Esprit

Engaging the spirit, challenging the mind.

Category: Homilies

John Piper: Battling the Unbelief of Impatience

I was blessed by someone providing a link to the audio of a sermon given by John Piper, called “Battling the Unbelief of Impatience”.  So, to pay it forward, I’m posting the  text and audio here, with both available at desiring God (lots of other great resources there as well).  The sermon addresses the struggle within ourselves between waiting on God and either giving up or rushing ahead with our own plans.  Genuine longsuffering–the fruit of the Spirit–challenges us to the core because it forces us to lay down our will and submit fully to God’s.  Many times, even if we genuinely want to do God’s will, our impatience can hinder us from waiting on His timing.  A long wait in the checkout lane, a traffic jam, or a slowpoke family member might try our patience a little, but those things are small potatoes when compared to having to wait on God for that which we deeply hope for and that for which He has given a word of promise.  In fact, His word of promise tests us, until such time as its fulfillment arrives.  (Psalm 105:19).  Let us learn patience, that with those saints who have gone before us, we, through faith and patience, might inherit the promises.  (Hebrews 6:12)

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Audio:  Battling the Unbelief of Impatience

Isaiah 30:1–5

“Ah, stubborn children,” declares the LORD,
“who carry out a plan, but not mine,
and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit,
that they may add sin to sin;
who set out to go down to Egypt,
without asking for my direction,
to take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh
and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt!

Therefore shall the protection of Pharaoh turn to your shame, and the shelter in the shadow of Egypt to your humiliation.

For though his officials are at Zoan
and his envoys reach Hanes,
everyone comes to shame
through a people that cannot profit them,
that brings neither help nor profit,
but shame and disgrace.”

In God’s Place, at God’s Pace

Impatience is a form of unbelief. It’s what we begin to feel when we start to doubt the wisdom of God’s timing or the goodness of his guidance. It springs up in our hearts when the road to success gets muddy or strewn with boulders or blocked by some fallen tree. The battle with impatience can be a little skirmish over a long wait in a checkout lane. Or it can be a major combat over a handicap or disease or circumstance that knocks out half your dreams.

The opposite of impatience is not a glib, superficial denial of frustration. The opposite of impatience is a deepening, ripening, peaceful willingness either to wait for God where you are in the place of obedience, or to persevere at the pace he allows on the road of obedience—to wait in his place, or to go at his pace.

The Battle Against Unbelief

When the way you planned to run your day, or the way you planned to live your life is cut off or slowed down, the unbelief of impatience tempts you in two directions, depending partly on your personality partly on circumstances:

  1. On the one side, it tempts you to give up, bail out. If there’s going to be frustration and opposition and difficulty, then I’ll just forget it. I won’t keep this job, or take this challenge, rear this child, or stay in this marriage, or live this life. That’s one way the unbelief of impatience tempts you. Give up.
  2. On the other side, impatience tempts you to make rash counter moves against the obstacles in your way. It tempts you to be impetuous or hasty or impulsive or reckless. If you don’t turn your car around and go home, you rush into some ill-advised detour to try to beat the system.

Whichever way you have to battle impatience, the main point today is that it’s a battle against unbelief and therefore it’s not merely a personality issue. It’s the issue of whether you live by faith and whether you inherit the promises of eternal life. Listen to these verses to sense how vital this battle is:

  • Luke 21:19—”By your endurance [patience] you will gain your lives.”
  • Romans 2:7—”To those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, God will give eternal life.”
  • Hebrews 6:12—”Do not be sluggish but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”

Patience in doing the will of God is not an optional virtue in the Christian life. And the reason it’s not is because faith is not an optional virtue. Patience in well-doing is the fruit of faith. And impatience is the fruit of unbelief. And so the battle against impatience is a battle against unbelief. And so the chief weapon is the Word of God, especially his promises.

How the Psalmist Battled Against Impatience

Before we look at Isaiah 30, I want you to see this relationship between the promises of God and the patience of the believer in Psalm 130:5. How does the psalmist battle against impatience in his heart?

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
And in his word I hope.

“Waiting for the Lord” is an Old Testament way of describing the opposite of impatience. Waiting for the Lord is the opposite of running ahead of the Lord and it’s the opposite of bailing out on the Lord. It’s staying at your appointed place while he says stay, or it’s going at his appointed pace while he says go. It’s not impetuous and it’s not despairing.

Now how does the psalmist sustain his patience as he waits for the Lord to show him the next move? Verse 5 says, “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and IN HIS WORD I HOPE.” The strength that sustains you in patience is hope, and the source of hope is the Word of God. “In his word I hope!” And hope is just faith in the future tense. Hebrews says, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for.”

