For the week of June 25, 2016 / 19 Sivan 5776
Torah: Bemidbar/Numbers 8:1 – 12:16
Haftarah: Zechariah 2:14 – 4:7 (English: 2:10 – 4:7)
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And whenever the cloud lifted from over the tent, after that the people of Israel set out, and in the place where the cloud settled down, there the people of Israel camped. At the command of the LORD the people of Israel set out, and at the command of the LORD they camped. As long as the cloud rested over the tabernacle, they remained in camp. (Bemidbar/Numbers 9:17-18)
One of the most unhelpful pieces of advice that otherwise spiritually minded people regularly give is “Don’t pray for patience; God might give it to you!” This fear-based misguidance is based on two very wrong notions. First, prayer isn’t a magical incantation. It’s not as if saying particular words will result in the forces of the universe (whether God or anything else) responding accordingly. Second, prayer is a request to a sovereign free agent. And thankfully this sovereign also loves us and always has our best interest in mind. So if he so chooses to answer such a prayer, it’s only because it is both his will and for our good. Therefore, to caution someone against praying such a prayer is an attempt to keep us from acquiring one of life’s most essential qualities. How many things have gone wrong in the history of the world (including your life and mine) due to lack of patience? Good intentions, pure motives, and noble goals can never make up for a bad sense of timing.
There are two ways we tend to use the term “patience” in the English language. One has to do with enduring hardship. The older term for this is “long-suffering.” It’s having the fortitude to not give into discouragement when going through painful periods of life. The second is the way I am using the word here. It’s the quality of not reacting too quickly to life’s circumstances, whether it be a painful situation or not. This kind of patience is often required when we perceive there are great opportunities before us – and indeed, there may be – but instead of waiting for the right time to act, we undermine the opportunity by not being patient.
Learning to wait for God’s timing was a key component to the training God instituted for Israel in the wilderness years. He reserved the right to dictate to them when to break camp and move to the next location. It could take a day or years. In between there was no indication at all when that might be. If the cloud remained over the tent of meeting, they stayed put. If it moved, they moved. Pretty straightforward. Hard to do.
Timing is everything…almost. I say “almost,” because effective godly living is not only about timing. Learning to walk in God’s ways requires first and foremost trust in God, particularly as expressed as loyalty to his Son, the Messiah. We also need to grow in the knowledge of his will in every area of life. But unless we learn patience, we will continually find ourselves doing the right thing, but at the wrong time.
Learning God’s timing also frees us from a great deal of anxiety. We often find ourselves in situations that require change of some kind. Being aware of the need for change is important, but expecting immediate resolution can cause all sorts of unnecessary grief. God’s solutions may occur suddenly, but often his strategy for change requires a long process over time. Being aware of that synchs us to his timeclock and allows us to keep in step with him instead of fretting.
Learning God’s sense of timing can be challenging. Our tendency to react in the moment instead of patiently waiting for the right time to respond can be a very difficult lesson to learn. I don’t imagine it was easy for the Israelites to wait for the cloud to move, or to pick up and go when they hardly had time to settle. But once we understand how utterly crucial this kind of patience really is, how could we not earnestly ask him for it?
All scriptures, English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible