8. Tribulation Worketh Patience

29 01 2018

Chapter 7: Tribulation Worketh Patience

— “Affliction” by Edith Schaeffer, 1978.

(Part 8 of 13 posts)

When a person walks through a difficult season it affects everything. I see this in myself — in how I pace, in how I toss and turn, in my relief strategies, in how I do or don’t take care of myself, in how I anticipate the day ahead or reflect on the day ending.

“The whole person is also affected by the psychological, mental, emotional and moral condition. Tensions and worries brought about by our own mistakes (or other people’s mistakes or thoughtlessness), stress in the midst of indecision or deep concern for others or in the midst of our own anger or other people’s anger or jealousy or cruelty, and an endless variety of uncertainties and fears can affect each person physically too. Personality as a whole affected by the physical condition, and the physical condition is affected by the emotional condition. There is an amazing interweaving of the physical, psychological, spiritual, and intellectual unfolding or growing of a person throughout life” (128).

Walking through a time of affliction/tribulation/suffering brings us into an unknown that we don’t often know how to navigate clearly or even think about. We don’t often know what brought it on and we don’t know how it will end. In the middle of it we can feel confused and lost. If you look at how a child acts when they are uncertain, it is pretty close to how we still feel.

When a child faces the unknown they are filled with questions — they are bewildered! Edith Schaeffer describes how they want their parents to instinctively know what they feel because they lack the words to describe it. They want concrete answers for what is coming next, how it will feel, and how it will end. A parent walks with their child doing their best to impart confidence even when explanations are impossible at the moment. A parent tries to be one step ahead so the child does not feel lost.

As an adult, we still want this. As a follower of Christ, we actually have this!

“As a child of one family, we who have been born into the family of the great and marvellous God of the Universe, have a Heavenly Father who has given us sufficient communication. He has not spoken in short, broken, unconnected verses. His communication to us is a full and complete revelation of Himself (as complete as we can now understand), as well as guidance in times of stress. He has given us a memory of His work and care of our “relatives,” our brothers and sisters in His family. He has also given us a memory of our own experience of having Him as a Father of our own, whether that time be short or long” (129).

Our Father has written to us and has told us all about this life and about suffering. If we take the time to sit with Him, we will not hear that we ought to just bear down and grit our teeth as we suffer, Romans 5:3 says we will all walk through some kind of tribulation, but that it is not wasted time (God won’t let it be) and that it works something good in us as we live and walk with Jesus through it.

Just as our physical bodies grow, we are also meant to grow internally, spiritually. We are not to be adults on the outside and infants on the inside: “We are not static as personalities, nor are we static in spiritual and mental growth. Something is always taking place in the way of change. It is the change going on in us that concerns our Heavenly Father, even as the change going on in our children should concern those of us who are parents…” (130).

If we go back to the illustration of a child and a parent, we know that our child will fall down at times. We know they will see if “hot” really means “hot” on a stove. We know they will experience rejection, sadness, failure, and difficulties of all kinds. We know, even with all the love we give them, they will test us and maybe even reject our counsel but “our longing is that they will come back into communication with us. Thereby we can try to point out the place of departure and see if we can help in any way to get them onto the stream or path or track or way where they can take up where they got off the right course” (131).

When we raise children, we are trying to “work something into them” that will serve them well in life. In the same way, our Heavenly Father is trying to “work something” into us and it is something called patience. Isn’t that interesting? Wouldn’t it make more sense to say “toughness”? No…patience. And this isn’t the kind of patience that means you can stand in a line without getting antsy. This isn’t the kind of patience that kept you calm when your child was pushing you to the edge. Both good things…but this kind of patience is the kind that puts all of its trust in God’s reliability and power and so does not sink into despair, anxiety, fear, anger, impulsiveness, and compromise.

This makes perfect sense if we let the Word of God speak. If we spend time with it and come to appreciate God’s story but “we can’t expect anything but more frustration if we have nothing more of the Word of God as a background or have not lived through the reality of having had patience grow in us and work in us” (130). There is something really profound that happens when we grow in patience which is a growing confidence that comes from KNOWING the love of God, especially in the middle of affliction.

Anyone who has been around the Bible for a while can quote John 3:16 without even thinking about it: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only son, so that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have eternal life.”  Stop for a moment and think about this: “As we read we are not meant to think of theologians and their discussions but of the startling fact that the One who spoke these words was…the ‘only begotten Son’ Himself“” (132). He was speaking to Nicodemus, saying “I was given up” for you! I did this, so you could know the love I have so that even as the world falls apart, you won’t because I have you! In John 15:9 He goes on to say “continue in my love,” meaning don’t let go of that love during tribulation, because I went through tribulation for you. Tribulation is not when God abandons us. Tribulation is when we can understand the demonstration of God’s love in the sharpest way.

But this is where we have to stop ignoring our Bibles. We can’t know God if you don’t hear from Him. We can’t keep looking at Our Father from a distance and think that is a relationship. How in the world will we know what He offers us in troubled times if we are, deliberately, 100 feet away from Him?

“Without a a rich background of understanding of the gentleness, compassion, kindness, goodness and love of our Heavenly Father, the seed fertilized by tribulation will not begin to send down roots and put up shoots of the ‘plant of patience'” (132).

