Patience. Just be still. Good things come to those who wait.
If I had a dollar for every time I heard these things, especially the latter, well, you know. I never really understood the quote and why so many people used it as if it were a part of our “Christianized” language. I’ve even said it to my children in passing when they wanted dessert sooner, a toy, or time on the Xbox. But as I’ve begun to examine the phrase, I wondered if it was truly from the Bible or a reference from something else.
Is it true that good things come to someone who waits? What does it even mean to wait? And for how long? Why would we be rewarded with good things? There is no Scriptural basis for this quote whatsoever. In fact, that’s not even the whole quote.
Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left behind by those who hustle -Abraham Lincoln
The phrase is originally from an old English proverb “all things come to those who wait.” This may have originated from a poem by Lady Mary Montgomerie Currie, who used to write under her pseudonym, Violet Fane. The phrase first appeared in her poem Tout vient a qui sait attendre in the same words. The poem was published at the beginning of the 20th century. Other than this, there are no written references regarding the proverb’s origin.
The phrase doesn’t actually mean being patient but, instead, working hard when the opportunity arises. For example, you and your boss are the same age but the reason she is your boss is because she worked harder when the opportunity arose, therefore, she reaped the benefits of being in a management position.
In other words, being patient coupled with working hard and relying on God is the best poster you can have for your future.
What Does the Bible Say about Patience?
So, there's no disputing that God wants us to be patient. But as with most virtues, the biblical writers assume that we know what patience is and don't give an explicit definition. But do we? Patience is defined as:
- The quality of being patient, as the bearing of provocation, annoyance, misfortune, or pain, without complaint, loss of temper, irritation, or the like.
- An ability or willingness to suppress restlessness or annoyance when confronted with delay.
- To have patience with a slow learner.
- Quiet, steady perseverance; even-tempered care; diligence.
Although most individuals consider patience to be a passive, waiting, or gentle tolerance, most of the Greek words translated as “patience,” in the New Testament, are active, vigorous words.
Consider, for example, Hebrews 12:1: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
The word translated as “patience,” in this verse, means “endurance.” Notice here, the athletes didn’t take a leisurely stroll or run at half their ability. They ran with endurance and perseverance. They ran to complete the race to the best of their abilities and gave it their all. They also ran the race patiently by persevering through difficulties. In the Bible, patience is persevering towards a goal, enduring trials, or expectantly waiting for a promise to be fulfilled.
Waiting without complaint is no easy task. It is a characteristic that is developed and refined over time since the day we were born. How many times can you remember your mother or father simply telling you, “Be patient.” So, what is so virtuous about not complaining? To be patient is to endure discomfort without complaint — to endure hardship.
This calls on the strength of humility, self-control, and generosity. In other words, patience isn’t just one fundamental characteristic, it’s robust and complex and fuels our faith. We are given opportunities on a daily basis to practice it. At work, at home, with your kids, with your neighbor.
The Bible Is Filled with References to Patience and God’s Will
Colossians 1:11 tells us that we are strengthened by Him to “great endurance and patience,” while James 1:3-4 encourages us to know that trials are His way of perfecting our patience. This ability is further refined and strengthened as we rest our patience, wants, desires, and dreams in God’s will and perfect timing rather than our own.
In fact, God has his own sense of timing: “With the Lord one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day,” (2 Peter 3:8). He has perfect timing: never early, never late. God is never in a hurry, but he is always on time.
Creating an Ishmael Opportunity or Waiting for an Isaac Moment?
Waiting on God is simply your ability to believe that he holds and directs your life. He is the author and perfecter and he can do a better job of our lives than we can trying to make things happen. For example, do you want an Ishmael opportunity or an Isaac moment? Are you settling for what’s good or waiting for what’s best?
Sarah had prayed for years to have a child and when she realized God wasn’t going to give her one, she stopped waiting. What’s worse is how she took matters into her own hands. She gave her maid Hagar to her husband so that she might have children through her.
It wasn’t uncommon in those days for this practice, but they were promised a child from God. So, Ishmael came from this union, and instead of bringing joy to Sarah, it only brought bitterness and remorse.
When she was in her 90’s, God did something truly miraculous. He kept his promise and Sarah became pregnant and gave birth to her own precious baby boy — Isaac. What was supposed to be a joyous time of raising a family, then became a rival between the boys. It caused a multitude of problems until finally, Abraham sent Ishmael and his mother away.
What Does This Mean?
Somewhere along the journey, we will be tempted to “create an Ishmael.” We will be tempted, like Abraham and Sarah, to make the promises of God happen. The problem is that we can't possibly do that. The problem is that we can’t control God or his timing.
We don’t help him in it unless he asks us to. Our main roles in it are to wait, make plans, and let Him guide our steps. In other words, yes good things do actually come to those who wait — on the Lord.
©iStock/Getty Images Plus/BartekSzewczyk
Heather Riggleman is an award-winning journalist and a regular contributor for Crosswalk. She calls Nebraska home with her three kids and a husband of 22 years. She believes Jazzercise, Jesus, and tacos can fix anything and not necessarily in that order! She is author of I Call Him By Name Bible Study, the Bold Truths Prayer Journal, Mama Needs a Time Out, and a contributor to several books. You can find her at www.heatherriggleman.com or on Facebook.