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Battling the Unbelief of Bitterness
November 20, 1988
by John Piper
Scripture: Romans 12:17–21
Topic: Killing Sin
Series: Battling Unbelief
Everybody Must Learn How to Deal with Anger
While I was at the midyear board meetings of the Baptist General Conference in Madison this week, one pastor confided in me that he gets angry very easily and sometimes has a lot of anger inside even when his people don't know it from the way he looks.
He was speaking for many. For some people anger is corked under a calm exterior. It ferments where no one can see it. Others spout off instantly if they get angry. Others turn red in the face and tremble. Others become sullen and silent. Others become caustic and cutting with their tongue.
But everybody has to deal with it one way or the other—anger is a universal experience, and most of it is not good. I base that on James 1:19–20 which says, "Be slow to anger, for the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God." We should learn how to be slow to anger because what comes quickly is usually tainted by unrighteousness. It's simply human rather than being godly.
But we know that not all anger is bad. Jesus was a man without sin, yet it says inMark 3:5, "He looked around at them with anger grieved at their hardness of heart." And Psalm 7:11 says, "God is angry every day." And Paul says in Ephesians 4:26, "Be angry and sin not." Not all anger is bad. Some is good and right and necessary.
But mainly the Bible warns us against the dangers of anger. "Be slow to anger, for the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God" (James 1:19–20). "Put away all anger and wrath and malice" (Colossians 3:8). "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor . . . be put away from you with all malice" (Ephesians 4:31). "Now the works of the flesh are plain: . . . strife, jealousy, anger . . . " (Galatians 5:20). "Every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment" (Matthew 5:22).
Anger Is Very Dangerous
You can see from that last warning that anger is very dangerous. If it takes root in your heart and becomes a grudge or an unforgiving spirit, it can destroy you. That's the point of Jesus' parable in Matthew 18 about the unforgiving servant: after having his massive debt cancelled by the king, he refuses to cancel the tiny debt of his friend. And so the king throws him into jail for his heartlessness. Jesus closes the parable with this warning in verse 35: "So also will my heavenly Father do to every one of you if you do not forgive your brother from your heart."
Anger is very dangerous. It can take over your heart, turn into a lasting grudge, or an unforgiving spirit, and the result will be judgment. Jesus said very plainly inMatthew 6:15, "If you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." To feel the weight of that warning let's put it in three parts:
No one goes to heaven unforgiven by God. Heaven is a place given only to forgiven sinners.
No one is forgiven who is unwilling to be forgiving.
No one goes to heaven who is unforgiving.
Jesus treats anger the way he treats lust. If you don't fight lust, you don't go to heaven (Matthew 5:29). If you don't forgive others, you won't get to glory (Matthew 6:15).
A Battle Against Unbelief
Is this salvation by works? Does this teach that we earn our way to heaven? No. Salvation is by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). And the opposite of salvation, judgment, is not by grace through faith, but by works (the opposite of grace) through unbelief (the opposite of faith). So that's what Jesus means.
Therefore when Jesus teaches that an unforgiving spirit or bitterness leads to judgment and not to salvation, he means that bitterness is a kind of unbelief. And the way to fight against it is to fight the fight of faith. The battle against bitterness in our hearts is not an effort to work our way to heaven. It's a battle to believe the Word of God, and bank on the promises of his grace.
Back during my seminary days Noël and I were in a kind of 20:20 group with some other couples. One night we were discussing forgiveness and anger, and one of the women said that she could not and would not forgive her mother for something she had done to her as a young girl. We talked about some of the biblical commands to forgive, and we talked about being forgiven by God, but she was adamant.
So I said, "You know, don't you, that you are in mortal danger of being cast into hell? If you're not willing to forgive your mother her sins against you, God will not be willing to forgive your sins against him. No unforgiving people will be in heaven." But she wasn't the kind of person who submitted easily to Scripture. She was driven by emotion and the strength of her indignation simply justified itself.
The reason she was in danger of losing her soul is not because she didn't work hard enough for God, but because she didn't trust in his willingness to work hard enough for her.
The battle against bitterness is a battle against unbelief. And the peace and rest and joy that come in place of anger and bitterness are the peace and joy thatRomans 15:13 says explicitly come by believing in the God of hope.
