We have all heard that patience is a virtue, but as virtues go, this one is clearly somewhere toward the bottom of the popularity list. Heb 6:12 says that we are “to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.” That passage goes on to explain how Abraham was a great example of someone who was given a wonderful promise from the Lord but then had to endure many years of waiting before that promise began to be realized. Paul tells us in Romans 1 that Abraham’s faith “did not waiver.” But we know that his patience, in fact, did. The result was the birth of Ishmael.
Several years ago, I found myself in the middle of one of the driest and most difficult seasons of my life as a believer. After serving as a pastor for a number of years, I was suddenly without a church, without a job, and facing imminent financial bankruptcy. In the blink of an eye, I had somehow gone from being a “somebody” with a position of influence and authority, to being a “nobody” with seemingly very little to show for all I had been and done with my life. I was depressed, and most certainly disillusioned by my sorry state of affairs. And to make matters worse, just a few months earlier my wife and I had a very dramatic encounter with the Lord where he supernaturally spoke beautiful words of promise and future blessing over us. But this experience was quickly followed by an extended season of testing and trial. And no matter how much I complained, no matter how passionately I beseeched Him to pull me out of the situational mess I was in, nothing seemed to change. Unlike some of the testimonies we have all heard, the Lord did not send someone to my door with a big check, a new car, and a lucrative job offer. Instead of making me feel better, instead of taking some of the situational pressure off, He just got quiet, real quiet. The Lord was making me wait, and it was killing me.
As a believer, we get to chose how we will respond when the Lord’s promises are not coming to fruition at the pace we had first hoped. And I have noticed that it is not uncommon for us to try to force His blessings prematurely through the arm of the flesh if our waiting period lingers on for a while. This is precisely what I did. Rather than remaining patient and allowing the Lord to develop my faith and perseverance, I began to try to alleviate some of my pain and suffering by “blessing” myself. For me this came in the form of a 1964 Harley Davidson Sporster. Granted, I can see why Abraham chose a pretty young maidservant, but there is just something about an old Harley. And as they say, “If I have to explain it, you wouldn’t understand.” Even though I had been riding motorcycles for a long time, I had yet to own a Harley. So finding one for sale, glimmering so beautifully there on the side of the road, and at such a great price! How could I possibly pass up this opportunity? It must be God. At least that is the logic I used as I tried to convince my wife what a wise purchase I was about to make. Now in reality, this bike was just shy of what Harley riders call a “basket case.” In other words, all the parts were there, but that was about the extent of it. Still, as far as I was concerned… well let’s just say that love really can cover a multitude of sins.
So I began the process of restoring this lost treasure that I had discovered just waiting for me there in front of the tattoo parlor. What a find, a genuine vintage chopper with a sissy bar and a flame job. I was in heaven, or so I thought. As the expenses piled up and the repair list seemed to grow exponentially, I began to wonder if my labor of love was such a good idea after all. In fact, it did not take long to figure out that I was spending more time trying to get this thing to run than I was actually riding it. Keep in mind, this motorcycle came with only a kick starter. For you non-riders, that means it did not have one of those little red buttons you push to make your motorcycle roar to life. That was a luxury I only later found out was virtually impossible to install on this particular model. So instead, I kicked, and kicked, and kicked, and sweated, and kicked some more, and cussed, and then kicked some more, but often to no avail. My beloved Harley, that not so long ago had been the obvious solution to all my problems, had now become my cold blooded arch enemy. And worst of all, all that kicking and thrashing resulted in my having to go through several very painful hernia surgeries.
After months of recovery, I stood there one sunny spring morning looking down on my once beloved motorcycle and debated if a quick ride was really worth what it might cost me. In that moment, I clearly heard the Lord say, “this is an Ishmael for you.” I knew exactly what He meant. Like Abraham, who tried to force the Lord’s blessing rather than waiting for it, in my impatience I too had inadvertently caused myself a boat load of pain and hardship. I was way beyond having a little buyer’s remorse, this motorcycle was literally making me miserable. In Genesis 16 we are told that even the name Ishmael means “misery.” Fortunately, I was able to sell my Ishmael on E-bay to a big hairy biker from West Virginia. And I am trusting that one day my Isaac will arrive. A new Road King would be nice Lord.
The lesson learned is this. Our heavenly Father most certainly wants to bless His children. His plans really are to prosper us and not to harm us. But because only He can see our future with complete clarity, we have to learn to trust that He also must know the best way for us to get there. He literally has all the time in the world to accomplish His will. Therefore, it stands to reason that whenever we are in a hurry to get where we are headed, we will often end up somewhere we do not want to be. In contrast, in Proverbs 10:22 we are told by King Solomon that “The blessing of the LORD brings wealth, and he adds no trouble to it.” What a concept. When we wait patiently on the Lord, and we allow Him to bless us, no striving, no pain, no trouble will be added. That is the kind of favor I am looking for these days, a blessing that is initiated and sustained by God with no additional maintenance required. Lord Jesus, help us never to doubt the words of blessing you have spoken over us. We submit ourselves once again to your will and to your perfect timing.