Preachers & Patience
If God is not patient with His creation, no one or nothing can survive. If parents are not patient with children, no child will mature in behaviour. If teachers are not patient with students, no responsible citizen will pass out of classrooms and lecture halls. If preachers are not patient with people, the purposes of God cannot be fully accomplished on earth. Preachers as well as people need patience, but the former need it more than the latter.
When we talk about patience, what comes to our mind instantly is suffering. The Bible speaks so much about being patient in suffering. Every Christian goes through some suffering or other. This being so, preachers always find themselves in a position to exhort "others" to be patient. Hardly does a preacher realize that he is the one who is expected to exercise untiring patience more than anyone else. In this article, by preachers I mean anyone in Christian service and leadership whatever be the size of his group or the level of his responsibility.
Father & Mother
The Bible uses various word pictures for those in Christian work. A servant of God is compared to a nursing mother. Apostle Paul testified to the Christians in Thessalonica, "As apostles of Christ... we were as gentle among you as a mother feeding and caring for her own children" (1 Thess 2:7). A motherís patience is like a tube of toothpasteóitís never quite all gone! Paul goes on to say, "You know that we treated each of you as a father treats his own children" (v11). He says that he "pleaded" with them, "encouraged" them, and "urged" them to live a God-pleasing life (v 12). What practical manifestation of patience!
Patience of a donkey
None of the five typical ministries listed in Ephesians 4:11 can be fulfilled without patience. Apostles must go forth with the patience of pioneers. Prophets must wait with the patience of seers. Evangelists must work with the patience of farmers. Pastors must care with the patience of shepherds. Teachers must instruct pupils with the patience of parents. Someone quipped, "A pastor must have the patience of a donkey, the meekness of a lamb, the hide of a rhinoceros, the industry of a beaver and the strength of an ox." I wonder how many will opt to become a pastor if this requirement is placed before them when they choose their ministry! Folks in the congregation are usually in a frivolous hurry. They expect too much for too little too soon. They want to get to the promised land without going through the wilderness. Your patience will be tested to the core when you work with the impatient. It is said, "After five or ten years those who are active against us in our church will outnumber those who are active for us! Be patient!"
Letís look at various types and categories of people that preachers work with to whom they must show patienceó
"As Elijah did!"
Expecting people to believe on Christ following the very first sermon is unreasonable. When the people of a Samaritan village rejected the messengers of Christ, two of the top leaders of His team asked Him, "Lord, should we order down fire from heaven to burn them up, as Elijah did?" (Lk 9:51-54). Jesus rebuked them saying, "You donít know what manner of spirit you are of" (v 55b). James and John would have boastfully thought about their own instant obedience to Christís call and contrasted it with the poor response of the Samaritans. What they failed to remember was the rich Jewish background they had already had! There are still thousands of unconverted men and women in our Churches even after listening to thousands of sermons. If Jesus must act on the suggestion of James and John, all our Churches would be in flames and ashes!
Christians or Non-Christians?
Why then did Jesus tell His disciples to shake off the dust from their feet against any town or city which rejected their message? (Mt 10:14). These were not non-Jewish villages but villages of Israelites (vv5,6). We also misquote Paul to justify our impatience. When those in Corinth opposed him, he shook his garments and said to them, "Your blood be on your own heads; I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles" (Acts 18:6). We forget that Paul did not take this step just after one or two sermons. On the other hand, he had "stayed" with a tentmaking couple, "worked" with them in this trade, and preached "every Sabbath" in their synagogue! (vv 3,4). In the same way, it was after stretching out His hands to the people of Israel "all day long," God made Himself manifest to the non-Israelites (Rom 10:20,21).
Sowing & Reaping
The popular trend in the missiological world today is not to waste time with irresponsive peoples but move fast to the responsive groups. This may sound logical and profitable, but this viewpoint does not fall in line with the consistent teaching of the Bible. Did not Jesus say, "One sows, and another reaps?" (Jn 4:37). May be God wants one mission group to labour for long years in a field without visible fruits, and He would send there another group to reap that for which it did not labour (v 38). Because we run for responsive groups in India, we have practically neglected the resistant caste Hindus. When Church growth is more rural than urban, the moral climate of the nation will not be changed. The intelligentsia of the society will remain untouched.