Four Ways to Battle Bitterness by Battling Unbelief
What I want to do then this morning is lay out four ways to battle bitterness by battling unbelief. If God empowers his Word now, there will be great results: your heart will be freed from the burden of bitterness; at least from your side relationships can be healed; one more obstacle can be removed from an authentic witness to Christ, and God will be greatly honored by your trust.
1. Don't Ignore the Good Advice of the Doctor
The first way to battle the unbelief of bitterness is very basic: namely, consider what the Doctor says good advice. If the Great Physician says, "Put away anger," don't ignore the counsel. Put it in your mind and resolve to keep it. That's what you do if you trust your Doctor.
Listen to the story of Leroy Eims' battle with anger. Here is a Christian leader who discovered that the secret was in listening to the Doctor's orders.
Shortly after I became a Christian, I was . . . challenged to make personal applications as part of my weekly Bible study. One of the first books I studied was Paul's letter to the Colossians. As I was studying chapter three, the Holy Spirit caught my attention with this: "But now you must rid your selves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language" (Col. 3:8).
I tried to slide past this verse, but the Spirit kept bringing me back to the words "put off anger" (KJV). At the time I had a violent temper, and whenever it flared up I would haul off and bash my fist into the nearest door. In spite of the fact that I often bloodied my knuckles and on the one occasion had completely smashed a beautiful diamond and onyx ring my wife had given me, I couldn't seem to stop. And yet here was God's Word: "Put off anger." It was clear to me that this was not just some good advice given to the people at Colossae centuries ago. It was God speaking to me at that moment.
So that week I make a covenant with God. He had spoken to me about my sin of anger, and I promised the Lord I was going to work on it . . .
My first step was to memorize the verse and review it daily for a number of weeks. [The doctor's advice is not ignored. You get serious about getting it into your head and heart if you trust him.] I prayed and asked the Lord to bring this verse to mind whenever a situation arose where I might be tempted to lose my temper. And I asked my wife to pray for me and remind me of that passage if she saw me failing in my promise to the Lord. So Colossians 3:8 became a part of my life and gradually God removed that sin from me. (The Lost Art of Discipleship, pp. 78f.)
So the first way to battle bitterness by battling unbelief is to believe that the Doctor's advice is good. If you trust his counsel, you will take pains to get it into your head and heart. You will not ignore it or reject it.
2. Cherish Being Forgiven by God
The second way to battle the unbelief of bitterness is to really cherish being forgiven by God. Underline the word cherish.
Paul said in Ephesians 4:32, "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." In other words, being forgiven by God should have a powerful effect on our being forgiving people and not hold grudges, and not being bitter.
How does being forgiven make you a forgiving person? We answer: by faith in our being forgiven. By believing that we are forgiven.
But that woman 18 years ago who would not forgive her mother believed that she was forgiven. She would not let the sin of her grudge shake her security.
What's wrong here? What's wrong is that she didn't know what true saving faith is. Saving faith is not merely believing that you are forgiven. Saving faith means believing that God's forgiveness is an awesome thing! Saving faith looks at the horror of sin and then looks at the holiness of God and believes that God's forgiveness is a staggering beauty and unspeakably glorious. Faith in God's forgiveness does not merely mean confidence that I am off the hook. It means confidence that this is the most precious thing in the world. That's why I use the word cherish. Saving faith cherishes being forgiven by God.
And there's the link with the battle against bitterness. You can go on holding a grudge if your faith simply means you are off the hook. But if faith means standing in awe of being forgiven by God, then you can't go on holding a grudge. You have fallen in love with mercy. It's your life. So you battle bitterness by fighting for the faith that stands in awe of God's forgiveness of your sins.
3. Trust That God's Justice Will Prevail
The third way to battle the unbelief of bitterness is to trust that God's justice will prevail.
One cause of bitterness is the feeling that you have been wronged by someone. They have lied about you, or stolen from you, or been unfaithful to you, or let you down, or rejected you. And you get this feeling not only that you should not have been hurt, but that they should be punished. And you may be right.
And in feeling right you dwell on the injustice of it. You go over it again and again in your mind, and it chews at your insides. You think of things you might say to put them in their place. You think of things you could do to show others their true colors.
Now God is not pleased by this bitterness. And the reason he's not is because it comes from unbelief in the certainty that God's justice will prevail.
Romans 12:19 says, "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.'"
What this text says is that God has made a promise that he himself will repay all wrongs in perfect measure. His justice will prevail. No wrong has escaped his notice. He sees its evil far better than you do. He hates it far more than you do. And he claims the right to take vengeance.
