Patience may be a virtue after all.

November 8, 2014.

One of the things that I have actually been advised not to pray for is more patience. Why? Well, I think the mantra “be careful what you wish for” is fitting here. When we ask for more patience, we can be quite sure that God will grant our request (as it is a fruit of the Spirit), but probably not in the way we would like Him too. I remember a while ago when things had gotten so busy at the student center that it was really hard to keep up with life and our endurance was certainly being tested. I was in a group of close friends and I said “Alright, who did it? Who prayed for patience?” When my friend raised her hand and said it was her, she received all the mock angry and disapproving faces from the rest of us. It is indeed funny to make the joke, but there is so much truth behind it. How do we get patience? Not through easy situations in life…

A while back I did a series on the Christian virtues listed in II Peter 1 (link to the series here!). I was surprised to notice the lack of “patience” in the list that Peter lays out. If patience wasn’t in the list of virtues, then where did the phrase “patience is a virtue” come from? After a little more research I found out that this particular phrase does not actually stem from a bible verse, but from an extra biblical work. After looking at it a little more, however, I also saw that the Greek word translated “steadfastness” in the version I was using is indeed translated as “patience,” or some derivative thereof, in other versions, including the King James. Patience and endurance certainly go hand in hand and even can be interchangeable words at times. However, I do think there is a difference between the two when we think about a difference sense of patience. Patience can be thought of in the context of enduring a tough situation or in the context of waiting for something to happen. It is the first sense that I think is listed in the Christian virtues, so you could indeed the phrase “patience is a virtue” has biblical backing (though the principle of patience is taught throughout scripture, and it is explicitly listed as a fruit of the spirit). For this sense of patience, I would redirect you here.

But it is the second sense of patience that I would like to talk about today. I must admit that I’m not very good at this. Patience has never really been something that I have sought after, nor obtained much of at a time. Sometimes I’m more patient than others, but that’s usually because I find other distractions to fill my time. I also am quite leery of praying for patience (though i have before) for the reasoning above. You don’t just get patience. It takes time and tough situations of lack to produce. I would imagine that some people are more disposed to patience, but I doubt anyone is disposed fully without developing it at some point in their life. Part of the reason that we as a whole have so much of a problem with patience is due to the society we live in. We live in a culture of instant gratification. When we want things, we want them now, and there’s really no room in our mind for waiting. I order a lot of things online and though I love the connivence of shopping at home on my computer, the worst part is waiting for shipping. When I want something, I want in right then and there.

This concept is not only applied to the material things in life, but it creeps into all aspects. We want advanced degrees, but the time it will take to get them is simply daunting and discourages many from pursuing them. Why can’t we have the technology of science fiction where information and knowledge is just dowloaded into our brain? Apart from this, we always seem to be longing for the next stage in our life. When I was in third grade, I can remember thinking that I couldn’t wait to be a fourth or fifth grader. When I was in fifth, I wanted to be in middle school. The fear of everything new that came with college might have discouraged this kind of thinking as my life transitioned from high school to college, but I remember when I was applying for graduate school, I couldn’t wait for the time that all the applications were done and I knew where I was going. Now I am already anticipating my graduation with a PhD and the next step as a post doc. There have been few times in my life (though there are indeed some) where I felt like I could live in that moment forever. Even when I was in a situation that I really enjoyed, I still was looking ahead and not so patiently waiting for certain things to be done with such as the semester classes.

One of the biggest things that I have no patience towards is marriage. It makes it harder when more and more of my friends are entering into that life stage and I really don’t see any potential for me even to begin the search. Combine my desire for marriage and the society that has taught me instant gratification and you continually get a very unsatisfying result. And with this un-satisfaction often comes frustration with God. I read passages like the one that comes after Jesus curses a fig tree and bewildered.

When the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”
(Matthew 21:22)

“Oh really?” I think, “Then why aren’t my prayers being answered? Why haven’t I received what I’ve asked for?” This is not the only passage of it’s kind, as there are sever times that Jesus says something along the lines of “ask and you shall receive.” But what did He mean? Is our faith simply lacking? I think this may indeed play a crucial role in not receiving what we ask for, but I don’t think it is the only factor. James says another reason that we don’t receive what we ask for is because we ask for it for the wrong reasons (ref. James 4:3). When Jesus made these statements, He obviously didn’t mean that we would just get anything we asked for like spoiled children. But I do fully believe He meant what he said. I take this verse quite literally as I believe that if we truly had the faith to move a mountain, we would literally say to the mountain “Be cast into the sea” and it would happen. I believe this because in the context of this statement, Jesus had just literally, physically caused a fig tree to die simply by his word. However, I think this kind of faith eludes most of us. Who in their right mind would truly believe they could uproot a mountain, after all? Well, honestly, we all should, because we all should believe in the power of God, that He can do whatever He wills. And we have the power of Christ within us. But it is so hard to make that final commitment to full and undoubting trust. If God Himself came and asked you to jump off a cliff and He would catch you, would you not at least think twice when yo peered over the peak? I can’t say that I wouldn’t.

