There are many words I am exploring in these days and patience is one of the more prominent explorations. Other word explorations that seem closely aligned with patience are waiting, trusting, and being. One of the things I am coming to realize about patience is how much contemporary culture is its enemy. It seems that everything about our society is urgent and “now” driven, so patience is often the outcast.
As I explore patience, I do so from a Christian perspective. It seems patience is one of the more prominent characteristics of God once we move past the biggies (omnipresent, omniscient, immutable, and well…you get the picture). The Bible tells us that God is patient (Psalm 86:15, 2 Peter 3:9), and that makes sense to me understanding that God is eternal, but God also entered into time and became flesh like we are, in the person of Jesus. This is important to my exploration because, I am created in His image and the life and person of Jesus is my model.
How do we, as mere humans, measure patience? I think part of the measurement is judged by how we wait. Waiting requires patience or it is not really waiting at all. Waiting implies (to me) something that is done voluntarily or with some measures of humility and surrender. Often, what we call waiting, is forced upon us and we “wait” involuntarily. I don’t know what word I would use for an involuntary wait…maybe internment or detention or determent, but not waiting.
I think this line of thinking is relevant; as Christians, we find ourselves on the path of transformation—becoming reimaged and re-formed into the likeness of Christ. This transformation is not instant, nor is it easy…as much as we might like it to be. Spiritual formation can often seem glacially slow in its progress in its worst light and like watching hair grow in its best light. This is why patience is important; it is ultimately the reflection of our heart’s attitude revealed in how we wait…revealing in whom or in what we trust.
Considering the prominence of patience in the development and character of the Christian, it seems odd to me that so many Christians flee from it. I don’t think I have ever been with a group of Christians when the word “patience” was mentioned and someone did not say, “Whatever you do, don’t pray for patience…” It is as if patience is the anathema of Christian virtue. Why is this? I think; because the testing of our patience will inconvenience us, the testing of our patience will reveal our weakness of character, and the testing of our patience will put to test our trust in God. We do not want to be found out… not by others and not by ourselves. We like to believe we are “good with God.” When we wait, the trial of our patience reveals how selfish we are as well as the depth of our brokenness. This is why we flee from patience and warn one another not to pray for it.
Regardless of whether we pray for patience or not, the Bible teaches us that patience is part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). We are also taught that patience is part of the ladder of Christian virtue as we ascribe to grow in the likeness of Christ (2 Peter 1:5-7). Patience is also part of the embodiment of Christian love (agape), without which, we are nothing less than clanging gongs and empty-handed (1 Corinthians 13:1-8). Yet we tell one another to run from patience… seems like ridiculous advice, but this is the world in which we live today and this is terrifying to me for my Christian brothers and sisters. Think about the words of warning that come from James and John (see James 4:4 and 1 John 2:5-16).
You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God… Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. (James 4:4-10)
Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. (1 John 2:15-16)
If we get caught up in the systems of the world, we make ourselves enemies of God…and impatience is the system of the world.
I think, with regard to our individual spiritual journeys, most of us want instant landscaping. Instead of prepping the grounds of our lives for planting, we want to hire someone to come in with all kinds of heavy equipment to clear cut and wipe out all the unsightly stuff in our life. We want this to happen without much personal involvement… almost something like the TV show Extreme Makeover where the hosts send the family away on a vacation. While the family is away, the makeover team demolishes the house and yard completely rebuilding and landscaping something entirely new in the span of a week. This is the world system…completely at odds with the God system. Consider the acorn and the oak; from a tiny acorn a huge and mighty oak will develop, but it takes dozens and dozens of years—and patience. The acorn weathers seasons, pressure, pestilence, and more on its way to maturity. When it reaches maturity it resembles nothing of its former self, but it is capable and useful for many, many good works—not the least of which is reproducing hundreds, even thousands more of itself. Patience.
Patience teaches us to trust God. Patience teaches us how to wait on God and how to wait with God. Patience teaches us how to “be” with God. Patience teaches us about eternity. Patience teaches us about infinity. Patience teaches us about satisfaction and fulfillment. God is patience. We need patience—and we need God. Pray for patience.