A lady saw an old man, apparently a grandpa, in the grocery store with a young boy in the basket of his shopping cart. And the boy was just throwing a fit. The old man stopped the cart and said, “Walter, just be patient. We have to get three things and when we get out of here, we’ll go have the cookies that grandma made.” Then pushed on a little further. The lady saw him a few isles later and the kid was now really throwing a fit. She saw the old man stop the cart again and say, “Walter, we have one more thing to get, then we’re checking out and going home.” Finally, she saw him at the check stand and the kid was pulling stuff off the shelves. The old man said, “Walter, please! Be patient! We will be home in 15 minutes. Just wait!” The lady interrupted, she couldn’t help it, she said, “Sir, I can’t help but compliment you. I have heard you talking to your grandson Walter through the whole store…” He said, “Oh, no, you don’t understand. I’m Walter.”
Patience is tough, isn’t it?
Patience is a state of calm in the face of provocation or misfortune or delay or disappointment. It’s a willingness to wait, to endure difficult people or adverse circumstances without reacting negatively with anger, rage, retaliation, or giving up.
- It doesn’t come naturally to us.
We’re not born patient creatures. At least I know my kids weren’t. When they woke up in the middle of the night with a full diaper or hungry, I don’t think once they lied there and thought to themselves, “You know, mom and dad are tired. They’d appreciate another hour of sleep. I’ll be okay for an hour. So I’ll just wait, maybe try to fall back asleep myself and then let them know I need fed and changed later.” I don’t think thoughts of waiting to scream for our benefit ever entered their minds.
Have you ever traveled with a little child old enough to talk who didn’t constantly ask, “Are we there yet?” “Can we get out?” “How much further?” I have never traveled with such a kid. I heard about one mother who was traveling with her 4 year old who was constantly asking, “Are we there yet? When are we going to get there?” She got frustrated after answering the same questions 100 times, and she said, “Listen! We’ve got 90 more miles to go, so don’t ask me again when we’re going to get there!” He was silent for a few minutes , until finally he timidly said, “Mommy, will I still be 4 when we get there?”
- I think patience is tough, not only because it doesn’t come naturally to us, but also because of our instant gratification culture here in the 21st century America.
Our culture is far from conducive to the development of patience. We wake up and push a button on the Keurig and have a cup of coffee in seconds, then a bowl of instant oatmeal in one minute. On cold mornings when our car needs to warm up, we don’t want to take all the time to walk out our front door and get in our car to start it and then walk all the way back to our house, so we have this remote start button on our key fob we just poke. We head for work on the new bypass because it cuts a couple minutes off our drive. And we don’t want to wait to call the person we need to call, so we just speak to the Bluetooth thing as we drive. “Call so and so…” and there they are, speaking to us through the car speakers. And it really irritates us when somebody drives the speed limit in the left lane next to somebody who’s also driving the speed limit in the right line, preventing us from being able to drive the permissible 3 or 4 miles an hour over the speed limit, making our arrival time at the office probably a whole 15 seconds later. After work we may need to deposit a check in the bank. But we don’t want to drive all the way to the bank, and possibly even wait in line at the bank, so we just take out our smart phone, snap a pic of the check, poke a couple buttons and it’s deposited. When we want to send a message to somebody, no way are we going to actually write it on paper, fold the paper, put it in an envelope, write an address on it, put a stamp on it, go all the way to a mail box and wait a couple days for it to get there; that’s snail mail of ancient history. We’re just going text them or email them. We have shopping to do, we may just do the same thing, take out the phone, order what we want. Don’t have the money yet for what we want? That’s okay. That’s why we have credit cards, so we don’t have to wait. At the end of the day we pick up dinner at a drive-thru on the way home, watch a movie on Netflix, because nobody wants to drive all the way to a movie rental store to get a movie, they’re about all out of business these days anyways. Then when it’s time for bed we pop a sleeping pill so it doesn’t take long for us to conk out.
