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Learning to Be Patient

It was a week that provided ample opportunities to practice patience.

Patience is “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.”

Joyce Meyer noted, “Patience is not the ability to wait, but how you act while you’re waiting.”

So, how did you do this past week?

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Well it’s been quite a week on Cape Cod, hasn’t it?  Last weekend we were enduring the hottest and most humid days of the year.  That was followed by rain, an incredible night of lightning, and two tornadoes knocking out power for thousands of people and bringing down countless trees.  It was a week that provided ample opportunities to practice patience.

What is patience?

Patience is “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.”  Joyce Meyer noted, “Patience is not the ability to wait, but how you act while you’re waiting.”  So, how did you do this past week?

We were fortunate; we only lost power for 5 ½ hours.  Jill, Greg and I drove to Orleans to have lunch, then I took one of our cars to be inspected.  As I stood outside the gas station waiting for my turn, I was watching a flock of sparrows flying around, wondering how long we might be without power and who we should be checking on who might need assistance.  There was music playing inside the garage and the third song that came on while I was standing there waiting, was a song by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, The Waiting, which includes the lyrics:

“Every day you get one more yard

You take it on faith, you take it to the heart the waiting is the hardest part

Don’t let it kill you baby, don’t let it get to you

Don’t let it kill you baby, don’t let it get to you.”

I started laughing thinking to myself; this is definitely the week to be preaching on patience!

Listen to what Paul writes about patience in Colossians 1:9-12:

“For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God.  May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.”

I’d like you to turn to someone sitting near you and share your answer to two questions.  You have 60 seconds each—I’ll tell you when one minute is up and you need to switch.

  • Name a situation in which you find it hard to be patient? 
  • Why is it hard for you to be patient in those situations? 

Would anyone be willing to share any of your responses?

In the article, Four Reasons to Cultivate Patience, Kiran Newman writes,

“As virtues go, patience is a quiet one.  It’s often exhibited behind closed doors, not on a public stage:  A father telling a third bedtime story to his son, a dancer waiting for her injury to heal.  In public, it’s the impatient ones who grab all our attention:  drivers honking in traffic, grumbling customers in slow-moving lines.  We have epic movies exalting the virtues of courage and compassion, but a movie about patience might be a bit of a snoozer.  Yet patience is essential to daily life—and might be key to a happy one.  Having patience means being able to wait calmly in the face of frustration or adversity, so anywhere there is frustration or adversity— nearly everywhere—we have the opportunity to practice it.  At home with our kids, at work with our colleagues, at the grocery store with half our city’s population, patience can make the difference between annoyance and equanimity, between worry and tranquility.”

I’m not the most patient person.  What I say today about patience is not coming from someone who has mastered patience.  I understand how difficult it can be to be patient, and I know impatience can get us into trouble.

One time I was driving in Orleans and I turned right from Route 6A onto Eldredge Parkway.  The car behind me was a convertible being driven by a young woman.  I know this because I drove past an Orleans Police car that was on the right side of the road and, of course, I looked in my rearview mirror and noticed the officer had pulled out behind us.

The speed limit on Eldredge Parkway is 30 miles per hour, in part because there’s an elementary school on the road as well as a fire station and a police station.  With the convertible and the officer behind me, I was driving exactly 30 miles an hour.  The young woman wasn’t happy about this and she was following me rather closely and a little to the left as if she wanted to pass.

As we approached the Orleans Fire Station, an engine came out lights flashing, siren wailing, and pulled in front of us.  I slowed down in case another emergency vehicle was following and then I saw an ambulance about to pull out so I pulled over, stopped, and put my arm out indicating the driver behind me should stop.

Impatient with my driving, ignoring the ambulance, and oblivious to the police officer right behind her, the driver behind me pulled around me virtually right into the path of the ambulance.  Shaking my head, I looked in the rearview mirror and made eye contact with the police officer and waved for him to come around me.  He put his lights on, swung around, and pulled the car over a short distance down the road.

Impatience can be costly and more inconvenient than waiting.

“Patience,” “patient,” and “patiently” in the Bible

In the Bible, the words “patience,” “patient,” and “patiently” are used to describe God’s behavior as well as our own.

Patience, like all the fruit of the spirit are reflections of the character of God and are demonstrated in the life of Jesus.  Jesus was very patient with his sometimes slow-to-understand disciples, often repeating his teaching two or three times in trying to help them grow.

I confess I find it comforting and a reflection of the humanity of Christ that even Jesus lost his patience with people from time to time.

For example, in Mark 9:19, Jesus says,

“You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you?  How much longer must I put up with you?”  Recognizing the sinful nature of the human heart, let me say, you’re not allowed to use this passage as an excuse whenever you lose your patience saying, “Even Jesus lost his patience so it’s okay for me to lose mine.”

While Jesus got impatient with the disciples a few times, that was the exception and certainly not the norm.

Is God patient with us?

As we seek to develop patience in our life, it helps to remember how patient and gracious God has been and continues to be with us.  In 1 Timothy 1:16 Paul writes,

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost.  But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life.”

It took Paul a long time to understand that the way he was living his life was not pleasing to God and yet God was incredibly patient toward him and didn’t give up on him.

Paul finally understood how he was disappointing God, and Paul experienced and responded to God’s love in Christ.

Paul then taught his churches the importance of being patient with the weaker members of the faith community.

“And we urge you, brothers and sisters, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them (1 Thessalonians 5:14).”

God has been patient with us individually and with the entire human race, so we are to be patient with others.