So what we have in Psalm 130:5 is a clear illustration that the way to battle impatience is to buttress your hope (or faith) in God, and the way to buttress your hope in God is to listen to his Word, especially his promises.

If you are tempted not to wait peacefully for God, to let him give you your next move—if you are tempted to give up on him or go ahead without him—please realize that this is a moment for great spiritual warfare. Take the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17), and wield some wonderful promise against the enemy of impatience.

The Impetuous Side of Impatience

Now let’s look at an illustration of Israel when she did not do this.

During Isaiah’s day Israel was threatened by enemies like Assyria. During those times God sent the prophet with his word to tell Israel how he wanted them to respond to the threat. But one time Israel became impatient with God’s timing. The danger was too close. The odds for success were too small. Isaiah 30:1–2 describes what Israel did in her impatience.

Woe to the rebellious children, says the Lord, who carry out a plan, but not mine; and who make a league, but not of my spirit, that they may add sin to sin; who set out to go down to Egypt, without asking for my counsel, to take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh, and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt!

This is the opposite of waiting on the Lord. Israel became impatient. God had not delivered them from their enemy in the time or in the way that they had hoped, and patience ran out. They sent to Egypt for help. They made a plan and treaty, but they weren’t God’s. The key words are in verse 2: “They set out to go down to Egypt, WITHOUT ASKING FOR MY COUNSEL.”

This is a perfect illustration of the impetuous side of impatience. This is where many of us sin almost daily: charging ahead in our own plans without stopping to consult the Lord.

The Warning of the Lord

So the Lord gives a warning in verse 3: “Therefore shall the protection of Pharaoh [the king of Egypt!] turn to your shame, and the shelter in the shadow of Egypt to your humiliation.” In other words, your impatience is going to backfire on you. Egypt will not deliver you; it will be your shame. Your impatience will turn out to be your humiliation.

This is meant as a warning for all of us. When our way is blocked and the Lord says wait, we better trust him and wait, because if we run ahead without consulting him, our plans will probably not be his plans and they will bring shame on us rather than glory. (See Isaiah 50:10–11 and the case of Abraham and Hagar for the same point.)

What Should Be Done Instead?

What should Israel have done? What should we do when we feel boxed in by obstacles and frustrations? The answer is given in verse 15 and verse 18.

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”

Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you; therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.

Here are two great promises this morning that should give you strong incentive to overcome the unbelief of impatience.

Verse 15: “In quietness and trust shall be your strength.” In other words, if you rest in God, if you look to him instead of dashing down to Egypt, if you trust him, then he will give you all the strength you need to be patient and to handle the stresses where you are.

Then verse 18: “Blessed are all those who wait for him.” God promises that if you wait patiently for his guidance and help, instead of plunging ahead “without asking for his counsel,” he will give you a great blessing.

Preaching to Your Own Soul

This is the way you battle the unbelief of impatience. You preach to your soul with warnings and promises. You say, Look what happened to Israel when they acted impatiently and went to Egypt for help instead of waiting for God. They were shamed and humiliated. And then you say to your soul: but look what God promises to us if we will rest in him and be quiet and trusting. He will make us strong and save us. He says he will bless us if we wait patiently for him.

Then you might use the promise in Isaiah 49:23,

Those who wait for me shall not be put to shame.

And then Isaiah 64:4,

No eye has seen a God besides thee, who works for those who wait for him.

And finally 40:31,

Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

So you battle the unbelief of impatience by using the promises of God to persuade your heart that God’s timing and God’s guidance and God’s sovereignty are going to take this frustrated, boxed in, unproductive situation and make something eternally valuable out of it. There will come a blessing, a strength, a vindication, a mounting up with wings like eagles.

Charles Simeon’s Patient Endurance

Let me close with an illustration of a man who lived and died in successful warfare against the unbelief of impatience. His name was Charles Simeon. He was a pastor in the Church of England from 1782 to 1836 at Trinity Church in Cambridge. He was appointed to his church by a bishop against the will of the people. They opposed him not because he was a bad preacher but because he was an evangelical—he believed the Bible and called for conversion and holiness and world missions.

For 12 years the people refused to let him give the afternoon Sunday sermon. And during that time they boycotted the Sunday morning service and locked their pews so that no one could sit in them. He preached to people in the aisles for 12 years! How did he last?

