You leave the house a little late and as you travel down the road, you get behind a postal vehicle, making multiple stops on a busy street. You suddenly get even more behind schedule.
You are tired and you just want to go home and eat dinner but you know you don’t have what you want to eat in the refrigerator. You stop at the local market for a couple of items and when you get to the check-out line there are five customers in front of you.
Your wife has a nagging health concern and it worries you a lot. You pray every day for her to get relief. Every day you pray the same prayer that she would heal but the answer from God seems to be no. Her health concern is not going away.
What are we talking about here? Of course, you know…patience waiting for what we want.
Pastor Billy Graham writes that the spiritual fruit of love, joy and peace speaks to our “Godward” relationship. The next cluster of fruit [patience, kindness and goodness] has to do with outward relationships. He opens his discussion with the words “if we are short-tempered, unkind and rude, we lack the second cluster of fruit of the Spirit. But when the Spirit controls us, He works to transform us so that the buds of patience, kindness and goodness begin to blossom and then to be fruitful” [Graham, 258].
Patience or “long suffering” in the King James Version comes from a Greek work that speaks of how we are steadfast while we are being provoked. Patient people seem to be able to endure ill treatment without anger or thought of retaliation. It is an outward fruit because this fruit is seen in how we relate to others. Obviously when we are irritable, vengeful, resentful or malicious, the Holy Spirit fruit of patience is not in control.
How does patience come about? Reading between the lines of Graham’s book The Holy Spirit, I think it has a lot to do with perspective taking. People with patience can empathize with others, having the ability to take someone else’s position. A self-centered person may scream at the postman in my example above but a person with patience may understand that the postman is merely doing their job. They must stop to deliver the mail. A self-centered person may scowl and tap their toes in frustration in the check-out line, maybe even expressing frustration at the cashier, but the person with patience sees that the five customers in front of them are really just trying to get home too. They don’t intend to make your life miserable. They just beat you to the cash registers. The check-out person is probably doing the best they can to get you out of the store; they are not your barrier to peace.
Patience is closely related to perseverance. Patient people have the ability to wait for results, when others throw up their hands and express frustration, push to get the results they want, or maybe even give up.
Keep in mind that many feel Americans today live in a culture that is often short on patience. All around us we see role models of people who just don’t have the ability to wait. Some of the wealthiest people in our society would rather use their riches to buy what they want than wait for it. Time conscious people commit road rage violence when someone cuts them off as they try to get to their destination. Some folks have financial trouble based on the overuse of credit cards. They don’t want to wait until they have the money for an expensive item. They want it now and they charge it, not thinking about the impending bill that will eventually come in the mail.
Patience is a key part of taking on the face of Christ. Too often we admire it in other people but we just can’t find a way to exhibit it ourselves. The Apostle Paul teaches that we can be “strengthened with all might according to His glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness” [Colossians 1: 11]. In other words, we can learn patience if we are willing to learn it from God. Sometimes we might think we are not getting what we want and it is due to God keeping it from us. That is not true. Sometimes we might even blame Satan for our troubles, putting our feelings of frustration at his doorstep.
Here is the source of our lack of patience, not God, not Satan, but us. When we get frustrated or angry and our resentment begins to build, we need to recognize that it is our own selfishness that is to blame. When we feel a lack of patience, it is our old nature that is coming out, rather than that “new person” who was born again with Jesus. Some of the first steps to growing in the fruit of patience is recognizing the frustration, owning the frustration and repudiating the frustration, asking God to work with us to grow the fruit of patience.
When it comes to prayer, there is the old saying that God always answers prayer. Yes, my wife has had a health problem that has nagged her recently and I have been praying for her to have a lessening of her pain, a return to normal health. As a person who is praying for her, I want her healed right now, but that is not to be. Then I realize that God is answering my pray. I really want Him to give me a yes, your wife if healed. I am frustrated that He is telling me no; she is not healed yet.
Then my patient self kicks in, and I believe that what He is really saying is “wait.”
I will wait…