We don’t have to do much waiting for anything we want. And that’s not too helpful for the development of patience, because patience has to do with a willingness to wait.
I read that a church in Florida not too long ago, maybe they still do this, was advertizing 22 minute worship services; comes complete with a call to worship, the Lord’s Prayer, two hymns, a pastoral prayer, a 6-8 minute sermon, and benediction. I kid you not. Don’t get your hopes up. Not going to happen here. I wonder if we’re going to see drive-thru communion sometime in the near future.
- And another reason I think patience is tough for us, is that in our culture impatience, expressed in retaliation or revenge, is often seen as a virtue.
The ancient Greeks, from what I understand, had this idea that it was virtuous to refuse to tolerate any insult or injury without retaliation. How many movies have you seen where the plot is the unjustly wronged main character is seeking revenge on the offender and the happy ending is when vengeance is served?
I used to think sort of this way as a teenager. I felt a real man doesn’t let people mess with him, even if they’re bigger than he is. Not striking back when somebody picks on you, I saw as wimpy. I remember when I was probably 16 and drove a little beat-up car to school. After school one day I found my windshield covered with spit wads. I decided I wasn’t going to be a wimp and not do anything about it. So I drove around the block, looking for who might have done that. And it wasn’t going to be a friendly encounter when I found them. But is that noble? Is that Christian? Our culture is kind of confused about that.
A customer may like that the contractor he’s hired is impatient and harsh with his employees when they’re not as efficient as he thinks they should be, because that contractor is going get the job done efficiently for them. Is it okay to be an impatient boss because you get the job done? Is that Christ-like?
So likely for all those reasons we find patience difficult. But…
An increasing quality of patience is an essential part of being people of God and to living a blessed life and being the greatest blessing to others.
The fruit of the Spirit, said Paul (what the Spirit of Christ wants to help us develop), is not only love and joy and peace, as we’ve talked about, but also patience.
I love these proverbs. Proverbs 14:29, “He who is slow to anger [patient] has great understanding, But he who is quick-tempered exalts folly.” If you’re quick tempered you’re going to be displaying for others to see all sorts of foolish behaviors and language that you’ll regret. And I love especially Proverbs 16:32, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, And he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.” In other words, you want to know who the real hero is, the real tough guy, the real man among men? It’s not the guy who can beat up everybody else. It’s not the state wrestling champ or the UFC title holder. It’s not even the valiant military commander who led his army in a great victory at war. It’s a man who’s come to master his own self in such a way that he’s slow to anger, patient. It takes more of a man to conquer himself than to conquer other people. So greater is he who is slow to anger than the mighty.
In the famous love passage, I Corinthians 13:4ff, Paul explains what love does, what love looks like in a person’s life. Do you remember the very first thing in the list Paul mentioned about how love expresses itself in a person’s life? The first thing in the list, he said, “Love is patient…” Love in action is first of all being patient. I guess that means impatience is unloving. Some people want to excuse their impatience, saying, “It’s just the way I am. I’m short-tempered. I have to blow off steam. You just have to accept that about me.” God’s word says, no, the problem is not how God made you; the problem is a lack of love. It is not thinking about others and caring about them enough.
In Colossians 3:12 we find that patience is one of the 8 garments of the well-dressed soul. Like this morning when you went into your closet or stood before your chest of drawers and you looked at your options of garments for the day and thought about what would be best to wear for today. Does that shirt match these pants? Does this cover enough? Does this make me look fat? And we made those decisions about what we would put on for the day. Paul understands that we do something like that with our souls. We make decisions each day about the attitudes and character traits that we’re going to put on and display to those we interact with. And he says in Colossians 3:12, “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on [clothe yourselves with] a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience;” and a few other things. He’s saying, choose to put on patience everyday if you really want to look good in the sight of God and the people around you.