Adding to our trust issue is our lack of patience. Perhaps what we ask for will indeed be given to us, but it just hasn’t been given yet. Jesus never said “Ask and you shall receive with a guaranteed delivery of 2 days if you order within the next three hours!” He just said ask and you shall receive. It is hard to believe that the wait for the things we want can be very important, and even vital, to our souls. What kind of patience would we have if we received everything from the Lord instantaneously? Probably the same kind of patience (or rather lack thereof) we have now with getting material things. What kind of character would be produced? And what is even harder to answer is what complications would arise from receiving the things we ask for before we are ready to receive them. Sometimes I think “You know, if I did have a family right now, how in the world would I be able to support them financially?” Or even the beginnings of a relationship. Perhaps that’s why I am still waiting. Perhaps there are other reasons. Maybe I would make bad decisions if I was blessed with a relationship before I was ready to handle it. Or maybe there are even other complications that I cannot even imagine that would come along with it if it happened now. I honestly don’t know if any of these reasons are the reason that I am still waiting, but I do know one thing: God is in control.

But it is still so hard to wait. And then we read about a great cloud of witnesses who were able to provide great examples of patience.

For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise.”
(Hebrews 6:13-15)

Abraham, Sarah, Job, David, Paul, Christ. They all give us examples of patience. Abraham was promised a son by Sarah who was barren. But it wouldn’t happen for another year. Job is often called a man of patience, used here more in the first sense we talked about earlier about patiently enduring, but he also had to wait on the answer from the Lord. David was anointed as the next king of Israel after Saul had walked away from God, but it would be years before he would assume the throne. Paul was told that he was to go to Rome, but the path to get him there was all but short and smooth. And then we have the example of our Lord who patiently endured a life where He knew what the final outcome was, a cruel cross, all for the sake of the world of sinners. We look to these examples (and more), and there can be an overwhelming sense of inadequacy, at least for me. But then I remember that most of these figures, save Christ (although you can see His agony in the garden) were not very good at waiting all the time. Abram (by the encouragement of Sarai) tried to take things into his own hand by having children by her servant Hagar. Job mad many complaints to the Lord during his suffering. David lived a life of intense spiritual highs and very low lows. Patience is hard for just about everyone.

But being hard is not an adequate excuse to not work on patience. And trust me, if you are striving to walk in step with the Spirit, God will help you work on your patience. It is still hard for me to see this in a positive light, but I know that the overall outcome will be to my benefit, though I can’t see it now. God is indeed in control, and we will be beneficiaries of the promises, though we may not get what we want right away, or even in our lifetime. The figures of old had this written about them by the Hebrew writer.

“They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”
(Hebrews 11:37-40)

Actually, we are very fortunate that we live in the time where the promise of the Messiah has been fulfilled. When we look at the bigger picture, we find that the things that we find it so hard to wait for pale in comparison of the promises of God that have been long awaited since the fall of man. The promise of the Messiah is almost taken for granted by us today because we have always lived in a time where the promise was already fulfilled. Now we just await His return at the end of the world as we know it. And we are to patiently wait as the day of the Lord approaches.

But what does that leave for us on the smaller things that we so eagerly desire? God knows the desires of our hearts, and He indeed will grant them to us according to His will (ref. Psa. 37:4). But many of these desires will come through lessons in painstaking patience. My word of encouragement is to endure, no matter how hard it may be. I know from experience that it is so hard to wait when you can’t even see the light at the end of the tunnel. Trust me, I’m there now. But what our journey with the Spirit will produce is a godly character, dignified and Holy, filled with the fruits of the Spirit, of which patience is one. May we ever be content in the Lord, and may He strengthen our will.

Suggested Daily Reading: Matthew 7, 21, Hebrews 6, 11.

The Lord bless your soul.


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