But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment. (2 Peter 3:8–10 NLT)
For more than 400 years, between the last teachings from the prophet Malachi and the angel interrupting Zechariah’s priestly duties in Luke 1, there were no divine revelations. No prophets. No angelic pronouncements. No messages or warnings or announcements from Heaven. Four hundred years of Jews living under Persian, Greek, and Roman control, with varying degrees of freedom to worship God. Generations were born, lived, and died between Malachi’s last words – “Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the Lord arrives. His preaching will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise I will come and strike the land with a curse” (Malachi 4:5–6) – and the fulfillment of that promise.
Superimposing this silent era on a more contemporary timeline, if Jesus were to be born tomorrow, William Shakespeare could have heard from Malachi’s own mouth God’s promise concerning his arrival. This is a long time, especially considering from Moses onward there is not really any other era when God did not have at least one prophet serving as a mouthpiece for his instructions, rebukes, or corrections. Even during the exile, when most of the population was taken from their homes in Israel and Judah, there were prophets like Jeremiah, Malachi, and Daniel who prophesied encouraging words of God’s continued provision, deliverance from their oppressors, and the coming of the Messiah.
For most of us, especially the impatient and the easily distracted, a wait of forty years would be unbearable; 400 would be unthinkable. Yet, God is patient in all things. As 2 Peter 3:9 states, “The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake.” Peter was referring to the Second Coming, but the same is true of the First Coming, Jesus’s arrival in a manger in Bethlehem. God was not being slow to work; he was being patient, ensuring Jesus’s arrival would come at the perfect time.
Praise God that the Lord is not just patient in enacting his plans. He is also patient with us. When we act like a child who is repeatedly asking for a promised reward, he does not grow angry or revoke his promise. He continues to be patient with us. In turn, we, like the impatient child, have the choice to learn from the example of our Father in Heaven and seek the route of patience, or we can continue in our impatient, rebellious nature and bring suffering on ourselves.
Which path will you seek when your impatience next comes up against God’s patience? What steps can you take today, in advance of the impatient moment, to prepare your heart and your mind to move at God’s speed rather than yours?