Originally posted September 24, 2008 on Facebook
“Patience with others is love. Patience with self is hope.
Patience with God is faith.” Adel Bestavros
“To put it in a nutshell, every sin is to be
traced back to impatience.” Tertullian (c. 160-225)
A man’s wisdom gives him patience;
it is to his glory to overlook an offense.
Have you ever been sitting in traffic on the highway patiently (or not-so-patiently) waiting for traffic to start moving again so you can get off on your exit and get home to see your family? At that very moment, a small car cuts off everyone, weaves through lanes full of traffic, narrowly avoids your front bumper and cuts you off to get on the exit ramp. Who is that guy? Why does he think he’s more important than everyone else on the road? Wait just a second; is that a fish sticker on the trunk? I think we’ve probably all been there. In fact, if you drive that way, you’d probably be a better witness for Christ if you go outside right now and peel that little sticker off your car. Go ahead! We’ll wait for you. The root of the problem is a lack of patience, and a lack of patience is an indication of a lack of love.
Let’s go back real quick and remind ourselves of Paul’s description of the characteristics of love from 1 Corinthians 13:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. [1 Corinthians 13:4-8]
Love is patient! It is the very first characteristic of love included in the description in 1 Corinthians 13. Other translations render this variously as love is long-suffering, does not give up, endures long, never tires of waiting, forbears and waits patiently. All of these translations indicate the basic characteristic that Love does not insist on immediate gratification.
In a society bent on instant gratification, the concept of patience is often missed or downright ignored. We have fast food, immediate access to a world of information on the internet, 24 hour access to anyone with a pager or cell phone. You can even download your favorite songs with the touch of a button. Heck, you don’t even have to wait until you have cash to pay for it. Type in the 16 numbers from that piece of plastic in your wallet or purse, and you can have whatever you want, and you can have it RIGHT NOW!!! Advertisers exploit this societal impatience and pander to this need for instant gratification. The idea of patience is not popular today in a society fixated on our individual rights. We want and expect people to do exactly what we want them to do, and we expect them to do it NOW! All too often, in this society we sacrifice the permanent on the alter of the immediate.
Love, on the other hand, is patient. In the original Greek of the New Testament, this word means long-tempered and indicates patience with people. We will look at patience with our circumstances later in this verse where Paul talks about endurance, but the focus of this portion of our study will be on patience with people.
The objects of our love in this world are, by definition, imperfect, unlovely and fallen human beings. Let us not forget though, that the people who love us also love imperfect, unlovely people. Like God, who loves us despite the fact that we are unlovely, true biblical love demands that we do the same for other people. You see, the problem with unlovely people is that they don’t always do what we want, and even when they do, they don’t always do it on our time table or the same way we would have done it. As such, patient becomes a critical component of love. Perhaps this is why Paul listed it first in the characteristics of love.
So, what is patience? I’ve read that patience is the behavioral way of saying, “I love you!” It is one of only two ways that the Bible describes the conduct of love. So what does it mean? What is patience? Patience means bearing with one another’s weaknesses. It means bearing with those who wrong us, offend us, criticize us, nag us and those people we just can’t stand. It means being slow to take offense and resisting the urge to be resentful or become bitter. It means being tolerant towards others and accepting of them even when they displease us. It means having a long fuse and not retaliating. It means not whining when things aren’t going as fast as we would like them to (even if it’s the guy with the fish sticker in the car in front of us that just cut us off). It means allowing yourself to be inconvenienced or taken advantage of over and over. Sometimes, it might even mean being a door mat and allowing yourself to be walked all over. It also means being patient with those people who are not patient with us.
Love waits patiently. It is not sarcastic. It does not engage in self-pity when things don’t go its way. It endures evil, injury and provocation without being filled with resentment, indignation or revenge. It endures slights and neglects without lashing out. It never has a vengeful response to being wronged. It suffers heartache and continues to work for the good of the one loved. Patience is not just waiting; it’s waiting with a good attitude.
I think this last point warrants some further discussion. Patience is an action, but it is also the attitude with which that action is taken. I go to the mall sometimes with my wife when she is shopping for clothes. Well….I used to. She doesn’t let me go so much any more. I always thought that I was waiting patiently for her to finish looking at those 437 outfits, picking up four, putting back three, picking up another one, putting both away, and so on and so on and so on. As it turns out, according to my wife, my attitude was anything but patient. According to her, while I thought I was standing there patiently, my body language, eyes, and maybe the occasional comment all made it clear that I was ready to go. The fact of the matter is, loving patience includes not just what we do, but the attitude behind it.
