All who work for the firm identified on an envelope I once received as “God & Son Inc., Doing Business for 2,000 years with Sinners Like You” receive regular in-service training. A few months ago, God gave me a refresher course on patience. I flunked it.

Patience means living out the belief that God orders everything for the spiritual good of his children. Patience does not just grin and bear things, stoic-like, but accepts them cheerfully as therapeutic workouts planned by a heavenly trainer who is resolved to get you up to full fitness.

Patience, therefore, treats each situation as a new opportunity to honor God in a way that would otherwise not be possible, and acts accordingly. Patience breasts each wave of pressure as it rolls in, rejoicing to prove that God can keep one from losing his or her footing. And patience belongs to the ninefold fruit of the Spirit, which is the sanctifying profile Jesus set for his disciples.

As a Calvinist, I have a strong doctrine of providence; and as a devotional instructor, I often deal with sanctification. So I had taken it for granted that patience was something I was good at. (You always fancy yourself good at that of which you know the theory.) But look at what happened.

I was committed to being in England after Christmas, but a memorial service for a long-time friend required my presence there just before the holiday. Thus, for the first time ever, I had to be away from home at Christmas. Self-pity and grumbling. At Chicago I learned that an unscheduled stop would delay the London flight two-and-a-half hours, so I had to call ahead and change arrangements. Resentment. The plane had no ground heating, so at both Chicago and Detroit we boarded into 8 degrees of frost—the same temperature as outside. Cold contempt—emotionally cold, I mean—and prideful pleasure that it wasn’t Britain’s or Canada’s national airline that was doing this to me.

Organization in Britain seemed sloppy, and British Rail did badly. Cynical gloom. A phone call from Vancouver contained a hurtful personal criticism. Seething anger, which kept me awake all night. I flew out of Heathrow full of hard thoughts about my travel agent for not booking me on another airline, where the mileage would have been credited to me under one of the half-dozen bonus schemes to which I belong. Petty greed.

Poor performance? Very poor indeed. (Didn’t I tell you I flunked the course?)

Two things made my lapses of temper especially disgraceful. First, the trip was marked by all sorts of blessings—a new friendship, old friendships renewed, an evangelistic opening that I had prayed and waited ten years for, and more. Finding that God is with me should have banished all bitterness of the kind that I was indulging. Where should I ever want to be, save in the place of God’s appointment?

Second, I know the theory of patience so well. The Murphy’s Law aspect of life is set out in detail by my favorite biblical author in Ecclesiastes; and Romans 8:28 has been a key text in my teaching for years. My moods were a series of sins against knowledge, outwardly dissembled, inwardly cherished. Hypocrisy. However, the Father and the Son still do business with sinners like me, and as I left Britain, “I mercy sought, and mercy found.” “I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’; then thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin” (Ps. 32:5).

On the way back from England, the film provided by the airline was a movie I had long wanted to see, but the sound channel was not working. Another of the entertainment channels offered Verdi’s La Traviata complete, but after the first hour it clicked back to the beginning, so that I only heard the first act—three times. Now, at baggage claim in Miami, I find one of my bags kicked in. Suspicion rises to certainty: I am being made to repeat the course I flunked.

Maybe I can do better this time round. Pride? Self-confidence? We’ll see.

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