by Demiana Salib
The fire you threaten me with cannot go on burning for very long; after a while it goes out. But what you are unaware of are the flames of future judgement and everlasting torment which in store for the ungodly. Why do you go on wasting time? Bring out whatever you have a mind to.
These are the words of Polycarp of Smyrna as he faced his martyrdom. In the written account of the Martyrdom of Polycarp, Polycarp is questioned several times by the Governor and is eventually put to death because he would only reaffirm his faith all the more strongly upon further questioning. The Governor had no real intention of killing Polycarp. Polycarp was a frail, old man that could do no harm – who would want to be responsible for his death? It was a case of “pick on someone your own size.” Despite his frail appearance, the height of his virtue however, moved the hearts of the crowd of unbelievers of which, went on to become Christian.
Although martyrdom does not exist in our world, what does remain is the history of martyrs and those that continue to be martyred in our home country, Egypt. We share in their struggles through prayer. We share in their struggles by elevating their suffering above our own. We share in their struggles by looking upon our own lives and finding reasons to be thankful that far out way our complaints. The very reason we can complain in this day and age is because God has already blessed us to the extent that we have created expectations of Him, but in reality, He doesn’t owe us anything. We, that complain, have been blessed with grace beyond measure. If we fail to recognise these gifts of grace, we fail to acquire patience.
It is much easier to tell God what we think is best, that our ways are higher than His. This present moment that leaves you questioning how your circumstances could be for your benefit is the very feeling that God is using to turn your impatience into patience. We pressure Him in prayer, we treat Him like He is doing His job all wrong. We create a very simple formula. I pray, He answers, I live happily ever after. But there’s so more that we don’t see. Out of His love for us, He carries us, kicking and screaming, because we can only see two steps ahead of us when He sees the whole picture.
We may pray every day so that whatever struggles we are going through, God takes care of. But do we pray in order to brainstorm for God possible solutions to end all our problems? If only He could see how simple the solution really is, He would’ve acted by now. The term, “long suffering” is used interchangeably with “patience.” Yes, you may be suffering, and this may cause you to think that this is the path to acquiring virtue, but if you are not patiently enduring, you are depriving yourself of virtues. God is perfect; we are not. Therefore, we do not test God’s faithfulness; He tests us. In prayer, we do not pray to alert God to our problems; we pray so that we may hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering so that we always remember that He who promised is faithful and will deliver us from all our troubles (Hebrews 10:23).
St Paul had out he called a thorn in his side. A hinderance to his service. But God had other plans. God used his infirmity to teach him the gift of long suffering. While the exact cause of his infirmity is unknown, it is speculated that St Paul was prone to seizures. He prayed relentlessly for the healing of his infirmity, yet was not healed. If speculation of seizures was correct, this is likely to have been both debilitating and humiliating for St Paul. In a time where Christianity was despised and looked down upon, St Paul was also risking his own self-worth for the sake of Gospel, should his infirmity come to light while preaching. Would he choose to wallow in self pity or would he humbly accept his infirmity, look past its potential hindrance and preach the Gospel?
Through the thorn in his side, St Paul became a true example of patience acquired through long suffering. He didn’t know when his infirmity would become a hindrance to his service; all he knew was that he had the message of salvation that needed to be shared, so he took a step, and God blessed it. He recounts the peace that followed when he selflessly chose service over his own self doubt. He says, “And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2. Cor. 12:9-10). It was never God’s intention to hinder Paul’s service, but strengthen him beyond what he thought was attainable. By recognising and giving his infirmities to God, he emptied himself and allowed God to strengthen and fulfil his ministry in a way that is far beyond our understanding of Love.
Patiently endure your tribulations, as difficult as it may sound, especially at first. Learn from every lesson that presents itself as tribulation in your life. Look at the struggles of those around you and see them as greater than your own. Then even your greatest struggles will seem small to the one that elevates those around them. Allow Him to turn your impatience into patience. Your earthly being into a heavenly being of virtue.
“And the more you withdraw yourself from all solace of creatures, so much the sweeter and more powerful consolation shall you find in Me.” – Thomas Kempis