The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love... (Numbers 14:18). They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them. (Nehemiah 9:17).
...in his divine forbearance he (God) had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:25-26).
And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:24).
No one has ever accused me of being too patient. In the past, I’ve just chalked this up to my personality. I like to get things done, make things happen. Patience, therefore, is not a virtue often attached to achievement. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that God—who has achieved more than I ever will—is exceedingly patient.
Webster defines patience this way: “The suffering of afflictions, pain, toil, calamity, provocation or other evil, with a calm, unruffled temper; endurance without murmuring or fretfulness.” With that definition in mind, now let’s think about God. Since the fall of mankind, God has suffered our disobedience, sin, and all the brokenness that we as a race have unleashed upon his good world. We don’t often think about God suffering from our sin. But, the Scriptures are clear. Sin grieves him to his heart.
Very different from you and I, however, is the way God reacts to our sin. When I am sinned against, I am immediately tempted toward anger, rage, and retribution. But not God. We read that God is slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. Rest assured that God will judge the world, but what we see here is the kind of God we’re getting to know. He doesn’t explode in rage. He doesn’t stomp the floors of heaven in anger. God is patient. He suffers our disobedience with a calm, unruffled tempter. He doesn’t fret, and he doesn’t whine. Neither does he smack us like some abusive father. He’s totally different than we are, because we are a people plagued by impatience. I should know, because I am chiefest among them.
So what does this matter? Why should we care if God is patient? First of all, God’s patience serves as a model for us. In a culture that values quick fixes, microwave solution, and instant answers—none of which seem to actually fix our problems—God stands out as different. God has taken all our history to weave the beautiful story of redemption. We, like the people of Nehemiah’s day, forget about God all the time. But God does not forget us, nor does he grow weary. He is patient, which means we can be too.
Secondly, God’s patience means that our redemption was accomplished rightly. Paul tells his Roman listeners that God’s patience has meant that Jesus came at just the right time, died just the right death, and won just the right victory over sin that means that God is just and we are forgiven. That’s incredibly good news for you and I. If God were impatient, then we wouldn’t be forgiven. Even from the cross itself, Jesus demonstrated infinite patience. He suffered affliction calmly, with love. He forgave us even as we killed him. That is patience.
Jesus' patience doesn’t only mean we should be patient, but that we finally can be. Why? Because he lives in us, we can be like him. We can be patient, waiting for God’s good plan to unfold right on time. It always does.
Jesus, give me patience today. Things will happen today that I want to happen, but many will not. When I am challenged, hurt, lied to, persecuted, disrespected, treated unfairly or unkindly, cause me to remember that you were to—much more, in fact. Empower me with the same divine patience that you have, God.
As I suffer well, let others see the sufferings of Christ in me. As I am patient, let others see the patience of Christ in me. As this happens, let many be drawn to the grace of Christ in me, and be changed.