William Miller (1782-1849) studied his Bible for 14 years and believed he had unlocked the greatest secret in the history of the world. He announced to his followers that Christ would return on April 3, 1843. He must have been a credible man, because so many people believed him. His followers were called Millerites. Some of his disciples went to mountaintops, hoping for a head start to heaven. Others went to graveyards, planning to ascend into heaven with their departed loved ones. In Philadelphia, society ladies clustered together outside of town to avoid entering God’s kingdom amid the “common herd”. There was only one problem, Christ didn’t return. April 3, 1843, came, and April 3, 1843, went. The next day, April 4, 1843, came like every other day.
I don’t want to sound critical of Mr. Miller. However, in 14 years of Bible study I want to know why he didn’t read Mark 13:32 once? What does that verse say? Jesus had been teaching his disciples about his return and says, “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
People have been waiting for the return of Christ for a long time. The truth is, you’d better get comfortable. God has never been in a hurry. If you are going to be a real Christian, then you better endure.
We are in the fifth chapter of the epistle of James, the last chapter. We are looking at verses seven through eleven. These are his final words to his scattered congregation. He wants each word to count, so the topic he brings up the most important topic of them all, the second coming of Christ. The return of Christ is one of the greatest secrets in the history of the world. No one knows when it is going to happen. Not even Jesus knew. The first two words of the scripture reading (Be patient) summarize all five verses. It was difficult for his generation to wait for the return of Christ. It is even more difficult for our generation to wait. Our generation is preoccupied with time. Our generation values speed. How many examples do you need?
Years ago, I walked into the Golden Arches. I ordered my fast-food meal and looked at the cash register. There was a sign on that cash register that read: we will serve you in 90 seconds or less. I took that as a challenge. I looked at my watch and discovered they served me in about 75 seconds. I ate my feast out of the Styrofoam box and had to admit it was fast! However, I don’t remember if it was good. Could it be that speed is more important to us than quality? Think about this fact. There came a point in our society when fast food wasn’t fast enough, so we created the first drive-thru so our fast food could be faster. We are always in a hurry!
One day I was driving toward the mall. I noticed a new billboard. It was promoting a local emergency room. They had one of those electronic digits on the sign that could be changed. It told me the current wait time at the emergency room was only five minutes. I have known people who have waited in an emergency room for over a day. That is fast! However, let me ask you this question. What is more important to you when you go to the emergency room, speed, or medical care? The sign is telling us speed is more important. We are always in a hurry!
Christmas shopping has changed. If you do not believe me, then visit your local mall. The shopping crowd has been thinned out. Did you know, according to the National Retail Association, 66% of holiday shoppers made at least one purchase online. Online shopping equaled 25.7% of total sales. I will admit it. I was one of the 66% who purchased something on-line this year. I purchased more than one item online. I like online shopping for two reasons. It is easy and it is fast. Instead of driving to a store and wasting the time. I just sit in front of my computer screen and hit the magic keys. Who wants human interaction during Christmas anyway? We are always in a hurry!
The great New England preacher Phillips Brooks (1835-1893) was noted for his poise and quiet manner. At times, however, even he suffered moments of frustration and irritability. One day a friend saw him feverishly pacing the floor like a caged lion. “What’s the trouble, Mr. Brooks?” he asked. “The trouble is that I’m in a hurry, but God isn’t!” Have you ever grown impatient with God? If you are going to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, then you’d better get comfortable. This is the problem.
God is not preoccupied with time or speed. That is what the ninetieth Psalm tells us. We are different from God in many ways. One of those ways is the way we look at time. The second verse says, “From everlasting to everlasting thou art God.” What does that mean. It means, God always been present. God was there before the beginning of time. God will be there once time is complete. God always has been, and God will always be. God is immortal. We are mortal. In other words, we are preoccupied with time because we feel like our time is running out. Time is a major factor in our lives. We marvel at the age of our adult children. Times goes fast. We marvel at our age because we have grown old. We judge what is fair and what is not so fair, on the basis, of time. That is why we struggle with the death of a young person. Like it or not, we are preoccupied with time. However, God is not preoccupied with time because God transcends time. God is limitless. If you are going to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, then you better get comfortable. God is never in a hurry.
