The Fruit of the Spirit: Patience
Waiting is hard. Whether it is sitting at a traffic light or standing in a checkout line, we have no choice but to wait and watch the seconds tick slowly by, often with gritted teeth. We wait because we are dependent on things outside of ourselves – the timing of the lights and the number of cars, cashiers, and customers. These little irritations are minor compared to the many circumstances that test our patience, but all these situations have one thing in common. They are outside our control.
For example, who has not wondered why spiritual growth takes so long? Not just for ourselves but for those we love. If only the Christian walk was like a straight line. For every x number of days or weeks that go by, we would see y amount of improvement. Therefore, we could predict our progress and the progress of our brothers and sisters from conversion to when we all go be with the Lord. And wouldn't God want us to proceed as directly and smoothly as possible? It would certainly help our forbearance with one another. Yet the Christian life rarely follows a formula, and sanctification is not geometry.
And who has not tried to get a handle on the events that surround us especially during this pandemic? Who has not wondered when this global calamity will finally be behind us? If we had some idea of the timing, we could plan accordingly. Then we could anticipate when family and church life returns to “normal.” Yet for every scientific model and conspiracy theory, too many factors are beyond our limited knowledge and power. Any semblance of control is long gone.
Yet patience is not passive resignation to the whims of chance. We are not at the mercy of people or unknown forces. Our times are in his hands.[i] But it takes more than mental assent to familiar verses and self-effort to become patient. It is a virtue, spiritual character that is developed within and flows out towards others. Patience is waiting on a good God, knowing that his timing is perfect and his purposes for ourselves, the church, and the world will be fulfilled.[ii] Thus it is a fruit of the Holy Spirit and his work in our lives, but that work is often wrought through difficult and painful circumstances.
The Apostle James writes, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”[iii] In these various trials, we undergo the process of unlearning and learning. We unlearn the myths that we are in control and that unless we look after ourselves, no one else will. But in these trials, we grow in our realization that we are dependent creatures and needy children who can go to our Creator and Father. We may be forced to lean on God's Word in new ways than we have before, but we find that it fills our hungry souls. The Holy Spirit teaches us to wait on the Lord even more than the morning because we have learned to hope in his word.[iv] And the surest evidence that God keeps his word is in the finished work of Jesus Christ.
But this virtue of patience is not a private blessing for ourselves alone. Patience enables us to love our neighbor and to extend grace to those who are also in the process of learning patience. Patience helps us forbear with one another in the local church because sanctification is according to God's timeline, not ours. Patience gives words to our prayers as we earnestly wait for God to grant salvation to friends and family. Patience is waiting, but it is waiting with a proven hope in God. Patience is nothing less than becoming more like Christ who is ever patient with us. May we gladly yield to the Holy Spirit as he works his fruit in us.
Persis Lorenti is a member of Grace Baptist Chapel in Hampton, VA where she serves as deacon of library/resources. She blogs sporadically at Persistent Thoughts. You can follow her on Twitter @tea_et_books.
[i] Psalm 31:15
[ii] Forbearance: A Theological Ethic for a Disagreeable Church, James Calvin Davis, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, Co., 2017, pg. 48. “waiting for the fulfillment of God's purposes fo ourselves, the church, and the world without complaint or destructive reaction in the meantime.”
[iii] James 1:5-6
[iv] Psalm 130:5-7