A person familiar with the Bible, or another who has a penchant for idioms, may immediately think of the Job when the topic of patience arises. So-and-so has “the patience of Job” is the saying that may be heard. According to The Free Dictionary website, to have the patience of Job is “to have an immense and unyielding degree of patience and conviction, especially in the face of problems or difficulty.” The dictionary also notes that this is a “reference to the biblical figure Job, whose absolute faith in God remained unshaken despite the numerous afflictions set upon himself, his family, and his estate by Satan.” It seems as though Job is the ultimate paradigm or example of patience. However, as with many Biblical persons, Job points to One who is greater than he is, to One who is truly the archetype of a patient person: Jesus Christ.
Puritan pastor and theologian John Flavel was well aware of Christ’s supremacy when it came to the virtue of patience. Flavel, in the 29th sermon of the collection called The Fountain of Life Opened Up, preaches from Isaiah 53:7 which he quotes, “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.” His big idea or main point in this sermon is articulated as follows: “That Jesus Christ supported the burden of his sufferings, with admirable patience and meekness of spirit.”
After dealing with these verse and the patience of Christ they point to, Flavel applies the text and the content of his sermon by indicating to the listeners, or readers in this case: “the direct and main use of [the sermon thus far] is, to press us to a Christ-like patience in all our sufferings and troubles. It is the advice that Flavel preached in regards to growing in patience that I’d like to share in this post.
Flavel instructs the listeners and readers through the metaphor of looking. He declares, “look which way you will, upward or downward, inward or outward, backward or forward, to the right-hand, or to the left, you shall find all things persuading and urging the doctrine of patience upon you.” So let us look at the looking the Flavel believes will help us to grow more Christ-like in our patience. Flavel admonishes us to:
“First, Look upwards, when tribulations come upon you: look to that sovereign Lord, that commissionates and sends them upon you. You know troubles do not rise out of the dust, nor spring out of the ground, but are framed in heaven. … Now, could you in times of trouble look up to this sovereign hand, in which your souls, bodies, and all their comforts and mercies are; how quiet would your hearts be!” Looking to God as the one who ordains our entire lives helps us to learn patience.
“Secondly, Look downward, and see what is below you, as well as up to that which is above you. You are afflicted, and you cannot bear it. Oh! no trouble like your trouble! never man in such a case as you are! Well, well, cast the eye of your mind downward, and see those who lie much lower than you.” Looking down at those who suffer more than we do (down because of their greater suffering, not our exalted virtue or stations) helps us to learn patience.
“Thirdly, Look inward, you discontented spirits, and see if you can find nothing there to quiet you. Cast year eye into your own hearts; consider either the corruptions or the graces that are there.” Looking inwards at our own sins–which may have led to our difficulties which require patience or may be mortified through our trials–or at our graces–which are there that we may exercise them in our tribulations–both produce patience in the one going through tough times.
“Fourthly, Look outward, and see who stands by and observes your carriage under trouble. Are there not many eyes upon you?” Looking outward reminds us that we live as ambassadors of Christ to a watching world; we are encouraged to be patient in suffering when we understand the audience that surrounds us.
“Fifthly, Look backward, and see if there be nothing behind you that may hush and quiet your impatient spirits; consult the multitude of experiences past and gone; both your own and others. … if you have been in troubles formerly, and the Lord has helped you; if you have past through the fire, and not been burnt; through the waters, and not drowned; if God has stood by you, and hitherto helped you. O what cause have you to be quiet now, and patiently wait for the salvation of God!” Looking backwards to the faithfulness of God helps us to be patient in our current circumstances.
“Sixthly, Look forward, to the end of your troubles; yea, look to a double end of them, the end of their duration, and the end of their operation.” Looking forward to that great and glorious day when Christ returns help us to be patient knowing that our difficulties will not last forever; however, they end of their operation will be an eternal weight of glory.
“Seventhly, Look to the right-hand, and see how you are shamed, convinced and silenced by other Christians; [who] patiently bear the afflicting hand of God, but are blessing, praising, and admiring God under their troubles; whilst you are sinning against, and dishonouring him under smaller ones.” Looking to our “right-hand” to see other Christians patiently enduring their suffering encourages patience in us.
“Eighthly, Look to your left-hand, and there you will see a sad sight, and what one would think should quiet you. There you may see a company of wicked, graceless wretches, carrying themselves under their troubles, but too much like yourselves.” Looking to our “left-hand” and seeing people, who do not know God, that murmur and complain and then see ourselves acting the same way is an admonition to us to bear our burdens patiently.
The previous 8 ways of “looking” during our suffering are helps to us as we grow in Christ-like patience. Being intentional with these practices, I believe, would be of some help to all of us as we endure with patience the trials and tribulations God has ordained for our lives. Flavel certainly thought so. Do you?