Love would rather wait patiently for the loved one to be reformed than to react. One of the greatest tests of true love is patience. For those of you who are married, you know that patience is critical to the success of your marriage – both your patience with your spouse and your spouse’s patience with you. We will discuss this further in the section on patience in marriage below.
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT PATIENCE?
Patience involves perseverance and endurance. Biblical patience is not a desperate waiting in doubt, but a hopeful waiting in confidence based on our faith in God. Biblical patience is active. It is not abstract or passive. Love does not simply feel patient, it is patient and practices patience.
Proverbs tell us that patience and controlling one’s temper go hand-in-hand:
A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension,
but a patient man calms a quarrel. (Proverbs 15:18)
Better a patient man than a warrior,
a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city. (Proverbs 16:32)
It is so much easier to loose our temper when faced with a difficult person than to be patient. Love, however, always calls us to be patient. Proverbs also gives us some insight into the source of this patience which is a characteristic of love:
A patient man has great understanding,
but a quick-tempered man displays folly. (Proverbs 14:29)
The Bible makes it clear that patience comes from wisdom. It is not something you either have or don’t have, it comes with wisdom. This is both good news and bad news. It’s good news for those of us who suffer from a lack of patience because there is hope that we can learn it. The bad news is that patience does takes work. Like love itself, patience does not come naturally but must be cultivated in our lives. So, what kind of wisdom is the Bible talking about that leads to patience? Galatians 5:22 tells us that patience is one of the fruits of the Spirit. The wisdom that leads to patience is the wisdom of God. The wisdom of God is revealed in his word. How patient has God been with his people? How many times did Israel turn from God during the journey from Egypt? How patient has God been with you? I know in my case, God was patient with me for over 30 years before I finally admitted my need for him. How then, can I justify not being patient with my wife or kids or my boss when they get on my nerves? Patience comes directly from our submission to God.
The Lord is the source of our patience.
Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. (2 Peter 3:15)
God is patient with his people. He lovingly respects our will when he could compel us to do whatever he wants. We get our ability to be patient from God because we were made in his image, and he gives us the peace we need to wait patiently in any circumstance. We are called to keep expressing God’s patient love no matter what the circumstances.
Our very life and continued existence, our salvation, and our hope are all born out of God’s patience.
What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? (Romans 9:22)
And, we are told to be patient,
For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8:24-25)
So, if God calls us to be patient, let’s take a minute and look at the other side of the coin. What causes impatience? The Bible gives us some insight into that as well:
The end of a matter is better than its beginning,
and patience is better than pride. (Ecclesiastes 7:8)
This verse let’s us in on the dirty little secret of impatience. Impatience is born out of pride. We will see as we work through these characteristics of love that, not only does Paul explicitly tell us that love isn’t proud, but pride is actually the antithesis of love. When we are impatient with someone, if we look deep down, I think we will find that pride is at the root of the issue. How dare someone make me wait? I am more important than that! I can’t believe they want to do it that way. My idea was so much better, I can’t believe my son wants to dress that way, what will people think of me as a parent? I can’t believe my wife said that, I shouldn’t have to put up with that! All of these examples of impatience are driven by pride – I’m more important, I’m smarter, I’m embarrassed, I’ve been insulted. It all comes down to me…me…me!
The Bible commands us to exhibit patience consistent with the calling we have received as Christians. Ephesians 4:1-6 tells us:
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-6)
As Christians, we have the highest calling that there is. Here Paul tells us that part of leading a life worthy of that calling is being patient – bearing with one another in love. Paul also provides some advice on how to show that patience to others – humility, gentleness, and peace. All of these are bedfellows of love. Indeed, patience is listed in several of the scriptural honor rolls of admirable characteristics (see for example, 2 Corinthians 6:3-10; Galatians 5:22; and Colossians 3:12-14).
So, now that we’ve looked at how to be patience, where our patience comes from and why we should be patient, there is only one question remaining. Who should we be patient with? Here the Bible leaves no doubt. We are to be patient with everyone.
