Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram.
When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless,
(Genesis 16:16, 17:1)
The hardest part of patience is patience. There is a romanticized way to read these two verses, and their is a realistic way to read them. Which way we choose to read them says a lot a out us.
The thing we must remember, as we read and study and attempt to interact with the Bible, is that it’s written in a historical format. The Bible is not written like a novel, it’s not even written like historical fiction. The Hebrew language is very economical, it uses the least amount of words to move the point of the writing into the understanding of the reader.
The two verses above are concurrent. There is no break between them. Prior to the addition of chapter breaks, which wasn’t a part of the original manuscript, there was nothing between these two sentences save for the breath that the reader might take as they moved through them. And this is the temptation for us as we attempt to decipher and apply the truth of the Scriptures to our lives.
Abraham was given the promise of a legacy through childbirth when he was seventy five years old. Eleven years later his attempt to “help” God’s plan along produced Ismael. Thirteen years after that debacle, when Abe is ninety nine, God restates His original promise. Then its another year until Abraham and Sarah would actually hold the promised son, Isaac, in their arms. Twenty five years pass from the time that the promise was made, till the promise was delivered.
Too often we see one verse after the other, here spanning eleven years. and assume that waiting is somehow easier for the Biblical patriarchs than it is for us. We assume that time must have passed at a quicker pace for them. We romantically see them as “trust machines” that just knew with 100% assurance that God was going to come through for them no matter what. This is a fool’s reading of the text, and not only is it foolish, it creates unrealistic expectations about God, life, ourselves, and the nature of promises.
I can’t think of any major storyline in the Bible that included a profound promise of God that didn’t include waiting. And make no mistake, waiting is agonizing. Patience is a fruit of the Spirit for us kind of like grapefruit: some people are better at tolerating it than others, but those that actually like it are weird and lonely. There is no short cut to being patient. I’ve heard it taught that if we serve and work for God it makes patience easier, but I tend to think that it just makes us busier and we don’t actually learn how to be patient, we just learn how to be distracted.
Patience is so much more about sitting in the tension of the moment, painfully learning who we actually are and who we believe God to be in the depths of our heart. Patience requires us to deal with the doubts that we have been so adept at covering over through our hyper-active spiritual lives. Patience, often, forces us to redefine what we thought we understood about God’s nature. Patience makes sure we comprehend our Creator’s primary focus on the development of our identity in Him and the secondary focus being situational or positional.
Abraham would never have laid down with Hagar or had to deal with Ishmael or dealt with Sarah’s jealousy without the waiting. He wouldn’t have made the mistakes, he wouldn’t have lived through as much stress, he may even have lived longer without the waiting, but God valued the waiting and, incredibly, the process of the thing more than a few extra years for Abraham.
I have to wonder sometimes how Paul could put “peace” and “patience” on the same list of traits that comes with the expectation for simultaneous existence. How “peace” and “patience” can co-exist within the human heart is a testimony to the supernatural nature of the Christian life.
Today friends may we be encouraged that waiting is not our enemy. Waiting on the promises of God, the direction of God, the revelation of God must become something we accept as tension. Tension on one side that thirsts and longs for the thing promised, that is voracious for the presence of the One that satisfies fully. But tension on the other side that knows the absence is not punishment, the unfulfillment that we feel is not rooted in some kind of retribution on God’s part. We are to be both passionate and patient. For it is in the crucible of tension that we find ourselves looking more and more like Christ. Jesus, who loved us deeper than we can understand, knew the tension of living between two worlds. We feel it in Paul’s writings as well when he says that he would like to let the light of his physical life fade away so he can be with Jesus, but also he said that his responsibility to those that were looking to him for guidance compelled him to struggle for life.
The hardest part of patience is patience. But, for the Christian, it always produces the glorious joy of faith, hope, and love. As we see very clearly:
Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. (Genesis 21:5 ESV)