Genesis 15:1-5 After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” 2 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.” 4 Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
I told my twin brother earlier this week that I was going to be preaching about patience. I think it took him about two seconds flat to text a link my way obviously implying, “You’ve got to check it out.” It was www.patience-is-a-virtue.org/ Naturally, I clicked on the link. When I did, I sat there patiently watching a circle spin with a message saying, “Loading, please wait.” When my patience ran out five seconds later, I opened a different tab on my browser and got back to work. A few minutes later checked back in. This time the site said, “Thanks for your patience.” It was still spinning. I clicked over to another tab. When I checked back again it read, “This is taking longer than we thought, stand by.” Annoyed, I closed the tab and never returned.
That’s when it hit me. That’s was point. The site had revealed me. I’m impatient. There it is. My confession. And since I’m confessing, I might as well come out with the rest of it. The truth is that I’m probably worse than all of you put together. Just ask my wife. I quit Sprint when I moved to Aiken because when I want data I want data. I figure the only good lines and the only approved traffic jams I know of are non-existent ones. I daily celebrate this neat little trick I learned to getting the light to change quicker on the way out of my subdivision. And when I order a new smartphone, I have a vicious habit of checking FedEx’s website for a delivery status – oh – like a zillion times. I’m bad. Worse than all of you put together. Instant gratification is the only thing I’m patient with.
That’s why I’m thankful for Abram. He’s my brother in arms. Or, if you want to say it another way, he’s my brother in impatience. Granted. He was a lot more patient that I am. He had waited years. And years. About ten of them for his delivery. Can you imagine? I wonder how many times I hit the FedEx website when it’s a two-day delivery. I don’t even want to know. It’d be embarrassing. And that’s just two days. If I was Abram and God had a website where you could check the delivery status, I’m absolutely certain what would have happened to me after checking back over a period of ten years and the thing still reads, “Out on delivery.” I’d start saying to myself, “Not so sure about that one.”
What’s more troubling about this delivery is that it wasn’t just an iPhone. The promised delivery wasn’t just an upgraded camera or a faster processor or a better screen. Abram was waiting for the Deliverer out on delivery. Yeah, with a capital D on Deliverer. God had come to Abram about a decade earlier. He had told him, “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (12:3) Abram didn’t have to do too much mental math to calculate that God was promising the Deliverer with a capital D through him and his wife. That’s the only way all people on earth could be blessed. And that’s what made it so troubling to Abram that when he checked God’s website it still said, “Out on delivery,” but there was never any delivery. The pregnancy never, ever came.
Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that Abram wasn’t waiting anymore. He was done waiting. He had checked the website too many times. He had waited too long. He was fairly convinced, “It’s just not going to happen.” And that explains God’s powerful approach to Abram. He comes to him in a vision, which maybe at first glance sounds sort of like the biblical normal. Like how God normally works in history. But it isn’t. In fact, this is the first time in all of Bible history it’s ever happened. Until now. Because Abram was in a bad, bad way. He needed to be told, “Do not be afraid, Abram.” (v. 1) Abram’s patience had run out.
And that’s a problem. A lack of patience is not anything to be patient with. Or to say it another way, impatience is definitely something to be impatient with. I’ve learned that even more clearly by being the dad of a two-year-old. When you’re two, you’re pure human. You’re not hiding under layers of adulthood. You’re not making valiant attempts at not showing emotional responses. You’re two. You’re just out there in front of everybody. And if there’s anything I’ve learned from that, I’ve learned that being impatient is never something to be patient with. Because impatience is like a tree, it always bears fruit.
Every so often Elliana’s little voice gets an edge when she wants something. “Dad, I want.” And I always know what comes next. Next comes the frustration. Next comes the anger, or, depending on the moment, sadness. Impatience is like a tree, it bears fruit. And the fruit it bears depends both on the circumstances and the individual’s temperament. If you’re a more aggressive personality, you’re more likely to become frustrated, pushy, feisty, or angry than you are fearful or sad. And if you’re a quieter personality, you’re more likely to become fearful, sad, or depressed than you are feisty or angry. It works that way whether you’re talking about the circumstances you’re in or the people you’re dealing with. That’s the soul killing fruit impatience grows. Impatience is never something to be patient with.
That’s why God wasn’t patient with it. And now, you’re probably already guessing what’s coming next. Because you know how impatience works. When your mom or dad lost patience with you – well – they blew their top. And when your football coach lost patience with you, you knew it all too well. That’s why it’s so surprising to hear what the Lord says when he loses his patience with Abram’s impatience. He said, “I am your shield, your very great reward.” (v. 1) Isn’t that comforting? When God lost his patience with Abram’s impatience, there were no thunderbolts from his eyeballs. There was no smoke pouring from his nostrils. And there was no deep voiced command, “Be patient, sinner. You’re on my schedule!” There was nothing of the sort. There was only a giving – a giving of his whole self. “Abram, I’m your shield, your protector. Abram, I’m your very great reward. I’m your everything.”
