The Lord is my light and my salvation–whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life–of whom shall I be afraid? When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and foes attack me, they will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident. One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock. Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at his tabernacle will I sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the Lord. Hear my voice when I call, O Lord, be merciful to me and answer me. My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, Lord, i will seek. Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger; you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, O God my Savior. Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me. Teach me your way, O Lord; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors. Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me, breathing out violence. I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord: be strong and take courage. Wait for the Lord.
The Psalms are powerful sources of hope and inspiration for those suffering from cancer. “My enemies have risen against me to attack my flesh…” might be a visualization of cancer cells invading the body. The confidence of God’s victory over these enemies is found throughout the Psalms, as well as the idea that God has implanted eternal salvation within each of us and nothing can defeat or change that fact. Being patient does not mean having an attitude of trying to wait things out. It is not passive and laissez faire, it is not just a positive attitude. Sometimes procrastination is equated with patience. “I’ll do it, just be patient…” or “It’s going to happen, I just have to be patient.” That is not what the Bible teaches. So how do we define patience in the Biblical sense? Patience requires great effort- it takes work, it takes prayer, and it takes partnership.
If we model our prayer around today’s Scripture, we see a very human struggle of emotions toward God. We may find a lack of patience. I have a vivid memory of a final exam in seminary with a question about the three types of Psalms. My answer was built around something I had heard from an old family friend, “Psalms are either mad, sad, or glad.” The professor did not like that answer very much, but I still do!
Patience requires reaching out to pray to God for strength along the way, and that means having the courage to pray our hearts out. We must pray what we really feel. Since we do not always understand where God is in our situation, we may find ourselves praying on the mad side.
Clarence Day wrote of how he remembered his father praying in God and My Father:
“In moments of prayer, when he and God tried to commune with each other, it wasn’t his own shortcomings that were brought on the carpet, but God’s . . . He expected a great deal of God . . . It seemed that God spoiled his plans . . . This aroused his wrath. He would call God’s attention to such things . . . He didn’t actually accuse God of gross inefficiency, but when he prayed his tone was loud and angry, like that of a dissatisfied guest in a carelessly managed hotel.”
We may have those moments but they will be momentary. Scripture teaches that honest prayer with God leads through this anger stage to God’s compassion of our situation. We share the hope that we will end up with the patience of Job moving from sad/mad to glad and praising God.
Waiting on God is not easy. We have to work at being patient. The book of James writes that we should lay out plans and live life with a strategic and thought-out approach. He offers that everyone should consider how the farmer patiently plants crops, waits for rain, and prays for a yield. “Look at the farmer quietly awaiting his precious harvest. See how he has to possess his soul in patience till the land has had the early and late rains. So must you be patient, resting your hearts on the ultimate certainty.” What a beautiful challenge to be hopeful!
Remember that passage from Hebrews that tells us to “Run the race with endurance (with patience) fixing our eyes upon Jesus the author and perfector of our faith…” How do we run a race patiently? We run deliberately, with a long term plan. We run with special consideration of future possibilities. We run knowing that we will need a reserve of faith to keep us going. That kind of patience takes a lot of work. There was a CEO that called the employees together and stated, “Yes, the rumors you heard were true. Tomorrow the production lines will become completely automated. However, no one will lose their job. In fact, you only have to work one day of the week, Wednesdays, but you’ll still be paid for an entire week of work.’ There was a brief silence until someone from the back of the room yelled out, “You mean every Wednesday?”
When we feel discouraged, we are to keep working at being patient. And we must not complain that it is our duty to keep believing that God’s help is just around the corner.
The book, Kindness- Making a Difference in People’s Lives tells of a discouraged caregiver for an Altzheimer’s patient. The caregiver received solace upon hearing the story of a sage who taught every student a lesson 400 times. When a visitor interrupted a lesson, the student remarked at the end of the lesson that the visitor was a bit distracting. The sage said that he would teach the entire lesson again 400 more times!
When we feel that we cannot continue- we need patience. When we feel that God is not there, we need to pray and ask for patience. Prayer teaches us that God really hears and cares. Can we truly accept that we are able to talk with the creator of the universe? I am not sure our human minds can totally comprehend that, but through faith we can experience God’s presence through the power of prayer.
A father told his son that he was looking through the telescope backwards. “Turn it around, you are making everything smaller!” The son replied, “I know, it’s great, I can see that bully across the street, and he looks so small!” A problem can loom in front of us and block our vision. We cannot see life past that problem because it is so big. Patience helps us turn the telescope around and see our problems become suddenly smaller. Our problems may not actually get smaller, but we may be able to look at them with other things in the picture as well.
Today’s Scripture reminded me of a comment a colleage in ministry made to me years ago. He reported great strides with a very depressed person and I asked him what happened. He said, “I told him, ‘When you finally go to heaven with no tears, suffering, or sadness…God will be so beautiful, heaven will be so glorious, it will be so great that the questions you have won’t even matter anymore.’”
Remember that famous quote by Anne Frank? It demonstrates how patience – true confidence in God- can lead to faithfulness and strength. She saw a bigger picture of how God will be her salvation…the whole world’s salvation. She wrote this just a few weeks before she was captured:
“It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness. I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us, too. I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty, too, will end and that peace and tranquility will return again.”
Patience takes work and takes prayer, but it also takes partnership. Being a part of the body of Christ means that we are called to reach out to others in need and to accept a hand that has been extended to us. Sometimes knowing that someone cares is all we have, and that may be all we need to survive. There was a boy who was suffering from a terminal illness who had retreated into complete silence. Nothing and no one could break through. Many tried to talk to him, to sit with him quietly, but nothing worked. Finally some seminary students noticed a picture in the room. The boy had drawn it. There was a little house, a sun above it, and trees. A family played in the yard. A tank was in the middle of the picture about to run over a little boy holding a stop sign. The students focused in on this picture and thought adding things would help but the boy rejected everything. Finally one thing worked- a little stick figure placed next to the boy holding the stop sign. The stick figure was holding the boy’s hand as he faced that tank.
It was a complete break through. He began to talk and talk and the feelings poured out.
Isn’t that what our patience is supposed to look like? Trying very hard to stay in the game and not be discouraged…keeping lines of honest prayer open to God…standing with each other in times of need…that is how we define patience.
“Wait for the Lord, be strong and take courage. Wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:14)