In this state of things I saw no remedy but faith and patience. [Note the linking of faith and patience!] The passage of Scripture which subdued and controlled my mind was this, “The servant of the Lord must not strive.” [Note: The weapon in the fight for faith and patience was the Word!] It was painful indeed to see the church, with the exception of the aisles, almost forsaken; but I thought that if God would only give a double blessing to the congregation that did attend, there would on the whole be as much good done as if the congregation were doubled and the blessing limited to only half the amount. This comforted me many, many times, when without such a reflection, I should have sunk under my burthen. (Charles Simeon, by H.C.G. Moule, p. 39)

Where did he get the assurance that if he followed the way of patience, there would be a blessing on his work that would make up for frustrations of having all the pews locked? He got it, no doubt, from texts like Isaiah 30:18, “Blessed are all those who wait for the Lord.” The Word conquered unbelief and belief conquered impatience.

Fifty-four years later he was dying. It was October 1836. The weeks drug on, as they have for many of our dying saints at Bethlehem. I’ve learned that the battle with impatience can be very intense on the death bed. On October 21 those by his bed heard him say these words slowly and with long pauses:

Infinite wisdom has arranged the whole with infinite love; and infinite power enables me—to rest upon that love. I am in a dear Father’s hands—all is secure. When I look to Him, I see nothing but faithfulness—and immutability—and truth; and I have the sweetest peace—I cannot have more peace. (Charles Simeon, p. 172)

The reason Simeon could die like that is because he had trained himself for 54 years to go to Scripture and to take hold of the infinite wisdom and love and power of God and use them to conquer the unbelief of impatience.

And so I urge you in the words of Hebrews 6:12, “Be imitators of” Charles Simeon and of all “those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”

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For additional study see the connection of faith/hope with patience in Romans 8:2512:12;1 Thessalonians 1:3Hebrews 6:1215James 1:3Revelation 13:10. For other texts on patience see Psalm 37:9Lamentations 3:25–27Luke 8:15Romans 5:31 Corinthians 13:4Galatians 5:522Ephesians 4:1–2Colossians 1:111 Thessalonians 5:14;James 5:7–11Job 1:21Luke 2:25382 Timothy 3:10. For God’s patience see 2 Peter 3:9Romans 2:49:221 Timothy 1:161 Peter 3:20.

By John Piper  © Desiring God

Deny Your Soul

Matthew 16:21-27, NKJV

 

"Self Denial" by James Thomas

21 From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day. 
22 Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!” 
23 But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”

24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26 For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.

Jesus addresses self-denial as a pre-requisite to following Him.  Most people—in fact I hope all—can relate to having to deny oneself in particular instances.  A young man might give up his seat for a woman, a parent might make personal sacrifices to pay for her child’s education, or a churchgoer might put a little extra in the offering plate to go to missions.  All of those, and others, are instances of a person denying their own comfort or wants and needs for the sake of someone else’s good.  Believers ought to be well acquainted with these types of small sacrifices.  But I’d like to suggest that I believe the Lord wants something bigger and more all encompassing when He tells us to deny ourselves.

In Jesus’ initial rebuke, He tells Peter that Peter cared for the things of men rather than the things of God.  He didn’t correct an individual error, He addressed an overall attitude. Now, Peter was quite religious.  Obviously He was committed to Jesus’ teachings, for he remained with Jesus and was the first to declare that Jesus was the Christ.  So it would seem that Peter is very much concerned with the things of God.  But it wasn’t the things that Peter associated himself with that were the problem, but rather the driving force within Peter.  (The fact that Jesus addressed Satan within Peter should be a big indicator of that!)

The Apostle Paul in Ephesians tells us that the word of God divides between soul and spirit.  Here, Jesus, the Word of God, does precisely that.   Peter, for all of his religious zeal and ostensible commitment to Christ, was still operating in the realm of his own mind, will, and emotion.  Such is the soul of man, and in such consists the “life” of man as natural man experiences it.  Without God, man lives by and for the gratification of his own mind, will and emotion.   Man will approach God, approach Scripture even, depending on his own thoughts and ideas about what it says and its meaning.  He will take up causes that fit with his understanding of the world.  He will set goals that seem good to him and use his willpower to carry them out.  He will form relationships and make decisions based on how people and situations make him feel.  Yet all of this is but “self,” and as Jesus instructs us here, one cannot follow Him and operate out of self at the same time.  We cannot attempt to follow Christ while remaining loyal to our own mind, will and emotion.