Do you believe this promise? Do you trust God to settle accounts for you far more justly than you could ever settle them? If you do, this text says, you will stop savoring revenge. You will leave it to God, and you will be free to return good for evil and bless those who persecute you (Romans 12:14, 20).
The battle against bitterness and vengeance is a battle against unbelief in the promise of God to vindicate us in due time and to make justice prevail (Psalm 37:6). If we believe he will do it, and do it better than we could, then we will do what 1 Peter 2:23 says that Jesus did.
No one was wronged worse than Jesus. No one got a raw deal as bad as his. No one was abused more. No one was rejected more. And no one was as innocent. So what did he do when his heart filled with moral indignation?
When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly.
That is, he handed over his grievance to God. Why? Because he had become one of us, and he was showing us that vengeance is God's and that justice will prevail. With that confidence Jesus never allowed any sinful bitterness to rise in his heart. And we shouldn't either.
The way to battle bitterness is to believe that vengeance belongs to the Lord and he will repay. If you keep a grudge, you doubt the Judge.
4. Trust God's Purpose to Turn It for Your Good
The final way to battle the unbelief of bitterness is to trust God's purpose to turn the cause of your anger for your good.
1 Peter 1:6–7 says, "For a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ."
In other words, God allows trials in our lives that could make us very angry. If they couldn't, they wouldn't be trials. But the reason he does is to refine our faith the way gold is refined by fire.
This means that the battle against bitterness in the midst of trial is nothing other than the battle against unbelief. Will we look to the sovereign goodness of God, and believe that he means us good in the refining fire? Or will we surrender to unbelief, and let bitterness grow?
Let me summarize our four points about how to battle the unbelief of bitterness:
Believe that what the Great Physician says is good advice. If he says, "Put away anger," don't ignore the counsel. Put it in your mind and resolve to keep it.
Believe that you are forgiven, and that being forgiven by an infinitely holy God is an awesome thing.
Believe that vengeance belongs to God, that he will repay those who do wrong.
Believe that God's purpose in all your trials is to turn the cause of your anger for your good.
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John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. 
Battling the Unbelief of Despondency
December 4, 1988
by John Piper
Scripture: Psalm 73:21–26
Topic: Fear & Anxiety
Series: Battling Unbelief
When my heart was grieved
and my spirit embittered,
I was senseless and ignorant;
I was a brute beast before you.
Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.
(The following is a transcription of the sermon audio.)
I want you to focus on verse 26 for just a few minutes - "My flesh and my heart may fail" - because that’s the definition of despondency that I want us to work with. Do you see the three parts to that little phrase “my flesh and my heart may fail”?
"My flesh" - that means there’s a physical component to despondency. Isn't there? The body weakens, there’s fatigue, there’s a sense of listlessness and sluggishness.
Secondly, "and my heart" - that means there’s this emotional spiritual dimension to despondency. Our hearts are discouraged, dejected, gloomy, burned out.
Third, "fail." The word means come to an end, run out, be exhausted of resources. It’s like your life is a tank and in it is water that you need for refreshment. And somebody pulls the plug at the bottom and it just all runs out. And this word in Hebrew (Kalla) means come to an end, be exhausted, be depleted of resources to handle problems and life.
Is Sin the Source of Despondency?
Now the question is, Is unbelief the root of that experience of despondency? And with ten minutes to preach here I’m passing over a lot. The answer is yes and no.
In other words, it’s not simple. But I’m going to pick a simple sentence, one that comes from Scripture, because we need clear and simple things to live by. Here’s the sentence that I think is simple and true: Unbelief is the root of yielding todespondency.
I’ll pass over the issue of where despondency comes from, because it’s very complex. Wherever it comes from, unbelief is at the root of making peace with it, yielding to it, giving no spiritual warfare to fight it, being negligent in putting on the armour of God and so on. Now I want illustrate this briefly by looking at the Psalm and then looking at Jesus.
"But God..."
The Psalm 73:26 contains this truth, "My flesh and my heart may fail." Now literally it's just "fail," not "may fail." There’s no "may" implied in this Hebrew verb. Its just, "My flesh and my heart are failing, I am discouraged, I am despondent, I am at my wit's end." And then comes the spiritual counter attack in the next phrase: “but God.”
