People who do things the wrong way are fools and people who get in my way are even worse.
That’s a nasty thought, but it’s undoubtedly one that crosses my mind more often than I’d care to admit. [It looks worse in text than it does when it runs through my mind, but we all know it's equally horrifying either way.]
I’ve long-confessed that I’m impatient. My honesty about my lack of patience made my feel ok that I was a ticking time bomb.
As I reflected back on my time overseas in Slovenia, I realized that one blatant sin that summed up my whole year was impatience.
- Impatience with students when they didn’t believe the gospel.
- Impatience with Christian students who didn’t want to grow or share their faith.
- Impatience with my wife when she didn’t meet unspoken expectations I didn’t even realize I had.
- Impatience with God when he didn’t answer prayers according to my timing.
- Impatience with myself when sin continued to creep up or self-improvement didn’t come as quickly as I hoped.
I listened to a sermon that is as old as I am (nearly to the day!) by John Piper entitled, “Battling the Unbelief of Impatience.”
The title alone struck me. I had never heard impatience framed that way–not believing faithfully in God.
Here’s a quote from Piper to set the tone.
“Patience in doing the will of God is not an optional Christian virtue because faith is not optional and impatience is the fruit of unbelief. It is no minor skirmish.”
Ouch. Impatience is a big deal. It’s a faith issue.
Piper goes on to explain that impatience appears in two primary ways.
- By throwing in the towel and giving up when trouble strikes
- Making rash, impulsive countermoves to correct God’s lack of action
What Patience Looks Like
Waiting for the Lord is not giving up and not surging ahead, but looking to him for the next move.
Here’s the quote that sums up the whole sermon:
Stay in his appointed place, go at God’s appointed pace.
That’s solid wisdom. I’m quick to go at my own pace to my own place, but patience is waiting on God for him to tell us where to go.
Ok, so now we know what impatience looks like, but that’s just the outward response–the surface of the sin. Impatience isn’t a standalone sin–it has deeper, uglier roots.
Finding the Root of Impatience
I’ve realized, for myself, that my impatience is actually rooted in pride–I believe I can solve problems more effectively than those who are creating the problems for me.
When someone does something the wrong way (pretty much any way other than how I would go about it), I get frustrated. My pride leads to impatience–pride leading to a lack of belief and faith.
If I really believed the best about others, I would realize they are rational beings trying to make the best decision based on their experience and knowledge.
Ok, so we’ve got the issue (impatience is a lack of faith, or flat-out sin) and we have the root (pride), now how do we fix it?
Since impatience is primarily an issue of unbelief, the primary weapon against unbelief should be the Bible, the Word of God.
Here are a few passages from Isaiah that Piper mentions on patience:
“Then you will know that I am the Lord;
those who wait for me shall not be put to shame.”
“but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.”
no eye has seen a God besides you,
who acts for those who wait for him.
Piper’s final exhortation is to preach to ourselves.
Everybody should be a preacher. Stand outside yourself and look back at your soul and say,
“Soul! Did you see what happened to Israel when they were impatient and went to Egypt seeking help? You don’t want that do you? Did you read on? Did you see what happens for those who wait? For those who trust in God? Do you see that soul?
And did you see in verse 18 that there is blessing in the waiting? Did you see what he said in Isaiah 49:23 – that everyone who waits on the Lord will not be put to shame?
Do you see what it says here in Isaiah 64:4 that he will work for those who wait for him? Soul, do you know Isaiah 40:31–those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength?
Don’t you believe? How much does God have to say to you?”
That’s the way you fight impatience. You fight the fight of faith with the Word of God which slays the beast of unbelief.
The secret to patiently enduring–suffering, trials, whatever affliction brings about impatience–is to go to the Word and to cling tightly to the wisdom of God and trust his Word and his Spirit to conquer the unbelief of impatience.
My prayer is to imitate Jesus who for 30 years patiently prepared to walk the way the Father had appointed for him. He patiently waited to walk toward his betrayal and to his death, in order to patiently pass the test of faith and pay for our sins so that we might patiently walk with him and receive the promises of eternal life.
Lord, help my unbelief.