If you want your home to be a happy home, put on patience and more patience. There’s a story from Chinese folklore about a family that had been so united for 10 generations that no one had left that family except for the girls that left to get married. News of this remarkable family reached the emperor, and he sent some servants all the way to this distant city where this family lived, and asked for the patriarch of that family to write down the secret to having such a successful family. So the patriarch took a scroll and spent several days writing/drawing the Chinese characters. Finally, he rolled it up and handed it back to the emperor’s servants and they took it back to the emperor. The emperor unrolled it. What he found as the secret to the success and unity of that family was the character for patience painted 100 times.
Proverbs 15:18, “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.” If we want peace and unity and happiness in our home, patience, lots of patience, is a key ingredient.
If we want relationships with people in which we influence them for Christ and teach them and lead them to the salvation of their souls… if we want to be able to lead our friends and people we work with and care about to trust and obey their Savior… or if we want to help a new Christian or a struggling Christian on to maturity in Christ, the NT says we are not going to be able to do so without exercising patience.
II Timothy 2:24-26, “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.” He’s saying, Timothy, if you’re going to lead people who are in the snare of the devil, to the knowledge of the truth and salvation, you can’t be impatient with them. You can’t get mad at them when they’re not seeing what’s obvious to you or they’re not progressing as quickly as you think they should, or they don’t appreciate what you trying to do for them. All it takes often is just one harsh word, one little spurt of anger toward them, one statement that insults them or offends them, and they’re done listening to you and you have closed your door of opportunity with them. But if you’ll be patient, stay kind and gentle even though they may not be to you, then you’ll keep the door open and eventually bring them to their senses.
I Thessalonians 5:14, written to the spiritually stronger church in Thessalonica, “We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” You can’t help them if you blow up at them or give up on them.
How are we doing with patience?
I’ve got some questions for you and for me. These are not for your spouse or your kids or your parents or a person sitting near you. These are questions just for the person sitting in your seat and for the one standing up here. And these are not meant to just make us feel guilty, though that may happen, but to help us see where improvements can be made in this matter of loving patience.
- Am I quick to make people feel dumb, like when they ask me questions they should know the answer to or when they don’t get the joke that was just told? Do I jump at the opportunity to highlight stupidity in people?
- Do I make others feel ill-at-ease around me? Do people in my family have to walk on eggshells around me because they know I’m geared to blow up at them if they misstep? Are they comfortable coming to me with a problem or with a question or a confession?
- Is my tone of voice often gruff, stern, sharp, or aggravated? Am I known to be a yeller or a screamer? “Clamor” it’s called in Ephesians 4:31 as one of the things along with bitterness, anger, slander, and malice that we’re to put away from ourselves as Christians.
- When the busy waitress has not refilled my drink in a while, do I give her a look of frustration or speak demandingly to her?
- Are the majority of my comments negative or critical, because I’m more focused on faults and flaws than I am on what’s good and right? Do I usually point out flaws and faults before anything good?
- Do I find it very difficult to be on board with a project when it’s not being done the way I suggested?
- Very simply, do I return insult for insult? Will I hit people if they hit me?
How are we doing with patience?
Let’s look at a passage that’ll give us some perspectives to help motivate us to exercise patience.
I Peter 2:19ff, the context is speaking to slaves and encouraging them to be submissive to their masters even if their master is not good or gentle, but unreasonable with them. The principles here apply to all of us who have unreasonable people to deal with; an unreasonable spouse, unreasonable boss at work, unreasonable co-worker, whatever. 2:19, “For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.”
If you’re a good employee and yet the boss doesn’t appreciate you; it’s been years since you got a raise, your boss overworks you and underpays you and calls you names and makes your life difficult. If your response is not to slack off or cheat on your time card or steal from the business, but to just continue to be respectful, working hard, and doing your job well, then that finds favor with God. When something finds favor with God, it means God takes notice of it and God wants to bless you for it. Patiently enduring your unreasonable boss makes God want to bless you. When you’re trying to be a good husband, a good wife, and serve the needs of your spouse, but your spouse is ungrateful and doesn’t return the favor, if your response is not to yell at them about what a terrible spouse they are, but instead you continue to serve them, God sees that, it touches the heart of God, and that makes God want to bless you. It makes me want to be patient, knowing that God sees my patience when I am treated unfairly; He takes notice and appreciates my patience.