And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. (1 Thessalonians 5:14)
It’s so easy to be patient with people who don’t bother us. That’s a lot like Jesus’ admonition against only loving those who love us. Indeed, with love, God calls us to be patient with those who bother us the most. Unfortunately, many times those people who annoy us the most live under the same roof – which is the perfect transition into the next section of this study.
PATIENCE AND MARRIAGE
We are all fallen human beings, and we all have our own set of quirks and idiosyncrasies. Frankly, in many cases, those terms are probably too kind. In my case, I never realized just how many idiosyncrasies I really did have until I got married and my wife began to point them out to me.
- I don’t like feet.
- I don’t like the feel of lotion on my hands.
- I have to have the remote in my hand when I’m watching TV (maybe this is less idiosyncrasy and more being male, but no matter).
- I eat my food in a particular way (all of each side dish in succession then the main dish – in case you’re wondering).
- I fidget when I sit.
- I bounce my knee when I’m sitting at the table.
- I write things on my to do lists that I’ve already done just for the pleasure of crossing them out.
…and that’s probably just the start of the list. Anyhow, before I got married, I didn’t even realize I had these idiosyncrasies. And, these are just my quirks, it doesn’t even include my annoying habits, and I’ve got plenty of those too!
I spoke earlier about some of my own idiosyncrasies that I “discovered” after I was married. The fact of the matter is that my wife also has some habits that get under my skin. I won’t list them here as I imagine she might read this some day. Regardless, one of the things I’ve learned, although I don’t always practice it the way I should, is that one of the keys to lessen marital strife is to never view your spouses idiosyncrasies as more annoying than your own.
When we get married, we marry fallen, imperfect human beings. So do our spouses! There are bound to be those things we would have done differently, those things which never get done, and a whole multitude of things which just get under our skin. When you spend so much time with the same person, when you share with one another your most intimate thoughts and secrets, you will invariably get some bad along with all the good. The fact of the matter is that relationships take time, and time takes patience.
Jesus’ warning about judging your brothers is particularly relevant in the marriage relationship:
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Luke 6:41-42)
I’ve heard it said that a happy marriage is one where both spouses feel like they got the better end of the bargain.
In our world today which has coined phrases such as “starter marriage” and “no-fault divorce,” the ideas of patience in marriage and sticking with it have become cliché. The idea of suffering, long-suffering, has given way to the myth of deserving to be happy. Think about the phrase “life’s too short.” We neglect the fact the our happiness (true happiness) comes only from God:
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17)
The fact of the matter is, our lack of patience is not actually with people, it is with God. When we do not show patience, we are in essence telling God that he is not working on our schedule, and he should snap to it! In our marriages, and in all of our relationships, we must be willing to patiently wait on the Lord in trying circumstances:
Wait for the LORD;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the LORD. (Psalm 27:14)
Patience, like love, is always a lot easier when things are going well. When we get into crisis mode, we are more likely to want what we want, and want it now. We become less willing to wait upon the Lord. When we are asking God to take things in our life from good to better, or even not-so-good to good, it is easier to take things in stride and wait God out. When you’re at the end of your rope and struggling to tread water, gasping for every breath, it takes a lot more strength to show patience.
I know from my personal experience with crisis that the hardest thing was just waiting. I had faith in the Lord that he would help me weather the storm, but things just never seemed to move quickly enough. For every step forward, it seemed like there were two steps back. I had no patience of my own accord. My patience and my strength came only from the Lord and my reliance on his promises and his faithfulness.
PATIENCE AND KIDS
Perhaps one of the hardest roles for maintaining our patience is in the role of parent. I know that personally I follow a well defined cycle of resolving within myself to be more patient with my kids, trying to keep hold of my temper, losing my temper with my kids, realizing I need to be more patient, repenting, resolving to be more patient, trying to keep hold of my temper, losing my temper with my kids, and so on and so on. Many times, our impatience with our kids is a direct result of our pride. We expect our kids to show us respect, and kids should respect their parents. The problem is we just expect them to do it because that’s what kids do, and we view it as a betrayal when they do not. We do not show patience to our kids then wonder why they are so impatient themselves.