I use the word “loyal” because to be loyal to someone would be the opposite of denying them and Jesus spoke of denying oneself.  All people are born loyal to themselves.  What they think, what they want, and what they feel dictates their lives.  Even if those thoughts, desires, and feelings change over time, people stick by whatever thoughts, desires and feelings are theirs.  It’s natural to think that the goal is to get ourselves to the right thoughts, the right goals, the right desires.  But to be natural is not to be spiritual.  Jesus is telling us to forsake our thoughts, our goals, our desires and instead to simply follow Him.  Be disloyal to your own thoughts and feelings and will.  Don’t stand by them.  Don’t do what they dictate.  It really doesn’t matter if we think that our will is good, that our desires are good, or that our feelings are justified.  What matters is whether we are doing what God has commanded.   Had Peter been simply following Jesus instead of his own thoughts and feelings about Jesus, he would not have resisted Jesus’ words, but rather he would have simply accepted them and continued learning.

We cannot walk in obedience to the Father when we are living out of self (our own mind, will, and emotion).  This is because as soon as the Lord tells us to do something contrary to what is pleasing to us, we will balk.    Or, we won’t hear God’s voice at all because we are tuned into our own frequency.  Peter balked at Jesus speaking of His suffering and death because suffering and death were not on Peter’s agenda.  Peter had an idea of what he thought the Messiah would do, and dying was not a part of that vision.   Likewise, Peter did not see his own suffering as a part of the plan because when Jesus was arrested, Peter denied Him three times in order to avoid being punished alongside him.  Peter had known Jesus truly, but his difficulty was in laying down his own self in order to follow Jesus all the way to the cross.

We may not find ourselves in a situation where obedience to God will cost us our physical lives.  But anyone who desires to walk with the Lord must experience a radical paradigm shift within themselves.  We cannot live for self.  Even if we don’t technically commit the “big” sins (a false distinction, by the way), we cannot even attempt to serve God by bringing our own thoughts, ideas, feelings, goals and desires to Him.  The driving force within us must be the word of God carried out in us though the Spirit, and that alone.

A Faith Based on God’s Word

Communion in St. Mark's Sanctuary

(Homily given at St. Mark’s Frankford, Philadelphia, PA, August 8, 2010)

So, I have a friend who runs a little diner around the corner from where I live.  I stop in every now again and we chat about life.  Sometimes I tell him about the different ministries that go on at St. Marks, and this past week we got onto the topic of church and faith.  He grew up in the Christian faith, had been on church boards, and been to all the services.  He was even the pastor’s son.  Yet, after all his exposure to religious activity, he said he became disenchanted with the faith.  According to him, faith is only something that people use to comfort themselves.  They need to hope in something and so they say that God is with them.  According to him, faith is only a way of coping with our own struggles to make the right decision.  We don’t know which is the right path, so we say “God said” it’s the right path to give ourselves more confidence.  I still claim him as a friend, but he is wrong.  And though he tried to convince me that faith is self-created, I think he just didn’t understand what faith is actually about, what it is based in, and what its purpose is. 

Maybe you have met people like him, those who are skeptical of your faith, or those who want to know how it’s possible for you to believe as strongly as you do.  Or maybe even more confusing is when we think that we have faith, but then we start to doubt when God doesn’t operate the way that we thought that He would.  There are preachers all over television who tell us to “name it and claim it.”  They say that whatever we ask for we can have, if only we believe hard enough.  Unlike my friend, they do believe in faith, but their understanding doesn’t hit the mark, either. 

Is faith comforting?  Yes!  Does our faith provide guidance?  Definitely!  Scripture tells us all sorts of good things that should encourage our hearts.  In the Psalm today [Psalm 33], we heard all of the following good news:

  • The Lord watches over us.
  • We heard that those who hope in Him, He delivers their soul from death.  So if we hope in Him, He will deliver us.
  • We heard that he will provide for us if we are in need.
  • We heard that the Lord is our helper and also our protector. 

Finally, the Psalm says that our hearts are glad in Him, because we trust in Him.  This part of the Psalm hints at the nature of our faith and why it is so deeply encouraging to us.  We have gladness and joy because we trust God.  More specifically, we trust God’s promises to us.  How do we know that the Lord watches over us?  Because He just told us!  How do we know that we have hope of eternal life?  Because He said so!  It’s not just because it’s a nice idea.  When we have faith, it is not based on our own thoughts and feelings, but our faith is based on God’s words to us.  We do not have faith in what we want God to do, we have faith in what God says that He will do.  Thankfully, what God says that He will do for us is greater than anything we could ever ask or imagine ourselves. 

Having faith in God is much like having faith in a trusted friend who you know will keep their word to you.  If they promise to do something for you, you know that they will do it…that is, if they are a person that keeps their word.  Well, we know that God always keeps His word, and whatever He says He will do, it will be done.  In the Old Testament lesson, we read of a perfect example of faith, an example that Scripture continually points us toward to help us better understand what it means to have faith. 

