. Maybe that causes you to lose your patience.
Let’s face it. Impatience permeates our entire persona. We get impatient because the Super Bowl Champions, the Dallas Cowboys, have started off the season one and three. We get impatient because there are some new area codes to deal with. We get impatient because we are not married yet. We get impatient in the church parking lot because of the crowds. We get impatient because we don’t have a child yet. I think all of us know about impatience, don’t we? Impatience crosses all demographic lines. It effects all socio-economic levels. The rich get impatient. The poor get impatient. The middle class gets impatient.
I like to say it this way. When our patience runs low, ah, oh. When the patience runs low, that is when the husband turns to his wife and wounds her with his words. When the patience runs low, that is when the wife gives the husband the “you’re a jerk” look. When the patience runs low, that is when the exasperated father tells his daughter, “why don’t you kick the ball like the rest of the team?” When the patience runs low, that is when the employer says to the employee, “Why do I even pay you, I am the one that does all the work anyway?” When the patience runs low is when Christians look heavenward and say, “Why am I in this situation again, God?” Impatience.
We all deal with it. And we all know the high price tag of impatience because we have been wounded by the impatience of others and we also have hurt others with our impatience. We have seen the damage professionally. We have seen the damage relationally. We have even felt the damage spiritually.
In the New Testament the word patience is pronounced macro sumas. Macro means long, sumas means anger or heat. In other words, if we are patient people, we have a long fuse. Yet, nothing pitched on an infomercial, nothing read in a book, nothing absorbed in a seminar will give us patience. There is no magic formula, no pill, no regimen we can go through like biting our tongue or counting to ten or taking a deep breath that will give us patience in the natural realm. It is not going to happen naturally. But I have got some great news for you, and some great news for me. There is a supernatural way to produce patience. God says, and this is beautiful, that He loves you and me so much, He cannot even entertain the thought or stand the thought of the damage that impatience does in people’s lives. So He takes it upon Himself to turn impatient people like you and me supernaturally into patient people. And again, the primary player in this scenario is the Holy Spirit of God. He is the one who does it.
Now some of you are saying, how does He do it? How does He change my impatience into patience? How? How? Be patient. I will get around to it in the next couple of moments.
You would think that God would help us to become patient people by placing us in calm and serene and relaxed situations and circumstances. For the most part, God does not work that way. God puts us in situations where we are tempted to be impatient. He puts us into situations that will stretch us, in order for us to learn to submit ourselves to the work of the third person of the Trinity, so we will learn to allow Him to produce patience in our lives. You see, God tests our patience by allowing us to go through impatient situations.
He tests us through interruptions. He tests us through interruptions, those little interruptions that occur in our lives. He allows them to take place. You are just sitting down for a nice meal when the phone rings again. You are just settling into the bathtub after a hard day at work and the doorbell rings.
Jesus dealt with interruptions. Matthew 19. He was sitting teaching, as He usually did. Some children wanted to talk to Him and the disciples told the kids to back off. But Jesus told the disciples to chill, to quit being so impatient. He wanted the children to come to Him. He told them further that if they did not have the faith of children, they would not enter the kingdom of God. Read the gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and see how many times Jesus was interrupted and how He patiently dealt with these situations. When those interruptions occur in our lives, they are tests. God is wondering how His child, His man, His woman is going to react.
God also allows us to go through inconveniences. That is another I word. Inconveniences to build patience. You know we have this “hate to wait” thought process. We have this microwave mentality. We want instant coffee, instant marital bliss, instant spiritual maturity, instant community in all relationships. Quick. Quick. Quick.
You know, to show you how people hate to wait, just take a step back and watch how folks wait for elevators. Some are bouncers. They kind of just bounce on their toes. Others are swayers. And some are vain, looking at their reflection in the doors. Always thinking about the look. My favorite, though, are button-pushers.
One day Jesus was at the home of Mary and Martha for a big party. Martha was doing all the work. She did the table decoration. She prepared the food. She had the candles lit. It was a thematic party, I am sure. Mary was not pulling her weight. And Martha became unglued. “Oh, I can’t believe you are not working. I am the only one who does stuff here.” And she began to complain to Jesus. Do you feel like Martha? Do you feel like you are the only one doing stuff at work? Do you feel you are the only one pulling your weight in the relationship? Do you feel you are the only one committed in the marriage? The only one…the only one…the only one. It is a test. It is a test. Inconvenience.
