When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” (Shemot / Exodus 32:1; ESV)
Years ago, I was talking to someone and said to them that I suffered from a lack of faith. That’s quite a confession for someone who calls himself a “believer,” seeing that biblically, belief and faith are the same thing, as is trust. Whatever the correct terminology, I was seeking to sum up my life struggles by acknowledging unbelief. My friend said “No, your trouble is lack of patience.” I think they were right. It’s not that I have never struggled with faith; it’s that my impatience has caused me unnecessary trouble time and time again.
I hate waiting! I can’t remember a time when I felt differently. Whether I am suffering, dreading a potential problem, or even anticipating something fun and exciting, I find the waiting process awful. I remember the first time I met someone who found more pleasure in the anticipation of an event than in the event itself, it was like meeting a visitor from another planet. How can anyone enjoy anticipation, when it makes me sick! It took me a while before I realized that I had a problem, a big problem.
The people of Israel camping out at Mt. Sinai vividly demonstrate for us how serious a lack of patience can be. Moses was away for over a month meeting with God. Even though Moses, a person who had proved to be so trustworthy, said he was coming back, they couldn’t handle what they took to be a delay in his return. I don’t blame them for how they felt. Of course I don’t, I can so relate! Being in a hostile environment, journeying into the unknown, having no clue when their leader would return, they were likely overwhelmed by their uncertainty and the waiting.
Patience is the ability to endure the pain of waiting, an ability they certainly lacked. But that’s not where they went wrong. Their sin was not in the pain of waiting, but in their turning to other gods. Their real problem was their lack of faith, which was exposed by their impatience.
The distinction between patience and faith is an important one. I wonder how many people are like me, especially in thinking that we are struggling with faith, not patience. Properly understanding this distinction can help us overcome this problem.
Those of us who suffer from the pain of waiting need to come to grips with the fact that so much of life is a process. Seeds are planted a long time before the plants produce fruit. Babies and other living creatures need a period of gestation before being born, hatched, etc. Maturity takes time. Projects require design and development. None of these common processes are due to sin. God invented process. God created time. Getting used to the reality of process over time is a first step in learning to be patient, to not get offended when we experience delay, short- or long-term.
Where my friend may not have been quite correct by saying that my problem was lack of patience, not lack of faith, is that they didn’t acknowledge how faith and patience are connected. While it has been helpful for me to realize that I have difficulty waiting, at the root of this is a lingering doubt over God’s general inclination toward me. For if we realize that God is in control of our lives, that he truly loves us, and his intentions toward us are always good, then when we experience delay, when we need to wait, when we cannot immediately see how our problems will be resolved, we can take comfort in God. Impatience therefore, serves the purpose at times to reveal foundational flaws in our basic relationship to God.
Some people are afraid to pray for patience, thinking that God will bring them into the kind of difficult situations that require it. Whether or not we need to pray such a prayer, God will bring us into those situations anyway. We, like the people of Israel, will find ourselves where waiting a moment longer seems to be the most impossible thing ever. Whether our problem is lack of faith or patience, the solution is always the same. Don’t give up on God; because he will never give up on you.