Patience for the Long Haul

seed sprouting in the desert sand

Lessons from James

This is the final of five talks given at Lee Abbey in the summer, do take a listen or download it below. The previous four in the series were:

  1. Persevering Through Trials
  2. Walking the Talk
  3. Taming the Tongue
  4. Humility in Submission

Below are some profoundly challenging stories and quotes to stir your faith and mull over: 

There’s a certain type of bamboo in Asia which grows to prodigious heights and at prodigious speeds – sometimes as much as 60 feet in six weeks. However, before that growth spurt, the seed lies in the dark beneath the ground for up to five years. Those farmers who make a profitable living from the bamboo would have given up long ago and changed crops if they didn’t know that plenty was going on beneath the surface despite the fact that there was no visible sign to encourage their perseverance. Every bit of watering and waiting is worthwhile. No prayer is wasted.

Might you be growing weary or discouraged in some earnest prayer request you’ve been lifting up to the Lord for quite some time, perhaps even a very long time? If so, here’s some timely encouragement from the remarkable example of George Muller, a man mighty in faith and prayer:

Muller is best known for the large faith-based orphan ministry he carried out in Bristol, England, in the nineteenth century. He was also a diligent, disciplined man of prayer. He kept an ongoing prayer notebook in which he recorded his requests on one page and the answer to each of those petitions on the facing page. By this means, he persevered in praying till he received answers to thousands of specific requests.

Once while ministering in Dusseldorf, Germany, Muller was approached by a missionary to that city who was distressed because his six sons remained unconverted, though he had been praying for them many years. To the father’s query about what he should do Muller responded, “Continue to pray for your sons, and expect an answer to your prayer, and you will have to praise God.”

Six years later, in August of 1882, Muller again returned to minister in Dusseldorf.  This time he was delighted to be greeted by the same missionary who testified that he had resolved to follow Muller’s advice and had given himself more earnestly to prayer for the spiritual well-being of his sons.  The happy results were that two months after Muller had left in 1876, five of the man’s sons had come to faith in Christ, and the sixth was now also thinking seriously about making that commitment.

Muller himself interceded for more than half a century for the salvation of a small group of men. He once wrote: “In November 1844, I began to pray for the conversion of five individuals. I prayed every day without a single intermission, whether sick or in health, on the land or on the sea, and whatever the pressure of my engagements might be.  Eighteen months elapsed before the first of the five was converted.  I thanked God and prayed on for the others. Five years elapsed, and then the second was converted.  I thanked God for the second, and prayed on for the other three. Day by day I continued to pray for them, and six years passed before the third was converted.  I thanked God for the three, and went on praying for the other two.

“These two remain unconverted.  The man to whom God in the riches of His grace has given tens of thousands of answers to prayer in the self-same hour or day in which they were offered has been praying day by day for nearly thirty-six years for the conversion of these individuals, and yet they remain unconverted.  But I hope in God, I pray on, and look yet for the answer. They are not converted yet, but they will be.

Those two men, sons of a friend of Muller’s youth, were still unconverted when he died in 1897, after having prayed daily for their salvation for fifty-two years.  His prayers were answered, however, when both those men came to faith in Christ a few years after the great intercessor’s death.

After forty years of faithful service to the Lord as a missionary to Africa, Henry Morrison and his wife were returning to New York.  As the ship neared the dock, Henry said to his wife, “Look at that crowd.  They haven’t forgotten about us”. However, unknown to Henry, the ship also carried President Teddy Roosevelt, returning from a big game hunting trip in Africa. Roosevelt stepped from the boat, with great fanfare, as people were cheering, flags were waving, bands were playing, and reporters waiting for his comment, Henry and his wife slowly walked away unnoticed. They hailed a cab, which took them to the one-bedroom apartment which had been provided by the mission board. 

Over the next few weeks, Henry tried, but failed to put the incident behind him.  He was sinking deeper into depression when one evening, he said to his wife, “This is all wrong. This man comes back from a hunting trip, and everybody throws a big party.  We give our lives in faithful service to God for all these many years, but no one seems to care.”

His wife cautioned him that he should not feel this way. Henry replied “I know you’re right, but I just can’t help it. It just isn’t right.”

His wife then said, “Henry, you know God doesn’t mind if we honestly question Him.  You need to tell this to the Lord and get this settled now.  You’ll be useless in His ministry until you do.”

Henry Morrison then went to his bedroom, got down on his knees and, shades of Habakkuk, began pouring out his heart to the Lord.  “Lord, you know our situation and what’s troubling me.  We gladly served you faithfully for years without complaining.  But now God, I just can’t get this incident out of my mind…”

After about ten minutes of fervent prayer, Henry returned to the living room with a peaceful look on his face.  His wife said “It looks like you’ve resolved the matter.  What happened?”

