We live in an impatient and increasingly anxious world.
Is that news?
Check your surroundings. You are bombarded 24/7 with cable news, tweets from “important people,” and are able to simultaneously watch an ISIS attack and a baseball game by changing the channel. Has anyone asked, “What is this doing to our society’s psyche or the imprint this is leaving on our churches?”
Even worse, if you are reading this, you probably already have two strikes against you: you are likely an American and have at least some affiliation with the Pentecostal movement. Honestly, can you think a more impatient society or a group of Christians that demand more immediate action from God? Amazon is going to start delivering packages same day via drone; come on, who needs to wait for God’s miracle!
I believe wholeheartedly in the Pentecostal emphasis on the Spirit and about receiving direct revelation from God through the Spirit. But, neither seems to have done much to help Christians emphasize one of the core fruits of the Spirit—patience.
In his book The Patient Ferment, early-church historian and Harvard educated Alan Kreider submits that patience was not one of many things that distinguished early Christians from “pagan” Romans—it was THE thing. Patience distinguished the way early Christians acted, gave, and believed; and the people took notice. Patience was the first virtue early Church fathers wrote a treatise on. Patience was called by early Church leaders as “the greatest of all virtues” and by “pagans” as the “virtue that was particularly Christian.” There was no evangelism. Their evangelism was their patiently fermented life.
Patience is usually whittled down into aphorisms we tell our children: wait your turn, not yet, show me one minute. But, Christian patience is more than that. It is about perspective.
Did you know God has a different, more patient, perspective of time than you? How long did it take for humanity to show up after the Big Bang? Only a little more than 13 Billion years. How long did it take for the Messiah arrive? Thousands of years. And we Christians have impatiently been waiting for his Second Coming for another 2,000 years. God seems to operate in terms of centuries and generations.
Getting back to Kreider…did you know that it took early Christians upwards of 2 years to be baptized? These catechumens, i.e. trainees, had biweekly “training” sessions with their Christian mentors, and they were required throughout the week to do various “assignments” like visiting the sick, poor, and elderly.
Who has time for that? And yet, the Christian church grew exponentially in the first 300 years to become the predominate religion in the region!
In our heaven and hell minimalist society, we expect great results immediately upon walking to the front of the altar. You can be saved today, hassle free, no worries! Just say yes! No training required. See you in heaven. We do not have time to be formed in this life.
A more recent, and bitter example: the 2016 elections.
I hear Christians, on both sides, who are just mad. Furious. They believe God has failed them. They demanded or are now demanding change. We have to take back America for God!
I think a more authentic, patient, Christian reaction is to start perceiving things more like John the Revelator. He heard a voice calling him “Come up here!” and he was shown all sorts of great revelations. But perhaps the immediate revelation was that God operates on an entirely different plane of time and space than we do. Perhaps Biblical patience is better thought of as a combination of perspective, trust, and endurance.
Again, back to Kreider. How did our early church brothers and sisters affect change? Protest, standing up for their believes, civil engagement—sure. But, most importantly they communally and individually shared an entirely different perspective.
They were giving with their time, talents, and treasure because they had a long-term perspective. They operated on the God-plane. They saw the big picture where everything was headed. They saw that the arc of history bends towards Christ and love of neighbor.
They ‘wasted’ their time and money on the ‘least of these’ because they had the patience to inherit the kingdom of God. They knew that, eventually, God will fulfill his promises. In the interim, they were going to get about God’s business: taking care of those who society rejects and not valuing the things of this world—power, ambition, consumer goods, etc.
Unfortunately the Church lost its patience around the time it merged with the Constantine government. Who needs the patience to endure hardship when the state can do your bidding immediately, like bring ‘judgement’ on your enemies through warfare. But that is the subject of a separate, more controversial conversation.
The Bible talks about the Kingdom of God and salvation as a mustard seed, growing over the course of many years. Or a decades old tree growing alongside a river. These things take time.
When I look around at our world, I see people too impatient to go for a hike in nature, play with their children, or sit with Jesus in contemplative prayer to gain new perspective. Our society is constantly trying to control events and utilize whatever means necessary to achieve results. Let us try to be more authentic, less anxious, and in the end, ferment like a fine wine.
Note from the Editorial Team: Engaged Pentecostalism is a community that values open dialogue and respectful engagement from different perspectives. The views expressed above are the author's own and do not reflect those of every part of the community.