God also allows us to go through irritations. Another I word. Irritations. You know, those little things that kind of bug you. Those things that get under your skin like the traffic on LBJ, like the cold quarter-pounder with cheese. Believe it or not, Moses, himself, dealt with irritations. He led the children of Israel through the wilderness. God had performed miracles through him. They had seen wonderful things. But Moses was getting irritated because of their complaints and whining and moaning. God said, “Moses, speak to the rock and water will flow from the rock and they can drink the water.” Moses lost his cool; he had a short fuse. He took his staff and hit the rock and because he lost his patience, he never made it into the Promised Land.
I grew up in North and South Carolina. The Carolinas, years ago, were the fire works capitals of the USA. We used to play with firecrackers. I don’t recommend it but we did. We would light the firecrackers and boom. But some firecrackers had a very short fuse. If you were tough and cool, you would pick the one with the shortest fuse and light it. You had to get rid of it quickly because if you didn’t it could blow your finger off or burn you. A lot of us have short fuses, don’t we? We just kind of blow up. We have a quick boiling point. We have a microwave tempter. We lose patience like that.
God says that He is in the business of placing the Holy Spirit inside of our lives if we will let Him. And He will teach us some things while we go through these tests to build patience. I want to briefly show you as we cruise through scripture what we can do to increase our patience as we cooperate with the Holy Spirit of God.
Here is what the Holy Spirit of God does. First, as He takes us through these situations, He will allow us to learn a new look. We will learn how to look. Did you hear how I emphasized the I words? Interruption. Inconveniences. Irritations. That is the problem with our impatience. We are focused on ourselves. We think about old number one. We become meistic. My schedule. My agenda. My feelings. My finances. My commitment. We become meistic. We are looking at ourselves. We focus on I. When we are focused on the big I, we don’t really have eyes to see the way God wants us to see. And if we cooperate with the Holy Spirit of God, let me tell you what He will do. He will softly take our head in His hands and turn it off of I, of me, of what makes me look good, feel good and turn it to God. He will turn my eyes to God. And suddenly I will have taken my eyes off myself and I will have a new look, because I am now looking at God. And when I am looking at God, He will build patience in my life.
When I look and contemplate the nature and character of God, I think of two things regarding His patience with me. Number one, I realize that God has been patient for thousands and thousands of years with unbelievers. I realize that God has a long fuse concerning those people outside the family of God. He is patient. II Peter 3:9 says, “…not wanting anyone to perish but for all to come to repentance.” Many people here are outside the family of God right now. And God is patient with you. But I want to tell you this, based on scripture, one day God’s patience will run out. You cannot become a Christian any time you want to. The Bible says that one day the head of the household, meaning God, will not hear the knocking any more and He will turn and sit down and it will be over. So this could be your last time to come to know Christ personally. I am not sure. I don’t know.
For those of you who know Christ personally, think about how old you were when you accepted Christ. Maybe you were ten. Maybe you were twenty. Maybe you were thirty or forty or fifty. Do you realize you tested the patience of God for all those years? Do you realize how patient, how long a fuse God had? It is so tempting for me when I see people who don’t know Christ personally to grab them and ask if they realize what they are doing, that they are testing the patience of God. I want to tell them to do it right away because if they die before they do that they will face a Christless eternity. I can’t do that though. I can preach the truth. I can put the information out there. But it must be an individual choice. When we contemplate the nature and character of God, we see how patient He is with unbelievers.
Secondly, we see how patient God has been with ourselves once we become Christians. Simon Peter was the icon of inconsistency. One minute he was saying, “Jesus, I will die for you.” The next minute he was saying, “Jesus, who?” One minute he was walking on the waters of faith. The next minute he was drowning in the seas of doubt. I thought that Simon Peter was the icon of inconsistency until I came along. I realize how patient God has been with me, with my character flaws, with my weaknesses, with my words, with my thought life. God has remained patient, saying that He will work with me.
For example, I will tell you how the Holy Spirit is changing me in a good way. Recently I had lunch at Lover’s Eggroll, a little Chinese restaurant on MacArthur Blvd. You enter, go to the counter to order, wait for your order and take it to a table. I was next in line for a table. A table became available and I decided to walk to the table. Well, I take one step toward the table and a woman, four people deep in line, bolts in front of me with a romance novel in one hand, her purse in the other and threw her items on the table. She gave me a look that said the early bird gets the worm, baby.
Well, just for a second, I fumed. Do you know what the Holy Spirit did? He told me to quit looking at myself, quit being so meistic. He told me to get off the I thing and focus on Him. He gave me a new look. And when I thought of His patience with me, since I had become a Christian, it put a whole new spin on the entire situation.
