Patience is not a virtue that comes easily to us. We come with short fuses. We are personally invested in our work and our play and we want to see the results of our efforts.
But when things start to fall apart, instead of taking the long view – we begin to lose hope, we begin to get angry or jaded, and often we behave in ways that are far from holy.
Sometimes I try to imagine what it must have been like to be one of the first disciples of Jesus.
The time of his execution and resurrection must have been such a confusing, heartbreaking, joyful, frustrating rollercoaster of a time.
To be heading triumphantly into Jerusalem one minute… burying your leader the next… and then sticking your fingers through the holes in his risen body?
How would you even process?
I picture them in a kind of existential shock… going through the motions… not really sure what’s real and what’s not…
Maybe that’s why during those forty days that Jesus spends with the disciples after the resurrection we don’t have public appearances or healings or those great miracles.
No, He eats with them.
He walks with them and teaches them.
Everything is on hold. Jesus simply ministers to their souls.
For forty days, we have no more than a handful of stories and they are all personal and intimate encounters.
I think the question must always be looming: what comes next?
A return to normalcy?
Revenge against the institutions that executed their leader?
A new movement? A revolution?
I can imagine the adrenaline running through their systems, the excitement that would fuel them to act and capitalize on the resurrection.
The question keeps coming: Jesus… are you ready to kick the Romans out of Israel? Are you going to return the nation to its glory?
They want their hearts desire and they want it NOW.
And Jesus keeps reminding them about the Kingdom of God and telling them to wait.
Be patient. That is fruit of the spirit I find harder than most. It is often translated as longsuffering. It is the gift of being able to endure in spite of the circumstances that have come against you. It is a hopeful fortitude that reminds us that there is light at the end of the tunnel… that if we trust and wait, the outcome we are praying for will come to pass.
The hardest part about patience is that we don’t know how long we are going to have to wait.
The disciples keep asking: Lord, are we there yet? Jesus, is it time?
And for forty days, Jesus tells them to wait. To be patient.
“In God’s time…” Jesus replies.
Biblically speaking, the number 40 has far more significance as a symbol than a literal number.
For forty days and nights it rained on Noah and the ark.
For forty years the Israelites wandered in the wilderness.
For forty days, Jesus was tempted at the start of his ministry.
Over and over, that number comes to us.
The number forty in the Bible symbolizes a time of testing, a time of trial. It symbolizes the amount of time it takes us to be ready for whatever comes next.
It has nothing to do with the revolution of the earth around the sun and everything to do with the turning of our hearts towards God.
The ancient Greeks had two words to use to describe time: first, Kairos – which meant the right time or an indeterminate amount of time in which something significant happens.
Chronos, on the other hand, describes sequential time and is where we get the word chronological.
The biblical flood. The desert wandering. The time of testing of Nineveh. All of these happen not in chronological time, but in Kairos time. In God’s time.
In fact, every time I see the number “forty” in the scriptures, I am reminded to think about God’s time and not a literal figure.
And when you look at verse 6 and 7 of our scripture in the original Greek, this distinction is there, plain as day.
The disciples are asking about whether or not it is time (houtos ho chronos), but Jesus responds that it is not for them to know the times or seasons (chronos ē kairos) that God has set.
For forty days, Jesus ate with them, cooked them breakfast, walked with them…
For forty days… for the time it took to get them ready, to reorient them, to turn them in a new direction… Jesus was simply present.
“Be patient,” he said.
Barclay’s commentary says that patience is the grace of a person who could revenge a wrong but doesn’t.
Patience is seeking an opening, waiting for the anger to pass, and finding a way forward. Patience is remembering that this inconvenience, this obstacle, will not last forever.
If patience is the grace of a person who could revenge a wrong but doesn’t… then Jesus is trying to shift the thinking of those disciples during these forty days. He is trying to help them realize that the Kingdom of God is not about a military revolution against the Romans, but about a transformation of the world that is bigger that one nation.
Because, sometimes patience is coming to understand that your heart’s desire is not God’s desire and getting on board with God’s preferred future.
It takes time for that kind of shift in thinking. They need to wait. They need to practice patience. They need to be slow with their anger and not let it consume them.
When we find ourselves in situations of great frustration and anger, I think patience is taking just a moment to breathe and to pray. Patience is asking for God to come into this situation and remind us of the things that are truly important in the moment, and to let that anger move out of the way, if necessary.
But patience is also putting one foot in front of the other and not being paralyzed in your waiting. If we spend too much time looking into the past, we will never live into our new future.
And so in the midst of this time of patient waiting, Jesus and the disciples did very normal things. They went fishing. They spent time praying and talking and learning.
Making the most of our given situations is a very hard thing to do. We like to sit and stew and wish that things were different. And in doing so, we breed anger and resentment in our hearts.
Patience has to be active. We will never change or improve or reach our desired outcome if we simply stop what we are doing.
We have to live into the future by doing the things now that will help us reach that desired outcome. Patience sometimes means living as if that future were a reality today.
A few months ago, I shared with you the situation of Vano Kiboko. He is the brother of one of our District Superintendents here in Iowa and he believed that his country and its leaders were on the wrong path. And so he practiced that kind of active patience by publically speaking out against his government and he was imprisoned for his actions.
For 16 months, Vano has been in prisoned.
And he didn’t let anger or resentment fuel him. He lived with a heart full of grace towards his guards and everyone he met. He put one foot in front of the other and kept working towards God’s future. He practiced holy patience in the midst of a trying situation.
More than a thousand people were brought to Christ during his time in prison. He wept with them, baptized them, shared God’s good news with them.
And on May 6, Vano Kiboko was released from prison.
We don’t always know what God has in store for us. We can’t know the times or the seasons, the chronos and Kairos, of God’s plan.
But I think our Ascension scripture reminds us that God takes the long view in our lives, too.
The forty days after Easter were a gift to the disciples… time to reorient their lives and help them to be ready for what God had planned next. Time to prepare their hearts for the power of the Holy Spirit that would come in Kairos time.
There are so many things that we are impatient for. Justice. Healing. Peace. “How long?” we cry out.
But maybe holy patience invites us to live into that future with our actions today.
Holy patience invites us to live with open hearts, always aware of God’s movement and prompting.
Holy patience invites us to be filled with grace, flexible, and willing to let God change us.
Holy patience is a gift… because it is Kairos time… God’s time… enough time to truly get us ready – heart and mind and soul – for the future God has planned.