God’s patience and longsuffering are some of the qualities I appreciate most about Him. He works and waits so patiently to draw sinful and resistant people to Himself. He picks us up a thousand times when we fall. He forgives us when we confess the same sin repeatedly.
But we can’t presume upon Him. We can’t put Him off, either for salvation or for obedience, for ever. We can’t expect Him to just wait in the wings until we get good and ready to come to Him.
God was patient with Israel’s complaining and unbelief when He first brought them out of Egypt. They had been captive slaves for 400 years. Surrounded by paganism, they probably had not been taught much about God and His ways. But after seeing His power displayed in the plagues, at the Red Sea, in providing for water and food in the middle of a desert, more of them should have started trusting Him. He even forgave them when they built a golden calf and worshiped it instead of Him.
But finally, when they refused to go into the promised land even with reassurances that God would help them conquer, that was enough. God deemed that they would wander around the wilderness for forty years until that generation died off. Then their children would be able to enter in.
God still loved them and worked with them. But they forfeited their opportunity to enter into their rest.
But my people did not listen to my voice;
Israel would not submit to me.
So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts,
to follow their own counsels.
Oh, that my people would listen to me,
that Israel would walk in my ways!
It’s sad to think that disobedience and unbelief could be so costly for God’s people. But it’s even scarier for those who refuse to believe on Him at all.
In Romans 1, Paul tells about God’s wrath against ungodly and unrighteous people who:
- suppress the truth (v. 18)
- did not honor God as God, even though evidence of “his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (vv. 19-21)
- did not give thanks to him (v. 21)
- “became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (v. 21)
- “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (v. 22) and “worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (v. 25)
Three times in the next few verses, we’re told God gave them up.
- “God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity” (v. 24)
- “God gave them up to dishonorable passions” (v. 26)
- “God gave them up to a debased mind” (v. 28)
This commentary says these were degrees: God gave them up (or over, some translations say) bit by bit until they ended up with a debased mind. That debased mind led to “all manner of unrighteousness,” which Paul expands on in the rest of the passage.
C. S. Lewis has said, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.'” (from The Great Divorce). When we insist on our own way long enough, God lets us have it. And the results are never good.
Because they hated knowledge
and did not choose the fear of the Lord,
would have none of my counsel
and despised all my reproof,
therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way,
and have their fill of their own devices. Proverbs 1:29-31
Because God is longsuffering, He doesn’t usually give people up at the first rejection. But at some point, the door of opportunity will be closed. We don’t know how much time we have. It’s wise not to wait. “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).
It’s also not wise to put off obedience or the next step of faith God wants us to take.
When I have been reluctant to obey God at some point, I’ve had to confess my unwillingness and ask Him to help me be willing. One person said, “I’m willing to be made willing.”
When I have felt my heart wasn’t right and my will was being stubborn, I’ve prayed with Jeremiah, “Turn thou us unto thee, O LORD, and we shall be turned” (Lamentations 5:21, KJV) and with the psalmist, “Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” (Psalm 85:6).
The psalmist and the writer of Hebrews used Israel’s disobedience to plead, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Psalm 95:6-11; Hebrews 3:7-8, 15). May our hearts always be pliable in His hands.