So here’s this man. The cork is pulled out at the bottom of his life. His heart and his flesh are just about depleted, and he says—perhaps with his last breath—"but God is the rock (or strength) of my weak, failing life and my portion forever."
So my point is wherever this despondency may come from it’s unbelief that doesn't say “but God.” It’s unbelief that puts up no resistance. It’s unbelief that doesn't take the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit and fight. That much I think we can say with clarity from Scripture. "My body is shot, my heart is almost dead, and for whatever reason I will not yield. I will trust to God though my strength is gone."
Psalm 19:7, "The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul." The word of God is given to revive souls. The saints' souls need to be restored and revived. That means despondency comes and the Word of God is given to restore it.
Satan vs. the Son of God
Let’s go to Jesus. Turn with me to Matthew 26:36 and following. I want us to be with Jesus for a few minutes in Gethsemane. We’ve just celebrated the Lord’s Supper. A few hours later Jesus is in Gethsemane and what’s happening there is probably the greatest spiritual warfare in a human soul that’s ever happened or ever will happen.
Satan no doubt has drawn near. You remember when it said after Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, "He withdrew from him until an opportune time." When do you think that was? Right now, I think. And not only did he draw near. I’ll bet he gathered all of the most powerful members of his wicked army. You can be assured that the flaming darts that Paul mentions in Ephesians 6 were flying with volleys against the soul of the Son of God as he knelt there wrestling for his faithfulness.
Look at verse 36:
Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, "Sit here while I go yonder and pray." And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, "My soul is very sorrowful, even to death."
Now what’s going on here, why is Jesus so distressed and troubled and sorrowful?
John 12:27 says "Now is my soul troubled. What shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, but for this purpose, I have come to this hour." Now I think that text tells us what the nature of the temptation was. Satan was firing volley after volley into the mind of Jesus Christ. And thoughts came into his mind from Satan, thoughts like, "This is a dead end street. Calvary is just a black hole. It’s going to hurt like nothing has ever hurt any human being ever before, and these rascals aren’t worth it, etc." These were coming out of Satan’s wicked heart into the mind of the Son of God.
Satan wants to produce in Jesus a spirit of despondency that sinks unopposed in resignation and says "It won’t work, there’s no point in pressing on anymore." Now I want us to think about this warfare for a minute and compare it to the disciples.
Do Not Let Your Hearts Be Troubled
Jesus is a sinless man. According to Hebrews 4:15 and 2 Corinthians 5:20 he never sinned at all, neither in thought, emotion, or deed. He was sinless. This means that the emotional turmoil that he was experiencing at this moment was a fitting response to the kind of extraordinary temptation he was enduring. The demonic thought that Calvary is a black hole of meaninglessness and emptiness and purposelessness is so horrendous that it ought to cause a jarring, a shock, in the soul of the Son of God as well as yours and mine.
It’s like a bomb. Satan drops bombs on the peaceful sea of our lives. And if it’s an atomic bomb there is, as soon as it explodes, a massive shock wave that hits before the deadly rays begin to make there way over people’s lives. That’s what I would say in Jesus' life is not sin. The shock wave of a satanic temptation that the death of the Son of God would be pointless is so powerful that it rolls him, it knocks him.
Now the amazing thing about this is that the word used here that he was troubled is also used of the disciples. However Jesus says to the disciples, "Don’t be troubled." John 14:1, "Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me."
Or John 14:27, "My peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you, not as the world gives to you. "Let not your hearts be troubled." When I read that yesterday I said to myself, "Now wait a minute. I got to figure this out here. I’m saying the sinless Son of God can be troubled—same word—and yet he tells the disciples don’t be troubled." It’s as though Satan drops this bomb, the same bomb, right in the experience of Jesus and the disciples.
They were about to be despondent because Jesus was going away and it looked to them like it was back to fishing. There’s no Kingdom here. This is a pointless thing. Nothing good has happened and now our best friend and, we thought, Lord is gone. And Jesus says, "No, don’t be troubled," and yet he was troubled.
Is this a contradiction? Is it okay for Jesus to be troubled and not okay for the disciples to be troubled? I don’t think there’s a contradiction. Here’s how I would put the two together.
On the part of the disciples Jesus is saying, "When the bomb drops in your life and Satan colors the shock wave of this experience with black hopelessness, don’t yield. Believe." In other words, he’s telling them, "Counter attack, let not your hearts be troubled, attack, believe in God, believe also in me." He’s not saying that this first shock wave that can knock you over or pull the plug out of your life won’t be there. He’s saying, "Counter attack, believe, take my peace, listen to what I’ve said, look at the word of God. I will show you the path of life."
