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Faith column: You know what assuming does...

Not everyone can be patient all of the time.

080420.O.DG.PASTORCOLUMN
Chad Werkhoven
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WORTHINGTON — Minnesotans are good at patience. In fact, we’re probably more patient than most, simply because we get so much practice waiting. We’ll probably still be patiently waiting for Spring to arrive as we huddle around a warming fire celebrating Labor Day.

Patience is a virtue. Or so they say. I think that’s just something we Minnesotans tell ourselves in order to stave off the shivering in May.

Patience is certainly one of God’s virtues. We often assume that God’s patience is infinite, like his strength or goodness. But it’s not. God’s patience has its limits.

It didn’t take long for God’s patience to run out with the people of Israel as they made their way across the wilderness toward the Promised Land.

It had only been a matter of weeks since God had mightily freed them from slavery in Egypt, giving them a front row seat to one of the most magnificent miracles of all time as the sea opened up for them to pass through. These are the same people who picked up manna from heaven each morning and who only had to look to the horizon to see God’s presence in a pillar of fire/smoke leading the way.

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Yet these same eyewitnesses of God’s power whined incessantly each time they had to live by faith and not by sight. In Exodus 17, they find themselves thirsty in a dry desert. Yet instead of trusting in God to provide them with water, they threatened to kill Moses for dragging them out into the desert to die.

So God gave them what they wanted. That’s right, even after being subjected to yet another round of ridiculous grumbling, God commanded Moses to strike a rock, and out came clear, cold drinking water!

But his patience had run out with those people.

The scary thing is that the people got exactly what they wanted (which, by the way, they never celebrated or thanked God for), but they wouldn’t realize for quite some time the implications of pushing God’s patience too far.

Psalm 95 tells, as Paul Harvey would say, the rest of the story.

This psalm opens with “Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.” It goes on with several familiar praises we sing and recite often. But then the psalm takes a weird twist halfway through. God breaks into the songs of praise, warning his people not to test him the way the thirsty Israelites did back in the desert centuries before.

God reports that it was that very moment in Exodus 17 that his patience ran out. He still showed the Israelites his mercy in that he let them live out their lives, but their lives would amount to nothing but aimless wandering. That generation never made it to the Promised Land.

The psalm ends ominously with God saying “I declared an oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’” Just like that. No more warnings. Game over.

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What kind of assumptions are you making about God’s patience? Are you figuring he’ll overlook your sins and your own impatience with him? Are you thinking he’ll give you multiple warnings when you’re coming near the end of his patience?

These are dangerous assumptions to make, assumptions which will likely result in a life of wandering away from God.

You need to be eternally patient as a Minnesotan. We’re Twins and Vikings fans, for Pete’s sake! But remember, God’s not eternally patient. Respond to his grace, and immediately turn to him in repentance and faith.

Chad Werkhoven is pastor of Worthington Christian Reformed Church. Today they’re reading Exodus 17 as part of their daily Bible reading plan. You can join in at wgtncrc.org/bible.

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