IMPATIENCE THE FEROCIOUS BEAST – REV. PAUL DAKIN

IMPATIENCE—THE FEROCIOUS BEAST
A sermon on Psalm 40:1-11
First Baptist Church of Lynchburg
January 19, 2020
By Paul Dakin
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
You all have heard the expression “Everything comes to him who waits,” right? Well, the truth of the matter is that none of us really like to wait—not for much of anything…We do not want to wait and have our time wasted. We’ve got places to go and things we want to do. We want to get moving because the clock is ticking. We are all so busy. We have other tasks ahead of us and we hate feeling like we are just “spinning our wheels” and accomplishing nothing. And when we are forced to wait, a sense of frustration—and sometimes even anger—creeps in…
We have to wait in traffic. We have to wait at the DMV. We have to wait in the checkout line at the grocery store. We have to wait in the doctor’s office. We do it because we have to…but it rubs us the wrong way. None of us are very good at waiting.
We are used to getting what we want as quickly as possible. Time is of the essence. Think about it. So much of our lives is geared around satisfying what we want “right now.” For example, think with me about going to the grocery store. Consider all the time-saving, quick-prepared foods that you can find there—instant coffee, instant oatmeal, instant mashed potatoes, and instant pudding—LOTS of “instant” foods designed to be easy to prepare and take a minimum amount of time in the process. Among them are instant grits—though I must say, as one who was born and raised in the South eating the real thing, I just cannot abide instant grits…Then there is that staple of every college student’s diet: instant ramen noodles. Whenever a young adult goes off to college, it does not take long for instant ramen noodles to become one of their four major food groups. It takes its place right there alongside the other three: peanut butter, microwave pizza and Pop Tarts…
One of the biggest culinary trends of the last couple of years has been the popularity of the “Instant Pot.” (Does anyone else here have an Instant Pot in their home?) For those who may not have heard of it, an Instant Pot is a kind of upscale pressure cooker. When it is used correctly, it can shave a lot of time off of meal preparation. An Instant Pot is especially handy when you’ve forgotten to take something out of the freezer to thaw or you are pressed for time to get supper on the table…It can be a big help in that situation…
John Calvin was one of the most influential church leaders of the 16th Century Protestant Reformation. More than four hundred years later, Calvin’s ideas continue to wield a big influence over large groups of Christian believers. That is especially true among churches in the Presbyterian and Reformed traditions. (And, by the way, he still is influential even among some Baptists in our day…) In a revealing moment of candor, Calvin wrote in his journal, “I have not had so great a struggle with my
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vices, great and numerous as they are, as I have had with my impatience. My efforts are not absolutely useless; yet I have never been able to conquer this ferocious beast.”1 Impatience was described by Calvin as a “ferocious beast”…Sounds about right, doesn’t it?…Impatience as something that can be dangerous…Something that can devour us…Something that is difficult to control…Something that has to be domesticated…and tamed…
The impatience that we experience in our lives also extends into the realm of the Spirit. King David, the author of Psalm 40, begins this psalm by writing, “I waited patiently for the Lord; He inclined to me and heard my cry.” Really…Who among us can truthfully say that we have waited patiently for the Lord? When I pray, I find that I often have to wait—but I admit that it’s usually not with very much patience. I want God to act and I want him to act RIGHT NOW. I do not want to have to wait for God to do something. Many times, I lack patience when waiting on the Lord. I suspect that if we were all being honest, we would all probably say the same thing…
In the book of James, the apostle writes that the way we speak that is an indicator of how we are progressing in the life of the Spirit. In James 3:2, he writes, “We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.” And I think that what James said is certainly true. The way that a person speaks tells volumes about who that person really is inside, especially when that person is rattled or upset.
But earlier in that same book, James writes about the importance of patience in the Christian life. He places a high value on the development of patience. He would say that it is patience that should characterize the life of the follower of Jesus. In chapter 1, he writes, “Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops patience. Patience must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (Verses 2-3) The clear teaching of those verses is that developing patience is one of the main building blocks of the life of faith. God uses the troubles in our lives in order to build patience. And patience, in turn, makes us more spiritually mature and complete in Him. Without patience, James suggests that it is much more difficult to progress in the life of the Spirit.
The Apostle Paul would agree. In Galatians 5, the Apostle Paul describes what life in the Spirit is supposed to look like. After describing what life in our sinful nature looked like earlier in the chapter, he goes on to list some of the distinctives that should set the Christian believer apart from others. These he calls “the fruit of the Spirit.” In verses 22 and 23, he lists them as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
I do not think that the order in which he places these characteristics of the life of faith is any accident. Patience is the fourth of the fruits listed. Preceding patience are love, joy and peace. I would suggest to you that those first three fruits are dependent upon the fourth—patience. Without patience, it is well nigh to impossible to grow love…or joy…or peace in one’s life. Do you want love, joy and peace
1 www.christianquotes.info/quotes-by-topic/quotes-about-patience (Accessed January 13, 2020) Emphasis mine.
