“Slow to anger.” It’s not a phrase that describes me, or at least not very often. In fact it’s not a phrase that describes many people. Most of us struggle to keep our own frustrations in check. Yet, this is the way God describes himself (Ex. 34:6). God is patient, and His patience can be a tremendous encouragement to us. God’s patience can be used in counseling to invite repentance.
God could, if He so chose, bring forth His will immediately. He could accomplish all that He desires in the blink of an eye, and yet He waits. Our God is a God who waits. Why does He do this? We are usually restless and antsy to get what we want, to accomplish our tasks. God is patient; long-suffering is the word older translations use. Peter tells us plainly why God is patient:
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)
God is patient precisely because He desires that more men and women would come to repentance. His patience, Peter goes on to say is “salvation” (3:15). God’s patience, then, is an attribute of His care and an invitation to come to Him even when we sin.
God’s patience is an invitation for sinners to come to Him, even when the sin. God does not immediately condemn or punish us when we sin. He may often extend grace and give us time to repent. As Brad Hambrick writes:
God is slow to anger, graciously allowing time for repentance and change. While God will not be mocked with false repentance, he does not meet our every failure immediately with its due consequence (whether we are believers or unbelievers). God is not rushed into action by any sense of insecurity or threat. God acts only when it is right and good to do so. God displays his power through restraint of his loving patience. (God’s Attributes, 18)
He restrains His wrath in order that we might turn from our sin and enjoy fellowship with Him.
Biblical Counselors can and should highlight this attribute of divine love as a means of pleading with both believers and unbelievers to repent of their sin. It is not uncommon for counselees to struggle with repentance because of guilt and shame. We can develop a faulty sense that we cannot go to God quickly in repentance; we must feel some prolonged period of guilt, shame, or even punishment before we can go to Him. This can often lead to years of clinging to our guilt instead of taking it before God. God is patient precisely because He wants us to come to Him. If He wanted to meet out immediate justice He could. If He wanted us to feel condemned and punished He could make that happen too. He invites us, instead, to come to Him. 1 John 1:9 tells us we are always welcome to come and confess and He is always just and faithful to forgive believers in Christ. Hebrews 4 tells us to approach the throne of grace with confidence. God is patient and His patience is an invitation to turn from our sin.
You are never too far gone and it is never too late while you remain alive. God is patient in order that we might come to Him. Use this doctrine as a means of encouragement and invitation, counselors. God reveals Himself as “slow to anger” and “abounding in steadfast love” because He wants sinners to come to Him. Call your counselees to God by highlighting His unparalleled patience. His patience means salvation.