Ishmaels or Isaacs?
Itís good to fix targets, but unrealistic goals and rigid targets will crush the workers in the mission fields. No doubt the supporters look for attractive reports, but the way of the Spirit may be quite different (Eccl 11:5,6). The Great Commission of Christ is not to christianize the world but to evangelize it. William Carey (1761-1834) laboured for seven years before the first Hindu convert was baptized. In Burma, Adoniram Judson (1788-1850) toiled for seven years before he had one. He wrote to England, "Beg the Churches to have patience!" If evangelistic preachers are not patient, they will fill our pews with more of Ishmaels than Isaacs. We are called to sow faithfully and wait patiently so we may reap "at the appropriate time" (Gal 6:9). The appropriate time may come "after many days" (Eccl 11:1).
Who will write for us?
Among those who decide to serve God fulltime, very few choose the ministry of Bible translation, because itís a time- consuming job and the results will not be impressive or spectacular to carnal eyes. This also explains the reason for the scarcity of Christian writers in India. Among the popular preachers very few sit to write. We shun anything that requires patient and painstaking labour. Apostle Paul might have felt that he had been paralysed by imprisonments. But that was Godís way of making him sit and write without distractions and itinerancy! O how many Epistles the Church would have otherwise lost! The climaxing book in the New Testament was written by John during his banishment to an island!
Athens & India
Idolatry in India would upset any true worshipper of the living God. But if we lose patience and prudence, we will shout from public pulpits words which will only antagonize the non-Christians rather than awaken them to consider the claims of Christ. The Bible suffers more in the hands of its exponents than its opponents. Apostle Paul was deeply provoked in his spirit when he saw the entire city of Athens sold out to idolatry (Acts 17:16). But he showed dignified restraint when he began to speak to the city folks. Read his sermon from verses 22 to 31. He uses the word "we" more often than "you!"
The opposers of the Gospel are not our enemies; they are simply the victims of the Enemy, even Satan. We are called to bless those who persecute us and to pray for them (Mt 5:44). It was in a hostile atmosphere Paul showed the patience and gentleness of a mother and a father (1 Thess 2:1,2,7,11). This he could do because he never forgot Godís patience towards him before his conversion. Writing to his trainee Timothy he said, "That is why God had mercy on me, so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of His great patience with even the worst sinners" (1 Tim 1:16). Let no one in the ministry of the Gospel ever forget this!
Nicodemus of the night
I have seen preachers being unkind and impatient with secret Christians. How on earth can anyone be a "secret" Christian? óthey would ask. Were not Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea "secret" followers of Christ? Nicodemus is always referred to as one who came to Jesus "by night" (Jn 3:2; 7:50; 19:39). Joseph was called "a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews" (Jn 19:38). But both in life and death of Jesus these two men were unusually close to Him! Preachers who are patient towards people actually affirm, "We are not trying to dominate you and your faith, but we can work with you to increase your joy" (2 Cor 1:24).
Judging others is the easiest thing to do. I once saw a woman, at the reception counter of a Christian retreat centre, with a haircut that made her look like a man. I thought why people had kept such ultra- moderns in a retreat centre where folks had been coming for spiritual renewal. Soon I realized that she had lost her fingers in her right hand due to leprosy, and with one hand she could not manage long hair. I was ashamed of my impatient conclusion.
Little by little
New believers are babies just born into the Kingdom of God. In our enthusiasm we must not push them into our perfection moulds. Neonatal deaths abound in Churches because of the impatience of pastors and preachers. People must be given time to grow. The only condition for water baptism is a sincere faith in the heart (Acts 8:36,37). Any addition is not Scriptural. There are no "seven" steps to salvation. There is only one! (Acts 16:30,31). See how God teaches us: "Line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little" (Isa 28:13). He treats us like those "just weaned from motherís milk" (v 9). So much of fruit of evangelistic labour is lost because of insufficient follow-up. Everyone wants to be a planter like Paul, but very few opt to become a waterman like Apollos. Watering is to be done patiently and consistently (1 Cor 3:6; Js 5:6).
