Fruitful Living: Patience, A Virtue that Won't Hurt You
Christ the King, Palm Coast, FL ~ Pastor Jay Zahn ~ The Fruit of the Spirit: Patience ~ Sunday, July 7, 2019
It has been said that “Patience is a virtue, and a virtue can’t hurt you.” What is virtue and why is it important? Being virtuous means you possess a noble character. A person of noble character does the right things for the right reasons with the right spirit in those times when doing so is easy and popular as well as and especially when doing so is difficult and socially shunned.
In the Greek language, the original language of the New Testament, there are two words for patience. One means to ‘just hang in there,’ ‘to persevere’ and ‘endure.’ The word that is used here is a little different. Literally it means “to be long before one gets angry.” It doesn’t mean that a person won’t get angry. There is such a thing as just anger. God is patient but there is a time when he will carry out justice and punish. This kind of patience has limits but it also always has a purpose.
Someone once said, “Take patience too far and it becomes cowardice.” That is true. Some think that patience is to just keep putting up with sinful behavior without end. An example is the Old Testament High Priest Eli whom we heard about in the 1st Lesson. He had two sons Hophni and Phineas. The Bible says they were evil through and through. Eli waited to deal with them until he was very old. The Scriptures say, “Because of the sin he knew about; his sons made themselves contemptible, and he failed to restrain them.” Was Eli a patient man? I don’t think so. Eli was a coward.
When it comes to patience people struggle. Whether it’s cowardice that produces a failure to act or the opposite extreme an unwillingness to wait because we want what we desire right now. 3G wasn’t good enough. Now 4G isn’t sufficient. Now we want a 5G network. Why? Our culture’s craving, even demand, for immediate gratification doesn’t really assist people in developing the virtue of patience either. There is much pressure, not only from the culture around us but also from the frustrated demanding voice in our own hearts that urges us to give in to our impatience. Doing so can even feel good in the moment, yet it often sends us spiraling downward into frustration. Even if we do send that email to check on the status of a job we applied for or a product we ordered or to find out about the grades we’re waiting to be posted, the fact remains that we can’t do much to change the circumstances. I’m guessing you can think of situations where it would have been valuable to exercise greater patience.
So where is your patience level at? Would others describe you as a patient person? Are you truly patient, able to wait without frustration or anxiety? Are you able to wait without aggravation while others catch up to where you’re at? Or do you find that you are often short, irritable, and upset when people fail to live up to your expectations? Have you ever felt impatient toward the development of your own patience? You want more patience, but you’re fed up waiting for it. You want patience and you want it right now! What do you do when patience is lacking?
Maybe the better question is: What does God do? Because the truth of the matter is, sometimes our character has deep flaws we can't even see. Sometimes we don’t even realize we’re lacking in patience. Sometimes we don’t even see where exercising a little more patience would make a really big difference. But God can. And He won't turn a blind eye to those places in our character that need further development and greater growth. Gently, firmly, He prods us, helping us see our blindness. If we listen and observe, we'll get it... this time. Or not. But God doesn't give up. He's patient, even when we're not.
Waiting is not easy. But it births something in us that is incredibly difficult and astoundingly beautiful: patience. It invites us to trust Jesus—and his impeccable timing—with our thoughts, our time, our relationships, and our resources. God develops patience in us as he brings us through tough experiences and trying times. God develops patience in us as he strengthens us to persevere through difficult days, dealing with difficult people, determined to accomplish difficult goals, all the while deepening our trust, our reliance on Him for what we need to make it through each difficult moment. Yes, each trying experience provides us with another memory of God’s faithfulness. These memories help us to trust God more quickly, more fully, more deeply the next time we are in a difficult situation. The more of these memories we have, the easier it is to let go of anxiety, to relax, and to wait upon God. Because the truth is that we can’t develop patience any other way than by waiting. Just listen to how James puts it: "Dear brothers, is your life full of difficulties and temptations? Then be happy, for when the way is rough, your patience has a chance to grow" (James 1:2-3, TLB).
So what can we do while we’re waiting to embrace the fruits of patience (self-control, restraint, and tolerance)? There is a short little Latin phrase that is really helpful: “ora et labora.” In English the phrase means to “pray [ora] and work [labora].”
The world doesn’t stop while you’re waiting for something. There are things and people that still need your attention. Your own soul needs your attention too, as does your body. So, while you’re waiting, “ora et labora” by focusing your attention on those things where you can productively expend your energy while you wait.
Like your prayer life. A key driver of impatience is our frustration with having no power or control over a situation. Far better to exercise that energy in the form of prayer. Laying our concerns, our desires, our dreams before the Lord. But even more than that, laying our hearts open before the Lord. A growing prayer life is the fruit of a heart that is growing in trust that God’s heart is open and attentive to mine, coupled with confidence that God’s will is far better than my own! It is always best that God’s will be done and my own be molded and melded with His!
Though I don’t have the power to change others, there are things I can work on changing in the way I relate to others. This is the chance to work on cultivating the things I can pay attention to—the way I relate to God, family, and friends—and thank God for the people in my life. I can work on becoming healthier and not escaping into food or drink or some other type of distraction or diversion. Through the process, though slow and perhaps at times even painful, what grows within through waiting is something I’ve desired all along: greater patience. Whether that’s peacefully waiting on someone else to catch up or waiting in peace for the right time to make suggestions or to take risks. It may mean waiting on God and his timing, to answer a prayer or to open a door of opportunity. It may also be the waiting that calls for the humble acknowledgement that maybe something isn’t happening for me yet because I’m not quite ready for what God has planned for me. Where that’s the case, waiting isn’t simply biding time, it’s the opportunity to work on and develop those areas in my own heart, my own character that would benefit from more attention, further development, greater growth.
It can be easy to talk like this, but it’s a lot harder to actually “ora et labora” like this, right? Waiting with patience is not easy, and God knows this. The good news is that you’re not waiting for it alone. The Apostle Paul encourages us in Romans 8:25-26, “But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” God not only calls you to patience, but He also gives you His Spirit who helps you in your weakness and prays for you through it. We cannot be patient on our own if we just try harder. Patience is a fruit of the Spirit, not of our flesh. Thank God He sends us His Spirit to help us and gives us His Spirit to grow this fruit in our lives.
Yes, patience is a virtue and a virtue can’t hurt you. So keep waiting. Work on what you can. And pray to Jesus—the one whose Spirit is at work even while you wait for him to move. Amen.