Kids, by their very nature, are impatient beings. We all are, but kids have not yet learned the societal importance of not giving in constantly to their impatience. A colleague at work came in one morning and shared a story about his three year old little girl. They had been having problems with her walking up while they were in the middle of a conversation and rudely interrupting. So, they took her aside and told her that if she needed to talk to a grown up who was having a conversation with someone else, she should walk up and say “Excuse me.” At this point in the story, as the parent of three kids at the time, I knew exactly where this story was going. I imagine any parents out there who have gone through the three year old years also know how this story is going to end. The next night, this colleague of mine was outside with his daughter and was talking to a neighbor. His daughter needed to get his attention. So, as instructed, she walked up, tugged on his pant leg, and with machine gun speed said “’Scuse me! ‘Scuse me! ‘Scuse me! ‘Scuse me! ‘Scuse me! ‘Scuse me! ‘Scuse me! ‘Scuse me! ‘Scuse me! ‘Scuse me! ‘Scuse me!” over and over again.
There is no denying that kids are impatient. Our job, as parents, in order to “raise them up in the way they should go,” is to teach them the importance of patience. Unfortunately for many of us, kids do not learn this by the words we say, but by watching how we react to trying circumstances. When our kids get on our nerves, and they do no matter how much we love them, it is important that we react with patience and love. I was listening to a pastor on the radio one morning who was recounting the words he had heard early in his ministry from a mentor, “I would rather see a sermon than hear one.” We would be wise to remember those words when it comes to dealing with our kids.
So, what does it mean to be patient with our kids? What does it look like? And, why is it so hard to do? Patience with our kids can take many forms. It might mean not cutting them off in conversation. It might mean accepting that our kids, and their dreams, may be very different than we are. Patience with our kids might mean giving them enough space to make their own mistakes. Patience means allowing our kids to express themselves even when we disagree with them. Patience means having the same conversation over and over and over again. Patience is waiting for discipline to work rather than constantly looking for the easy way out. Patience is watching our kids suffer (one of the hardest things for parents to do) when we know that that suffering will help them to grow in the long run.
When I was a kid, my Dad used to tell us that he felt like a broken record. I never understood what he meant by that phrase until I had kids of my own. Patience with our kids means answering the same question and giving the same instructions hundreds, if not thousands, of times. When my nephew was three or four, he used to ask “why?” to everything. Now, there is nothing unusual or unique about that. Most kids go through the “why” phase. The fun thing about my nephew was that after going through a series of 10-20 “why” questions which my brother would patiently answer, my nephew would always end by asking my brother “How do you know?” It drove my brother up the wall. Kids have idiosyncrasies as well! (As an aside, as an Uncle and someone who grew up in the same house as my nephews Dad, I found it absolutely hilarious ).
Often times, being patient with our kids means prioritizing issues and letting the smaller ones slide. In the secular world, there is a common adage that says you have to “pick your battles” with your kids. I don’t care for the terminology because it reduces the parent/child relationship to terms of warfare, and Christian love calls us to walk beside our kids and build them up. That said, it is important for us to distinguish between biblical correction and those areas that are of less importance. After all, the Bible tells us:
Train a child in the way he should go,
and when he is old he will not turn from it. (Proverbs 22:6)
He who spares the rod hates his son,
but he who loves him is careful to discipline him. (Proverbs 13:24)
Clearly, the Bible instructs us to discipline our kids in order to bring them up in the way of the Lord. Proverbs 13:24 even says that love requires discipline. Our goal should be to discipline in a way consistent with God’s discipline:
My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline
and do not resent his rebuke,
because the LORD disciplines those he loves,
as a father the son he delights in. (Proverbs 3:11-12)
The writer of Hebrews quotes this verse then further explains:
Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:10-11)
So, discipline is an expression of love. That’s all fine and dandy, but what does any of that have to do with patience? Let me see if I can make the link. Otherwise, I’m going to have to go back and rewrite this whole section. Paul writes to the Ephesians:
Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)
And to the Colossians:
Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged. (Colossians 3:21)
This is where patience is critical. In disciplining our kids, it is critical that we approach it with love and patience. When we lose our patience with our kids, we risk saying things we don’t mean, dishing out overly harsh punishments, and having to go back to our kids later to apologize for our attitude. We should never punish our kids out of frustration, especially frustration born out a lack of patience. Rather, all discipline should be for the benefit of the child to “raise him up in the way he should go.”
