When was a time you got what you thought you deserved?...
Think of a time when you did something and received something positive that you felt was deserved. Maybe you worked really hard at your job and got that time off or a raise. Maybe you chose to focus on better money management and coincidentally was offered a raise at work.
...How about when you got what you deserved, and it was something bad?
We all have stories of getting something bad that we totally deserved. We pretty much went around the circle last Saturday at Campfire Church and talked about various stories of disorderly conduct resulting in arrest, consequences from going way over the speed limit, etc. Ever watched one of those "instant karma" videos on YouTube? Seems like we can all relate one way or another.
Being willing to wait for people to change – A lesson from Jonah
Maybe you're familiar with the story of Jonah; if not, here's a recap. Sent by God to go preach to the city of Ninevah, Jonah decided to run literally the other way. He jumped on a ship headed in the opposite direction. A storm came up and the ship's crew began to throw everything overboard to lighten the ship as much as possible. In the process of trying to figure out what is going on, Jonah tells them that he's running away from God and to throw him overboard.
Jonah gets swallowed by a large fish and is inside it for three days and nights. After that, he's spit out onto the land and when God tells him to go to Ninevah again, he obeys. The city is full of wickedness, but they repent and God doesn't punish them.
Jonah isn't too thrilled that God isn't going to punish the city. He knows God is gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, and loving. Jonah is so angry that God was willing to reward better-late-than-never change, that he doesn't want to live anymore. God makes a plant grow to provide shade during the day (which makes Jonah happy) but the next day God makes a worm eat the plant so it dies and Jonah is angry again. God gives Jonah a little perspective at the end of chapter 4:
Jonah was looking for instant gratification, of a sort. He wanted to watch God destroy the city because that's what they deserved. We're like that too. We often want to hear from God instantly and question if he's really there when we don't hear from him.
What is forbearance and how is it different from patience? Forbearance is defined as "refraining from the enforcement of something such a debt, obligation or something due." It is waiting on someone to get their act together instead of giving them what they deserve. Patience is waiting for a frozen pizza to cook.
God was compassionate, gracious, and abounding in love to the people of Ninevah, and Jonah knew he would be. God was willing to give them a chance and wait for them to repent. Jonah wasn't too happy about that.
Forbearance and forgiveness
Forbearance is different than forgiveness. It is showing patience when someone doesn't deserve it, even when they are still making the same mistakes.
God has forbearance for people who are not following him, demonstrated by giving people as much time as possible to repent. He forgives when we confess our sin and ask for forgiveness because it's part of who he is. Would you forgive someone else if they did to you what you have done?
Without forbearance active in your life, it's easy to feel that you're the victim and that everyone is out to get you. Or like Jonah, we want to see people get what we think they deserve and get upset when their punishment doesn't seem to come. It is definitely not something that we can magically create in our lives. It's a gift; it becomes natural when we are connected with Christ.
We need God's help
God will demonstrate forbearance regardless of who we are or what we have done. To understand it how it applies in our own lives and how we can show it to others, we need to ask God for it.
Think about Jonah. God demonstrated forbearance toward him when he ran away, when he angrily sat on a rock hoping God would destroy a city, and when he was angry about a plant that he didn't even ask for or grow. We can't practice forbearance without God.
Most likely you won't be praying from inside a giant fish, but we can know that God will show us forbearance because it is who he is.