Doctrinal deceptions are on the increase. The deceived donít know that they are deceived. Thatís what deception is. Whatís the point then in getting angry with them? See how thoughtfully apostle Paul advised Timothy: "The Lordís servants must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone. They must be able to teach effectively and be patient with difficult people. They should gently teach those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those peopleís hearts, and they will believe the truth. Then they will come to their senses and escape from the Devilís trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants" (2 Tim 2:24-26).
Who is the Prodigal?
Backsliding is common whereas restoration is uncommon. Of the many reasons I have observed, one weighty reason is the impatient remarks and reactions of pastors and preachers towards backsliders. Under no circumstance should we condemn anyone. The parables of the lost sheep, the lost silver coin and the lost son better illustrate restoration from backsliding than the initial repentance of a sinner. The lost sheep was once in the fold. The lost silver coin was once in the forehead. The lost son was once in the family. What is highlighted in these three stories is the patience with which the losers searched or waited. Pastors have the moral responsibility to find out the underlying cause of backsliding in each case. Remedying the situation will not only pave way for the backslider to return but also prevent others from going astray.
God loves backsliders. The Old Testament is filled with the restoration messages of prophets. See how patient He had been and has been with Israel! In fact there is atleast a little backsliding in each of us. Who among us does maintain the same glow at all times? Unnoticed backsliding is more serious than apparent backsliding. In the parable of the two sons the younger one backslided outside the home whereas the elder backslided right inside. If the end of a story is more important than its beginning, the younger boy has got in whereas the elder one is out. Who is the real prodigal, I wonder! Does the elder boy portray unkind and impatient church elders?
Paul & Mark
It is repeatedly said that leadership in the New Testament is plural. But it is more a theory than a practice. We are not able to tolerate differences and be patient with imperfections. Jesus could not have built a strong team for world evangelisation if He had not been patient with an unstable Peter, power-hungry James and John or a doubting Thomas. Even the noblest among us will succumb to the temptation to lose patience towards one another, unless we are watchful and self-controlled. Whatever may be the reason, Paulís impatience in the matter of John Mark cannot be condoned. His impatience cost him the ministerial companionship of a Barnabas who had been named as the Son of Encouragement (Acts 4:36; 15:36-40).
Paul & Peter
Again, Paul need not have opposed a senior leader like Peter publicly (Gal 2:11-14). Peter might have been wrong to play "hypocrisy" as Paul termed it! But Paul was not right either in speaking against him in front of others. Why did then Paul circumcise Timothy? (Acts 16:3). Why this appeasement? Why did Paul shave his head? (Acts 21:23-26). If you so want, you can find fault with anyone. Without making some allowances, coexistence is impossible. In spite of Paulís stiff attitude, Peter was gracious enough to acknowledge his wisdom (2 Pet 3:15,16). Perhaps this is why eventhough Christ made Paul the Kingdom builder, He gave the keys to Peter!
When you are criticized...
Hardly any preacher escapes false accusations sometime or other in his ministerial career. The devil uses scandal as a powerful weapon to destroy servants of God. The Lord will ultimately vindicate them, but the passage is painful. Joseph was patient towards a sex scandal. Moses was patient towards a marriage scandal. God permitted Jesus to be crucified on false charges. Hereís a thumb rule: "Never fear criticism when you are right; never ignore criticism when you are wrong!" H. W. Longfellow has penned these insightful lines: "If we could only read the secret history of our enemies, we would find in each manís life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility!"
Prophets without honour
No institution teaches us patience like the school of marriage. It is at home a preacherís patience will be tested exhaustively. When he returns home with lots of enthusiasm and encouragement after a successful preaching programme, he finds his family members pouring cold water on his excitement. He must not get irritated or lose patience, but remember the words of Jesus: "A prophet is honoured everywhere except in his own hometown and among his own family" (Mt 13:57b). John Wesley (1703-1791) the Father of Methodism used to receive such a contemptible treatment from his wife whenever he returned home after preaching fiery sermons. He took it patiently. His marriage failed but he stayed faithful in his calling till the end. William Careyís wife suffered severe mental depression. Life was not easy for him. But he was steadfast in his work and became the Father of Modern Missions. However, thereís nothing like a husband-wife team in Christian work. Challenges and problems will be there, but rewards will be great if patience overrules (Eccl 4:9-12).