Here’s another motivation. I Peter 2:21, “For you have been called for this purpose…” For what purpose? For patiently enduring unjust treatment, to refrain from revenge or giving way to anger, to keep on doing what is right even when mistreated. Did you know that’s what you are called to as a Christian? We’re not just called to attend church and distribute to the collection plate; but to patiently endure people being unfair and unreasonable toward us. “…since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps. “ Christ patiently endured a lot of unjust suffering for us. The word ‘example’ here in the original is kind of interesting. The word is literally “underwriting”. Jesus left an underwriting for us to follow. The term referred to a writing or a drawing that was placed under tracing paper so you could copy it exactly. We are called to trace Christ’s way of conducting Himself in our own life, as He’s the underwriting for us. And here’s His example for us using the language of Isaiah 53. Peter points out four aspects of Christ’s example.
-First, He suffered though totally innocent. Verse 22, He committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth.
-Second, He didn’t retaliate to the worst treatment a human being could receive. Verse 23, “while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering He uttered no threats“. The things that would make my blood boil and provoke me to wrath, they did to Jesus. They falsely accused Him; He’s on trial and they flat out lied about stuff they heard Him say so that He would be condemned. Have you ever had somebody spread a false rumor about you? Is that not infuriating? They spit in His face. Oh, I don’t know if the question would even enter my mind of whether or not I’d retaliate if a man spit in my face. My mind might be too preoccupied with the question of which part of their face I’m going to connect with my fist. Then they struck him with their fists, fists that He had made. He gave them their tongues and their hands, and they used them to slander and strike Him. They mocked and abused and tortured Him all night and into the morning until they nailed Him to the cross. He hung there in unimaginable agony, patiently waiting. He could have appealed to the Father and at once had His disposal of more than 12 legions of angels. But He chose to hang there patiently waiting for six hours.
-Third, Peter says here that Jesus entrusted Himself to Him who judges righteously. That is, He put Himself in the hands of God and trusted God to take care of all the judging and righting of the wrongs and vindicating Him. That’s a big part of how we exercise patience as well. We trust that God judges righteously. He will deal with those who mistreat us in the right way. And He will deal with us in the right way.
-And fourth, Peter says that Jesus patiently endured in order to change hearts and save His oppressors. And His oppressors are us. Verse 24, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, [Why?] so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” Our sins put Him on the cross. We are His afflicters. We are responsible for His pain. And He patiently endured it to change our hearts and save us from our sin. And we are called to follow in His steps in our own lives with the unreasonable people we encounter. We are called to try to change hearts and save those who afflict us by loving patient endurance. We don’t help change hearts and save people by yelling and cursing and putting down and taking revenge, but by patient endurance, like Jesus.
And in verse 25 he reminds us of why it’s so crucial that we follow in the steps of Christ. “For you were [Before you knew the Lord] continually straying like sheep [straying sheep are not going to last long], but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.” If we stray from the steps of Jesus in impatience, we’re straying from the Shepherd and Guardian of our souls, from the One who protects and provides and guides us to where we want to go. If we follow Jesus and try to imitate His patience, He will lead us safely into the age to come.
So let’s work on our patience. Let’s keep in mind the example Christ gave us to imitate. Let’s remember that it finds favor with God when we endure unjust, unfair, unreasonable treatment. If you’ve been following your own way, rather than the Shepard and Guardian of your soul, know that He has been patiently waiting for you to turn from your own way to follow Him. Because He does not desire for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance. This is His world that you are living in. This is His air that you are breathing. This is His gift, this life that you are living. And He wants you to have life better and forever with Him. And He wants to lead you there, if you’re turn and follow Him.