These are the words that God has been speaking to me so often these past six months or so. Many of us have heard that "patience is a virtue," but I think the real wisdom in this has been lost somewhere down the line. Let's start with what God first showed me when He told me to be patient.
In Matthew chapter 13, Jesus tells the parable of the weeds. It tells of a man who plants a good crop of wheat, but in the night and enemy spreads weeds among the wheat. When they start to grow and see how the weeds are killing the wheat, a servant asks if he should pull up the weeds, to which the master tells him no. Leave the weeds, for pulling them up may also damage the good wheat. Rather, leave them all to grow together, and when the time comes to harvest the wheat, both weed and wheat will be cut and the weeds will be separated and burned.
Before it all, we must understand that God has got the most incredible patience in the world. If we look at the genealogy of the Bible, starting with Adam, Man has lived on this earth for about 6000 years, and Jesus came about 2000 years ago. And yet, we are also told that we are in the "last days," such as in Hebrews 1:1-2, "In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his son, whom he appointed heir to all things." So if God can say that the last 2000 years have been, the "last days," then he must have some incredible patience. Once we know how much God hates sin and wants nothing more than to destroy it once and for all, only then can we get an appreciation for how much patience He truly has.
Now, I want to get more into my own life, and the journey God has taken me through in teaching me patience, and by it encourage you to seek to learn patience as well. Really, it stands out in one big area: dating.
Now much of this past year, I really wanted to find a girlfriend, and I perhaps put too much effort and wasted too much time trying to find one. Can I tell you now, before anything else, that this is pointless? God does not want us to expend our energy looking for a mate; he wants us to expend our energy looking for the bridegroom that is Christ. In time, God will bring someone into out lives for us to marry, but until then, don't evaluate every person you talk to, don't be looking for someone to date. It is only you trying to make plans, and our plans never (literally never, due to sin) line up with God's plans. But I did not know this for most of this past year.
So first semester last year I was just trying to get the girls I hung out with to like me, and tried to make myself like them: didn't happen. Second semester I had a slightly bigger problem, which was much more painful and much more difficult to overcome. In short, I started to like a girl who was a good friend and who has a boyfriend. And this is where God first started to show me patience. I was able to recognize right from the beginning that these feelings were sinful, but as everyone knows emotions are not that easy to bury. So whereas first semester I didn't like girls that I wanted to, second semester I liked a girl I didn't want to. I wanted to be good friends, but Satan doesn't like that; he comes to steal, kill, and destroy, and he was doing his darndest to destroy the beautiful friendship I had with her.
I recall one night when these feelings began to manifest themselves into sinful thoughts, on the level of starting to think of how to break them up. Immediately I went out to Academic Plaza at like 2 AM and just prayed and wept for probably close to an hour, begging God to take these feelings away. They were ruining how I thought of her, and if I couldn't manage them I knew it would destroy our friendship. And so this is when God showed me the Parable of the Weeds. I think it was the following night, I was on a prayer walk, for the same reason, when God told me to read the Parable of the Weeds, and following that, told me two simple words: be patient.
Be patient. Wait for me. Trust me.
I felt him saying that it would not be right to remove these emotions, for like in the parable, they may damage the good fruit that can come, both with the desire to continue our friendship and with future relationships. And so I trusted God, and while those feelings lasted for quite a while, after that night I found I had the strength to just leave them be, and I continually prayed that Satan would have no way in. And except for one brief period at the end of the summer, Satan could not get in an twist my thoughts. During this time, I just abandoned the pursuit of a girlfriend in order to pursue righteousness in the love of Jesus Christ.
But God had more to show me. Oh, he had SO much more. Which is why it came as a surprise when I began to like a girl I had know for this past year and had watched grow in her relationship with the Lord in my Lifegroup. Her name is Rebekah. I can't really put a time on when I started to like her, but from the beginning, I was praying about this a lot. At first, it was just prayer to know if it was right for me to like her, because I had learned from the past that if these emotions are not rooted and steeped in Christ, then they turn horribly ugly. But early on, I felt the presence of God telling me that it was OK, that this was His plan. And so after something like a month of praying about it, I began to pursue her, and shortly after, I asked her on a date, to which she said yes.
Now at Antioch Community Church, we date a little differently than the world (we call it the Gears of Dating: I made a flowchart, the link is on the side, with the other resources). The world says "kiss on the second date." Antioch says "you're not even dating for the first several dates." The idea is that the guy pursues the woman in a way that is slow, deliberate, and open to communication. Before the two even start dating, you just hang out casually, getting coffee or ice cream to see if you can just be friends. You talk it out, find out exactly what the other person is thinking at all times, so that there is never any question of where you two stand.It also makes it much easier to remain friends if the two end up not dating, because it was always rooted in Christ, who heals all wounds, and since nothing ever happens apart from simply hanging out, you are not taking anything from the other person.
And so this is how I pursued Rebekah, and it was great. We had been friends before, but during this time I got to really know her and become better friends with her. God really used this time when I was pursuing her to show me what it means to be a servant, to continually encourage her and build her up, and to show her all the love of Christ who lives in me by my actions. But not only that, the night after our first date, God completely wrecked me, and showed me why he wanted me to pursue her.
1 Corinthians has been my favorite book of the Bible for quite some time, and God never ceases to amaze me at what lies within. But in particular this passage is one that everyone hears everywhere: in my opinion, it is probably just as well known as John 3:16. 1 Corinthians 13:4 - "Love is patient, love is kind...(I’m sure you know the rest)" I don't think it is any kind of coincidence that patience is listed as the first attribute of love. God is love, and God is patient. We are called to look more like Jesus, and this is done through out actions, through how we love everyone regardless of what they have done. But in this area, in relationships, we have been called, explicitly, to be patient, and that is incredible.
So in the end, Rebekah and I did not continue dating, but during the month that we did, it was great for both of us. She was very honored in the way I pursued her, and I was honored by how she let me pursue her and afterwards is still pursuing a strong friendship with me. With Christ as the center of the relationship, it didn't take long for me to find peace and rejoice in how God was able to bring us together for a purpose, to teach us both, but after to have only made us stronger. We are still good friends, we still talk and hang out. And because of all of this, I have been given so much hope: the time I spent with Rebekah was amazing, how much better will it be when God brings to me the girl I will marry, but until then I am just pursuing Christ and patiently waiting on him. Above that, how much infinitely better will it be when I become the bride of Christ on the day of judgment. The joy that God has shown me thus far is but a speck of the joy that awaits me for all eternity in Heaven. And I for one, cannot wait for that day.