The Bible says in Proverbs 20:24, “A man’s steps are directed by the Lord.” This means God is going to give us some divine delay, some sovereign stops as we walk. And there is no way we can walk if we are looking at ourselves. How can you really walk if you are looking at yourself? You are going to trip, to fall. God says, “The Holy Spirit will get your head up. If you concentrate on Me when you run, you will know where your steps will be.” Our steps will be directed by the Lord if we look at Him.
Proverbs 14:29 says “A patient man has great understanding….” Do you realize that one of the marks of spiritual maturity is patience? I define patience as waiting without worrying. “A patient man has great understanding but a quick tempered man displays folly.” The Holy Spirit will teach us how to look.
Also in these experiences, the Holy Spirit wants us to learn how to lean. We are to learn a new lean. We are to lean totally and completely on God. When we are leaning on God in the situations that cause us to be impatient in a marriage, in a business transaction, in a relationship, in a school situation, we will not ask God why, why is it happening to me. We won’t say that. We will say, God what are you going to teach me through this? What kind of stuff in my life are you going to build? Learn how to lean.
Psalm 37:7 says, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him.” Again, patience is a form of faith. It is a form of spiritual maturity. The Bible is a book about patience. It is a book about waiting. Noah waited 120 years for the flood. Abraham waited 100 years to have a male child. Israel waited for centuries and centuries for the messiah. The disciples waited in the Upper Room for the Holy Spirit. And the Texas Rangers have waited 25 years to make the playoffs.
Learn how to lean on God. But don’t stop there. There is someone else you should lean on. You have got to learn how to lean on patient people. You better learn how to lean on God. But God put us here and made us relational beings in his image. He put us here on this earth to develop relationships and wants us to lean on patient people. Talk about an in-your-face verse, Proverbs 22:24-25 reads, “Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared.” You see, impatience is a highly infectious disease. You had better watch out when you are around someone who is impatient. And if you are a little bit angry and you share this anger with someone who has a short fuse, boom, it will make both of you more and more hot tempered. You will be losing what God wants you to maintain.
There are many times in my life when I am upset or angry and teetering between patience and impatience and fighting with the Holy Spirit. Then I will pick up the phone and call some friends of mine with whom I have an accountability relationship. The Holy Spirit will work through them and begin to calm me down. Learn how to lean, on God and on patient people.
But there is something else that the Holy Spirit wants to teach us. If we stay faithful we will learn how to laugh. We will learn a new laugh. Do you realize that our God is a God of laughter? Psalm 2:4 says, “The one enthroned laughs.” And if we don’t laugh regularly, something is wrong in our spiritual life. What many of us need is some outrageous, contagious joy and laughter. And the reason most of us don’t laugh is because we take ourselves too seriously. We are so introspective, so withdrawn, thinking about every move and every word.
And another reason we don’t laugh is that we don’t take God seriously enough. If we took God seriously we would realize that we serve a God of laughter and joy and we would become joyful people. Listen to the scientists. They have just figured out that when you laugh your whole muscular system relaxes, and your body produces more endorphins. Well, the Bible has been saying this for thousands of years. We are to laugh. Are you laughing? God wants us to find the fun in the frustrating. I love this verse, Proverbs 14:30. “A relaxed attitude lengthens a man’s life.” After childhood, life for most of us becomes a marathon of frowns. We sacrifice our sense of humor on the altar of adulthood. Isn’t that sad?
Can I borrow a bulletin from someone for a second? Thank you. That guy has a great haircut. Stand up there. Isn’t that good looking hair? OK. See the part that allows visitors to fill out information and both members and visitors to make prayer requests or comments. We have a team of people who process these cards on Sunday afternoon. Staff members and the pastors pray for the requests and read the comments. The comments usually are positive and the pray requests are so open and real. We have a great time doing this. However, a couple of weeks ago I was reading through comments directed to me and one comment said, “The sermon was boring!” But then it said, “Love, your daughter, LeeBeth.” Now you have to laugh over situations like that.
One great thing about serving God and working on this church staff is that we have a blast. Someone is always laughing on our church staff. There have been many times that I have been with a group of Christians, I am talking about committed people, laughing so hard in a restaurant that people have approached and asked what we were drinking. I reply, just water and iced tea. You are not going to find laughter with a beer buzz or by smoking a little weed. It ain’t going to happen that way. You find true joy in learning how to laugh and allowing the Holy Spirit to teach you how to enjoy life.
Now what is going to happen when you walk out of the doors of this Arts Center and you are tested with patience? You will be tested in lines, tested in the parking lot, tested as you eat brunch, tested as you channel surf from game to game, tested in relationships, tested in every realm possible. What is going to happen? What are you going to do? What am I going to do? Are we going to silence the Holy Spirit or we going to acquiesce and learn a new look, a new lean and a new laugh? Let’s become people of patience.