My Struggle with Impatience1
It’s time for a personal confession. There are times, more than I’d like to admit, when I get extremely impatient. In most of those instances, I feel entirely justified in my reaction to people that stand in the way of my getting somewhere on time or who do something that I regard as inexcusable that disrupts my schedule.
It was last Friday morning, November 12th. I was in a hurry to get some errands accomplished before making my 9 a.m. appointment to have the oil in my car changed. In other words, nothing monumental was at stake. No one was about to die. Nothing of great significance would have occurred had I been more patient with the person in front of me.
I was sitting in my car at the bank, waiting for the teller to send me a receipt for the deposit I had just submitted. I waited, and waited, and with each passing minute grew increasingly frustrated. The lady graciously came on the intercom and apologized for the delay. Evidently the machine that prints out deposit receipts was broken and she was trying to figure out what to do. So, I waited, and waited, and finally lost my cool.
“What’s the matter,” I shouted. She nicely and politely explained the problem. “But aren’t there other people in there with you who have similar machines? Can’t they do the work for you?” Worse than the words themselves was the angry, condescending, impatient tone of my voice.
Finally, she contacted her supervisor and got things worked out. When she sent me the deposit receipt, I thanked her. She apologized again for the delay, and I did my best to recover. I was already feeling guilty for my impatience and tried to congratulate her on her job and thank her for taking care of the issue. But the damage was done. I probably ruined her day. As I drove off, in plenty of time, by the way, to make the appointment to have my oil changed, I began to realize more fully what had just happened.
That precious young lady was doing the best she could at a job that probably didn’t pay well. She didn’t deserve to be on the receiving end of my anger and frustration. I hope to see her again soon and apologize face to face.
But this brings me to the reason for this article. Why? Why was I impatient? Why was I frustrated by this delay? What is it about my own soul that would lead me to react in this way to a monumentally minor and ultimately inconsequential delay to my schedule that morning?
When I got home, I was looking at several of my favorite websites, and landed on www.desiringgod.org. There it was. The lead article that day was by Marshall Segal, a young man I know and respect highly. The title to his article was: Impatience Is a War for Control: How God Prepares Us to Wait. Now, if that wasn’t providential, I don’t know what is.
It was both painful, revelatory, and incredibly helpful to read.
After explaining many of the excuses we give for being impatient, and again, on that day I thought I had plenty, Marshall wrote something that stung my soul deeply:
“So where does impatience come from? At bottom, impatience grows out of our unwillingness to trust and submit to God’s timing for our lives.”
Ouch! That wasn’t something I didn’t already know. I had preached often on how impatience is ultimately a failure to acknowledge and trust in the sovereignty of God over every detail of our lives. “Impatience,” wrote Marshall, “is a child of our pride and unbelief. It rises out of our frustration that we do not control what happens and when in our lives.” Marshall proceeded to point our attention to the children of Israel and their impatient response to God in the wilderness, having already been the undeserving recipients of his miraculous deliverance from Egypt and his merciful provision of manna from heaven (see Num. 21:4-5). Marshall continued:
“Our impatience has much in common with theirs. We don’t get to decide how much traffic there will be. We don’t get to decide whether our kids will cooperate at any given moment. We don’t get to decide when we’ll get sick, or when an appliance will fail, or how often interruptions will come [or when the machine at a drive-through bank will fail!]. So many decisions are made for us, every single day, without our consent or even input. And God’s plans for us are famous for upending our plans for ourselves.”
And how do we respond to God’s oversight of our lives? With impatience! “Impatience tries to wrestle God for control, while patience gladly kneels, with hands spread wide, ready to receive all that God has planned and given. Impatience grumbles, while patience rejoices, even while it experiences real pains of delay.”
I love what Marshall then wrote:
“When we grow impatient, we overestimate our own ability to judge our circumstances, and we underestimate the good God can do through unwanted inconveniences and unexpected delays. The humble receive the same inconveniences and delays as callings, not distractions — as God revealing his will and timing to them.”
There it is. Pride is the origin of impatience. Pride, the belief that I am better at orchestrating my life and my schedule than God is.
The patient are not “secret grumblers,” wrote Marshall. “[T]hey’re not simply bottling up irritation and bitterness and hiding it from others. Their patience flows out of the wells of their joy in God. They’re too happy in him to be undone by interruption or inconvenience (see Col. 1:11).
Read that again. What is it about those who display patience? How do they do it? They are “too happy” in God “to be undone by interruption or inconvenience.” Again:
“The patient can wait and embrace inconvenience because whatever happens today or tomorrow or next Tuesday, their Treasure is unthreatened in heaven and therefore their joy is secure. Their happiness is not tied to their plans, so when their plans are disrupted, their happiness holds and continues pouring over in love.”
The point is that “Patience flows from a humble embrace of what we do not know and cannot control. It flows from our deep and abiding trust that God will follow through on his promises, however unlikely that may seem at the moment. And it flows from hearts that are profoundly happy to have him as our exceeding joy.”
I am happy to be someone who believes passionately and sincerely in the sovereignty of God. But on Friday last, I acted like someone who might as well have been an atheist. God wasn’t in control of my life, my schedule, I subconsciously mused. That woman at the bank was. And what right did she have to mess up my life?
I’m so very grateful to the Holy Spirit who lovingly but firmly brings conviction of sin to my heart. But feeling conviction wasn’t the end game for the Spirit. It was his aim to awaken me yet again to the fact that everything I have is a gift of grace: the car in which I was sitting, the money that I was depositing, the breath that I misused to speak angry words to an unsuspecting and undeserving bank teller, indeed, everything.
Thank you, Holy Spirit, for reminding me in such a clear and convincing way of the sovereignty of God over my life. Thank you, for reminding me that I am a hell-deserving sinner who has been made the undeserving recipient of eternal life.
And in case you are wondering, I got my money in the bank and my oil changed, all with time to spare!