By Jani Ortlund
The question in my inbox was a familiar one: “For so long I have striven to put my life on the altar. I don’t even know how to pray about the longings I continue to feel. How do I give over to God the desires of my heart while still praying boldly about these strong — yet unmet — desires?”
We all struggle with questions like, “How long, Lord, will you ask me to wait? Why me? Why this? Why now?” As we press God for an answer, we try to remind ourselves that we belong to the God “who acts for those who wait for him” (Isaiah 64:4). But we feel that this waiting is forced upon us, and we wrestle with it. Wouldn’t a good God lift this oppressive burden? Why doesn’t he? When will he?
We pray, we groan, we cry to the only one who can act for us, but no matter where we turn, just like Job, we cannot see him anywhere around us (Job 23:3, 8–9). He seems silent, and we try to fight down the fear that he might not fulfill this desire. We fret that he won’t come through for us. We fuss about what life might look like stretching out before us with this unfulfilled longing still beating in our heart. We wonder if it is a sin to keep longing, to keep praying, crying, groaning. How do we live well in that waiting space between asking and receiving?
Patient in Our Waiting
That’s where patience comes in — patience both with our own personal faith and with the God who calls us into this patience-producing faith.
Patience is not quite the same as waiting. While waiting is something we do, patience is something we offer. We wait because we must — we have little choice in the matter. But patience is our gift to our Father while we wait. In the silence, in the waiting, patience chooses to declare, “Lord, I love you. I know I don’t love you as I ought, but I want to love you more than your answer to my prayers. I will try to offer you my patient heart as long as you ask me to wait on this.”
What is patience? Patience looks like perseverance. James encourages us to quietly persevere like a farmer waiting for his crops to grow (James 5:7–11). Paul tells us to “be patient in tribulation” (Romans 12:12), calling us to bear up without complaint or anger in the midst of painful circumstances. And he reminds us that patience is one outworking of the Spirit’s ever-increasing life within us and proof that we belong to Christ Jesus (Galatians 5:22–24).
Patience proves our love for God and our trust that his plan is worth waiting for. Patience offers to our heavenly Father a calm heart. We repent of our agitation and annoyance at his seeming silence. We look calmly into the darkness around us, and we choose to believe what he tells us about himself, resting in the knowledge that truly he does see, he does know, he does care, despite how it appears in our present situation.
Love Lived Out
Patience is a beautiful way to live out our steadfast love for God. Paul tells us that real love is patient (1 Corinthians 13:4), and so we love God through our patience as we
- tenaciously keep praying for that wandering child,
- calmly absorb the dreaded diagnosis,
- courageously bear up as we face our grievous goodbye,
- diligently think through that unavoidable debt,
- faithfully persevere through that less-than-exciting job, or
- quietly accept God’s plan for our future, even when it differs from our dreams.
Patience, like every Christlike virtue, is nurtured in our love for God — a God who can be trusted in all his ways and in every circumstance. Patience displays our love for God. Patience says, “Lord, I love you more than my longed-for answer to this hard circumstance.” We can show God our love through our patient endurance as he tests the genuineness of our faith, a faith more precious than gold, a faith that can bring praise and glory and honor to Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:7).
The Key to Faithful Obedience
Patience is the key to faithful obedience, living out a peace-filled surrender to God’s ways and will. Think with me how patience can help us embrace the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:3–17):
- A patient heart helps us be satisfied with God as our only God. He becomes enough — always and forever.
- A patient heart helps us worship God as he has asked us to — without crowding our hearts with godlets of our own desires.
- A patient heart remembers whose holy name we take and helps us bear a family resemblance to our firstborn Brother.
- Patience helps us step out of our demanding schedules so that we develop a God-centered schedule.
- Patience helps us offer gratitude and respect to our less-than-perfect parents.
- A patient believer is a life-giver, not a life-drainer.
- A patient heart is fortified against sexual temptation and marital mayhem.
- Patience turns grasping hoarders into generous givers, because a greater reward awaits us.
- A patient heart helps us be truth-tellers, because we know that when God’s purposes are all fulfilled and all wrongs finally righted, God will bear a true witness about his servants.
- A patient heart can tell God, “When I have you, I need nothing else.”
Patience is loving God through a contented heart. It is the composure that helps us pause long enough to ask ourselves, “What is it about God that I don’t understand in this situation? Why am I so restless? Why isn’t God enough for me here?” Patience takes us deeper into the heart of God. It creates a sense of expectancy for tomorrow because of God’s goodness, which he has “stored up for those who fear [him]” (Psalm 31:19).
We never know what goodness God might pour out on us in the days ahead!
All We Need
Patience is loving God enough to say, “Thank you,” even for the difficult things. True patience, throughout the life-altering and soul-shattering experiences between birth and heaven, is a humble gift we offer up to God. And he is the one who enables us to offer him that gift.
Paul tells us that it is the might of his glory that strengthens us with all power “for all endurance and patience with joy” (Colossians 1:11). Ultimately, patience is the risen Christ living in us as we proclaim, “If I have Jesus, I have all that I need.”