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to describe your life? Then you will need to begin by cultivating the fourth characteristic mentioned…You will need to begin with patience…Patience with others…and patience with yourself…and patience in all areas of our lives
For me, it begs the question that deserves to be asked: What is it about patience that makes it such an important piece of the Christian life? Why do these Biblical writers (and others in the Bible we could mention as well) teach the need for patience in the life of the child of God?
It seems to me that impatience with God indicates a fundamental lack of confidence in the goodness and providence of God. When we pray to God and it seems to us that God is being slow to respond, then it shows that we are the ones who really want to be in control. We are not willing to let God be God…Or perhaps we are not convinced that God will keep his word—that God is not really trustworthy. Or…maybe we think that we know better than God what God should be doing…and when and how God should be doing it. Or maybe it appears to us that God is asleep at the wheel…or that God just isn’t listening…And so our anxiety grows…and our impatience grows right along with it…
Here is a spiritual truth for us to consider: The patient person is the person who is willing to wait. When we are patient, it means that we are willing to stay where we are in spite of what we may see around us. We relinquish the illusion of being in control of our lives—because that is all that it is: an illusion. Regardless of where we are, it means that we are willing to fully live out whatever the situation in which we find ourselves. It means that we are determined to persevere in spite of what we may be experiencing. And why do we do this? We do this in the expectation that God knows and cares about our situation. We are secure in the knowledge that he will act on our behalf in his own time. We do this in the belief that something that is now hidden will eventually reveal itself to us.2 Something that cannot become manifest to us in any other way except through the disciplines of patience and of waiting. We go though the situation fully in the knowledge that God is using the experience to make us more dependent on him…using the wait to spark growth in us…to make us more like Jesus…
One more thing before we go. Psalm 40:4 says, “Happy are those who make the Lord their trust…” Impatience seldom breeds happiness, does it? Impatient people are more often than not irritable…hard to get along with…grumpy…or cranky. Impatient people are seldom happy as long as they continue to have to wait for whatever it is they are seeking…
“Happy” is a rather unfortunate translation of the first word in verse 4. The Hebrew word used in verse four is the word eh’-sher. Eh’-sher does not mean “happy” in the way that we usually use it nowadays—you know, feeling good, enjoying things, smiles and fun all around and having things going our way. That’s not what the word really means. Another—and better—translation of the word is “blessed.” This is a translation that gets more to the point. Eh’-sher is a word that implies, not just an emotion, but a state of the soul. It is a gift that only God can bestow on us. It is not something that comes and goes. It is not a fleeting emotion or anything that can be ruined by circumstances. In fact, the
2 I am indebted to Henri J. M. Nouwen for this insight.
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meaning of the word Eh’-sher is beautifully illustrated by a stanza from a popular gospel hymn that many of you know and love: “When peace, like a river attendeth my way, /When sorrow like sea billows roll, /Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, [y’all say it with me] ‘It is well, it is well with my soul.’”3 That’s what eh’-sher is…
Verse 4 says “Happy [or blessed] are those who make the Lord their trust…” There is an irony in that statement. The truth of the matter is this: those who trust in the Lord are not made comfortable because of their faith. The way of Jesus is not a path of little resistance. Nor are the disciples of Jesus sheltered from difficulty. No—far from it. In fact, they very well may find themselves in trouble or even agony because of their trust in God. Trusting in God—living for Jesus—is not the easy path. But what it means is that we serve God courageously. We live out our faith in a world that is not in sync with the Lord. In fact, sometimes the values of the world in which we live are diametrically opposed to what the Lord desires for his creation. And thus, this life we live is a puzzle to those on the outside. It makes no sense to them. That’s because the one who has not experienced this peace that comes with patience cannot comprehend it. But…for the one who has experienced eh’-sher…God’s blessedness…It is the calming heartbeat of our lives. It is what sustains us when the going gets rough. It is the very thing that allows us to look with patience on the world around us…and in our own lives…knowing that God is faithful. And through his steadfast love, we know that we will be kept safe forever…
We close this morning’s worship service with a hymn that you will find as an insert in your bulletin. It is a close paraphrase of portions of Psalm 40 from the 1650 Scottish Psalter. The hymn is “I Waited for the Lord My God.” The folks responsible for this hymn are some of the direct spiritual descendents of the man we spoke of earlier in the service, John Calvin. You remember that he is the one who described impatience in his life as a “ferocious beast.” Before we sing, I am going to ask Caleb to play through the hymn one time to get the tune in our ear before we sing. And as we sing, take this time to dedicate yourself anew to being the person that God has called you to be—one filled with the spiritual gift of blessedness that only come to those who wait patiently for the Lord their God…
And to God alone be the glory! Amen.
3 “It Is Well with My Soul” by Horatio G. Spafford (1873), stanza 1.