Admittedly, I’m not a very patient person. As a young adult, I thought I had my irritability, anxiety, and restlessness under control…and then I got married and saw the real me.
But where my recognition of sin increased, God’s grace also increased. And so after five years of marriage, I thought I had my impatience under control once again…but then we had our first child. A couple years later, God called me to full-time ministry with youth.
Why can’t people just adjust to my schedule? Why do they move so slowly? Why do I need to explain this to them again? Why won’t that kid just realize he’s hurting himself and his family and change!?!
Ugh. I am such a hypocrite in need of grace.
And yet through all this wrestling with my own peevishness, God has been letting me see something about his character that I often overlook. God is incredibly patient–especially towards sinners like me.
One of scripture’s recurring refrains is that “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 103:8
), and though we regularly talk about God’s mercy, grace, and love…we often skip over God’s being slow to anger–his patience. Why?
In my own life, I’ve come to see that I tend to downplay God’s patience when I fail to take seriously the magnitude of my sin and what my sin deserves. If I’m “basically good”, what’s there for God to be angry about? Why does he need patience?
I think that many of our youth feel similarly much of the time. Thus, when we see God’s anger in Scripture towards sin, we can sometimes think that God’s being rather mean, missing his patience altogether.
We see God kicking Adam and Eve out of Eden and think him rude, rather than marvel at the merciful patience of God for not obliterating Adam and Eve in the moment of their sinful rebellion.
When God brings destruction upon this or that people group in the Old Testament, we think God’s being harsh and petty rather than marvel at the fact that God has patiently provided air, food, water, and so forth for a people that have been stubbornly bent upon rejecting him.
How quickly we forget the seriousness of our sin and the wrath it deserves! …That is, until we personally experience the true ugliness of sin. When someone deeply hurts us or goes on a shooting spree in a theater, all the sudden we want a wrathful God. How can God put up with such a person, we ask, why doesn’t he just do away with them once and for all?
We scoff at God because of his patience with sinners. Sometimes we scoff at him for being too harsh, other times it’s for being too soft.
But thankfully, God is patient with us in our scoffing, too.
In fact, God actually tells us through the apostle Peter “that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing” (2 Peter 3:3
). Peter continues in his second letter,
They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:4-9
The ultimate final judgment sin deserves is coming. One day God finally will do away with all evil and suffering. But God doesn’t value time the same way we do, and his love is patient enough to wait for the repentance of his people.
Just think of that kid for which your heart aches to know the redeeming and saving love of Jesus. God is willing to endure their sin, our sin, and the present evil in this world to see s, inners like that kid reach repentance.
And if God is patient enough to endure the messiness of sinners like the youth we work with, can’t we trust in him to give us patience to walk with them amidst the mess, trusting that God will redeem and use for good even the struggles we are asked to endure (cf. Romans 8:28
But we should not be so careless as to think that God’s patience will last forever. Eventually, Jesus will return to make all things right–which includes the judgment of all who fail to take refuge in his patient love. The apostle Peter goes on to write, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (2 Peter 3:10
There is an urgency to what we are called to do as ministers to youth. The patience of God directs us to trust in God’s timing to working repentance and sanctification in our youth’s lives, but it doesn’t give us an excuse for timidity in calling these kids to repentance and faith in Jesus as Lord.
And when we fail in patience and boldness–as we all do–we too can repent and along with Peter “count the patience of our Lord as salvation” (2 Peter 3:15
). God’s patient love in Christ by his Spirit surrounds us, upholds us, and will ultimately sanctify us completely when Jesus returns.
As Paul wrote to the Philippians, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”(Philippians 1:6) Jesus’s patient work in our life is our hope for salvation–for us and for our youth. May we grow in the fruit of God’s patience.
Mark Howard is the Youth Director and Assistant to Pastor at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Covington, GA. Mark has a Masters in Theology from Wheaton College Graduate School.