How long, O Lord, how long?
By Scott Baker
I’m sure many of you are like me and living into that old prayer, “O Lord, grant me patience, but I want it right now!” We are living into the sixth week of our “shelter in place” mandate from Gov. [Ralph] Northam and, if you are like me, you are certainly having your patience tested. Even those who are essential workers and must be out and about no doubt are having their own patience tested in their own unique way. Rather than getting frustrated and bothered by the inconvenience of the quarantine, I began to reflect on those occasions within the Bible where patience is not only tested, but held up as a vital component to a life of faith.
Throughout the Bible there are countless examples of not only people of faith, but also people of patience. The first example that comes to mind are the Israelites in captivity in Egypt. We have endured six weeks with at least two to go. They endured 400 years in captivity! Then, when they finally are liberated from the clutches of the Egyptian Pharaoh, they spend 40 years wandering in the wilderness. Reflecting on this story, along with so many others within the Bible, I realized that one of the essential components of a life of patience, is hope. Hope that there will be a new day. Hope that the Israelites will finally leave slavery in Egypt. Hope that they will finally cross the border into the Promised Land. Hope in the power of God to save.
Turning to Christian scriptures, patience is commended to the fledgling churches throughout the New Testament. In fact, patience is cited by St. Paul as one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
“By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23 – emphasis mine) I think the early adherents to the Christian faith realized how vitally important patience was to live into the hope for the return of Jesus Christ. And when we consider that during the early days of the existence of the Christian movement, and that many were maligned and persecuted and endured unfathomable suffering — which would test even the most ardent believers of any age — we can begin to see why patience was so crucial.
I can think of no better example of patience in times of hardship than St. Paul who writes of his trials, “Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked.” (II Corinthians 11:24-27)
When I reflect on all the saints who have gone before, I realize that patience is not only a common trait they all shared, but also a critical one to a life of faith. It somehow helps me. They are examples to help me bolster my own patience. But there are those times recently when I can’t help but to lift my eyes to the heavens and say, “How long, O Lord, how long? And then pray, “O Lord, grant me patience, but I want it right now!”
THE REV. SCOTT BAKER is the pastor of Emanuel Episcopal Church in Franklin. Contact him at 562-4542.