Children are the next patience-testers. According to a recent study, over 75% of the children of missionaries never want to choose missionary career. Many pastorsí children hate religion though they cannot show it out. Every other preacher has unruly children. Paul wondered how a man could take care of Godís Church if he could not manage his own family well, with children who respect and obey him (1 Tim 3:4,5). If this text is to be taken literally as a qualification for a minister, over half of the pastors and preachers will have to resign. What is implied here is that servants of God must not neglect their families in the pretext of ministerial responsibilities. Both family and ministry are from God (Prov 18:22; Psa 127:3; Acts 20:24). Donít sacrifice one for the other but balance them and work patiently at each of them against all odds.
Having seen some of the categories of people with whom we must be patient as servants of God, we will now study the areas where we need to be patientó
Sermons or Messages?
Sermon preparation is a work that demands lots of patience. Before it became too late the early apostles decided that they would devote themselves exclusively to the ministry of the Word and prayer. There were of course other necessary things, but they made a choice to spend their time primarily on knees for preparation and then to stand up for the proclamation of the Word of God (Acts 6:3,4). Very few are the modern preachers who patiently shut themselves in their prayer closets until they hear from God what they must speak to people. There are plenty of sermons but thereís a scarcity for messages from God. Preachers are too busy with financial and administrative matters to wait on God patiently. Someone said, "Christianity began in a catacomb with nothing but a message, and ended up in a cathedral with nothing but money!"
Information or inspiration?
Dr. Billy Graham was once asked how he would spend his life if he were to start all over again. He replied, "Iíll preach less and study more!" Preachers donít grow because they are no more listeners and learners. You need patience to listen and to learn. If you prepare sermons without sitting quietly before God, you will be dominated more by informations and imaginations than inspirations. John Newman rightly said, "The false preacher is one who has to say something; the true preacher is one who has something to say!" The preacher who cannot broaden and deepen his sermons usually lengthens them. If we are too busy to listen to God, He takes us into difficult situations so we are compelled to slow down. Prophet Jonah learnt more at the bottom of the sea than some preachers learn at a theological seminary. Example: "Salvation is of the Lord" (Jon 2:9c).
There is no one who does not like promotion. Because preachers are mostly self-employed, they can do whatever they want to be exalted and become popular. Waiting for Godís time has become a forgotten habit. About Moses God testified that there was never a prophet like him before or after him (Dt 34:10-12). It took years for him to come to this place of honour. He died at 120. The first 40 years he learnt that he was somebody. The next 40 years convinced him that he was nobody. During the last 40 years he understood that God was everything. Jesus resisted the temptation for quick promotion whether it came from Satan or his relatives (Mt 4:8-10; Jn 7:2-6).
Elisha Vs. Gehazi
Promotion comes from God. We are exhorted to humble ourselves under His mighty hand that He might exalt us in due time (1 Pet 5:6). Elisha waited patiently, and the mantle of Elijah fell on him. But Elishaís servant Gehazi was too anxious. He was after ministerial promotion and material prosperity. He spoke the language of his master Elisha and even used his staff. But he could not revive the dead child. He went after money stealthily and bought only leprosy (2 Ki 4 & 5). Ministries will be ruined if tricky and manipulative Gehazis come to leadership positions.
Ignoring so many senior associates and mature believers in their own congregations, several pastors make their sons as next leaders. These youngsters may have talents and an overseas degree. But what is essential for leadership is an experience of walking patiently with God. Thatís why Paul admonished Timothy, "Do not lay hands on any one hastily" (1 Tim 5:22a). No wonder glory departs congregations and organisations after the days of the founders. Preachers must keep Jeremiah 45:5 always before them: "Are you seeking great things for yourself? Donít do it!"
