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Patience


This study may not say much that is new about patience, but some of the old truisms need to be repeated at times, as we so often forget them.

One truism is that patience is a virtue that leaders especially need to work on. Followers are constantly battling with trying to be humble about corrections that they get, but we leaders constantly battle with offering our correction patiently.

Perhaps another truism is that I feel unqualified to say much on the subject, because I am such an impatient leader myself. Nevertheless, the truth needs to be said, even if it is coming from a hypocrite. Jesus said that a disciple cannot be greater than his or her teacher. So if you ever want to be more patient than me, then you are going to have to get a better teacher, and the best one available is God himself.

As the world gets worse and worse, I am amazed that God still has not struck us all down dead. His patience seems almost to be a fault at times, because he just seems to let people get away with all kinds of things, without intervening. But that should serve as a reminder to those of us who struggle with impatience, that there rarely is an absolute need for us to blow up at people. We convince ourselves that our anger is for their own good. But if that's really the case, then why isn't God blowing up at people more often? Generally speaking, blowing up at people achieves very little. James said, "The wrath of man does not work the righteousness of God." So much for all of our "righteous indignation", eh?

The reason why our anger achieves so little is that people have something we call free will. You can get angry at a machine and force certain parts of it to start working the way they ought to, because the machine has no feelings, and it cannot rebel against your anger. As long as you put the right piece in the right place, it will work.

But when you try to do the same thing with human beings, they get offended, and whether or not they were consciously rebelling against you in the first place, they may well increase their rebellion as a result of your blow-up.

One blow-up can undo days and weeks and months of patience. There is going to be one God Almighty big blow-up at the Battle of Armageddon, but in the meantime, God keeps on trying to get through to people through his patience. And so, unless you are to the point where you are ready to totally blow a person away, and give up hope on them for eternity, it is better to be patient than to blow up at them.

We have been trying to let our followers set their own goals, and then help them to achieve those goals. But even then we must ask ourselves whether or not they want the kind of "help" that we are offering them. Do they really want to be nagged to get out of bed, to be given pep talks before going out on the street, to be lectured about their bad attitudes, to be timed on how fast they run, to play a game of chess, or whatever? These are all good disciplines, but only if the people doing them can appreciate for themselves that they are good disciplines.

Until we are ready to retreat from disciplining, teaching, and even measuring them, neither we nor they will know what they are really made of. Holding back from external discipline is largely what God does with us. The standards are there, in the teachings of Jesus, for us to use if we so choose. But if we don't want to measure up to them, we don't even have to read them. He gives us that freedom.

Alcoholics Anonymous says that until alcoholics have hit rock bottom, they will not reach out for help. And so that seems to be what God is waiting for from some of us. As leaders, we may need to do the same thing with some of our followers. Stop disciplining them. Stop spoon-feeding them. And just hope and pray that they will start disciplining and feeding themselves.

Now this is where we leaders must be willing to take some initial losses in production. Left to their own devices, your followers will probably not work as long or as hard at improving themselves or changing the world around them, as what you would like. Nevertheless, what progress they do make will be their own decision, and not something that was forced onto them by some cranky leader. In time, however, we believe that production of a sort will actually be greater, because such people will become more faithful, and gradually more enthused about growing spiritually, because they chose to set standards for themselves, and not because we chose the standards for them.

It may help to stop thinking of them as "followers" at all. Think of them as visitors, as potentials, or even as total enemies whom God put in the same cell with you, so that you could practise loving them for no other reason than that God loves them. Be happy with any positive response that you get as a result of that love and patience. And do all that you can not to destroy what progress you have made by losing patience.

Finally, I need to make some sober warnings to the followers. If you have been reading this and thinking that it's a good excuse for you to be lazy, then you need to think again about why you are with us. There is a big wide world out there for undisciplined people. We are interested in finding people who want to be disciplined by God. There may come a time when we decide that you are not interested in being disciplined by God, and that is when we will send you packing back to the cold, cruel world.

God is incredibly patient with us, as I've pointed out. But there will be an Armageddon. Don't forget that. If you try to cheat on the rules, and escape the truth of his demands on you, sooner or later you will pay for it. There is a saying: "Beware the anger of a patient man." So much more so with a patient Creator. When he finally does blow up, there will be hell to pay. Literally. So forget about expecting patience from your leaders and work on your own problem... which is learning to be humbly disciplined.

And while you're at it, smile and thank God for his love and patience, and thank your leaders too.

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