In the second chapter of Luke, we find two wonderful stories. We looked at them several weeks ago. The first occurred when Jesus was eight days old. It was on that day Jesus was circumcised and given his name. Never forget, Jesus was Jewish, and Mary and Joseph followed the various laws. The second occurred when Jesus was forty days old. For it was on that day the Old Testament law, Leviticus 12:2-8, demanded that Mary go to the temple. All women who gave birth to a boy had to go to the temple to offer a sacrifice of purification. She made the sacrifice the poorest always made, two doves. Everything was scripted. The only thing that made those stories unique were the people they met in the temple. The first was a man named Simeon. (Luke 2:25-35) He is described in scriptures as righteous and devout. For years, he had seen babies come and go. However, he knew from the very first glimpse that Jesus was different. The Holy Spirit was upon him. He knew that Jesus was the Messiah! The second person was a woman named Anna (Luke 2:36-38). She was a prophetess. The scriptures tell us that at the age of 84, she lived in the temple. She too had seen babies come and go. When she saw Jesus, she knew Jesus was no common baby. She too knew Jesus was the Messiah! Simeon and Anna must have talked. They must have wondered why they had to wait so long for God to act. Listen to the next line. Both characters, Simeon, and Anna, had waited a lifetime for that single moment because God has never been in a hurry. God is everlasting! If you are going to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, then you better get comfortable. Real Christians endure! If that divine truth makes you uncomfortable, say, “Amen!” This is the question you must answer.
Why is patience an important part of Christianity? This is the answer. Patience helps us grow and become stronger in our faith during trials. Our patience pleases God and results in His blessing. If that is true, then this is also true. A lack of patience is a sign of spiritual immaturity because it is rooted in arrogance. Let me take it one step farther.
Michael Kelley is a Christian author for Lifeway in Nashville, Tennessee. He says patience is important in our spiritual maturity for three reasons.
Patience is an act of humility. When we become impatient, we are telling God we know best. Our impatience shows our short-sighted vision and wisdom.
Patience is an act of service. When we become impatient, we are putting our desires first. Our world is filled with needy people. To the patient, inconvenience is not an annoyance. It is an opportunity to serve.
Patience is an act of faith. When we become impatient, we are refusing to let God control our lives. If you believe God is truly sovereign, then you will follow him at his appointed time.
Patience is important to your spiritual maturity because patience is a sign of love. How much do you love God? The question is not when God will act. The question is what are you going to do while you wait for God to act? James said, “Be patient!”
Several years ago, I was on call for a local colleague. He was vacationing in Florida. I stayed in the Mahoning Valley. I was happy to help him out. I only had to visit three people during his time away. I visited a woman by the name of Ruth once, who had her knee replaced. I visited a woman by the name of Dawn once, who had a bad reaction to her chemotherapy.
I visited a woman by the name of Lois eleven times. She had a long list of medical problems. She spent most of my tenure in the Intensive Care Unit. I never heard Lois’ voice. She was in some form of a medical coma. Every visit was about the same. Lois lay in her bed hooked up to the various machines. Something was always flashing or beeping. Her husband, Bud, was always sitting next to her side. In my eleven visits, there was never a time when Bud was not there. He was always there patiently waiting for his wife to show some sign of life. In eleven visits, I got to know a great deal about Bud. I learned his son lived in Connecticut. I learned his daughter lived in southwestern Ohio. I learned about his working career. I learned he was really frustrated with the Cleveland Browns. I learned about his church. However, what I really learned was that Lois was the love of his life. They have been married for 62 years. He was ready to sign up for 62 more. He longed to take her home. In a world filled with many exciting destinations, Bud could not leave her side. He just sat there patiently. How could I not respect this man? Each visit ended the same way. Each time he would take Lois’ hand and looked at Lois’ face and would say, “Sweetheart, Pastor Russ is going to pray for you.” In the face of complete hopelessness, Bud never lost hope. How could you question his love for his wife?
It has been said: Waiting is a true sign of love and patience. Anyone can say I love you, but not everyone can wait and prove it is true. Can people question our love for Christ as we wait for his return? James said it for the ages, be patient. Remember, real Christians endure!