And that did it. That patience with Abram’s impatience was God’s way of becoming a lumberjack deep down in Abram’s heart. It was his way of getting in there and yelling, “Timber,” to Abram’s tree of impatience. It wasn’t exactly pretty as the tree came down, but come down it did. That’s what we’re seeing as words come flying out of Abram fast and furiously, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless?” (v. 2) And then – as if the Lord couldn’t wrap his mind around those words when Abram spoke them the first time – Abram hammered home his impatience in an even more pointed way. In the Hebrew it says, “Behold, you have given me no children.” (v. 3) So bold. So pointed. It’s almost like Abram stuck a finger in God’s chest and said, “You. You, God, have given me no children. And I’m plumb out of patience waiting. What are you going to do about it?”
That’s when the magic happened. The Lord reached out to heal Abram’s impatience. And he did it in the most unconventional of ways. He did nothing. Yet. I suppose that, yes, technically we could say that the Lord did something. He did, after all, speak. But he didn’t do what Abram was really asking him to do. Because it wasn’t time yet. He didn’t supernaturally in that moment allow Abram’s wife, Sara, to conceive. He didn’t reach down and bless Sara with a baby bump. He didn’t suddenly update the divine FedEx website from, “Out on delivery,” to, “Delivered.” The Lord healed Abram’s impatience with sounds and syllables, with words and with promises. He said, “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” (v. 2) The Lord just spoke. Or to be a bit more accurate, we should say he re-spoke a previously given promise. And he made that promise shine like it had never shone before. The Lord took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars – if indeed you can count them… so shall your offspring be.” (v. 5)
So unconventional. So different. So divine. You’d think that if God wanted to end impatience in Abram that he’d have to send the baby. You’d think. You’d think the same for us. You’d think that whatever’s frustrating or terrifying or hurtful would have to end in our lives for us to find patience again. You’d think there’d have to be some action on God’s part. Some change. Anything. You’d think. But God’s gospel promises are so perfect and so compelling and so beautiful that whatever’s in your life – whether it’s dealing with circumstances or people or both – finds its proper place under the great reality God’s promising. Patience comes from hearing about that promised reality. That’s how it comes to us. Only the gospel empowers us to be patient.
That’s what God was up to in Abram. That’s why Abram was told to go outside. That’s why he was told to look up at the bright beauty of the stars. And not just to stare at the stars in mass. No. He wanted to overwhelm him in a specific way and with a specific strategy. He wanted to overwhelm him through counting individual bright star by individual bright star. He wanted him to grasp through counting the sheer magnitude of that incredible promise. He told him, “Count – if indeed you can.” (v. 5) Can you imagine what this must’ve been like as Abram stared up at that sky? Can you imagine him pointing his finger and counting to himself, “One, two, three…” his iris’ becoming pinpricks as they stare at the bright light? Can you imagine Abram saying to himself, “God, this many? God, this is what my descendants will be like?” Can you just imagine?
But then again, you really don’t have to. Because God isn’t about the stars in mass. God’s about individual star by individual star. He’s about you. That’s who Abram was counting. You. You are that future that made Abram’s heart beat faster and his eyes shine. You are what God has been up in history for a long, long time. God was gaining Abram’s patience and being patient himself for you. You were the plan. You were to be one of Abram’s many star-like heavenly descendants. Because you do shine. Not with your own intrinsic light. We’re far too impatient with people and circumstances for that to ever happen. We shine with Jesus’ reflected light. That’s why Abram had Isaac. And Isaac had Jacob. And why Jacob had Judah… so that on and down the line Mary could have Jesus. So that Jesus could make you shine with his righteousness and his holiness like a star. Forever.
That’s God’s promise to you. Re-given and re-spoken. God re-promises so that today again we can be patient with whatever and whomever we’ve got going on. That’s how it works. God gives us promises so compelling and so perfect and so beautiful that everything – people and circumstances – find their proper place under that great coming reality. That’s what patience is. It’s tranquility of the soul during difficulty or in dealing with difficult people. I suppose it’s rather obvious to point out, but patience is no longer necessary once those people or circumstances are gone. Patience only plays a role while they’re there. Its supposed to bridge that gap. And so when God gives patience he doesn’t necessarily need to take away the problem. What he does instead is re-give the promise about the problem.
You know what the icing on the cake is when it comes to patience? Patience is like a tree in your soul. It’s constantly bearing fruit. Christians have a long history of dealing spectacularly with the most difficult circumstances and the most problematic people. Not because they’re a particularly great people (Just ask them. They’re not!), but because they are people with particularly great promises. When I’m picturing perfection, I’m ok with watching a ridiculous website spit out stuff like, “Loading, please wait.” And when my soul is compelled by the promises, I’m not nearly as upset to wait another 30 seconds at the stoplight leaving my subdivision. And when I look toward the beauty of heaven, I’m not nearly as interested in the exact moment my new iPhone will hit my doorstep.
That’s why I’m thankful for Abram. He’s my brother in arms. Or, to say it another way, he’s my brother in patience. Oh – and for the record – the time came when Abram didn’t need to be patient anymore. God kept the promise. Abram was a hundred years old when the little guy was born. And patience bridged that gap. But it was just one. Just one of Abram’s star-like descendants was born. And you’re two. How many more will God make shine with faith? I’m not sure. For the record, I’ll just say this. The time is coming when our patience can end for good. The time is coming when there won’t be anymore circumstances or people to be patient with. When we’re home. When we’re shining with Jesus forever. Until then, it’s God’s way that we re-hear the promise and by the promise bridge that gap. Amen.