Thanksgiving is not always a joyful holiday. There are some people who view the day with dread rather than gratitude. When you are alone, you feel even more alone during holiday celebrations. When you have experienced a significant loss the empty place at the table is even more pronounced than ever at the holidays.
But even in light of these difficult things, I suspect most of you will try to find some time this week to enumerate your blessings. Hopefully you can be thankful for your family, your friends, a place to live, your health, your citizenship in this great country, and your hope of eternal life that is found in Christ.
This morning I want to zero in on one very special but often neglected reason for gratitude. We find this blessing in a rather odd spot. It is found in 2 Peter chapter 3. In this section of his letter, Peter addresses a growing restlessness among the Christians. The first generation of Christians has started to die. These great saints are beginning to wonder when the second coming of Jesus is going to take place.
Peter understands the problem and the cynical attitude of the world. Peter affirms several things: first, God’s Word is reliable. It was this same Word that created the world. It is this same Word that promised Noah there would be a flood and that flood came upon the earth. When God makes a promise He delivers.
Second Peter tells us that we need to remember that God is eternal and we are temporal. Time is different to God than it is to us. It is kind of like the difference between a parent and their child. To the child it seems like it takes forever to get to Christmas. To the parent, Christmas seems to arrive quicker every year. God may seem to be slow in keeping His promise in our minds, but that is our perspective, not His.
Third, Peter affirms is that this “delay” in Christ’s return is because “God is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance”. God is waiting for everyone who will believe to come to faith. He does not want to miss or exclude anyone.
It is the characteristic of God’s patience that I want to lightly touch on today. Notice God’s patience in three areas:
GOD IS PATIENT IN PURSUIT OF HIS PEOPLE
Peter tells us that God is patient with us because he wants us to come to repentance. He is patient because He wants us to turn to Him.
Could God force us to bow before Him? Yes, He could. The Lord is powerful enough to bring every person to their knees in subjection to Him, but He restrains His hand. The Lord wants us to come willingly to Him. He wants us to serve Him because we love Him and not because we have to serve Him.
In the movie, The Horse Whisperer, Tom Booker, played by actor Robert Redford, employs his special gift of “gentling” horses.
A tense, New York magazine editor couldn’t believe her eyes as she witnessed the gradual transformation of her daughter’s horse from traumatized to tamed. In one telling scene, the horse, frightened by the editor’s ringing cell phone, galloped off into the far end of a large pasture. Booker walked into the pasture and sat down, where he waited for what appears to be hours. The horse, drawn by its curiosity, inched closer and closer. Finally, it cautiously approached close enough to touch the “whisperer,” and allowed itself to be led back to the safety of its stall.
In a similar way God “gentles” the untamed or traumatized people who run from him. God reaches out to those who are “by nature objects of wrath”. He doesn’t give up on us simply because we are difficult. I venture to say that there are few who are here today who would have been here if God had not been extremely patient and persistent. God uses a variety of means.
He sends influential people into our lives. Throughout the course of our lives God sends a variety of people our way to turn our hearts toward Him. There are Sunday School teachers, godly parents and relatives, Pastors, Christian friends, musicians, radio ministries, authors. God uses all of these people to draw us to Himself.
Many of us can point to a particular moment when we said “yes” to God’s offer of eternal life. We may say a particular person “led” us to Christ. In reality there have been a whole sequence of people who have introduced you to the Savior. There are Sunday School teachers, Christian parents, Christian friends, musicians, authors, speakers, Pastors, television programs, gospel tracts and probably many other people and resources. God calls out to us through many different voices.
He patiently uses different circumstances. The Lord calls to us through a number of different means. He calls to us in good times and in bad. He calls to us in the pleasant things and in the difficult things. He calls to us through the noise and in the quiet. God pursues us patiently and relentlessly.
Francis Thompson has written a wonderful little piece called “The Hound of Heaven”. In this poem Thompson pictures his life as an attempt to run from God. God pursued Him like a blood hound pursuing his prey. Gordan MacDonald has written an excellent contemporary adaptation of the poem. At one point he writes,
I have raced away from Him in moments of naïve optimism, and, just as quickly, have dived for cover when life’s circumstances unraveled and I was numb with fear. But, no matter my direction or my frantic pace, there has always been this relentless sense of pursuit, an awareness that there was One close behind who was not in a hurry, not upset, not panicked, and never undignified. (p.32)
God is patient in His pursuit of His people.
GOD IS PATIENT IN THE GROWTH OF HIS PEOPLE
God is not only patient as He pursues us for salvation, He is patient as we grow as believers in His grace. Let me ask you some questions,
- How many times have you known what was right to do but did the wrong thing anyway?
- How many times have you done things your own way and then had to come back to the Lord to ask Him to bail you out?
- How many times have you hurt someone because you jumped to conclusions or couldn’t resist being critical instead of loving?
- How many times have you engaged in a sinful fantasy of some sort rather than grateful praise to God?
- How many times have you come into a house of worship and only gone through the motions?
