The very first time I prayed for patience was a frustrating experience for me, because I got upset when God didn't give it to me right away. I believe it a widely proven fact that the LORD never simply grants us patience. Instead, God presents us with a series of situations (and sometimes people) that test our patience, thus making us earn our request. So I made an internal vow that I would never pray for patience again.
When something went wrong with planning in ministry, I would jokingly say "O.K., who prayed for patience?" When I heard the phrase "Patience is a virtue," I would sometimes respond with some smart comments like "You can have that one. I'll take the other virtues, and I'll just go ahead and pray for God to give me what I want right now." On my more "spiritual" days I would couch my impatience with God in requests for such things as endurance, faith and victory, as if God didn't understand that I was really asking to get what I want right now.
One day my then five year old daughter broke this cardinal rule of prayer as we were driving to church. When I heard the words "And God, please give us patience..." come out of her mouth, I immediately reprimanded her, mid-sentence.
"ALETHEA, don't you EVER pray that again! Don't you realize that God never gives us patience? He makes us earn it." It was pretty pathetic yet comical what irritation her simple faith caused me, who was a children's pastor at the time.
With a godly wisdom far beyond her years, Ali answered "Mom, God is gonna do what God wants to do when God wants to do it. So we may as well just pray for patience while it happens." To be honest, this only increased my irritation at the time, mostly because I knew she was right. But now I look back on that conversation with great joy and gratitude.
This prayer issue of mine had as much to do with pride as anything else. To say "You'd better give me what I want right now, God" is basically an arrogant declaration that I think my way is better for me than God's way. I am very good at making my prayers sound more mature and godly than this, but in effect this was what I was saying, which basically amounted to a well worded temper tantrum.
Rarely do we ever get quite so honest as to blatantly whine at God in such a manner. But how often do so many of us get angry at God when things do not go our way? This can get very difficult when "our way" comes in its nobler forms, like a well thought out plan to help others or a desire for and elderly parent to live when it is in God has called that person home.
The antidote to this kind of self-centered thinking comes through 1 Peter 1:6, which says:
"Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time."
In due time are to me the very most inconvenient words in Scripture, because I never have any earthly idea how long that will take. It could be like some of the requests of Nehemiah, one of which God granted before he had even finished asking. Or it could be like that prayers of the Israelites for deliverance from slavery in Egypt, which took 400 years to come about, followed by 40 years in the desert when they could not figure out how to trust God or act right. I almost titled this post "The most obnoxious words in Scripture," because for me the only thing worse than waiting is not knowing how long I will have to wait.
Over the years this "In due time" has become as much of a blessing for me as it was a challenge. You see, in this process of "due time" God gives us more than just our requests. When we faithfully, though often falteringly, plow through life's trials and weaknesses, God adds all of those super important things for which we many never have known to ask. We get the joy, the wisdom, the understanding, and that depth that we would have missed had God taken us on the short, shallow path of instant gratification.
As inconvenient and obnoxious as it may seem at times, I now praise God for what God does "in due time."