Patience is a virtue.
I hate clichés with a passion, but I have a particular distaste for that one, and not because it’s not true – it is true.
I don’t like it for the same reason I hate it when people say “when you pray for patience, God will teach it to you by putting you in a situation that requires you to keep a cool head and endure an unpleasant experience.” This statement is not untrue, but it is not nearly the whole truth. It is almost so watered down that the virtue of patience has come to mean nothing more than being able to stay calm sitting in traffic or being able to stand behind an exceptionally slow old lady using coupons in line at the grocery store, when you are in a rush. While these are desirable characteristics in every human being, mastering these feats does not prove that you know anything about this fruit of the Spirit.
An Introduction to Patience
Many of the parables and teachings of Jesus incorporated the theme of farming/agriculture. Some examples include the Parable of the Sower casting seed on various types of soil, the story of the Workers in the Vineyard, or the many verses like:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches” (Matthew 13:31-32).
He continually references this process of planting, watering, watching the seed grow and bear fruit, and pruning so that the plant would bear more fruit. This process of planting a seed and eventually reaping its fruit takes a LONG time. Living in the era of the microwave and fast-food, we often times take this for granted – we probably never even think about how long it took a seed to grow into a tree to produce that apple we are biting into.
Jesus was a carpenter by occupation, so why did He reference farming so much? I believe it was because He wanted to emphasize the way God made the world, in the sense that everything has a process, and things take time to develop. A seed doesn’t produce fruit overnight in the same way that it takes time for a boy to develop into a man. These things require patience.
“See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient” (James 5:7-8)
Patience in Tribulation
Trials and tribulations are going to come into your life if you’ve decided to man up and follow after Christ. It’s not a matter of ‘if’ it’s a matter of ‘when.’ The Bible says so:
“and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12).
The question therefore becomes, not ‘why is this happening to me’ but ‘how am I going to respond to this.’ The Book of James has this to say:
“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2-4)
Did you get that? Count it joy. Rejoice! Throw a party. Smile on the inside.
Because your patience is developing! And what’s going to happen when that happens??? You will be perfect and complete… lacking nothing. That’s how important this whole patience thing is. Furthermore, the fire of tribulations burn away our imperfections, and the longer it takes, the better off we are in the end because He will have had more time to refine us.
God is always at work in us, especially in the tough times.
“Jesus said to them, My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” (John 5:17)
I encourage you to allow Him to work on you – to mold and purify you to become the man He created you to be.
Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful. (James 5:11)
Patience in Prayer
So you’re crying out to God in prayer and holding onto the verses like:
“If you ask anything in My name, I will do it” (John 14:14)
“Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.” (1 John 5:14)
And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? (Luke 18:7)
…and nothing is happening…
You’re confused. You’re hurt. You’re lost.
You thought God said He would come through.. you thought God would answer your prayer. I’ve been there. Actually, I am there, but I want to share something God has told me time and time again: the story is not over yet.
Who are we to put a timeline on God and His perfect plans? In the fullness of time He will act according to His good pleasure for our good and for His glory. We just have to keep going to Him in prayer. We cannot and should not be satisfied with an ‘unanswered prayer.’ Many people would interject at this point and argue: “Oh, if you pray for it and it doesn’t happen then it’s not His will.” This is such a cop out. It’s a phrase used to wrestle the conscience into submission so that you no longer feel the need to pray about this particular subject.
Instead of saying this, let’s wrestle like Jacob did to receive his blessing, let’s pour out our emotions before Him like King David did, and let’s not be afraid to call down fire from heaven like Elijah did. Let’s not give up … for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart (Galatians 6:9).
Our God is one that comes through – exceedingly abundantly above all we can even imagine (Ephesians 3:20). Zacharias and Elizabeth prayed for a child their entire lives, and it wasn’t until he was an ‘old man’, she was ‘well advanced in years’ that God finally blessed them with a baby boy. However, this was not any baby boy; this was John the Baptist, the one about whom Christ said “For I say to you, among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist” (Luke 7:28). Zacharias and Elizabeth got a pretty good deal, but would the story have been the same if they had given up praying?
God hears each and every single prayer, and there are no words prayed in vain if prayed with sincerity. In my heart I know that the longer you pray for something, the better it’ll be when He answers it. He stores up goodness for those who fear Him.
Patience with People
This is the most straightforward section there is, and probably the most difficult to practice.
The first word used to describe love in the famous Corinthians passage is that it is patient. In order to have good relationships and really show our love to each other the way God intended, we need to be patient with one another. This is easier said than done, especially when it comes to our family and friends – with those we are most comfortable with.
When Jesus taught his disciples He would sometimes express disappointment that they didn’t know something:
So Jesus said, “Are you also still without understanding? (Matthew 15:16)
Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? (John 14:9)
But the key is, He would always finish by explaining what He meant to them. He left us this example to follow: even though we might get frustrated with how slow, different, or just plain dumb we may think people are we need to bear these burdens with patience.
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).
The world would be a different place if we learned to love each other as consistently and as patiently as God loves us.