Now with regard to Jesus, no one knew better than the Son of God that if he didn’t immediately counter attack the shock wave of Satan’s satanic temptation he’d be done for. And so in closing I want us to look very carefully at how Jesus responded to his troubled soul and the satanic attack on his peace with God. It’s right here—five steps.
Fight Unbelief Like Christ
As I mention these five steps in Matthew 26:37 and following I want you to fix in your mind what it is that threatens your tranquility most, what it is that causes despondency or disheartened feelings to rise most often in your own life. What’s the shell that Satan drops most frequently into your life? And then as I mention these five steps that the Lord Jesus took when the bomb dropped in his life, I want you to translate them immediately into your experience, because they're all relevant. Alright? There five of them.
Jesus chose some close friends to be with him. Verse 37: "And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled." So he didn’t withdraw. He took the inner ring, his most precious and trusted friends, and he pulled aside with them.
He opened his soul to them. Verse 38: "Then he said to them, 'My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.'" I can imagine their mouths dropping open, their King confessing his weakness. He opened his soul to them.
He asked for their help in spiritual warfare. Verse 38, second half: "Remain here and watch with me." Another text says "pray," and another, "Don’t let yourself come into temptation; stay here and fight with me. Fight with me."
He poured out his heart to the Father in prayer. Verse 39: "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me." It’s just fine to pray that the bombshell that has dropped into your life be taken away. That’s just right. Whatever it is that Satan fires at you, it's just fine to say, "Take it away Father. You’re stronger than he is."
But finally, he rested his soul in the sovereign wisdom of God. Second half of verse 39: "Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt."
So here’s the lesson. When Satan drops a bombshell on the peace of your life the initial shock waves of emotional response are not necessarily sin. What is sin is not to do what Jesus did when the bomb fell in the Garden of Gethsemane. Sin isyielding to depression. Sin is not taking the armour of God. Sin is not waging spiritual warfare.
But Jesus shows us another way. It’s not painless, but it’s not passive either. And I want us to follow him in it.
A Picture and a Plan
Let me just sum it up as we close.
Find your trusted friends. Who are they? Who are your inner ring.
Open your soul to them.
Ask them to fight with you, to wage war with you, to support you, to watch with you and pray with you.
Pour out your soul to the Father.
And rest in the sovereignty of his wisdom, come what may. "But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever."
So I close with this image. Leave it in your mind. The lesson of Jesus' life and the lesson of the Psalms is this: every cave that you're in—wandering along, feeling the rocks, stumbling, stepping, bumping your head—every cave that you are in is a tunnel that opens into glory. It opens into a day like today in Heaven, with the sun shining, and the grass green, and the waters flowing—as long as you don’t sit down in the cave and blow out the candle of faith.
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John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Battling the Unbelief of Impatience
November 27, 1988
by John Piper
Scripture: Isaiah 30:1–5
Topic: Killing Sin
Series: Battling Unbelief
"Ah, stubborn children,” declares the LORD,
“who carry out a plan, but not mine,
and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit,
that they may add sin to sin; 
who set out to go down to Egypt,
without asking for my direction,
to take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh
and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt! 

Therefore shall the protection of Pharaoh turn to your shame, and the shelter in the shadow of Egypt to your humiliation. 

For though his officials are at Zoan
and his envoys reach Hanes, 
everyone comes to shame
through a people that cannot profit them,
that brings neither help nor profit,
but shame and disgrace.”
In God's Place, at God's Pace
Impatience is a form of unbelief. It's what we begin to feel when we start to doubt the wisdom of God's timing or the goodness of his guidance. It springs up in our hearts when the road to success gets muddy or strewn with boulders or blocked by some fallen tree. The battle with impatience can be a little skirmish over a long wait in a checkout lane. Or it can be a major combat over a handicap or disease or circumstance that knocks out half your dreams.
The opposite of impatience is not a glib, superficial denial of frustration. The opposite of impatience is a deepening, ripening, peaceful willingness either to wait for God where you are in the place of obedience, or to persevere at the pace he allows on the road of obedience—to wait in his place, or to go at his pace.
