Fruits of the Spirit: Patience
Often, I don’t feel like a very patient person. I get fidgety if my train is late, I can be quick to criticise people who disappoint me, and I’m pretty sure my lack of motivation to bake more intricate cakes than banana muffins stems from the fact that I’d rather eat something ‘now’ than faff with things like delicate icing and that sugar-work stuff you see on Bake Off. In lots of different ways, I’m impatient – with situations, with people, with life.
But as a contrast to my natural tendencies, God’s word tells me that he values patience:
“Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick-tempered displays folly” (Proverbs 14:29).
God values patience in his people, and like the other fruits of the spirit that we’ve looked at so far, we can see that God himself displays this attribute as part of his character.
I love how the whole of the Old Testament tells the story of a God who is patient with his people, when time and time again they wander from him. He loves them, he forgives them, and he bears with them. In the same way, the New Testament tells us to ‘bear with’ each other as Christian brothers and sisters:
“Bear with one another and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone.” (Colossians 3:13)
This is hard! So often we’re selfish, and being gracious seems like far too much of an effort. In these moments we need to remember that we’re not left to do this in our own strength, because we’d fail. For sure.
We have the Holy Spirit living in us, and helping us day-by-day to become more like our Saviour, and that is a glorious and liberating truth. But God doesn’t just call us to show patience to other people around us, but also to be patient in the situations we find ourselves in. In the Bible, this is often also described as ‘waiting on the Lord’.
“But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31
“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes." Psalm 37:7
As Christians, we can live life in the full security of the knowledge that God has a plan that is for our good and his glory. We don’t need to worry when things don’t seem to go the way we had planned and ‘wicked’ people look like they’re winning, because we know that we can trust our Father in heaven. Placing ourselves into the hands of God’s sovereignty and waiting for him to bring about his purposes is what patience really is.
In real life, this trusting our Father business is about more than just giving the schedule of our life over to him. It’s not saying ‘I know you’ll give me a boyfriend Lord, help me to be patient until the time is right’. It’s not just dictating the ‘whats’ of our timetables to God, and leaving the ‘whens’ blank, but it’s trusting him with the methods as well as the timings. After all, he is our Father who has our best interests at heart.
In a way, ‘waiting on the Lord’ is both the easiest and hardest thing to do. Easiest, because it requires us to do nothing but give ourselves and our lives into the loving hands God, and hardest because we get impatient waiting and love to try to fix things on our own. This means it’s an active waiting, one where we need to constantly come back to God from our distractions, and refocus on him and his promises.
And ultimately, what is it that we are we being patient for? Heaven! Let’s look forward to our eternal future with gladness in our hearts, and wait well for the day when we will be truly satisfied.
“Be patient then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming… Be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near." (James 5:7-8)
1. When others frustrate you, and you feel the urge to snap, take a moment to remember the immense patience in which God deals with us in our lives. If you want a reminder of his patient character, have a read through the book of Exodus. You’re sure to be bowled over as you see the similarities between the Israelites and our own hearts, and the frequent ways that God lovingly ‘bears with them’ despite their constant failures.
2. Meditate on heaven! In a world that tells us that all we need to be happy is the latest edition, the most glamorous relationship and shiniest career, let’s engage with this world that we find ourselves in, but do so whilst patiently pursuing the true fulfilment of all our longings. The day when we see our Saviour face-to-face.
Emily is originally from the sunny south, but has made the trek up to Sheffield where she is now in her third year of studying Medicine, which she loves. She also loves tea, mountains, singing, and those autumn days when it’s really cold but the sky is super blue and the leaves are crispy :-)