Henry replied, “The Lord settled it for me.  I told Him how bitter I was that the President received this tremendous homecoming, but no one even met us as we returned home.  When I finished, it seemed as though the Lord put His hand on my shoulder and simply said, ‘But Henry, you are not home yet!’”

In 1908, a young Liberian called Jasper Toe cried out, “If there is a God in heaven, help me find you.” He heard an unknown voice reply, “Go to Garraway Beach. You will see a box on the water with smoke coming out of it. And from that box on the water will come some people in a smaller box. These people in the small box will tell you how to find me.” He duly walked seven days to the seaside. Meanwhile, John Perkins and his wife were rounding the coast of Liberia on a steamboat. They knew they had been called by God, but they didn’t yet know where God wanted them exactly! Suddenly, they felt the Holy Spirit say to them, “This is where I want you. You need to disembark right now!” The ship’s captain initially refused as it was cannibal country, but such was their insistence he eventually relented, and they rowed ashore in a canoe with all their meagre worldly belongings. Jasper Toe was waiting for them. He took them home, taught them the language, became their first convert, and in time planted hundreds of churches throughout Liberia! 

Oh that we all received such extraordinary, obviously supernatural guidance! Yet maybe, just maybe, we do. Both Perkins and Toe could easily have ignored the Holy Spirit’s prompting. Perkins could have played it safe and stayed on the ship. Toe could have ignored the crazy instructions he received. But through their obedience, God in his mercy engineered a beautiful breakthrough for the glory of his name. 

God is speaking all the time. Are we still enough, quiet enough, attentive enough to listen? Could that person who springs to mind that we quickly dismiss be God’s prompt for us to get in touch with them? Could that creative idea for a new initiative that we quash be an exciting opportunity for him to use us? Listen up! 

This man failed in his first attempt at business. He then tried politics and within only one year failed there also. He went back to business for yet another try, and failed again. Three failures in three years. He asked his fiancée to marry him after four years of courtship, but she said no. Later, another sweetheart died. He struggled for the next two years and suffered a nervous breakdown. After taking two years to recover, he tried once again in the political works and was defeated in his bid to be elected as Speaker of the House. Two years later he sought to be appointed as the Elector and again defeated. Three years after this, he ran for a seat in Congress and was defeated. He waited another five years to run for office again, and was defeated. It was during this time that his four-year-old son died. He spent the next seven years in relative obscurity and then ran again for a political office, this time in the Senate. Again he was defeated. The following year, he was nominated by his party to be the candidate for Vice-President, but was defeated along with his running mate in the general election. After two more years he tried again for the Senate seat, but was defeated. Then, another two years later, in 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected as the 16th President of the United States of America – 24 years of sheer patience and endurance!

“God can never make me wine if I object to the fingers He uses to crush me. If God would only crush me with His fingers, and say ‘Now my son, I am going to make you broken bread and poured out wine in a particular way and everyone will know what I am doing.’ But when He uses someone who is not a Christian, or someone I particularly dislike, or some set of circumstances I said I would never submit to, and begins to make these crushers, I object.

I must never choose the scene of my martyrdom, nor must I choose the things God will use in order to make me broken bread and poured out wine. His own Son did not choose. God chose for His Son that He should have a devil in His company for three years. We say: ‘I want angels; I want people better than myself; I want everything to be significantly from God, otherwise I cannot live the life, or do the thing properly; I always want to be gilt-edged.’ Let God do as he likes. If you are ever going to be wine to drink, you must be crushed; grapes cannot be drunk; grapes are only wine when they are crushed. I wonder what kind of coarse finger and thumb God has been using to squeeze you, and you have been like a marble and escaped? You are not ripe yet, and if God had squeezed you, the wine that came out would have been remarkably bitter. Let God go on with His crushing, because it will work out His purpose in the end.” (Oswald Chambers)

“Patience is love for the long haul; it is bearing up under difficult circumstances, without giving up or giving in to bitterness. Patience means working when gratification is delayed. It means taking what life offers—even if it means suffering—without lashing out. And when you’re in a situation that you’re troubled over or when there’s a delay or pressure on you or something’s not happening that you want to happen, there’s always a temptation to come to the end of your patience. You may well have lost your patience before you’re even aware of it.” (Tim Keller)

“Patience is a hard discipline. It is not just waiting until something happens over which we have no control: the arrival of the bus, the end of the rain, the return of a friend, the resolution of a conflict. Patience is not a waiting passivity until someone else does something. Patience asks us to live the moment to the fullest, to be completely present to the moment, to taste the here and now, to be where we are. When we are impatient we try to get away from where we are. We behave as if the real thing will happen tomorrow, later and somewhere else. Let’s be patient and trust that the treasure we look for is hidden in the ground on which we stand.” Henri Nouwen, worth re-reading a few times, if you have the patience…

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