Patience: Its not about getting frustrating people out of your life
Of all the manifestations of the fruit of the Spirit we find in our list, this is probably the one we have been dreading the most: patience. We never have enough of it do we? And we can carry a lot of guilt with us for those times we have lost our patience. We can feel pretty guilty when it becomes clear to others that we have lost patience with them. We can feel pretty guilty when we lose our patience and say something we instantly regret. We can especially feel guilty when we read the Gospels and see just how patient Jesus was, especially when he faced problems and adversaries much worse than the ones we face.
And so we try to do things that will increase our patience, or at least keep our impatience hidden within us. When we are close to losing our patience we do things like counting to 10 before we say or do anything. Or, we continually tell ourselves to think before we speak. Or, we give ourselves “cool down” breaks where we just walk away from a situation until we have better control of our patience. Apparently, when Abraham Lincoln would get upset with someone, he would sit down and write out a fiery letter to them telling them exactly what he thought of them. He would then put it away in his desk, go to bed, and the next morning, throw it away.
There are all kinds of these practical things we can do to try and keep control of ourselves and try to keep our patience in check. And while these are all good things to do, and I certainly do not advocate you abandoning anything you do to try and keep your patience, we need to recognize that all these examples are merely good advice. They are good, practical ways in which we can try to control our anger.
But if patience is one of the manifestations of the fruit of the Spirit, then the key to patience has to be more than just following good advice. Paul here has to be talking about more than just anger management. There has to be more to patience than just behavioral modification.
The Good News is that there is more to patience than just what we do or do not do. Patience is not simply learning how to control our anger, or how to cool down when we lose our patience. Patience is a spiritual virtue that God wants to develop in us.
And because of this, when we talk about patience as a Christian virtue, we need to recognize that patience is more than just what we say or do or think or feel. Patience is a matter of the heart and of the soul. Patience requires more than just behavioral modification, it requires spiritual transformation. It requires spiritual maturity.
As I was reading through all the occurrences of the words patience and patient in the Bible, it quickly became obvious to me that, from the Bible’s perspective, impatience is not the opposite of patience. When we talk about our lack of patience we usually just admit to others that we are impatient. But in the Biblical witness, impatience is not the opposite of patience, foolishness is the opposite of patience. An example of this is Proverbs 14:29:
Whoever is patient has great understanding,
but one who is quick-tempered displays folly.
Another is Proverbs 12:16:
Fools show their annoyance at once,
but the prudent overlook an insult.
In the Bible, patience and wisdom are intimately related, and impatience and foolishness are intimately related. Just like we have seen these past weeks when we have talked about love and joy and peace, these qualities are dependent upon what is inside of us, not on what is outside of us. Whether you are a patient person or not does not depend on your outward circumstances. Patient people are not defined as people who have easy and calm lives, they are defined by people who have the wisdom to know how to properly react in stressful and hard times.
You see, we’d like to think that we would be more patient if we just were not surrounded by so many frustrating and difficult people or situations. But our patience or lack of patience is not about them, or any outward situation, it is about our heart.
How much do we really trust God? To what extent are we really willing to allow God to change and transform our hearts and our lives? Because as long as you are holding onto your life tightly, as long as you think you are in control of your life, as long as you demand to call all the shots, I can promise you, you will live a frustrating life. Patience is not about getting frustrating people out of your life or getting a quick fix from God, it is about allowing God to totally transform your heart and your life.
Now, let’s do a reality check here. Does having this fruit of the Spirit of patience mean we will never get upset with someone else? No. Does having this fruit of the Spirit of patience mean we will never become frustrating other people? No. Does having this fruit of the Spirit of patience mean we will never lose our cool? Probably not.
What patience means is that as you are drawn closer and closer to the heart of God, God will grant you more and more wisdom and grace. So that, as you walk through life with God, it is not just you reacting to situations, but you and God reacting to them. When frustrating situations arise, God will grant you a measure of wisdom that will show you how to best react to that situation. When frustrating people arise in your life, God will grant you a measure of wisdom that will show you how best to relate to those persons. When the pressure mounts and the stress arises in your life, God will grant you the exact measure of wisdom to redemptively deal with the stress and pressure without taking it out on everyone else.
Patience…it’s not about getting frustrating people out of your life. It’s about getting more of God into your life.