Perhaps you have heard the impatient man’s prayer. It goes something like this: “Lord, I need patience, and I need it RIGHT NOW!”
In a world filled with discourteous drivers, selfish or thoughtless customers, personality conflicts with coworkers and the constant demands of children and family, we often need patience just to keep it together!
There is an old Dutch proverb that says, “A handful of patience is worth more than a bushel of brains.” Experience often shows that a patient person will make better decisions and see more favorable outcomes in life than a very intelligent person who doesn’t have the patience to wait for the right time and opportunity.
Leonardo da Vinci is credited with saying, “Patience serves as protection against wrongs as clothes do against cold. For if you put on more clothes as the cold increases, it will have no power to hurt you. So in like manner you must grow in patience when you meet with great wrongs, and they will then be powerless to vex your mind.”
In Galatians 5:22 the apostle Paul recorded a list of characteristics that are borne of God’s Spirit. The fourth one on the list is “long suffering,” better understood today as patience. It is an attribute of the Creator God, and something that is very important for a Christian to possess as well.
Patience can protect our minds and emotions, but it can also guide us to think and view the struggle of life in a proper manner. Let’s look at two primary ways patience applies to us.
1. Patience with God
How do you react when God does not respond to your prayers with the answer or the timing you want?
We know God is all-powerful, and there is no trial or obstacle we face that He does not have the power to remove or help us overcome. So why doesn’t He always do so when we ask?
The apostle James gives us a perspective on this question: “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience” (James 1:2-3, emphasis added throughout).
God has promised never to leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), but nowhere does He promise to answer all our prayers immediately, or to answer them in exactly the way we desire.
As parents, we can answer our children’s requests with a “Yes,” a “No” or a “Later,” depending on what we believe to be best for them.
Our Father in heaven has the same options when answering us. As difficult as it can be to accept a “No,” faith demands that we put our trust in Him to know what is best. And how can we tell the difference between a “No” and a “Later”? We have to wait, and that requires—patience!
Losing patience with God?
How many times have we seen people who lost patience with God? They felt the trial they were enduring was not fair, and perhaps they were right. They felt the trials they were facing were not deserved or not their fault; and, indeed, they may not have done anything to create the problem. So when God didn’t answer immediately to resolve the problem or give them victory, they decided God either didn’t care or He didn’t exist.
The result was that they lost patience with God and decided they would no longer wait for Him. With that decision, they often walked away from God and from living a way that is righteous. Some have even gone so far as to decide that if God wouldn’t intervene, they would take matters into their own hands—most often with disastrous results. Think of Abraham deciding to have a child by Sarah’s maidservant (Genesis 16), rather than waiting on God to provide a son as He had promised (Genesis 15:4).
Understand God’s perspective
What we sometimes lose sight of is the perfect perspective of the Creator. There has never been a time when our God did not exist (Isaiah 57:15). He has seen everything, and in every circumstance He understands our needs far better than we are able to. As much as we know what we want, He knows what is truly best!
Paul points that out in Romans 8:28 where we are told that everything will work out for our ultimate good, if we continue to obey and serve Him as we should. That requires faith that God does know what is best, and it requires patience to wait on His timing.
Jeremiah knew what troubles were as Judah was being taken captive all around him. Cities and towns were being overrun, and thousands were being killed or taken off into slavery. In the midst of such terrible trials, here is what he had to say: “The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD” (Lamentations 3:25-26).
Our great and loving God knows what we each need, and in His perfect wisdom He will provide it. As much as we don’t like to hear it, sometimes we need a trial to teach us valuable lessons or to correct behavior that needs to be changed. Patience with God allows us to wait until He provides the answers He knows we need at the time He knows we need them.
2. Patience with others
Often our biggest challenge is trying to exercise patience in our relationships with others. (Of course, the reverse may also be true, as others sometimes have to exercise patience with us.)
Patience with others comes from a love and respect for other people. In 1 Corinthians 13:4 we are told that love “suffers long,” or is patient. The passage goes on to describe how love is not selfish, prideful or rude, because it is thinking about the welfare of someone else. Love is the basis, and patience is part of that process.Let me share with you a quote from The Love Dare by Stephen and Alex Kendrick:
“Can your spouse count on having a patient wife or husband to deal with? Can she know that locking her keys in the car will be met by your calm understanding rather than a demeaning lecture that makes her feel childish? Can he know that being found watching a football game won’t automatically invite a loud-mouthed laundry list of better ways he should be spending his time?” (2013, p. 3). Relationship experts confirm what we’ve all experienced: Impatient people can be hard to live with.
Patience with others comes from a love and respect for other people. In 1 Corinthians 13:4 we are told that love “suffers long,” or is patient. The passage goes on to describe how love is not selfish, prideful or rude, because it is thinking about the welfare of someone else. Love is the basis, and patience is part of that process.
In another place the apostle Paul describes the relationship we should have with each other, including not only showing tender mercies and kindness, but “bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another” (Colossians 3:12-13).
Choosing to endure an insult or a provocation by letting it go requires a great deal of patience! We can have this kind of patience because we truly treasure our family and friends in spite of their shortcomings.
Patience doesn’t mean weak
At the same time, we need to understand that a patient person is not the same thing as a weak person. Being patient does not mean we must just “take it” if someone is abusive or creates problems for us. There is a time when it is okay to express to others how their actions or conduct is hurtful or disrespectful to us. This should always be done with love and pure motives, and we may still need to be patient to see a positive change or outcome.
Neither does patience mean we sit around doing nothing, waiting for God or someone else to solve all our problems. Rather, it means we are willing to work as long and as hard as necessary to solve problems and, as much as is possible, to repair relationships.
Deep and abiding faith in God is needed here. It is much easier for us to be patient when we understand that the Creator of the universe sees, is involved and will cause all things to work out for our ultimate good! Being patient doesn’t mean we give up or just roll over, but rather that we will patiently work through problems and trust our God to provide a way where human efforts alone cannot prevail.
Study examples of patience
Most of us recognize we are not as patient as we should be. We need to be patient with God, understanding that He has perfect perspective and always knows what is best for us.
We also need to be patient with others, loving and treasuring them with their faults and all—just as we hope they will do with us. Fortunately, the Bible contains many wonderful examples of men and women of faith who have done exactly that.
“My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance [patience] of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful” (James 5:10-11).
This is the example we can all strive to follow—to become men and women of patience.
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