As a young man, I thought I was patient.
Apparently, I deceived myself. Parenting made me quickly see my lack of patience. I knew we were in trouble when our children started acting like defense attorneys. Patience is a virtue that doesn’t come naturally to most of us.
Mrs. Jane Smith was putting her young son to bed for the umpteenth time. Her patience was worn thin. So, when she heard him cry “Mama” again, she yelled. “If you yell Mama one more time, I’ll spank you!” It must have worked because he got quiet. Then, just as she sat down to relax, she heard her little boy whisper, “Mrs. Smith, may I have a drink of water?”
If you’re new to The Evidence of Our Faith, I’m glad you’re here. We’re answering these questions and more with this series: What does a growing Christian really look like? What if there was some evidence to help us easily recognize genuine members of Christ’s Church? And we’re using Galatians 5 to process those questions and more. We’re learning that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law” (22-23).
We’ve worked through love, joy, and peace. Now we arrive at the Greek “makrothumia” (mak-roth-oo-mee’-ah), literally meaning “to be long—tempered.” Scripture uses it to describe our power to endure hardship. Primarily, it’s our ability to wait on God’s perfect timing even when our agenda appears to be failing. Yet, it includes controlling our response to life’s circumstances. It’s about how we act and react in the hard times of life. The opposite of this is listed in 5:20 as “outbursts of wrath” or “fits of anger.” Longsuffering gives us the best visual of “makrothumia.” But translators have gone back and forth between using patience or longsuffering for decades. For example, 1 Corinthians 13:4 can say “love suffers long” (NKJV) or “love is patient” (ESV). So, patience and longsuffering are biblically synonymous.
Jesus told a parable of four soils. He ended it by describing those who “having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15). In another sermon, Jesus taught about the end times. He says, “By your patience, possess your souls” (Luke 21:19).
Many of us have followed the world’s impatient ways. But God’s people are called to bear the fruit of patience. Where do we need to grow this virtue?
1. We need to grow in this virtue in our relationship with God.
Some of us get frustrated by God’s apparent slowness. We whine and complain to others about our lot in life. Here’s what I’ve learned; if I’m in a hurry, God is probably not, and I need to exercise patient trust in Him.
We must learn one of God’s greatest attributes is His longsuffering. His boundless love is most often displayed in His patience. Where would we be if it weren’t for His love that patiently waits and suffers long for our souls?!
Hear what the Spirit says in 2nd Peter 3. “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (9), and “consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation” (15a). God’s patience with us is always rooted in His desire to redeem lost and wounded souls.
Therefore, the Christian’s patience should be rooted in this conviction. God is always right on time! It’s impossible to rush His always present, all-powerful, all-knowing, and yet all-loving Hands.
So, we grow in patience with God by growing in our knowledge of Him. The more we know Him, the more we see His patience and the more patient we grow. The stronger we grow in this relationship, the more sure we are that He knows exactly what He’s doing and when He should do it.
2. We need to grow in this virtue with the Church.
Institutional impatience and distrust are fashionable and popular for government bodies and corporate headquarters. But impatience with the Church is as old as the Church. And yes, the voice of protest is sometimes needed, but it should always maintain the posture of patient love.
We must be patient with the worldwide Church and her local assemblies. I’ve been around long enough to tell you the painful truth. No church is entirely what it ought to be! No church of any denomination, non-denominational, or independent representation has perfected our faith in practice. Yet, we have a habit of seeking perfection from the local church and its ministry leaders. At the same time, we often overlook the fact that God builds His Church out of the same fallible human clay as ourselves. And sadly, the Church has many pretenders not leading sanctified lives! But we suffer long with them and encourage their growth in Christ and His Word.
How can we be patient with God’s Church? We’ve got to remember the Church is still being built by Jesus Christ, and we’re all held accountable by Him. And what She is today is not what She shall be!
Ephesians 5 tells us that Christ “loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (25b-27).
No one in the Church is exempted from this need to grow.
Pastor Martin, who once served the Wilshire UMC in Los Angeles, told this story about himself. He arrived early one Sunday to see an elderly woman struggling to climb the steep stairs to their large sanctuary. He said, “Here, let me help you.” With patience, he helped her to the top of the stairs. Reaching the entrance to the sanctuary, the elderly lady turned to him. She asked, “Can you tell me who is preaching this morning?” Realizing she didn’t recognize him, he answered anonymously. He said, “Pastor Martin is preaching.” The lady said, “Would you mind helping me back down the steps?”
I’m sure his patience and humility grew as he helped her back down the steps to depart.
3. We need to grow in this virtue with other imperfect people.
This world is filled with a lot of imperfect people. You know them. Some of them attend the same service as you. Some of them work with you. Some of you even live with imperfect people. And sometimes, the little things they do drive us up the wall! And our impatience with others can cause us to act like we are the farthest thing from being a Christian.
But Pastor, what about when stupid people make me angry?! Your “outbursts of wrath” or “fits of anger” are not justified! Your Bible counsels you to “Be angry, and sin not” (Ephesians 4:26). And the Holy Spirit gives us much-needed wisdom through Proverbs for living with imperfect people (these are all from the NIV).
- 15:1, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
- 15:18 says, “A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel.”
- 16:32 tells us, “Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city.”
- 19:11 says, “A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.”
- 30:33 explains, “For as churning cream produces butter, and as twisting the nose produces blood, so stirring up anger produces strife.”
I read about a man who boarded a flight filled with tired people. It was a long flight, and everyone was trying to settle in for some sleep. However, a man was holding an infant at the back of the plane. The baby became restless and constantly cried. Unable to take it any longer, a big brawny man spoke for the rest of the group. “Why don’t you take that baby to its mother?” There was a long pause, and he said, “I’m sorry. I’m doing my best. The baby’s mother is in her casket in the back of the plane.”
We need to realize the person we’re impatient with is probably dealing with something we don’t know about. Think about it. We have no idea what’s going on in the life of a disgruntled employee. We have no idea what happens behind the closed doors in our neighborhood’s families. So, when other imperfect people upset us, we should take it to the Lord in prayer.
“Don’t pray for patience.”
That’s some of the most unbiblical advice Christians have ever spread. It’s implied that praying for patience will land you in horrible trials. But trials are like rain; it falls on us all. Nowhere in the Bible are we taught that trials come because we ask for patience. That’s a flawed concept of God’s character. It’s God’s will for us to have patience. It’s a fruit of the Spirit, and He says, “let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:4).
So go ahead, pray for patience!
Patience enables you to quietly endure difficult days and give an active witness to a better way of life. You can trust God’s future plan for you and your loved ones is worth investing in today.
Go ahead, pray for patience.
But if you’re not a Christian, you should commit to following Christ today.