What is Patience?
Every morning, I walk into Emmett's room right around 8:00 AM to get him up for the day. After I turn the light on and say good morning, he usually stands up in his crib, looks over to the side of the room where his bookshelf is, and starts to say, "book! book!" (I'm sure you're not surprised that this warms my heart.)
One of our favorite books has been on the Fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
The fruit that catches my eye most mornings is patience and I have been wondering how exactly to define it, and in what ways I need to work on being patient. (We bought books like this for Emmett and Jane, but its funny how the Lord uses them for us parents too!) The sense I get from Scripture is that patience is a bent in our heart to be kind toward others and trusting in God in the midst of interruption, offense, or delay.
It starts with God's example. Patience is godly because God himself is patient. Paul says to those who would point out the sin of others without repenting of their own sin:
Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? Rom. 2:4
While mankind is in a constant state of sinful offense towards God, he has delayed giving us everything our sin deserves. He waits. While our disobedience deserves a just and immediate punishment, God gives grace. He allows us to live and breathe and enjoy life. By itself that is a grace and patience we don't deserve, but add to this that he offers us forgiveness and life with him forever, as well as a new desire and ability to please him, and we see God's patience is a grace beyond our full comprehension. Our offense toward God is great, but his patience is greater.
His patience has a purpose in mind--it is meant to lead us to repent of our sin, the very offense that deserves immediate punishment. God is gracious and is not immediate in his just punishment for sin, but instead he bears with our sin, desiring the delay to result in our turning to him and forsaking of sin.
Our patience should have this same goal in mind, that others would repent of the sins they have committed toward God and turn to him. Ultimately, our patience is most like the Father's when it motivates others to look at God's grace and perfect patience displayed in Jesus Christ and turn to him.
It is a heart issue. When Paul speaks about patience as part of the fruit of the Spirit, he is speaking about the battle Christians experience between the Spirit's work of holiness and the flesh's work of sin. The only way for us to exhibit patience is if the Spirit of God has changed our hearts. Patience isn't just a behavior issue; it is a heart issue.
Patience means happily (in the heart!) putting my book down (after just picking it up) when one of the kids wakes up early from their nap and won't go back to sleep. It means having self-control and joy when the traffic light is making me late. It means genuinely being concerned with what Kasey wants or needs today, rather than nursing in my heart the desire to move on quickly to what I need or want. This heart-level patience, which is the only real patience, can only come about by the Spirit's work of change on my heart.
The heart is the issue. We can be more calm and be more judicious in our actions, but if our heart is responding in anger and frustration, we are not displaying the kind of patience the Father has shown to us.
Personally, I struggle with patience particularly regarding my plans. When I have plans scheduled out for the day, and something makes me change what I was going to do, especially if it is reading or writing, I tend to be upset in my heart. And when I think about my plans for the future--where our family will go or what we will do after this master's degree--I am impatient and want to know the answer and be able to start making clear plans. But the truth is that I just have to wait. And what is the posture of my heart in these delays? That gets to the heart of the issue when it comes to patience.
Trusting in God's timing. Emmett and Jane's book on the Fruit of the Spirit describes patience in this way: trusting in God's timing. I have never heard this before, but I think the book is on to something. When my plans go sideways, why is it that I get antsy and anxious?
Ultimately, I think it is that I want to be in control of the timing of things. I want to get to church when I planned to, not later because of a slow driver or a long stop light. I want to finish this degree now so I can go ahead and move on to the next one. I want to be in control of these things, but I am not. God is.
At the bottom of patience is a steadfast trust in our hearts that God is sovereignly in control, working for our good and his glory. So whatever comes, whether it is on the calendar or not, comes from him as a loving Father. True offenses and sins against us are also true offenses and sins against God. He hurts when we hurt, but that doesn't mean he is not sovereign over the timing of things. We may truly be caught off guard by an inconvenience, but God is not surprised.
Patience isn't just about waiting quietly for a meal, its an inward heart-trust that God is near and active in every part of my life. When we are patient, we reflect the kindness of our loving Father toward others and illustrate that we trust his loving sovereignty over our lives.