The Apostle Paul sums it up the best,
The trouble is not with the law but with me, because I am sold into slavery, with sin as my master. 15I don’t understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do the very thing I hate. 16I know perfectly well that what I am doing is wrong, and my bad conscience shows that I agree that the law is good. 17But I can’t help myself, because it is sin inside me that makes me do these evil things. [Romans 7:14-17 NLT)
I love these words of Paul because I relate to them so readily. I look at my own life, even as a Christian, and see my persistent weakness and nagging rebellion. If God “gave up” on me, I wouldn’t blame Him. The wonder is that God does not give up on us. He patiently nurtures us. He repeats His instructions again and again until we understand. He refuses to give up on us even though at times it appears we will never get it right. Joe Bayly captured what I am trying to say with a wonderfully simple, Psalm of Wandering
Lord you know
I’m such a stupid sheep.
about all sorts of things
whether I’ll find grazing land
still cool water
a fold at night
in which I can feel safe.
I only find troubles
I turn aside from You
to plan my rebel way.
I go astray.
I follow other shepherds
even other stupid sheep.
Then when I end up
on some dark mountain
wild animals behind
I start to bleat
find me save me
or I die
And You do.
GOD IS PATIENT WITH THE FOOLISHNESS OF THE WORLD
God is patient with the world; even though the world increasingly denies Him. The world offends God with their idolatry; but He waits. The world taunts Him with their godlessness; but He patiently pursues. The people of the world strike out at each other wounding the heart of the Creator, but still He waits. His timing is gracious and perfect.
God is patient in order to declare and demonstrate His mercy and grace to His people. God puts up with the state of the world because He still has things He wants us to learn. When the lessons are completed, the school will close. We must never mistake God’s restraint as indifference.
We Don’t Have to be Perfect NOW. Our relationship with God is often hampered by our feelings of unworthiness. We know we are not measuring up and we are embarrassed and withdraw from the Lord. God is more patient with our growth than we are.
Our Father treats us like the earthly father who is teaching his child how to play baseball. Patiently, persistently, and frequently we teach our child how to catch the ball, how to swing the bat, how to throw, and how to play the game. We don’t try to do all these things at once. It is too much to learn. We proceed slowly. We try to develop one trait at a time. We look for any hint of progress and then celebrate that progress.
I picture God the same way. He patiently instructs, cheers me on, picks me up when I fall, hugs me when I’m discouraged and then urges me to keep working.
Our Failures do not make it impossible for us to know God. I know there are people who feel they have been so bad in their life that God could never receive them. There are people who are so bruised and battered that they feel they are “damaged goods” and God would not want them. There are people who have done horrible things and doubt they could ever know the love of God.
God’s astounding patience reminds us that God will meet us where we are. He seeks us and pursues us no matter how far we have drifted. His arms are open. He knows where you have been, what you have done, and what has been done to you. Still He loves you.
We Can’t Blame God if we Miss Out on Grace. This is a sobering thought. God reaches out to each of us. He has declared His glory in countless ways throughout our lives. If we do not trust His grace; if we do not take hold of the salvation that is offered us in Jesus Christ; if we do not get to Heaven, it will not be because of God, it will be because of our own refusal to believe.
It is possible to become so hardened to the truth that we no longer hear God’s whispers of love. A man who works with his hands develops calluses to keep his hands from feeling pain when he works hard. A person who plays a stringed instrument develops calluses on their fingers so they can push down on the keys. This is a good thing when it comes to your body but it is a disastrous things when it comes to your soul.
We become hardened when we deliberately turn away from the Lord. We hear the whispers of conscience but we ignore them. As we continue to ignore them, we find that we eventually the whispers grow silent. It’s not that God has stopped speaking; we have lost the ability to hear.
I don’t know how long it takes for a person’s heart to get hardened. I do know if you hear what I am saying, there is still time. If something inside of you tells you that you are not “right with God” there is still time for you to choose in simple faith to admit your rebellion and to stop running. There is still time to open your arms to the Lord who has pursued you all your life. There is still time to be saved. I don’t know how much time is left, so I would encourage you to act now. I encourage you to start by simply talking to God. Perhaps you might say something like this,
Lord Jesus, thank you for pursuing me with your love. I know that I deserve to be cast from your presence. Today I receive the offer of forgiveness and new life that is made available because Jesus died for my sin. Today I receive Him as my Savior and I will strive to follow Him as my Lord. Please help me. Amen.
The Patience We Have Been Shown Is the Patience We Should Extend.
According to a traditional Hebrew story, Abraham was sitting outside his tent one evening when he saw an old man, weary from age and journey, coming toward him. Abraham rushed out, greeted him and invited him into his tent. There he washed the old man’s feet and gave him food and drink. The old man immediately began eating without saying any prayer or blessing. Abraham asked him “Don’t you worship God?” The old traveler replied “I worship fire only, and revere no other god.” When he heard this, Abraham became incensed, grabbed the old man by the shoulders and threw him out of his tent into the cold night air. When the old man had departed, God called to his friend Abraham and asked where the stranger was. Abraham replied, “I forced him out because he did not worship you.” God answered, “I have suffered him these eighty years even though he dishonors me. Couldn’t you have endured him for just one night?”
The Lord asks us to love one another as He has loved us. Practically, we need to be more patient with each other. We need to focus on a person’s strengths and their needs rather than their annoyances. We must never give up in our attempts to share the good news of the gospel. We must be creative, resourceful, and persistent in seeking to show the love of Christ even to the most rebellious sinner.
It is God’s patience that has brought us to this day. It is because of His patience that we grow and develop. And the realization of God’s marvelous patience should make us more patient with each other, and should fill us with gratitude not only on Thanksgiving, but every day of our lives.