The Patience of Grace
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Wait patiently for the LORD.
Be brave and courageous.
Yes, wait patiently for the LORD.
Psalm 27:14 NLT
A hundred years ago, you couldn’t buy an airplane ticket. For most of human history, you lived by who you lived by, your family was your family and your community was your community. Through thick and thin, most of the people you knew were the people you always knew.
Now, you can move across the world in a weekend. Put your stuff in storage or sell it on Craigslist and get a whole new life going by the middle of next week.
Multiply those opportunities times billions of people and the world is much more diverse and much less connected in the aspects of shared-history.
While we can do everything in our power to be kind and selfless and forgiving and honoring and humble and trusting and hopeful, in many ways we’ve lost the ability to learn the expansive boundaries of love because patience is so easily substituted for the next, new, now.
There are some things you just can’t know about people unless you give it time.
There are some things you just can’t know about yourself unless you give it time.
But if modernity has given us travel and electricity and communication and entertainment and access and sanitation and semiconductors and possibility, the thing it has taken from us is time.
Opportunities continue to expand like the edges of the universe, but there keep just being 24 hours in a day. While the internet amplifies published creativity at a rate never seen, life expectancy is still relatively flat.
Time is a strange constant in a life of infinite variables.
In my attempt to learn grace, my first impulse is to find the shortcuts and the lifehacks that will teach me to live full grace the quickest.
But there is no shortcut to learning grace.
Learning grace takes time, which means that learning grace also means learning to take time.
Love is patient
We tend to skip over the patient part and talk about all the other aspects of love, but there’s a reason patience comes first when it comes to love.
They will be known by the way that they love one another.
Ok. But most of the people who show up at the worship center for one of the weekend services on a regular basis don’t even know each other.
Maybe the church isn’t known for its love because somewhere in the growth fervor we became too impatient for love to even get started.
“My patience is running out.”
You probably know the tone with which I say this to my kids or the customer support representative or the driver in front of me or alternatively in hushed whispers to God because you’ve said it before, too.
Paul could have started with love is kind, it does not envy, it does not boast, etc. and just left the patient part out altogether.
And maybe for centuries, the patient part was built in because what else was there to rush off to? For most people, love had to be all those things and all of those things for a very long time with the same people, over and over, learning the rich, ragged edges of love.
But maybe the HS had Paul put it in there for us, thousands of years into the future when patience diminishes with each innovation.
If we only had the first statement,
LOVE IS PATIENT
we could construct the rest of the passage with time. We would discover why it’s necessary to leave envy and pride out of love, why it isn’t really love when kindness is for selfish reasons, and the hell that it is to hold tightly to our record of wrongs.
My own lack of patience is an acute lament.
The church who taught me to celebrate advancing the kingdom with no regard for patience is a heavy lament.
My hope, however, is an unsettling reality, truer than all of the fragments of a system obsessed with itself:
GOD IS PATIENT
My whole life, the church has been trying to win the game in the final seconds as the clock ticks toward zero. All of this energy is generated to get people to pray prayers, to invite friends, to witness.
But maybe our generated energy wasn’t right.
Because for most of those years, witnessing meant telling people what Jesus did for them on a cross. Now, I do believe Jesus dying for them is true, but it still seems off.
I believe Jesus died on the cross for us for a couple of reasons.
First off, there were some people there who saw it happen. He was their friend, their leader, and their hero, and he was wrongfully executed right in front of them. They witnessed it.
Then, he didn’t stay dead. And he wasn’t walking around like some regenerated, undead zombie. He was alive, but even more alive. And they saw him. They talked to him and had breakfast with him. They put their hands in his scars and when something like this happens, it changes you.
So when they tell their stories about what they witnessed, it starts with what Jesus did, but their retelling of Jesus’ cross ends up not being the most interesting part to me. What followed wasn’t one cookie-cutter life after another, looking and dressing and talking and acting like Jesus. Instead, they do the last thing he tells them, and they go back to Jerusalem and wait. They waited for about a week before the HS fills them with power.
They had asked him:
“Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
Jesus had answered them:
“It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
So when they are his witnesses, they each do an assortment of things. The stories of their lives are recorded, some in Acts, others through the letters that make up the rest of the New Testament. What is most interesting to me is how their lives are as varied in Christ as they were before Christ. This is true for those first friends of Jesus as well as disciples and others who come after them.
What they witness to is not just what Jesus did on the cross, but the ongoing work of the HS in their lives. Nothing is normal about the second half of their lives. They don’t become a clone army. They aren’t all wearing WWJD bracelets and having people repeat the sinners prayer so those people can get their special bracelets and recruit more sinners-prayer teachers.
Instead, they live.
They’re not perfect, but salvation has come.
They’re not stagnant, but sanctification is working.
As they go, they’re not being Jesus to people, they’re being themselves.
And the whole time, as they get things right, as they mess things up, as they encourage each other and correct each other and remind each other and remember each other, God is patient.
I used to hate what was in my heart so much that I would hide it and pretend to be good.
I didn’t know that God was patient.
I didn’t know that love is patient.
I didn’t know.
Where Prayer Becomes Real helped me recognize how prayer isn’t a place to perform but a safe space to be honest. At first it didn’t work because I thought God was expecting so much of me. There has been an unraveling in me just to get through all of the performance patterns I had developed. And over time, I don’t know that I learned all that much about myself or about God, except that God is patient, love is patient, and it’s not for me to know how long.
Maybe you didn’t know that God is patient.
Maybe you’ve thought that God is waiting for you to finally get it, to do the thing, to get it right, to stop it or start it or whatever–but God isn’t impatient like that.
God loves you.
And because of all of the things that have gone on in your life, the fact that God loves you doesn’t make sense. Not that God can’t love people who have done all sorts of things, but because of the things that have happened and wired and rewired our brains and our hearts. There are physical, embodied restrictions on making sense of the fact that God loves you.
Not the performance you’ve given.
Not the beliefs you’ve landed on.
Not your ability to filter what goes on in your heart.
Not the layers of life making it difficult to remember the real you.
God loves you.
And God is patient.
God is in no rush.
You don’t have to figure out God’s love for you.
But his love might change you, like it has me, when you’re willing to sit with a God who has nothing but time to just be with you.
And in time, as we learn that the primary aspect of love is patience, heaven overlaps earth.
It is only ever in these spaces of patient love where grace is free to fill the space.