I learnt one of my most important spiritual lessons from a neighbour, Encik Omar. This happened many years ago when I was living in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia. We were chatting one day when he said: “There are times when it seems like Allah is losing. But we know he will win in the end. We are willing to wait, even if it takes generations.”
I felt rebuked. Often we initiate a ministry objective, or pray for an outcome we believe is of the Lord, but we quickly give up if things don’t go our way. Here is a Muslim neighbour so confident of God’s ultimate victory he is willing to wait for generations, in other words, for a victory that may come after his lifetime.
This is a tough time to be a follower of Jesus in Malaysia. Like all Malaysians who long for a clean and transparent government, we are aghast that the Prime Minister has blatantly blocked key investigations into whether a government fund he is overseeing has been mismanaged. Here is an excerpt from The Economist:
How many lousy weeks comprise an annus horribilis? If current conditions continue, Najib Razak, Malaysia’s prime minister, will find out. For months Mr Najib has been buffeted by allegations of corruption at a state investment fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), which he set up six years ago. Earlier this month the Wall Street Journalreported that some $700m from companies associated with 1MDB was paid into what investigators believe are his personal bank accounts. . . .
On Tuesday Mr Najib sacked five ministers, among them his attorney-general, Abdul Gani Patail, who said he had received documents concerning the prime minister and 1MDB; and his deputy, Muhyiddin Yassin, who had made comments critical of how the government had handled the 1MDB scandal. On Wednesday night a video surfaced that appeared to show Mr Muhyiddin telling several guests at his home that Mr Najib admitted that 2.6 billion ringgit ($683m) was paid into his personal account.
Among those Mr Najib promoted to the cabinet was Nur Jazlan Mohamed, who had been chairing a parliamentary committee looking into the 1MDB allegations. He will resign from that post, which will cause the committee to suspend its investigation until October. That may give Mr Najib time, but that is all he has.
(“The Troubles of Malaysia’s Prime Minister Continue,” The Economist, 30 June 2015)
Many understand this situation to be but the latest in a long history of mismanagement and corruption by certain elements of the government. And it seems that those responsible will get away with their misdeeds.
Christians in Malaysia have other matters to concern them. A recent highly publicised one is the government’s continuing attempt to ban Christians in Malaysia from using the word “Allah” to refer to God. While many Christians in West Malaysia may not use that term often, many of our brothers and sisters in East Malaysia use Malay as their primary language and they have always referred to God as “Allah”. This is a direct assault on how they practice their faith, which is a direct assault on the freedom of religion enshrined in the constitution. The above are but two examples of much that disturbs followers of Jesus in Malaysia today. Although we pray and act, nothing seems to happen. This is a very frustrating time.
But if we are to learn from Mr Omar, we are to say that though things look bad for all who treasure freedom and integrity, and for followers of Jesus who treasure freedom of religion for themselves and for all Malaysians, we must not be shaken because we know that God is in control and will win in the end even if He takes generations to show His hand.
We can learn from Mr Omar because what he says is a principle that we find in the Bible.
Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!
Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. (James 5:7–11 NIV)
The writer of the book of James addresses those who are suffering at the hands of the wicked and exhorts them to wait patiently for the Lord to act. The ultimate deliverance is the parousia when Christ returns to set things right once and for all. But there are times that God delivers in history. That is God’s call. We are called to wait patiently.
James points his readers to an experience of waiting that they are already familiar with . . . the farmer having to wait patiently for the harvest. He points them to biblical examples — how there were prophets who patiently spoke for God yet who didn’t seem to have much impact when they preached, and how many suffered for their faithful ministry. James also mentions Job, a righteous man who received so much unfair suffering, who didn’t know why he suffered, but whom God redeemed in the end.
The waiting that James has in mind is not fatalism or defeatism. We can and should wait for the Lord to act in His way and in His time because James is confident of God’s character — “The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.” If God is seemingly silent and absent it is not because He doesn’t know or He doesn’t care. But He is God. He knows how to respond and when. We are not God. We are called to trust Him and to wait patiently. And we are blessed when we do just that.
The necessary quality for receiving this blessing is not great deeds or ringing sermons, but patient endurance whatever the situation. (Peter H. Davids, James [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982], 186–7.)
I don’t equate patient waiting with quietism. We are called to trust God and to do good (Psalm 37:3). While waiting for God to act we must still do what we can: speaking out for what is right, doing what we can in support of godly values in society, and preaching the Gospel. But if it seems that what we do doesn’t seem to be doing any good, we remember that our God is compassionate and merciful, and so we patiently wait.
Thank you Mr Omar for helping me to remember to be patient and to trust God especially in tough times.