Saturday, June 19, 2010

Introducing Faith’s ‘Ancestor’ – Patience

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

~Hebrews 11:1 (NIV).

There’s hardly a more powerfully loaded statement in the Bible. It’s a statement so wholesome in its wisdom, power and truth. And yet truly it is disconnected—uncoupled as it were—from the homogenous thought initiated in the previous chapter, way back in verse 10:38.

What the writer to the Hebrews is saying is,

“We shall not reach the goal of salvation except we have patience, for the prophet [Habakkuk] declares that the just lives by faith; but faith directs us to things afar off which we do not as yet enjoy; it then necessarily includes patience.”[1]

The prophetic word of Habakkuk 2:3-4, therefore, is precursory to the definition of faith in Hebrews 11.

Exploring Patience

If patience is the antecedent to faith, what does it look like?

Surely to be more faithful and to exhibit a dependable faith—no matter our circumstances i.e. good, bad and indifferent—we’d need to be both actively and passively patient.

Active Patience – Required When Things are Bad

We all have opportunities in life where our faith is tested quite appositionally i.e. in the stride of a confoundable life. These are Job-like times where we really struggle to have the ‘joy of Jesus,’ as some might put it.

We’ve all had times when we’ve been otherwise chidingly angered—brought to our child states of endemic inner panic, which is an aggressive despair—and we responded in one of two ways. Our normal impatient and hence angry response demonstrated a lack of faith.

But when we had the presence of mind to go against the flow of our feelings—adhering to, and engorging, patience—we amazed ourselves, or better put, God amazed us with our momentary strength of faith. God was with us in this thing!

Using another example—something with a more ‘latent’ flavour—we can consider rank sadness, perhaps conferred on us by loss.

Life can seem so raw and hollow and we’re just simply battling to hold on. We’re tired and fatigued and life seems to offer no hope of a good future in sight. The patience of faith here is to just hold on—without sight of the ‘new day’—to the fact that the new day is beckoning. We can, therefore, put on a somewhat mechanistic smile, knowing beyond knowledge things will end up okay. We therefore put a lid on the temptation to panic.

Passive Patience – Required When Things are Either Good or Indifferent

There are clearly many more times in most of our lives when things are not so plainly bad. Our lives, during these times, are going quite reasonably—they’re ebbing and flowing between the ‘ho-hum’ and our fleeting though resplendent successes.

Passive patience is, however, not easy. In fact it is probably harder that active patience because it has to be grown more extrinsically because the horrible stimuli of life is absent.

Still, we’re tested every living and conscious second, for faith, it seems—whether we perceive it or not. Passive patience runs quietly, then, under the hush of life.

Patience when things are going really well is just as important because we tend to soften to the realities of life, adapting to the agreeable. This is a recipe for a weakening of faith because our patience isn’t being tested so much.

We have just as many opportunities to show patience when things are going either averagely or excellently. For instance, we’re quite often tempted to get greedy in making even more of our good fortune instead of exercising some much needed self control—founded and erected from the virtue of patience.

This patience is satisfiable and doesn’t continually clamour for more.

Question: What Does Faith Look Like? Answer: Patience.

Patience is the very basis, and tangible ‘unit of competency,’ of faith. We do not grow patient without going through some fiery furnaces of faith-building adversity. It’s a hard fact but it appears so inherently true.

Where we are appropriately patient in life we’re are expressing good faith.

Patience is about never giving up hope—either in the moment or in the context of the foreseeable or long term future.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

[1] Arthur W. Pink, An Exposition of Hebrews (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 2004), p. 648. This quote appears to be attributed to John Calvin.

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