I always saw myself as a patient person. That was until my first year of teaching remedial English to 8th graders in a California inner-city school. My carefully composed lesson plans were sabotaged daily by 13 and 14 year olds who derived perverse pleasure from watching my frustration grow. I would come home each afternoon exhausted and dreading the next day. A couple years later, after I had transitioned out of teaching public school and into working with Youth With A Mission, God had to deal with my heart. He revealed to me that I was holding onto hatred for some of those kids. And to be truly free of the torment I still carried, I had to forgive each of them by name and pray blessings on them. It was not a fun process, but it was necessary. And out of it I grew to understand more of how God wants His Holy Spirit to work in my life. I am to take on more of His characteristics.
We are told in Galatians 5:22-23 that there are certain God-given qualities called the Fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. I have talked about love* and Joy** in past posts and will soon post one on peace. But the quality that I have been pondering lately is that of patience. An older name for it is long-suffering, which always sends uncomfortable chills down my spine when I say it. Is it really necessary?
We don’t produce it
The first thing that comes to my mind is that patience is a FRUIT of the Spirit. One of the definitions of fruit is “result” or “effect.” Thus patience, along with the other qualities on the list, is evidence that the Holy Spirit is living and active in me. The other thing that comes to mind is that fruit must be cultivated to grow; it does not suddenly appear fully ripened and ready for harvest without a caretaker making sure the plant or tree is properly nourished and dangerous pests are eradicated. In other words, once the proper seeds have been planted and the environment suitably prepared, the fruit will naturally come . . . eventually.
I often hear people (especially Americans) talk of their need for more patience. Most of us intuitively desire the valuable attributes of being able to wait, endure, and stick with something when results do not appear as quickly as we prefer. However, I have been warned of praying the “dangerous” prayer of, “Lord make me more patient.” Afterall, there’s nothing magical, mysterious, or instantaneous about growing patience. Difficult and delayed circumstances are always necessary for this particular fruit to take shape. And God seems to value this quality to such a degree that He is ready to answer this prayer with plenty of opportunities.
But I don’t want to wait
So, what exactly is this characteristic that the Holy Spirit wants to produce in all of God’s children? I think the term “long-suffering,” as uncomfortable as it sounds, describes it most succinctly. Many of us have developed an aversion to any kind of discomfort or misery to the point that we believe it should never be God’s will for our lives. And waiting for something good to come when all around us pain, sickness, grief, and evil are pressing in can be an agonizing hardship. Yet the Bible communicates quite consistently that waiting on the Lord has powerful benefits.
“Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:30-31, ESV).
The word “wait” throughout most of the Bible can also be translated into English as “hope.” The scriptures instruct us that our waiting should always be with the expectancy of good to come. Waiting without hope quickly becomes despair, which makes our spirits sick and can turn deadly. Godly patience is thus an attribute that guides us to put our hope in something not of this world, something that is bigger and outside ourselves—namely, God, His promises for the future, and His unshakable love. It is rooted in the understanding and belief that the way things are right now is not the way they are going to remain. A patient person’s spirit is given the ability by the Holy Spirit to see beyond the immediate agitation or suffering and to choose to dwell in the hope of what cannot yet be seen with the physical eye.
We must cooperate with the Holy Spirit
Such patience is something only the Holy Spirit can produce. But our active cultivation of this fruit is required. First, we have to surrender to the Holy Spirit. If we are constantly resisting what He wants to do in our lives, little will be able to grow in such hard soil. In addition, we must let our sight be turned toward the future and how God has promised to shape it. We naturally want everything fulfilled now. He, however, has bigger things in mind that involve all of eternity. One of our ongoing weaknesses in dealing with people and circumstances is that our thinking is so short-term.
As I look back at my experiences as a first-year teacher, I can now see that my lack of patience with those kids was a spiritual issue. I failed to invite the Holy Spirit in to show me the destiny that their Creator had in mind for each of them. Thus I was incapable of responding according to how God saw them, as those for whom He sent His Son to die. Instead, I saw and heard only what was immediately in front of me and how it negatively affected my personal wellbeing at the moment. I had no interest in suffering long with those students who very likely were suffering through their own issues and circumstances of which I remained mostly clueless. God, of course, knew each one intimately and would have been happy to open my eyes to see if I would have invited Him to do so. Patience might have come a little more naturally then.
It shows who God is
For a follower of Jesus, growing patience is not optional nor a luxury. It’s a vital part of navigating this confusing world and keeping our eyes on what is truly important and lasting. God anticipates its active presence in our lives because it is also necessary for representing Him well. He, afterall, is the most long-suffering being in all the universe, putting up with humans because of His great love and amazing plans He wants us to experience. He’s not expecting us to do it perfectly. But He is waiting for us to let the soil of our hearts to be plowed so the seeds can put down roots. And at the same time, He desires us to invite Him to show us the future that He wants us to put our hope in, for ourselves and for all those around us.
It’s important for Him, and so He waits.