Patience, worked into us, allows us to stop, breathe, acknowledge the beautiful presence of God in the midst of ugly. Patience worked into us, when it is our practice, does not assume the worst about God but the best. In order for patience to be an outcome though, we have to be in a posture that is ready to receive:

“…the soil preparation needs to be an hour-by-hour, day-by-day digging into the Word of God. This preparation involves having as a part of our whole being a growing understanding of the love of God and of His marvellous kindness which surpasses any kindness we could imagine from our knowledge of human beings ourselves. We need to be trusting Him in an increasing manner so that our reactions and actions are slowly, slowly changing through the months and years. One of the points of discovery — akin to the discovery of the sprout of a most difficult seed to germinate in our physical gardens — is the discovery of patience starting to sprout” (132).

Ephesians 3:16-19 has a great line that stands out to me every time:

I pray that according to the wealth of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner person, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, so that, because you have been rooted and grounded in love, you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth,  and thus to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.”

I have an outer person, and an inner person. The inner person is the one that really matters because it controls what the outer one does and what the reputation of my person will be. The Holy Spirit is there to be in continuous fellowship with and communication with my inner person. Most of us know, very well, that our inner person differs from our outer one, and it is with that one who is more truthful Our Father sits with and teaches patience to know and trust Him. He speaks to us and reveals His nature as we read and re-read the Bible and sit with the Holy Spirit to understand what He is saying to us.

If our times of affliction do not turn into times of prayer, it won’t lead to any growth of patience at all and so it will all be wasted (138) (and that, my friend, should sound off warning bells in you. It certainly scares me). Instead of isolating ourselves from God and others, blanking out, numbing out, we need to RUN to God and ask for both His help and for good to come of this time that tests what and who we are. Edith says, “It seems to me that if there is noticeable progress to us as we grow, it would be the speed with which we would move into patience, further growth of character and hope” (140).

We need to be CAREFUL during times of testing, not only that we do not fall into bitterness and neglect. Not only that we do not ignore what God has for us, but the temptation to absorb false philosophies about suffering. Hunting for explanations can lead to a lot of lies — the ones we make up and the ones that “seem” to make sense

“We need not be drawn into Eastern religions, trying to train ourselves into thinking that everything is a dream (a nightmare) and that nothing really exists — nothing material or intellectual, either in the past or in the future. We have been told very plainly that everything is real and has ben real through generations — and that there is a very real future….the Word of God helps us to recognize the marks of reality in outlining the practical, day-by-day, tangible things we are going to have to face and deal with and live through” (140-141).

No Yoga position is going to work in us what God wants to work in us.  Distraction will leave us empty rather than victorious. Complaint will only leave us dark and resentful.

What we need is Truth, wisdom and guidance, and Our Father gives this to us:

“We then turn our minds to using the brief period of time we have in trying to live on the basis of what He has given us and to learn as much as possible in the midst of the living. Patience, perseverance, and endurance…present us with enough reason to not be wasteful of the short time we have. When are we going to be finished finding out all we can, before this time is over?” (141)

“We go back to the Bible and thank God that He has not given us a nebulous number of abstract ideas, but has fixed all that He has to tell us into history and the real world where it can be tasted, touched and felt, smelled, seen, and heard. Even the things we are told to consider important, such as patience and endurance and perseverance are not allowed to float in an abstract cloud obtainable only by those who can sit and meditate in some ‘holy’ position in a ‘pure’ spot. The very spelling out of affliction, persecution, and tribulation in terms of stones and whips (as well as people’s scorn in words) lifts the setting in which we find the reality of patience from an unattainable realm into the stuff of day-by-day life” (142)

When we sit with Our Father’s Words to us and keep a conversation going with His Spirit, He shows us His perspective, He tells us stories from the past and shows us how people handled difficulties (well or otherwise) and “this patient endurance is acceptable to God, commendable to God, because in some tiny way we are following the example which Christ gave us when He told us that we were to follow in His steps” (148).

When we walk through our own troubles as well as we can with God’s help, we are also able to weep with those who weep, as the Bible calls us to. The “weeping is needed, the weeping is right. The weeping is to be shared. the patience to be displayed is patience on the part of the stronger one toward the one that is more crushed” (134). Because we all have a shared experience with some kind of tribulation we come to understand, “there is no room for pride or for pious speculation as to what has brought on this particular tribulation…not one of us can tell another person the answer to Why?” (134). What we do help each other with us to ask help from our Lord to grow in patience.

There will always be the weaker person, the poor, the lame and the sick until Jesus comes back “Just as there will not be perfect physical health, no Christian will be perfect, and some will be weaker than others until Jesus comes back and we will all be changed” (135). The patience we learn from our own troubled times helps us to watch ourselves so that we don’t slip into a place of spiritual pride.

“As a wife or a husband, a child or a parent, when we are praying about the ‘faults’ of anyone close to us, we need to pause long enough to examine ourselves carefully and then ask for forgiveness and for greater sensitivity to our own ‘blind spots’. The sin of someone else can be your affliction or tribulation — or mine. But the reverse is also true. We each can be, by our own sin or faults — our stubbornness or insensitivities or selfishness — the affliction or tribulation of someone close to us” (137).

As I sit here, working on this post, the Holy Spirit keeps pointing out things I need to see. There are my own afflictions that He is using in my life to work patience. There are also other people’s afflictions that are doing the same thing. Other people’s afflictions are affecting me; some draw me in and I feel such empathy and some frustrate me. Some come to mind for whom I have little patience for and I am convicted about it; isn’t this another opportunity God is using to work something better in me? Isn’t there a pride in my impatience that I need to address?

Yes indeed.

  • Teresa Klassen