What is patience?
You have doubtless heard the old saying. ‘Patience is a virtue.’ But, more specifically, how do you define patience? What is it? Why should we want it? And how do we get more of it if we are lacking?
According to Dictionary.com, the first three definitions are as follows:
the quality of being patient, as the bearing of provocation, annoyance, misfortune, or pain, without complaint, loss of temper, irritation, or the like.
an ability or willingness to suppress restlessness or annoyance when confronted with delay:
to have patience with a slow learner.
quiet, steady perseverance; even-tempered care; diligence:
to work with patience.
There are three other definitions of patience listed, but I omit them here because I would be testing your patience to include them. Besides, these first three suit the purposes of our discussion here best.
We see then a pattern. Patience has to do with calmly enduring setbacks and upsets, whether they be circumstances, conditions, other people, or even ourselves.
I am reminded also of the Ancient Greek saying, ‘Look to the end.’ This served as a reminder to the wisdom-loving Greeks that human triumphs and trials are temporary. We should always have the future in mind in any circumstance, knowing fortunes can and do change. Remembering this fact steadies us and keeps us from becoming complacent, conceited, or despairing.
Better still, we have the wise words of King Solomon:
Better is the end of a thing than its beginning,
and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.
We see then that having the long view helps us to be patient, especially in trials.
We Wait For it With Patience
Something the Apostle Paul writes to the church in Rome fits here.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.
For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.
And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
There is and will be suffering in this life. Jesus promised that. “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, ESV)
Yet for those who are in Christ there is more than trouble. There is glory to come. And that glory is so much better than the trouble. In fact, it is so much more complete, comprehensive, and lasting that it really belongs in another category. We have never experienced this kind of goodness.
That coming goodness helps us to be patient in our present troubles.
Patience Through Trials Perfects and Completes Us
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
We see again an assurance, and non-negotiable. We will have trials. It is not a matter of ‘if,’ but rather ‘when.’
When we face trials, we should not despair. God has not abandoned us. Our trouble is not evidence against our Christianity being authentic, as if Christ had promised we would not have trouble if we belonged to him. Rather, when we have trouble, we should focus on the silver lining. That silver lining is that patient endurance of trials perfects and completes us.
The Fruit Of The Spirit Is… Patience
Among the trials, and often during or because of them, we face temptation also. When we are suffering or anxious about potential suffering, the temptation to compromise on what we know to be right is especially strong. Yet Paul writes to Galatian believers at one point:
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.
But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
Pay special attention, for the purposes of our discussion here, to what Paul writes at the beginning of that passage. “The desires of the Spirit are against the flesh… to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” I take that to mean that patience, listed here as a fruit of the spirit, keeps us from doing things we sometimes want to do in a moment of frustration or anxiety.
But what things might we want to do in such a moment that patience would keep us from doing?
For starters, patience might keep us from snapping at someone we are teaching when they make a mistake, or fail to grasp what we explained to them. Patience might also keep us from badmouthing someone who irritated us, on-purpose or by accident.
Patience might also keep us from throwing our iPhone against the wall when Apple slows it down to force us into buying a newer model. Or patience might cause us to drive slower when the road becomes icy due to a winter storm.
In a moment of temptation or despair, patience will see us trusting God, and relying on his promises of deliverance, redemption, wisdom, and ultimate salvation.
Again, the Apostle Paul touches on this when he writes to believers in Corinth.
If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
In other words, our patient self-control and restraint would be foolish and pathetic if there were no glory in store for us. If there were no reward for those who endure to the end, as God has promised, we would be just as well to give in to whatever seemed most suited to please or preserve us in any given moment, regardless whether it was supposedly right or wrong.
Yet that is not the reality.
Instead, because Christ was raised, and because we Christians are promised the great things we are, and can count on those promises, we can and should patiently resist temptation and endure trials. Our patience is a direct result of our faith, and an evidence of our hope in Christ.