The Progress of Patience
"Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience." (Colossians 3:12 ESV)
Little by little, the annoyances, frustrations, and irritations we feel begin to poison us and erode away at our health, our emotional stability, and our connection to God. Our natural response to the frustrations of life is some form of anger, not wild-eyed rage perhaps, but the kind of anger that leaves us uneasy and unsatisfied with our circumstances. The antidote to the poison of anger is patience.
One of the characteristics of biblical patience has to do with endurance. What kinds of things are we called upon to persevere through in this life? Sometimes it’s mistreatment – the kind of behaviors for which the natural reaction is striking out or hurting back. As God’s children, enduring mistreatment means that . . .
. . .we allow God to bring justice in his own time. Patience does not allow us to repay hurt with hurt.
. . . we trust in God’s faithfulness. He sees everything happening to us, but has a bigger picture than we know now. Someday our case will be heard in the courts of heaven and justice will prevail.
. . . we pray for our tormentors as Jesus instructed. This is hard to do, but obedience will bring blessing to us and will keep our connection to God open and effective.
. . . we forgive those who hurt us. We are told to follow Jesus’ example, forgiving those who don’t deserve our forgiveness so we can be healed of the pain we did not deserve to endure.
There are many situations in each of our lives we simply must accept. In doing so, we find that we grow in strength. We understand others better. We can empathize with those who are in similar circumstances. And we create a place for patience to grow. When patience appears, we have evidence that God is at work within us.
Patience is tested only in times of trouble. So, we don’t really know how patient we are until we are called upon to endure problems or to deal with people who don’t really deserve our gentle response. Once we are put in a position of having to exercise patience, how can we encourage its growth?
First, we reflect on God’s patience toward us. God is slow to anger, He is gracious and long suffering. When we realize God’s patience with us, we are more able to be patient with others. Reflecting on God’s patience might require memorizing a few Bible verses related to God’s treatment of us. That way, when we are tempted to be impatient with others, we can recall those passages and allow the Spirit to let patience overtake our anger.
If we choose always to be confrontational or angry, the person who offends us tends to get defensive and becomes rooted in continuing the same behavior. If we extend patience and grace, the possibility of change surfaces.
We won’t be perfect in exercising patience, so when we fail, we have to be patient with ourselves, too. We apologize if anger flares, we go to God when we cry out against having to endure, and we keep trying and trusting. And here are some things we can do to cultivate patience:
· Slow down. Patience and hurry are incompatible. When we hurry, we are thinking only of ourselves and our own agendas and little room is left to extend the grace of patience to those around us.
· Adopt God’s view of others. When is the last time we’ve looked at a person’s heart? When we try to understand what drives someone to act as they do, we then can respond with more compassion and patience.
· Pray for wisdom. As we pray, we examine our own motives and thought patterns and, in doing so, open ourselves up the work of the Spirit within us.
· Allow time for change. Patience cannot be imposed from the outside, it must come from within. Only God can do that kind of work and it may take a bit of time.
· Rely more on God to meet our needs than on other human beings. “. . . turn from expecting love, acceptance, and kindness from the world and fall more deeply in love with God”*. The more we love our God, the more patient we will be. Guaranteed.
“One moment of patience may ward off great disaster. One moment of impatience may ruin a whole life.” – Chinese proverb
*Gary Thomas, The Glorious Pursuit (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1998), p. 126.