Patience and Personal Discipleship

by Matt Erickson

Good things come to those who wait, I’ve been told. But honestly, I have a really hard time with that.

Let me give you three situations many of us face.

Number one: music tries to calm me down as I anxiously wait behind unending lines of traffic, hoping I arrive reasonably on time to my next appointment.

Number two: I carefully choose which check-out line at the store I will head to with my items. I evaluate whether it might make the most sense to go for self-check out and skip dealing with people altogether.

Number three: I head to the DMV, knowing that the actual business I have there does not necessarily need to take more than a few moments, but anticipating the reality that I will wait agonizingly long to simply get this taken care of.

“Good things come to those who wait,” but wouldn’t we all prefer to have good things come precisely when we want them? I know that we have heard patience is a virtue, but deep down, we all want instant gratification.

Now, more than ever, the possibility of instant gratification is within reach as technology married with enterprise has brought us the possibility of getting what we want immediately while never leaving the comfort of our homes.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am as prone to enjoy Netflix and Amazon Prime as the next person, but our culture of instant gratification is doing something to us that is not nearly all helpful. The eight-second attention span[1] and inability to delay gratification are making us more anxious and impatient,[2] affecting more than our pace of life and consumption of goods.

Now we say, “good things come to those who wait…but let my waiting be short (e.g., eight seconds for information, 60 seconds for music and movie downloads, and 24 hours for my online shopping)!”

This anxious impatience is eroding our spiritual lives as well. Spiritual transformation only comes via “a long obedience in the right direction.”[3] Paul the Apostle describes our growth as Christians as a process of growth and maturing, moving from spiritual infancy to nature adulthood, “so that the body of Christ may be built up…and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:12-13).

We understand this physically, expecting babies to grow to toddlers and on to teenagers before becoming adults. Yet, somehow, we forget that this same process of growth applies to the spiritual life of discipleship. It is not something that comes quickly, but must go through a similar process of growth and maturing over time. Spiritual growth does not happen overnight, let alone in 60 seconds; instead, it must happen over a lifetime.

There is no more valuable, nor more difficult, character trait necessary in the Christian life in this regard than patience. Scripture shows both that patience is invaluable in our own lives (Prov. 19:11; Ecc. 7:8; James 5:7) and in our relationships with others (Col. 3:12; 2 Tim. 3:10). Our discipleship, as a matter of fact, is a growth in which God shows forth His patience with us from start to finish (Rom. 2:4; 1 Tim. 1:16). If we want to grow with God, following Jesus as our leader and Savior, then we must commit to the patient journey of discipleship over the long haul.

Within the Bible, one of the clearest pictures of this is seen in the Psalms of Ascent. This little collection of psalms was utilized for prayer and worship on the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Groups of believers would journey together, caring for one another and building one another up, as they prepared to meet with God and His people in worship.

The pilgrimage journey of the Psalms of Ascent provides us with a soundtrack for the patient journey of discipleship. We need songs in our mouths and hearts, we need others to journey with, and we need lives that move steadily closer to God.

This patient journey of discipleship, and the place that patience begins to have in our lives, is often seen as a key to seeing change in the life of others (Prov. 25:15; 2 Tim. 4:2). In a culture of anxious impatience, where many have misplaced hopes of relief, a patient, peaceful community of people living daily life with God speaks louder than all sorts of religious activity.

Perhaps now is a time to disconnect from the impatient pulse of a technologized angst in order to reconnect with the patient journey of discipleship with God. Our very lives, both in word and in deed, may become a living witness to an eternal God who is unhurried in His life and purposes.

[1] Timothy Egan, “The Eight-Second Attention Span,” New York Times, January 22, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/22/opinion/the-eight-second-attention-span.html.

[2] Emma Taubenfeld, “The Culture of Impatience and Instant Gratificaiton,” Study Breaks, March 23, 2017, https://studybreaks.com/2017/03/23/instant-gratification/.

[3] With a nod to both Eugene Peterson and Friedrich Nietszche.

 

Matt Erickson (@mathyouerickson) is the Senior Pastor of Eastbrook Church, a multi-ethnic church in urban Milwaukee. Matt has served both in local church ministry and with international development organizations. Matt co-authored the Milwaukee Declaration (milwaukeedeclaration.com) and writes regularly at his own blog (mwerickson.com). He is married to Kelly and they have three boys.