Over the years, as I have listened to people’s prayer requests, a common theme has emerged: Almost every Christian I know has, at one point or another, requested prayer for patience. This is hardly surprising: Even if it says that patience is a virtue, the society in which we live hardly promotes this virtue.
Think about it. Life in the 21st century increasingly discourages patience. Groceries can be delivered within sixty minutes. Games and movies can be downloaded and streamed with no need to wait for delivery. Photography no longer requires waiting a few days for film to be developed while hoping that at least a couple of the shots were clear. You can take a hundred photos on your phone and view them instantly. And God help the friend who does not respond within minutes of two blue ticks showing up on the message you sent them!
We get impatient if the drive-through queue takes long. We grow impatient of our delivery is not on our doorstep the same day. We get frustrated if the book we wanted is not available on Kindle for immediate download. We lose our cool if the webpage takes longer than five seconds to load. (Unless you’re an Internet Explorer user, in which case you have embraced one of the few patience-teaching tools of our age.)
The impatience that surrounds us has left many people looking for ways to develop patience. One of the most popular methods for growing in patience is simple: Breathe. Transcendental Meditation (TM) experts promote breathing meditations to help develop patience. While I do not promote TM as a practice, the idea of breathing for patience is not entirely foreign to Scripture. Peter writes that God is “patient toward you” (2 Peter 3:8–10). The word translated “patient” literally means “long-breathed” or “long-spirited.” It has the picture of slowing down and breathing so as not to lose one’s temper. The God of the Bible is a God who breathes—who is patient with us.
But what does God’s patience mean for us? Clearly, we do not think of God’s patience in terms of website load times or demanding an immediate response to text messages. The truth that “the Lord … is patient toward you” is meant to encourage us in several important ways. I will note three for our purposes this morning.
First, God’s patience encourages us that he is slow to anger (Exodus 34:6; Numbers 14:18; Psalms 86:15; 103:8). The Bible consistently affirms that God does not fly off the handle or react irrationally to those who sin against him. This was a concept foreign to much of the ancient world. The ancients never knew how their gods would respond and always had to react as things developed. If there was no rain, or a plague struck, or disaster befell the city, they believed that they had somehow angered the gods and needed to sacrifice to appease them. The gods were irrational and unpredictable.
In contrast, the God of the Bible is slow to anger. It is not that he never feels or expresses anger at sin, but he is measured in his response. He does not quickly fly off the handle and rain judgement on those who offend him. To be sure, he will judge sin in righteousness, but he gives much opportunity for repentance before doing so.
Second, God’s patience encourages our repentance. Lest we think that God’s slowness to anger gives us license to sin with impunity, the writers of the New Testament tell us exactly why God is slow to anger. We dare not “presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience” but must instead realise that “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance” (Romans 2:4). As the text before us affirms, God is patient because he does not wish “that any should perish but that all should reach repentance” (v. 9). We should therefore “count the patience of our Lord as salvation” (v. 15).
The longer God displays patience the more opportunity there is for repentance. God fully intends to save every single person whom he has chosen for eternal salvation and his patience is the instrument by which he presents opportunity for repentance. If he gave us what we deserved, he would strike us each dead the very first time we sinned. But since he intends to save his people from their sins, he patiently bears with us as his Spirit works salvation in our hearts.
Third, having understood his design in longsuffering, God’s patience encourages our gospel witness. Paul knew that God’s patience in his life served “as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:16). God’s perfect patience, which leads to repentance, was patterned in his life. That is why we should “count the patience of our Lord as salvation” (2 Peter 3:15). We should realise that, the longer he is patient with sinners, the more opportunity he provides for repentance. We should continue to preach the gospel as long as God is patient, fervently praying that his patience will lead to repentance in the lives of sinners.
This morning, as you reflect on 2 Peter 3:8–10, thank God that he was (and is) patient with you, leading you to repentance, and then pray that his patience will lead many others to repentance through faithful gospel witness.