The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride.
Ecclesiastes 7:8, NIV
Our senior pastor came into the room for a pre-arranged talk with all of us high school senior guys. He wanted to share something with us as we moved off into the next phases of our lives.
Out of all the applications and biblical wisdom at his disposal, what one topic was on his heart? What advice did he wish to impart above all?
He began by asking us to envision where we’d be in five, 10, 25 years. I’m just now coming up on that 25th year; I’m amazed at how differently some things have turned out, and how similar to my goals other things are. But that’s not the point.
Our pastor next told us that the one thing we ought to pursue more than any other was… not holiness, not righteousness, not prayer… but patience. “Boys, raise your hand if you want to be a man of patience.”
Okay, sure. Sounds good. Patience, yeah, that could be helpful to me. Hand up.
“Great. I’ll tell you what, boys, can I pray with you now? But be aware, only agree with me in this prayer if you mean it, if you really want patience. Because do you know what it takes to develop patience? Problems. Only problems – and the way you react to them and trust God through them – can develop patience. Do you understand? So that’s what I’m going to ask God for right now, that He’ll bring you all problems. Are you ready?”
Sure. Why not?
Oh boy. Looking back, the last quarter century hasn’t been hell on earth by any stretch, but its sure been full of its share of problems. As of this writing, I’ve got one that’s forcing me to wait… and wait… and wait for an answer. I feel shamed when I go through a study about Abraham and how long he waited and waited for God to fulfill a direct promise, because I can’t imagine waiting any longer than I already have. The only reason I continue to do so is because of the patience and wisdom I’ve built up having passed through earlier problems and trials, the outcomes of which inform me to keep waiting.
What’s the moral here? Be careful what you pray for? Hmmm… maybe… but I think I prefer the lesson in today’s verse, that patience (trusting God’s way and waiting on His promise) is better than pride (my idea of the best way). To me, it’s really eye-opening to think of those two concepts – patience and pride – as the opposites of each other. But that’s exactly how this verse sets them up. It suggests patience is akin to humility, and pride the brother of instant gratification. And I guess that makes sense. But why is patience better? Especially in this day and age when so much is there for the taking? When the respected thing to do is reach out and go for it? What had my pastor so convinced that doing the opposite was the most important lesson to send young men out into the world?
Honestly I haven’t completely figured that out yet. Appropriately, it’s something I’m willing to be patient to gain the wisdom of. But I suspect it has something to do with that pesky old verse from James:
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4).
Only problems can bring patience; only trials can test faith and make it real. Only endurance can lead to completion.
And when I am complete, I will lack nothing. At which time I apparently will have superceded even patience, as what would there be to wait for if I lack nothing?
It sounds almost mystical, almost unachievable, at least until the end of my life or when I meet God. Until then, I simply pray that the experience of each problem and the eventual result will steel me into calm, patient submission to God’s perfect timing.