In the late first-century, some Christians wondered if the Lord was not keeping his promise about returning because the years were marching on.  But in 2 Peter, which was perhaps the last book written in the New Testament, we hear (2 Peter 3:9,14,15),

“The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.  Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.”

The Lord is patient with us, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance; while we wait for that day, we’re to regard this interim time as an example of the patience of the Lord to all people.

How can we develop our patience?

When referring to human behavior, patience in the Bible is used almost exclusively in reference to dealing with other people or being patient in enduring suffering. 

Patience is a fruit of the spirit we need when we find ourselves in stressful situations with other people, in physical trials, persecution or in less difficult moments over which we have no control, such as losing power, being stuck in traffic, or at an airport as flights are delayed or postponed.

Control your temper with patience

“The Los Angeles Times published a story of a commercial airline flight cancellation that resulted in a long line of travelers trying to get booked on another flight.  One man in the line grew increasingly impatient with the slow-moving line.  Suddenly, he pushed his way to the front and angrily demanded a first-class ticket on the next available flight.  “I’m sorry,” said the ticket agent, “but I’ll have to first take care of the people who were ahead of you in the line.”

The irate man pounded his fist on the ticket counter, saying, “Do you have any idea who I am?”  The ticket agent picked up the public address microphone and said, “Attention, please! There’s a gentleman at the ticket counter who doesn’t know who he is.  If there is anyone in the airport who can identify him, please come to the counter.”  Hearing this, the man retreated, and the people waiting in line burst into applause.”

Practicing patience helps us to control our temper and that ability is a sign of maturity.  Proverbs 15:18 and 16:32,

“Those who are hot-tempered stir up strife, but those who are slow to anger calm contention.  One who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and one whose temper is controlled than one who captures a city.”

Because developing patience is difficult, we shouldn’t be surprised how frequently the New Testament urges us to be patient with other people and in suffering such as our theme verse today Colossians 1:11-12.

“May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints of light.”

Paul connects patience with giving thanks for what we have to be thankful for in the midst of suffering or difficult human relationships, especially the fact that through our faith in Christ, we have hope in this life and even in suffering and death.

In the letters to the seven churches in the Revelation, several start with the risen Christ calling the church to patient endurance in the face of persecution (2:2-3, 19).

“I know your works, your toil, your patient endurance.  You are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name.  I know your works—your love, faith, service, and patient endurance.”

Not only is the church to patiently endure, but in our relationships with other people, we’re told (Colossians 3:12),

“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  Bear with one another and if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other.”  These are the sorts of behaviors that are the mark of a genuine disciple.  Of course, we know, (1 Corinthians 13:4), “Love is patient.”

In the world in which we live, patience is not the virtue it used to be.  Our expectations have been raised and accelerated so rapidly by the technology and material comfort that it’s hard for us to be patient.  Yet Ecclesiastes 7:8 reminds us, “The patient in spirit are better than the proud in spirit.”

Religions and philosophers have long praised the virtue of patience; now researchers are starting to do so as well.  Recent studies have found that good things really do come to those who wait.

Some of these science-backed benefits are that patient people enjoy better mental health and are better friends and neighbors. 

Patience helps us achieve our goals and is linked to good health.[1]

How can I get more patience?

Three things we can do to cultivate patience are to reframe a situation, pray and practice gratitude. 

Scientists have confirmed that gratitude is an important component to being patient.  This is what Paul tells us in Colossians 1 and Romans 12:12 to, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.”

When someone is driving very fast on the highway and we need to get out of their way, we can pray for them and imagine they got terrible news about a loved one and are rushing to the hospital.  Reframing is very helpful in life.

As we seek to develop patience, it helps to remember how patient and gracious God has been with us.

We don’t want to take advantage of God’s patience by becoming complacent or sluggish in our faith.  We want to keep growing and working diligently so that we may be, in the words of Hebrews 6:12, “imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”

Simply praying and asking God to give us patience right now, isn’t going to be enough.  There’s always our part in growing in Christ-likeness.

An anonymous prayer put it this way:

“I asked God to take away my pride.  And God said no.

He said it was not for him to take away but for me to give up.

I asked God to grant me patience.  And God said no. 

He said that patience is a by-product of tribulation.  It isn’t granted.  It’s earned.

I asked God to give me happiness.  And God said no.

He said he gives blessings.  Happiness is up to me.

I asked God to spare me pain.  And God said no.

He said suffering draws you apart from worldly care and brings you closer to him.

I asked God to make my spirit grow.  And he said no.

He said I must grow on my own.  But I will be in heaven someday because I believe.

I asked God to help me love others as much as he loves me.

God said, “Ah, at last.  You finally have the idea.”

Questions for Discussion or Reflection

  1. Share or identify a situation in which you find it hard to be patient. Why is it difficult for you to be patient in those situations?  What does that tell you about yourself?
  2. Take some time to reflect on or discuss the patience of God and some of the scriptures that reflect how God has been patient with the whole human race. What do we learn from God’s patience?
  3. In Colossians 1:11-12, the Apostle Paul connects patience with giving thanks for what we have to be thankful for in the midst of suffering or difficult human relationships. How does focusing on what we have to be thankful for relate to or help us to be more patient?
  4. How does being consistently impatient negatively impact your attitude, relationships and health?
  5. What are some of the benefits of being consistently patient for your attitude, relationships and health?
  6. What are some strategies that help build everyday patience? Which one do you think would be the most helpful for you?  Which will you practice this coming week?

[1] Four Reasons to Cultivate Patience: Good things really do come to those who wait.  By Kira Newman, 4.4.16