Hello, my name is Jacob and I am impatient. I hate lines. I hate waiting. And my constant focus on what needs done mixes with those ‘hates’ in a way that make me self-centered and self-focused.
But no one notices because we have allowed impatience to be the expectation – not the exception.
And then the Fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5 annoyingly lists patience as … virtue.
A man observed a woman in the grocery store with a three year old girl in her basket. As they passed the cookie section, the child asked for cookies and her mother told her “no.” The little girl immediately began to whine and fuss, and the mother said quietly, “Now Ellen, we just have half of the aisles left to go through; don’t be upset. It won’t be long.”
The man passed the Mother again in the candy aisle. Of course, the little girl began to shout for candy. When she was told she couldn’t have any, she began to cry. The mother said, “There, there, Ellen, don’t cry. Only two more aisles to go, and then we’ll be checking out.”
The man again happened to be behind the pair at the check-out, where the little girl immediately began to clamor for gum and burst into a terrible tantrum upon discovering there would be no gum purchased today.
The mother patiently said, “Ellen, we’ll be through this check out stand in five minutes, and then you can go home and have a nice nap.”The man followed them out to the parking lot and stopped the woman to compliment her. “I couldn’t help noticing how patient you were with little Ellen…”The mother broke in, “My little girl’s name is Tammy… I’m Ellen.”
Ah, patience. It’s a virtue we’re told to cherish from an early age. It’s one of our Fruits of the Spirit! Generally, patience is defined as “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.”
Nowhere in there does patience sound like as much fun as love, joy, or peace, does it?
Patience is learned – and practiced – by continually being bombarded with situations that test our patience and challenge our resolve to not get angry or upset. But while we may occasionally acknowledge someone who we believe is patient, we can readily see situations where a loss of patience is catastrophic. And society continues to feed our impatience with fertilizer (!) that grows our “impatiens” quite well.
We have “fast food” where we’re supposed to get our food faster – and we pay more and more for food that is less good for us and of less quality.
We pay extra for the express lane on the highway, at the amusement park, and when it comes to shipping the things we want faster.
And this is passed on to our children. They can spend “credit” to accelerate how their apps develop, there’s “On Demand” so they don’t have to wait until the next day to watch the episode they want to watch. Their preadolescent pre operational self-centeredness is encouraged by the way society tells them to expect things NOW.
But the Bible again – so annoying, isn’t it? – has something to say about the opposite of NOW. Instead, the Bible says we should sometimes wait.
In fact, considering patience I recognized three ways we need patience. I didn’t aim for a three-point sermon, but this is how it works out sometimes! We need to be patient with ourselves; we need to be patient with others; we need to be patient with God.
Now, some of you are moving on to the second point already, but consider this: how patient are you with yourself? How do you accept the things that you can’t control, or the the things you want to change but don’t have the ability to instantaneously adapt?
Your changing waistline.
Your new job.
Your failing health.
Your relationship ‘status.’
Too often, we see things about ourselves, usually things we want to change, and we don’t like the timetable that it takes to change them. I don’t know about you, but sometimes, that frustration makes me impatient. It doesn’t even need to include a single other human being, but already, our frustration level is rising.
I know this frustration physically right now. After months of headaches and pain, I went to the doctor. She told me I had a stiff neck, that my mobility was nothing like it should be. Let’s be real, I’ve never been flexible. But here, thanks to months of stress and sickness, I’d reached a point where I needed help to make a difference. So, I’ve just finished my first week of physical therapy – and it hurts! I want to be better now but each muscle loosens over time, creating more and more change.
This is ultimately about timing, right? We expect instantaneously results, like we can ‘level up’ immediately. But changing our health requires adaptations to our diet, our sleep schedule, our exercise routines. They are not going to happen immediately but the payoff is worth it in the long run.
The same is true of our prayer life – or our church participation. Too often, we expect that if we show up, if we do the right things, everything will just fall into place. But often, we need a heart change – and those take time.
