…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. —Philippians 2:6
In the last couple of years, I have realized something about myself. My wife realized it years ago, of course, and I am just now catching up, but I’m proud of myself for finally seeing it clearly: I’m an impatient person.
Of course, on some level I’ve known this for a while. I’m impatient in traffic, always complaining about delays. I’m impatient with my kids, always wanting them to be more grown up than they are. These things have been obvious for a long time, and they are true for many of us. But lately I see more clearly that my unique wiring really works against me in this area. God makes us all different, and as a result we are naturally better at some things and worse at others. I’m a high-energy person, to the point that I’m hard to buy Father’s Day cards for, because most men my age have settled into grown-up hobbies like fishing and golf, but I haven’t. I can’t sit still long enough to fish, and I’m too high-strung to slow down and develop golfing skills. I prefer the kinds of activities that leave me sweating and exhausted afterwards, otherwise I have trouble sleeping at night. As a result, I get a lot done, which is a good thing, but I get frustrated and grouchy when things move slowly, which is not a good thing at all.
A pastor friend once taught me a handy tool for evaluating a person’s character. You simply take the well-known passage in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 about love, and instead of the word “love,” you insert a name. The first time around, you use God’s name:
“God is patient, God is kind. God does not envy, He does not boast, He is not proud. God is not rude, He is not self-seeking, He is not easily angered, He keeps no record of wrongs. God does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. God always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
When you do this, you see how perfectly true it is, and you see that God is the standard and the model for what a loving person looks like. But then comes the hard step: inserting your own name:
“Brian is patient…”
And that’s as far as I get. The first time I did this, I knew I had failed the test in the first three words. Because Brian is not patient. Which means Brian is not loving, according to God’s definition of love. Which means Brian is not very much like Jesus.
The problem is that I have unrealistic expectations. I want life to work smoothly and efficiently all the time. I don’t want to deal with setbacks and disappointments. I don’t want to wait for things. I want every day to be fruitful and enjoyable. I want other people to do what they’re supposed to do, and to be good at it. I want to do what I’m supposed to do, and to be good at it. Often, though, it just doesn’t work that way.
Of course, God knows all about this area of weakness in my life, and He is in the process of lovingly shaping me to be like His Son. So He gives me plenty of opportunities to work on being patient. Right now, in addition to all of the normal life stuff, God has me involved in not one, not two, but three long, slow projects that will take the entire summer. I didn’t realize this was happening, or I never would have signed up for it. But now it’s too late.
First, while our church’s summer schedule is busy with ministry, behind the scenes I’m developing a study guide for our fall sermon series in the book of Proverbs. I’m really excited about this project, but I have very little time to work at it, so I chip away at it here and there, which is not the way I prefer to do things at all. I work on it for a couple of hours and then set it down for a week or two, then pick it back up again and make a little more progress. It’s agonizing.
Next, for the last 6 months or more here in the office, we’ve been putting together a video teaching series on the book of John for something we’re planning to launch in the next year. It’s even slower than the Proverbs thing. I spend an afternoon preparing, then the next morning we shoot a few videos, then there’s no time to work on it for a few weeks, then we do a little more. Slowly but surely we are getting it done, but to me it feels like crawling through mud.
Then, to top it all off, this summer I’m painting the trim on my house. It’s a different kind of project, but a similar process. Life is full, so this weekend I’ll do one section of the eaves, and then a few evenings later a window or two. In that way, by the end of the summer it will all be painted. In the meantime, though, we live with something that is obviously incomplete, which is killing me. I hate long processes. I like it when things are done, all wrapped up and tied with a bow. But very little of life is like that. Most of life is learning how to have peace and joy in the middle of the process, being hopeful for what will be but content with what is. I’m slowly learning how to do that, but I have a long way to go.
Which brings us back to God. What’s amazing about God is that He has great goals for me and you, a clear vision of what He wants us to be someday, but at the same time He loves us deeply just as we are, in the middle of the process. With perfect foresight, He already knows what we will be, and He’s excited and hopeful for it. As Paul told the Philippians, we can have confidence that He will carry on to completion the good work He began in us. I can’t wait for that day. But He can. He doesn’t seem to be in a rush to get there at all. And in the meantime, He loves me in all of my imperfection and incompleteness. And He loves you. He’s not waiting for you to be perfected in order to love you; He loves you now. I’m so glad that God is patient, even patient with my impatience. I’m so glad He doesn’t just love the finished product; He loves the person at every step of the journey. I want to be more like that. Maybe by the end of this summer I’ll have made a little progress.