The Bible lists patience as one of the fruits of the Spirit, but how important is it actually and how do we cultivate this virtue?
George Washington is often featured in the history books as an elderly gent with a long-suffering expression as he stares vaguely but benevolently out at a cast of soldiers or politicians.
Far fewer people know much about Washington’s younger years, but those who do are less than complimentary. In one brief portrait, a leading biographer described the future American president in his youth as “rash, brash, impolitic, over-self-confident. He made dreadful mistakes.” Washington was also described as strident, easily offended and likely to complain.
“He had yet to learn,” one historian mused, “the wisdom of patience; or rather, he was learning it in a painful school.”
The French and Indian War certainly did school Washington. He made several terrible blunders that cost many other soldiers their lives, and himself witnessed plenty of backstabbing and petty humiliations between officers, squabbles which often proved to have fatal consequences for the men under them.
The man who emerged on the other side of this war was humbled and far better prepared to put up with the bickering and strong personalities that would surround the creation of a nation.
Washington would later say, “Patience is a noble virtue, and, when rightly exercised, does not fail of its reward.”
However, patience is not simply a noble virtue, reserved for the mature and godly as many people today seem to assume. It’s a necessary virtue and one that points directly to how we view God.
A Small and Deadly Lie
The polar opposite of patience is frequently dismissed as a minor fault. People talk lightly about their tendency toward impatience, the over-eagerness to see certain plans come to fruition or the desire to rush through steps. That’s not that big of a deal, right? On a small scale, this might be true, but if it characterizes someone, impatience is far more insidious.
“Impatience is a form of unbelief. It’s what we begin to feel when we start to doubt the wisdom of God’s timing or the goodness of his guidance,” John Piper points out. “When the way you planned to run your day, or the way you planned to live your life is cut off or slowed down, the unbelief of impatience tempts you in two directions, depending partly on your personality, partly on circumstances.”
1. Give up.
You must’ve missed the boat for God’s promise, or you’ve sinned too much for him to give that blessing, or you misheard his voice that one time when you were praying; you misread the Bible. This situation is more than you can bear anymore, but it looks like God’s not going to intervene. Tough luck.
All you can do now is either resign yourself to the situation or escape the burden of responsibilities by whatever means possible.
2. Force the issue.
God helps those who help themselves! Put a little more elbow-grease into fixing your problems, and the solution will present itself. People who wait for a “confirmation from the Lord” are lazy, and those who try to block your way with warnings about how this course of action seems unwise are cowards.
You just need to want something bad enough and work hard enough for it, and God will give it to you. Guaranteed.
Either manifestation of impatience can have grave effects on believers’ spiritual lives. Discussing the parable of the sower in Luke 8:11-15, David Wilkerson explained, “The ‘good ground’ Jesus mentions indicates those who heard the Word and eventually brought forth fruit ‘with patience.’ The other hearers brought forth a measure of fruit, too, but only for a time.
“Why? Because they were impatient with the Lord and his working in their life.”
Impatience with God is a deadly kernel of disbelief which insists, like the serpent in the garden, that God is not good or God is too slow. The moment we take matters into our own hands by either giving up or going our own way, we’re trying to supplant God.
The Hard and Continuous Work
What is patience, then? Is it just not complaining about the heat as the world burns around us? Are we meant to bear our trials with the dumb endurance of an ox?
“Patience is not quite the same as waiting. While waiting is something we do, patience is something we offer,” wrote Jani Ortlund, vice president of Renewal Ministries. “…patience chooses to declare, ‘Lord, I love you. I know I don’t love you as I ought, but I want to love you more than your answer to my prayers. I will try to offer you my patient heart as long as you ask me to wait on this.’”
We must be able to say to God, “I love you more than your answer. I love you more than what you might do for me. I trust that your path will be better than mine, even if it’s long and doesn’t look the way I would like.”
When we trust God’s path, then we are able to say to other people, “I love you more than your answer. I love you more than what you might do for me.”
This is patience.
Pastor Dave Dunham wrote about this as he recounted the challenges of his ministry with addicts or those in rehab, saying, “When I am patient I am doing several important things. First, I am extending grace to others because I am not demanding a perfection in them that even I can’t obtain. Second, I am humbling myself. I can’t create the change I want to see. Third, I am committing to ministry for the long haul.
“Rarely, if ever, does real transformation happen overnight. It takes long-term work and consistent faithfulness.”
Patience is far more than just a nice virtue. It is the nature result of trusting God with our futures. It is not passivity; it is not sloth; it is the continuous, hard work of turning over our fears and questions to our Lord.
The Lord of Hope Is Present
If we’re to cultivate a spirit of patience, we must revise our view of God.
“We serve a God of hope!” David Wilkerson passionately declared. “The Greek word for hope is elpo, which means ‘to look forward to with pleasurable confidence and expectation.’ The apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, ‘Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit’ (Romans 15:13).
“Paul introduces an incredible concept, ‘that you may abound in hope.’ He implies that you may have enough hope to spare, a supply that is ‘overflowing, excessive, beyond measure.’ To anyone who is in a state of despair, this may sound like a cruel joke. But, beloved, God’s Word is true! He is a God of hope, a hope that is beyond measure. Paul’s prayer for the people of God was that they would be filled with ‘joy and peace in believing.’
“This should be the normal state for all Christians, not just for well-adjusted, happy believers. God is not mocking his hurting children today; he truly is a God of hope.”
When we believe this, when we hope in our God, then we can wait patiently.