I recently watched a film about an art thief who received a heart transplant. The man who died was a family man and a person of faith, who shared his love with everyone. The thief was no good – he had in fact had something to do with the death of the other man. But over time, his interaction with the dead man’s family, hearing his story and seeing the impact of the other man’s life, made the thief consider how he was living. It didn’t happen immediately, but his heart changed over time.
Sometimes, for our hearts to change, we have to practice the other fruits of the spirit – and be patient that they will take root.
This brings us to the second ‘patience,’ that of being patient with other people. Like love, joy, and peace, patience requires practice and oh how do we get practice! Weekly, daily, hourly. If you have small children, it might even be moment-by-moment!
Whether it’s a little tug with a request for another snack or a text reminding you of your honey-do list, we have moments where the things we have to do become seemingly insurmountable. Throw in a little injustice or end up on the wrong end of someone else’s free will, and there’s a snowball effect that has less to do with winter and more to do with the rising heat of our frustrations.
So what can we do about patience? How can we practice it?
I think it starts with the little things. Doesn’t life work that way quite a bit?
We have to pray that God would give us patience. We have to ask for help!
And then there’s the little matter of what we do that makes us impatient. For example…
I am always late. I’m the pastor, I teach a few classes, I write for some websites. I’m a husband, and father of two boys. I spend up to two hours in the car daily, driving somewhere! There is always something to do – and society tells me, not enough time to do it. But I’m learning – hold the applause, I’m a slow learner – that trying to do less actually makes me accomplish more.
If I don’t try to get one more thing done, I can leave early. The traffic jam, the train crossing, the stoplights don’t have to add to my impatience because I left in time to get where I’m supposed to. If I’m not stressed out, I don’t get (as) impatient with other drivers, I’m less inclined to mutter under my breath, I’m less inclined to end up needing to go to PT for a stiff neck…
Yes, patience for others requires remembering the lessons we learned about love, joy, and peace, but patience is one of the most obvious Fruits of the Spirit for us to literally practice.
Don’t rush around.
Bite your tongue.
Remember the lessons your mom taught you about only saying something if you have something nice to say…
And then there’s the third patience – patience with God.
One of the sayings I least like is “all in God’s time.” It’s usually uttered when someone is hurting – especially grieving. It’s a rotten time to say it to someone who is in a dark place. But if we step back, we might realize that being patient for God’s time is about finding our way into the place where who we are and what we do is focused on being
When we wait on God’s time, we grow. When we recognize that God has a plan for us, we can see that things work out in the long run – when we see how God has shown up for us and in the history of the world before.
In Psalm 27:14, David took it a step further, “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” Not only did David recognize that God’s time was better, but he realized that when he was patient on God’s time that he made the situation about when God showed up, rather than what he could do.
If we see the problem and get impatient, we forget that God is bigger than the problem. Sometimes, our impatience is a symptom of something else – and God is working to help us get to the bottom of it.
An old story reminds us that long ago, our forefathers came to this country and “homesteaded” certain portions of land which belonged to the government. This was virgin soil. Much of it had to be cleared of woods and brush before it could be cultivated. It took long, arduous months of work before the land was cleared and crops rewarded the homesteader. But with patience and perseverance much was accomplished and the pioneer was the proud possessor of fertile fields and brought him rich return for his labor. In clearing the land in the days of the pioneers the task of cutting the trees and removing the thickets and underbrush covering the land was but a small portion of the work involved, for this could quite quickly be accomplished by burning the wood. The difficult part of the work was the removing of the roots and stumps and stones which were underneath the surface of the ground but which must needfully be removed before the work was complete and before cultivation could be undertaken. If this was not done within a short time the area would be covered with a second growth, as difficult to remove as the first.
When we think things aren’t happening fast enough, we get caught in the quicksand of us. When we think things aren’t happening fast enough, maybe it’s because we haven’t cleared the ground – and made sure that our foundational layer is in order. We get locked in on thinking that life is all about us and our wants and our needs, that other people’s timing – and even God’s timing – is an inconvenience to us.
When we put our full focus on God, we recognize that everything is possible – right when it’s supposed to be.
I pray today that we would practice patience, and grow in grace. May God give us just what we need to see this fruit of the spirit come to full bloom in our lives!