I was reading the letters that the Apostle John received to the seven churches in Revelation when I came across this in the letter to the church in Ephesus:
I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. (Rev. 2:3)
Jesus says “I know you are enduring patiently” and I thought to myself, can that be said of me, can that be said of our church.
Patience is not a word I would use to describe myself. I live in a large city, which means that I am privileged to have Amazons one-day shipping on most items. When it happens that an item is not that close, and I will have to wait for the standard two-day shipping, I admit I get upset. “How could Amazon do this? I need this thing (read book) right away.” I am left waiting, and of course this is the cross I bear. Now I’m being facetious, but if I’m honest, I don’t like to endure hardships, and If I have to endure them, I don’t like to endure them for long.
It has been nine days of quarantine, and I’m feeling a lot like most of you, I’m sure, and that is get me outta here!!! My pastor wrote a great piece towards the beginning of the quarantine encouraging us to “slow down. Be still before the Lord, and be present with your family.” But if I am honest I have watched more news, and spent more time scrolling through my twitter feed looking at updates on the Covid-19 pandemic then I have being present. And if I’m honest, the more I read in the news, the more impatient I feel, and the less likely I am to want to endure.
Jesus commends the church in Ephesus for their patient endurance, as they actively suffer the persecution from a hostile state. While we are not facing a hostile state, we are facing a hostile virus, and like any hardship we face, we are called to endure patiently. But too often, my first response to hardship that persists is to grumble and complain, to think to myself woe is me. Why now, why did you choose right now to permit this virus to ravage the world. But when I do that, when I respond in that way, I only prove that I haven’t learned the lesson of patience.
Israel also was tested with hardship, over and over again, and they learned patience as God caused them to wander in the wilderness for forty years. We all can admit patience is a lesson hard learned. Once you think that you have come close to learning it, you are humbled by something beyond your capacity to bear. Calvin said:
In peaceful times, then, they preened themselves on their great constancy and patience, only to learn when humbled by adversity that all this was hypocrisy. Believers, warned, I say, by such proofs of their diseases, advance toward humility and so, sloughing off perverse confidence in the flesh, betake themselves to God’s grace. Now when they have betaken themselves there they experience the presence of a divine power in which they have protection enough and to spare.
Lest we ever forget, patience is a gift from God, a fruit of the Spirit. John uses only one Greek word to express patient endurance, and that same word Paul uses in Romans 5:3-5:
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. (Rom. 5:3-5)
Patient endurance produces character; that is, God is at work, making us into a certain kind of people, the best word for that is discipleship, and the goal of discipleship is maturity in Christ. Grumbling and complaining short-circuits the process, leaving us still learning patient endurance, instead of moving on to Character and hope. But patience is the one virtue that we least want to pray for. Why is that? Because we don’t want to learn the lessons that teach us Patience. We ask for wisdom, who doesn’t want to be wise. Or to be more loving, but not patient endurance—that sounds hard.
In this season of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are all learning many lessons, but chief among them is to endure patiently. Despite how scary it might be, let me encourage you to pray that God would give you patience during this season. Our impatience in this season is often a good barometer of whats going on in our hearts. It may be that God has brought you to this place of helplessness so that he can teach you to endure patiently. May the Lord equip you to do so more and more.
: John Calvin. Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2. Edited by John T. McNeill. Translated by Ford Lewis Battles. Vol. 1. (The Library of Christian Classics. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 703.