God’s Process and Our Patience – How to be more thankful

(This series of writings was prompted by listening to an excellent sermon from Dr. John MacArthur entitled “Thanks, No Matter What” on 1 Thessalonians 5:18. The sermon was from 1995, I believe.)

“in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thess. 5:18

One of the ironic features of American Christianity is that despite living in the most affluent society in the history of the world, there is a general lack of thankfulness even among believers in America. I find this glaring flaw present in my own life, as well, and am very convicted by it. In fact, I think it may be a trait of fallen humanity that the more that we have materially, the less thankful we are. So I have made a commitment to be more thankful and to have vital, deep thanksgiving become a regular part of my prayers and my conversations.

To help me in this endeavor, I am in the process of writing a series of blogs about what I call “the enemies of thankfulness,” prompted by John MacArthur’s excellent teaching on 1 Thessalonians 5:18 about the Christian’s responsibility to be thankful at all times and in all circumstances. One reason that Christian’s struggle with being thankful is that there are enemies to our thankfulness that we need to combat as we grow in our sanctification. So far in this series I have talked about the enemies of DOUBT, SELFISHNESS, WORLDLINESS and A CRITICAL SPIRIT. This blog will address the fifth and final enemy of thankfulness, the problem of IMPATIENCE.

There are two broad categories of impatience. The first category includes those things that make us spontaneously act impatiently, like traffic lights that don’t change fast enough or grocery store and fast food lines that move too slowly. In this category we also find irritations like people who don’t make decisions quickly enough, drivers who drive under the speed limit and restaurants where dinner takes too long to arrive. I am sure that you could add your own personal list of stimuli that cause you to act impatiently, things that are basically minor irritants. These irritants are fairly trivial in the big scheme of things and their effect on our lives is short-term, but they still succeed in bringing out impatience in you and me. God places these “irritants” in our lives to do two things: 1) to give us many small opportunities to battle against our impatience and to vanquish this sinful response; and 2) to reveal to us that we have this tendency and this sin within us, so that by being aware of this sin within us, we can be on the alert against a sinful and impatient response to these irritating stimuli. In fact, if we are on the alert and ready for these irritating inputs, with the help of the Holy Spirit we can often overcome them in our external behavior.

There is a second category of impatience, however, which runs much deeper and wider than a mere irritation and is much more difficult to root out and vanquish than a short-term “patience tester.” This is the profound form of impatience that at its core is a frustration with God’s process of change or of answering my prayers or of delivering me from my problem. The key word is PROCESS. God works through process, ordaining not only all things that come to pass, but also ordaining the timing of all that comes to pass.

Man the rebel wants immediate solutions to his problems. We tend to demand things from God, and one of the things we often want is an immediate end to our perceived problems. His process tries our patience. The believer should realize that the process is just as important as the end, because both produce a greater holiness. Rather than dueling against the process, let the process produce in you perseverance.

Man longs to be in control and to be “god.” It is the nature of our indwelling flesh to desire to be the one who is in control and who determines the outcomes and the timing. Even after we have been saved, our indwelling flesh cries out for control. The believer must, therefore, submit to God daily and must trust the Lord as a spiritual act of the will. Trust God in the process and grow that trust through trials.

Man also does not want to endure God’s process because our flesh hates to suffer and to undergo God’s discipline. (Hebrews 12:6-11) Allow God’s process to be the means for saying “no” to the flesh and for subduing the flesh.

Psalm 40:1 I waited patiently for the Lord; He inclined to me and heard my cry. David sings of the faithfulness of the Lord, that if we wait on Him, He will never disappoint.

Suffering and waiting are the instruments in God’s process that He uses to teach us perseverance. We are naturally impatient and will never find within ourselves the desire to increase patience or the ability to increase patience. But when God saves us, He places His Holy Spirit inside us so that we have both the desire and the ability to increase our patience. Therefore in the midst of suffering and waiting, I should focus on the Lord Jesus and realize that He waited and He suffered perfectly (Hebrews 5:8) and has given me an example that I should follow in His steps (1 Peter 2:21ff).

Job’s extended period of intense suffering is one of the Bible’s most famous examples of patience. Job begins his ordeal fairly resolute and willing to suffer, but he is confused about his difficulty and suffering. Why is he, the man who is blameless before God and who is very serious about the holiness of his walk, suffering so much? Is God punishing him? As time wears on, Job becomes more testy and bitter and in the end comes very close to stepping over the line, blaming God for his troubles and accusing God of doing wrong and of being unjust. Job endures God’s process up to a point, but in the end is given relief just before he fails the test.
Another example is David’s patience and trust in the Lord when fleeing from Saul. In much of 1 Samuel, David is fleeing from Saul as Saul tries to kill David. Throughout this intense pursuit, David patiently waits for the Lord to set him on the throne of Israel. This is a tremendous example of patience.
Abraham, Sarah and Hagar: impatience scores a victory. Abraham has been promised a son, yet Sarah is old and beyond child-bearing. What does Abraham do? Abraham decides to try to have an heir by his servant woman, Hagar. Here Abraham gives us an example of impatience.
Joseph in Egypt. In an act of extreme cruelty, Joseph is sold by his brothers to slave-traders heading to Egypt and there he is falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife and is thrown into prison and there he languishes for a long time. He has received cruel injustice twice and yet he remains steadfast, trusting the Lord to make things right. Joseph, whether intentionally or accidentally endures God’s process and is greatly rewarded.

APPLICATION: DEEPEN YOUR KNOWLEDGE OF GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY. TRUST GOD COMPLETELY. You are a creature and have a very finite perspective on how God’s process is unfolding. As a human being, you also cannot see the end that God has in mind. God is in complete control of every aspect of every process and has already determined and guaranteed every outcome. In God’s infinitely complex order of things there are no unknowns. He is master of all things and His timing is perfect for His intended outcome.
ALLOW THE TESTING PROCESS TO INCREASE YOUR PATIENCE AND TO INCREASE YOUR THANKFULNESS. In the midst of the deepest trial, give thanks to the Lord for His abundant goodness and praise Him for all He has done. (RMB 6/8/2015)

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