Power & Patience
Patience is also necessary in the operation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and manifestation of His power. When we talk about the marks of an apostle, we immediately think of signs, wonders and miracles. This is right, but we forget the setting for these which is patience. See the testimony of Paul, an apostle par excellence: "Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you WITH ALL PATIENCE, in signs and wonders and miracles" (2 Cor 12:12). Moses in impatience smote the rock the second time. Of course waters did gush out! The miracle did happen! People were abundantly blessed. But God was totally displeased. He viewed the impatience of Moses so seriously that he was denied entry into the Promised Land! (Num 20:7-12).
As Elisha did?
The descent of the Dove-like Spirit on Jesus at the riverbank and His forty day fasting in the desert charged Him with Godís power beyond measure. But when the devil prompted Him to try it out by turning stones into bread, Jesus refused (Mt 3:16-4:4). This is patience thatís perfect. In contrast, prophet Elisha, who was patient before getting the mantle, started acting in haste once he received it. He struck Jordon immediately with the mantle (2 Ki 2:13,14). In his impatience he cursed fortytwo youths who mocked at him. They were instantly devoured by wild bears (vv 23-25). What did Elisha gain by the death of so many youngsters? God forbid that we in impatience do any destructive thing "as Elisha did!" Gifts of the Spirit and His fruit are two different things. Charisma is not the same as character. It is possible to excel in prophesying, exhibit mountain-moving faith and even embrace martyrdom without love which is perfected by patience (1 Cor 13:1-4a; Js 1:4). Emerson commented, "A man is a hero, not because he is braver than anyone else, but because he is brave for ten minutes longer!"
With God for God!
God endows us with gifts of power. In order that they may be operated for the glory of God, we must wait patiently before Him. Jesus had already given His disciples power over unclean spirits (Mt 10:1). But when they could not cast out a demon from a young boy, the explanation of Jesus was that they should spend enough time unhurriedly with God in fasting and prayer. Faith and power alone wonít do (Mt 17:19-21). Why did Jesus delay His visit to Lazarus when he was dying? He took time to receive specific instructions from His Father about the situation.
A.W. Tozer (1871-1963) observed, "We hear a great deal about GO YE, but not much about TARRY YE!" This was the worry of the 18th century Scottish preacher, Andrew Bonar (1810-1892), who warned ministers of his day, "One of the gravest perils which besets the ministry is a restless scattering of energies over an amazing multiplicity of interests which leaves no margin of time and of strength for receptive and absorbing communion with God." A prepared messenger is more important than a prepared message. We cannot cultivate a spirit of prayer unless we acquaint ourselves with divine patience. We should begin to pray before we kneel down, and we should not cease when we rise up!
My own vineyard
When we become over occupied with the work of God and neglect personal devotions, our spiritual growth will be stunted. Then we will have to lament like the Shulamite in the Song of Solomon, "They made me the keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard I have not kept" (ss 1:6b). Jesus was always watchful to avoid this pitfall. When the work increased, He increased His quiet time with His Father. Historian Luke gives a firsthand report: "Despite Jesusí instructions, the report of His power spread even faster, and vast crowds came to hear Him preach and to be healed of their diseases. But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer" (Lk 5:15,16).
The saintly Robert Murray MíCheyne said, "Every wise workman takes his tools away from the work from time to time that they may be ground and sharpened; so does the only-wise Jehovah take His ministers oftentimes away into darkness and loneliness and trouble that He may sharpen and prepare them for harder work in His service." Blessed thought! God allows crises in our lives to slow us down in the rat race. We should not be discouraged, but at the same time we should not sail against Godís wind. Financial difficulties, fruitlessness in work, material losses, failures in life, family problems, physical ailments, deaths of dear ones, and the like may be Godís attention-getters. Stay sensitive.
Fulfillment of visions, accomplishment of goals, answers to prayers, solution of problems and several such things may be inordinately delayed in our work for God. But he who waits on God loses no time. We will not be frustrated if what we primarily look forward to is the Return of Christ rather than any of the above things. Horatius Bonar (1808-1889) was called the prince of Scottish hymn-writers. He served God for over sixty years. When he gets up in the morning, he would say, "Perhaps today, Lord!" When he retires to bed, "Perhaps tonight, Lord!" God knows that it is a struggle for us to be patient. Thatís why Christ repeatedly says, "Behold, I come quickly!"