Copyright 2009, Gicky Soriano. All rights reserved.

We read that the Lord came to Abraham and told him that He would reward him greatly.  The Lord promised that Abraham, who had no heirs, would not only bear a son, but he would also have descendants that were as numerous as the stars in heaven.  That was an incredible promise that God made.  Not only was Abraham old, but his wife was in her 90s—well past childbearing age!

And when God told him this, Abraham believed God, and God accounted it to him for righteousness.  The Lord took pleasure in Abraham because Abraham took the Lord at His word.  Whatever God said, Abraham took it to be true and ordered his life by it—this is the faith that is pleasing to God.  God counts us as righteous and pleasing to Him when we, like Abraham, hear God’s word to us and take Him  at it. 

When God speaks to us, He tells us things that we would not have known on our own.  When we open the Bible, we read truths about ourselves, about God, and about His workings in this world that we could not have discerned for ourselves.  God speaks to us about how we are to know Him, what it means to be saved, what life in the church is to be like—things that we both want and need to know, but which we cannot know unless we open our ears to hear, and then believe in what He tells us—even those things that we cannot see and do not understand. 

And yet, faith is not simply believing in what you cannot see or cannot prove.  Faith isn’t believing that we will receive what we really want.  Faith is believing what God says is true, and what God says that He will do, even though we cannot see it right now.  Again, that is great news, because our good and loving heavenly Father knows how to give us good things and keeps us as the apple of His eye.  If we read Scripture and become familiar with all the things that God says He will do in us and through us, we will be overjoyed at what He says is in His will for us.

So, how does Abraham’s example of faith guide us?

  • Because God had told Abraham to up and move, he did, even though he did not know where that move would lead.  But because God told him to go, he did.  Faith enables us to take a risk and act when we don’t know the outcome, because God has promised that He will make it turn out right. 
  • Faith enables us to do that which we would not have the power to do on our own, because God’s Spirit is working through us.  Faith enables God’s power to work in us and through us.  This is why it says that by faith Abraham received power of procreation, even though Sarah was well past childbearing age. 
  • Biblical faith points us beyond this world.  We read that the biblical characters, by faith, confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, but they sought a heavenly country.  God promised Abraham a son, but God’s promise did not stop with Isaac, it pointed to a whole host of spiritual heirs in faith, which are you and I—believers who look to Abraham as our spiritual ancestor.  Even though Abraham could not see all of his descendants who would walk with God, though He could not see that even Jesus the Savior would descend from his line, Abraham still believed God and knew that the world that he currently saw was not the end.  Because God had promised him something greater than the goods of this world. 
  • And so, faith in God redefines us and changes our path.  When Abraham believed God’s word, everything about His life and purpose changed.  The day to day things were the same—he still had to work, still had to sleep, still had to tend to his family.  In the everyday, things looked the same, but inwardly his purpose became completely different.  As the Scripture said, he now sought a heavenly country where righteousness reigns.  Even though he lived in this world, by faith he was assured that God had something better awaiting him.
    • When we encounter God and have faith in His word to us, like Abraham, we are called out.  We no longer order our lives according to our own thoughts and desires, nor do we order them according to what the world or anyone else says is right or true.  Growing in our faith is the process of reading and hearing God’s word, and allowing that word to transform how we see ourselves, others, the world, and God. 

 

Placing yourself in the Gospel:  So, if faith is based on what God has said is true or will happen, we should ask the question, “How do I know what God is saying to me, or what He has promised me?”  We’ve talked a lot about what God promised Abraham and what he said to Abraham.  Abraham is an example of faith.  But the promise of a son was to Abraham specifically.  To know what applies to us, we look to those portions of Scripture that apply to all believers, like the promises in the Psalm reading.  We look to the epistles to see what the apostles taught about our life in Christ.  We learn not only about how God will provide for our needs, but also about how it is that He wants us to live our lives.  We learn who we are, and by continually referring back to God’s word, we learn how it is that God can completely change our lives. 

Living our lives in the power of His promise.  Like Abraham, faith can completely change everything about us if we know what God has promised to do in us.  The greatest promise of all is the promise that comes in Christ, that we hear in John 3:16:  “For God so loved the world, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”  We are well past Holy Week and Easter, but the Christian faith always looks back to Good Friday, Jesus on the Cross, crucified for our sins.  And once again, we hear God telling us that if we believe in Christ to make us right with God, He will embrace us and usher us into His Kingdom.   The heavenly country that Abraham saw afar off is the kingdom of God where Jesus reigns as King.  Those who believe in Christ eagerly await His coming again, knowing that they have a sure reward.