Many times when we are impatient with our kids, it is because we have trouble forgiving them. Imagine that – the concept of forgiving our kids. The Bible says:
Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13)
Why then do we sometimes find it so hard to forgive our own kids? My wife is a lot better at it than me. Each morning, she finds some way to give the kids a completely clean slate. No matter how disrespectful, disobedient, mouthy, mean or nasty they may have been the previous day, she starts fresh with them virtually every day. I, on the other hand, have trouble letting go. I have trouble forgiving. No matter how many times I profess it with my mouth, in my heart, I have trouble with forgiveness especially when it comes to dealing with same issues over and over and over again. I’ll talk more about it later in the section on keeping no record of wrongs, but a lack of ability to forgive leads to impatience. When we don’t forgive, we start to get bitter, and patience is particularly hard in the face of bitterness.
So, I was sitting in church one morning knowing that I was going to write this section of the study on patience that afternoon and wondering how I was going to write intelligibly about something that I fail at so frequently and so completely. I often tell people, “I used to be a patient person, and then I had kids!” I was wondering how I was going to approach this section with any sense of authenticity when God, as he often does, pointed me back to the truth of his word. Let’s call it a God moment. The sermon had nothing to do with patience or parenting, but the pastor pointed to Romans 7 and 8 where Paul recounts his own struggles:
14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
21 So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!
1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, 4 in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.
12 Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, (Romans 7:14-25; 8:1-4,12-13)
Over and over again, Paul resolved in his mind that he would no longer sin. It is clear though, that we can not conquer sin by our own will, but only by allowing the Holy Spirit to work in us. Only by the Spirit can we “put to death the misdeeds of the body.” Romans 8:16 tells us that the Spirit himself testifies with our spirit. The key then, I believe, to breaking the cycle of resolution and failure is to allow the Spirit of God to kill the selfishness, pride and sin that causes impatience. We must pray that God would give us patience with our kids. It is no coincidence then that:
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)
Only by the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit can we achieve these things. It is still a struggle for me, but like every struggle in our lives, it is comforting to know that we can lay it at the cross of Christ and that we do not face our struggles alone but in the sanctifying power of our Lord Jesus Christ.
When my oldest son was nine or so, we bought him a shirt while on vacation. In big bright multi-colored letters it read, “Be Patient, God isn’t done with me yet!” I always liked that shirt. In retrospect, I now see that I probably should have bought a matching shirt for myself!
Fortunately, the Bible provides some good examples of patience even under extreme heartache for us to emulate. Let’s take a look at a parable told by Jesus exemplifying parental patience. The parable is widely known as the Parable of the Prodigal Son, but it might be more aptly titled the Parable of the Patient Father. The story is told in Luke 15:11-31.
For all you fathers, try to imagine that your son, after years of raising and providing for him, come to you and says:
Father, give me my share of the estate. (Luke 15:11b)
You would have to be been stunned, or perhaps not. In essence, your youngest son is telling you, “the only use I have for you is your money. Do not make me wait until you die, give me my share now!” Can you imagine the heartache you feel? The fact of the matter is that love requires patience even under extreme heartache.
This is exactly the circumstances that the father in Jesus’ parable faced. So, did the father in this story yell and scream? Did he preach? Did he call his son ungrateful and remind him of all the things he had done for him? Let’s go back to Luke and see:
So he divided his property between them. (Luke 15:12b)
This father set aside the hurt, anger and disappointment that he must have felt and responded to his son in patience and love. The son then left home and squandered all of his money on “wild living.” After living destitute for a time, the son carefully plans his speech and heads back home. Luke tells us:
So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. (Luke 15:20)
Then, before the son could even finish the speech he had rehearsed, his father interrupted him and began to plan his welcome home party exclaiming:
For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. (Luke 15:24a)
This is, of course, is a parable about God’s love and patience with us – his lost sons, but it serves as a classic biblical example of what patience with our kids ought to look like in practice. Patience, like love itself, can look past the hurt, shame and heartache to the needs of our children.
Many of us, me included, expect our kids to be little clones of ourselves, and it never works out that way. As we allow our children to grow into adults, as we train them in the ways of God, we must show our love to them through patience and work against our worldly desires to impose our will on them. After all, God never did that with us!