The Battle Against Unbelief
When the way you planned to run your day, or the way you planned to live your life is cut off or slowed down, the unbelief of impatience tempts you in two directions, depending partly on your personality partly on circumstances:
On the one side, it tempts you to give up, bail out. If there's going to be frustration and opposition and difficulty, then I'll just forget it. I won't keep this job, or take this challenge, rear this child, or stay in this marriage, or live this life. That's one way the unbelief of impatience tempts you. Give up.
On the other side, impatience tempts you to make rash counter moves against the obstacles in your way. It tempts you to be impetuous or hasty or impulsive or reckless. If you don't turn your car around and go home, you rush into some ill-advised detour to try to beat the system.
Whichever way you have to battle impatience, the main point today is that it's a battle against unbelief and therefore it's not merely a personality issue. It's the issue of whether you live by faith and whether you inherit the promises of eternal life. Listen to these verses to sense how vital this battle is:
Luke 21:19—"By your endurance [patience] you will gain your lives."
Romans 2:7—"To those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, God will give eternal life."
Hebrews 6:12—"Do not be sluggish but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises."
Patience in doing the will of God is not an optional virtue in the Christian life. And the reason it's not is because faith is not an optional virtue. Patience in well-doing is the fruit of faith. And impatience is the fruit of unbelief. And so the battle against impatience is a battle against unbelief. And so the chief weapon is the Word of God, especially his promises.
How the Psalmist Battled Against Impatience
Before we look at Isaiah 30, I want you to see this relationship between the promises of God and the patience of the believer in Psalm 130:5. How does the psalmist battle against impatience in his heart?
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
And in his word I hope.
"Waiting for the Lord" is an Old Testament way of describing the opposite of impatience. Waiting for the Lord is the opposite of running ahead of the Lord and it's the opposite of bailing out on the Lord. It's staying at your appointed place while he says stay, or it's going at his appointed pace while he says go. It's not impetuous and it's not despairing.
Now how does the psalmist sustain his patience as he waits for the Lord to show him the next move? Verse 5 says, "I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and IN HIS WORD I HOPE." The strength that sustains you in patience is hope, and the source of hope is the Word of God. "In his word I hope!" And hope is just faith in the future tense. Hebrews says, "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for."
So what we have in Psalm 130:5 is a clear illustration that the way to battle impatience is to buttress your hope (or faith) in God, and the way to buttress your hope in God is to listen to his Word, especially his promises.
If you are tempted not to wait peacefully for God, to let him give you your next move—if you are tempted to give up on him or go ahead without him—please realize that this is a moment for great spiritual warfare. Take the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17), and wield some wonderful promise against the enemy of impatience.
The Impetuous Side of Impatience
Now let's look at an illustration of Israel when she did not do this.
During Isaiah's day Israel was threatened by enemies like Assyria. During those times God sent the prophet with his word to tell Israel how he wanted them to respond to the threat. But one time Israel became impatient with God's timing. The danger was too close. The odds for success were too small. Isaiah 30:1–2describes what Israel did in her impatience.
Woe to the rebellious children, says the Lord, who carry out a plan, but not mine; and who make a league, but not of my spirit, that they may add sin to sin; who set out to go down to Egypt, without asking for my counsel, to take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh, and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt!
This is the opposite of waiting on the Lord. Israel became impatient. God had not delivered them from their enemy in the time or in the way that they had hoped, and patience ran out. They sent to Egypt for help. They made a plan and treaty, but they weren't God's. The key words are in verse 2: "They set out to go down to Egypt, WITHOUT ASKING FOR MY COUNSEL."
This is a perfect illustration of the impetuous side of impatience. This is where many of us sin almost daily: charging ahead in our own plans without stopping to consult the Lord.
The Warning of the Lord
So the Lord gives a warning in verse 3: "Therefore shall the protection of Pharaoh [the king of Egypt!] turn to your shame, and the shelter in the shadow of Egypt to your humiliation." In other words, your impatience is going to backfire on you. Egypt will not deliver you; it will be your shame. Your impatience will turn out to be your humiliation.
This is meant as a warning for all of us. When our way is blocked and the Lord says wait, we better trust him and wait, because if we run ahead without consulting him, our plans will probably not be his plans and they will bring shame on us rather than glory. (See Isaiah 50:10–11 and the case of Abraham and Hagar for the same point.)
What Should Be Done Instead?
What should Israel have done? What should we do when we feel boxed in by obstacles and frustrations? The answer is given in verse 15 and verse 18.
For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, "In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength."
Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you; therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.
Here are two great promises this morning that should give you strong incentive to overcome the unbelief of impatience.
Verse 15: "In quietness and trust shall be your strength." In other words, if you rest in God, if you look to him instead of dashing down to Egypt, if you trust him, then he will give you all the strength you need to be patient and to handle the stresses where you are.
Then verse 18: "Blessed are all those who wait for him." God promises that if you wait patiently for his guidance and help, instead of plunging ahead "without asking for his counsel," he will give you a great blessing.
Preaching to Your Own Soul
This is the way you battle the unbelief of impatience. You preach to your soul with warnings and promises. You say, Look what happened to Israel when they acted impatiently and went to Egypt for help instead of waiting for God. They were shamed and humiliated. And then you say to your soul: but look what God promises to us if we will rest in him and be quiet and trusting. He will make us strong and save us. He says he will bless us if we wait patiently for him.
Then you might use the promise in Isaiah 49:23,
Those who wait for me shall not be put to shame.
And then Isaiah 64:4,
No eye has seen a God besides thee, who works for those who wait for him.
And finally 40:31,
Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
So you battle the unbelief of impatience by using the promises of God to persuade your heart that God's timing and God's guidance and God's sovereignty are going to take this frustrated, boxed in, unproductive situation and make something eternally valuable out of it. There will come a blessing, a strength, a vindication, a mounting up with wings like eagles.
Charles Simeon's Patient Endurance
Let me close with an illustration of a man who lived and died in successful warfare against the unbelief of impatience. His name was Charles Simeon. He was a pastor in the Church of England from 1782 to 1836 at Trinity Church in Cambridge. He was appointed to his church by a bishop against the will of the people. They opposed him not because he was a bad preacher but because he was an evangelical—he believed the Bible and called for conversion and holiness and world missions.
For 12 years the people refused to let him give the afternoon Sunday sermon. And during that time they boycotted the Sunday morning service and locked their pews so that no one could sit in them. He preached to people in the aisles for 12 years! How did he last?
In this state of things I saw no remedy but faith and patience. [Note the linking of faith and patience!] The passage of Scripture which subdued and controlled my mind was this, "The servant of the Lord must not strive." [Note: The weapon in the fight for faith and patience was the Word!] It was painful indeed to see the church, with the exception of the aisles, almost forsaken; but I thought that if God would only give a double blessing to the congregation that did attend, there would on the whole be as much good done as if the congregation were doubled and the blessing limited to only half the amount. This comforted me many, many times, when without such a reflection, I should have sunk under my burthen. (Charles Simeon, by H.C.G. Moule, p. 39)
Where did he get the assurance that if he followed the way of patience, there would be a blessing on his work that would make up for frustrations of having all the pews locked? He got it, no doubt, from texts like Isaiah 30:18, "Blessed are all those who wait for the Lord." The Word conquered unbelief and belief conquered impatience.
Fifty-four years later he was dying. It was October 1836. The weeks drug on, as they have for many of our dying saints at Bethlehem. I've learned that the battle with impatience can be very intense on the death bed. On October 21 those by his bed heard him say these words slowly and with long pauses:
Infinite wisdom has arranged the whole with infinite love; and infinite power enables me—to rest upon that love. I am in a dear Father's hands—all is secure. When I look to Him, I see nothing but faithfulness—and immutability—and truth; and I have the sweetest peace—I cannot have more peace. (Charles Simeon, p. 172)
The reason Simeon could die like that is because he had trained himself for 54 years to go to Scripture and to take hold of the infinite wisdom and love and power of God and use them to conquer the unbelief of impatience.
And so I urge you in the words of Hebrews 6:12, "Be imitators of" Charles Simeon and of all "those who through faith and patience inherit the promises."
For additional study see the connection of faith/hope with patience in Romans 8:25; 12:12; 1 Thessalonians 1:3; Hebrews 6:12, 15; James 1:3; Revelation 13:10. For other texts on patience see Psalm 37:9; Lamentations 3:25–27; Luke 8:15; Romans 5:3; 1 Corinthians 13:4; Galatians 5:5, 22; Ephesians 4:1–2; Colossians 1:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; James 5:7–11; Job 1:21; Luke 2:25, 38; 2 Timothy 3:10. For God's patience see 2 Peter 3:9; Romans 2:4; 9:22; 1 Timothy 1:16; 1 Peter 3:20.
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John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books.