Recently, I heard a young man give the testimony of his journey toward saving faith in Christ Jesus. The operative word is “journey,” which is a concept far too many of us forget. We, in the Bible Belt especially, think that people should respond immediately, and if they do not then we move on to someone else. Sometimes we just walk away and do not continue to stay in a relationship with the unbeliever, and other times we slam the door shut through harsh comments towards their unbelief.
Yet many people in our world, both American and those on the far reaches of the globe, must have a consistent and constant witness. They need a witness marked by love and patience in regard to them before they are ready to accept Christ.
As I listened to this young man’s story, I was reminded of Paul’s testimony, which says, “But I received mercy for this reason, so that in me, the worst of them (sinners), Christ Jesus might demonstrate his extraordinary patience as example to those who would believe in him for eternal life.” Paul testifies to the work of patience extended to him from God. Read Paul’s story before he came to Christ, and you will understand clearly why he was amazed by the grace of God shown to him in “extraordinary patience.”
The young man I mentioned previously told of his interest in Christianity from about the 7th grade. His family moved from New York to one of our Oklahoma county seat towns. Christian young people in the town showed him interest and included him in their group. They witnessed to him many times, but because he came from another religious background he had no foundation for belief. He also feared the reaction of his parents if he became a Christian.
As he approached his senior year in high school, his Christian friends tried one more time to share Christ and move him to a decision. He told them he was not ready, so they dropped him and saw him as a hopeless case. In their minds he was an unbeliever and would remain lost and bound for hell—he would never come to Christ! But God is more patient than we are.
When this young man arrived at the University of Oklahoma, he was introduced to some young men from the Baptist Collegiate Ministries (BCM). He was invited to Bible studies, and one of the BCM leaders took particular interest in him. They met throughout his college years studying the Bible and talking about salvation. As this young man approached the end of his collegiate career, his friend talked to him one more time about Christ and his need to believe. This time the door to his heart opened, and he embraced Christ as his Savior and Lord. The patience of God and His people brought this young man to faith. His journey had been long and, no doubt, frustrating to many who had shared with him.
I needed to hear this young man’s testimony. While I love to see people come to Christ when I preach or share with them one-on-one, the fact remains that some people will need to hear the Gospel multiple times before they believe. I must exercise the patience of God toward them and walk with them on their journey to faith.
We must learn this kind of patience and apply it to our own locale. We also need to learn this as we support church planters in hard places. When we go to their places of ministry and share the Gospel, it is imperative that we leave a positive witness. Church planters tell me that, too often, groups from the south go to places in the north and punch people in the nose with the Gospel rather than leave a positive witness. Doors of witness have been closed because of insensitivity and unwillingness to demonstrate “the extraordinary patience of God.”
Do not forget that some people plant and some people water, but God gives the increase. Patience, whether at home or on the mission field, is not just what is best, but it is necessary. Aren’t you glad missionaries in China were patient? Chinese missionaries went long periods of time without converts. Today, some say more than 30,000 people a day turn to Christ in China. Patience is God’s way. What is yours?