Just You Wait
Nathanael Devlin on the Indispensability of Not Being in Such a Hurry
Last fall I had lunch with my family and one of my former seminary professors, Dr. Don Collett. It came about this way: The seminary I graduated from is about forty minutes' drive from where I live, so earlier in the year I had asked Don if he would be willing to make the drive each Sunday for six weeks to teach a Sunday school class at our church. He agreed and even decided he would stay afterward to attend our worship service. One Sunday he joined my wife and me and our three young children for lunch.
It was already well past noon when we arrived at the restaurant, and it took several minutes for the hostess to seat us and another few minutes for the waiter to come and take our drink orders. The children, quickly dissatisfied with the restaurant's pre-packaged distraction of crayons and paper placemats, eagerly inquired as to when exactly they would eat. We said, "Soon," and told them to be patient.
Eventually the waiter returned with our drinks, and after some fumbling about with the children's souvenir cups and a near disaster with an iced tea, we placed our lunch orders. It was not long before there was yet another anxious question from one of the children, who was hoping that one of the large trays overflowing with mac-and-cheese might actually be destined for our table.
Once again we encouraged the children to be patient and reassured them that their lunches would arrive soon. It must have been somewhat nostalgic for Don to observe the uncontainable energy of our children as they tried hard to wait. He said that when his own children were young and in a situation like this, his wife would sing them the chorus of a song from a children's music CD that taught on the fruit of the Spirit. Don cleared his throat and began to sing:
Have patience, have patience, don't be in such a hurry.
When you get impatient, you only start to worry.
Remember, remember, that God is patient too.
And think of all the times when others have to wait for you.
Our children took an instant liking to the song, and soon we all chimed in. We sang several renditions of the chorus right there in the booth, with giggles for accompaniment and even a few hand motions to go along with the lyrics. Before we knew it, our lunch was served, the children were well fed, and it was time to go home. During the drive home, every red light presented the children with another opportunity to sing, "Hey Dad . . . have patience, have patience. . . ."
The Ubiquity of Impatience
Children are naturally prone to impatience, but as an adult I have come to realize that I am not always patient either, and I am also someone who likes to be in control. I'm not sure to what extent these qualities have helped or hindered me in the pastorate, but I do know that the desire for expeditiousness and control seems to be a prominent and growing feature of modern culture. Just reflect for a moment on the frustration you feel when your phone call, email, or instant message is not immediately returned, and you'll recognize what I'm talking about.
But such disordered desires are not unique to our cultural moment. I imagine that the people of God, upon their return to Jerusalem after their long Babylonian exile, felt the same way. These were people who, according to the prophet Zechariah, "despised the day of small things," as they impatiently awaited the rebuilding of the temple. How satisfying it must have been to hear Zechariah prophesy, "I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day" (Zech. 3:9b). "At last we're getting somewhere," they must have thought; "this news means that finally we can get something done!"
But what exactly did the Lord promise? He promised a sign—a slow, lumbering, and gradually unfolding sign. He says, "Behold, I will bring forth my servant the Branch" (Zech. 3:8b). The Lord will restore Joshua to the office and ministry of high priest, an action that anticipates the cleansing and restorative ministry of the coming Messiah. God is certainly getting somewhere with his people, but his mission in the world will take some time to unfold—hundreds of years in fact—and it is the Lord himself who must ultimately accomplish the work.
Nathanael Devlin is the Associate Pastor at Beverly Heights Presbyterian Church (EPC) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is a graduate of Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. He and his wife have three children and live in Mt. Lebanon.
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