This is the best article I have come across on the subject of patience. Just about all of us struggle with being patient, this chapter from Phillip Keller’s A Gardener Looks at the Fruit of the Spirit (out of print) will encourage and strengthen you as you seek to be patient in an impatient world!
– Pastor Trevor Steenbakkers
The word “patience” as it is used in the New Testament, really has no true equivalent in the English language. Certainly it does not mean merely being placid and phlegmatic as so many people assume.
Patience is the powerful capacity of selfless love to suffer long under adversity. It is that noble ability to bear with either difficult people or adverse circumstances without breaking down. This implies that one has a certain degree of tolerance for the intolerable. It is a generous willingness to try to understand the awkward people or disturbing events that our Father allows to enter our lives.
Over and beyond all of these, patience is that powerful attribute that enables a man or woman to remain steadfast under strain, not just standing still but pressing on. Patience is the potent perseverance that produces positive results even under opposition and suffering. It is love, gracious, self-giving, pressing on, enduring hardship, because of the benefit it may bring to others. It is a quiet willingness to wait, alert and watchful for the right moment to make the appropriate move.
What Patience Is Not
Patience is not being phlegmatic or lethargic. It is not indolence or indifference. It is not that fatalistic attitude toward life which sits back, twiddles its thumbs, and hums: “Whatever will be, will be….”
There is nothing weak, insipid or flaccid about it. It is a force of enormous power and influence – that one of God’s attributes which, when exhibited in the life of His person, startles and astounds us.
So often we human beings, rather than exercising patience, prefer to opt out of adversity. Endeavoring to escape from difficult situations, we try to avoid and cut ourselves off from awkward people. We kick over the traces, shake off the harness, and break up anything that might bind us into suffering.
Yet the patience of God spoken of in the New Testament is just the opposite. It is really a picture of a beast of burden remaining steadily under control. It is an ox yoked to a plow breaking up the stiff soil of its owner’s field. No matter whether the plow runs into rocks, stumps or heavy sod, the patient beast just pushes on steadily. Regardless of summer sun, the annoyance of flies or chilling winds the strong beast goes on breaking ground for its master.
The patience of the New Testament writers is that of a small donkey bearing enormous burdens of firewood, sacks of grain or other produce for its owner. Year in, year out, surely, steadily, safely it transports loads of goods from place to place in quiet compliance with its master’s wishes.
This patience is a camel or colt or bullock harnessed to a circular treadmill. There hour after hour, day upon day it moves steadily lifting water to irrigate some little parched plot of ground. Or it may be thrashing out wheat to feed a hungry village. It is all part and parcel of achieving worthy ends through suffering service.
Christ – A Picture of Patience
This quality of character was beautifully displayed for us in the life of our Lord. He, the Christ, came amongst us as the Suffering Servant. He came, not to be ministered to, but to minister (serve). And the gracious perseverance with which He endured every adversity as well as the abuse of evil men for our sakes and our salvation stirs our souls.
Were it not for the longsuffering patience of our God in dealing with us difficult human beings, where would we be? Long ago the human race would have perished because of perverseness, pride, and the pollution of our characters. But for the patient longsuffering of a Gracious God men could not for a moment stand in His impeccable and wholly righteous presence.
Only as we come to see and appreciate this fact will we bow humbly before Him and beg His pardon. It is only the patient willingness of a generous Father to put up with us, to understand us, and to persevere with us that gives us great hope and good cheer.
Looking back over my own life I tremble to think where I would be but for the loving patience of the Lord in dealing with me. How unrelentingly His Gracious Spirit persued me down the tangled, twisted trails of my own selfish choosing. How He put up with my pride and perverseness as a self-assured person.
Just reflecting quietly upon this incredible attribute of Christ’s loving concern for me crumbles my pride and stills me before Him.
This is the love of God in action – the quiet, strong, persevering determination of divinity to do me nothing but great good. For years and years God’s Gracious Spirit came seeking and searching for my soul in good will. Despite my stubbornness, folly, waywardness and confusion He never relented. He never grew weary.
Ultimately it was His patience which prevailed. His perseverance pulverized my resistance. It dawned one day upon my dull and sin-stained spirit that He really cared, and cared deeply for this empty shell of a man, whose life He longed to fill and revive with His own abundant life.
It is this quality in the character of God to which I here refer. And it is an attribute of His won enormous love which He eagerly wants to share with His people. In fact, this is one of the fruits of His own Gracious Spirit which He endeavors to cultivate with care in our lives, if we will allow Him to do so. He comes to the garden of His own looking for it. Sometimes it can scarcely be found.
This is doubly strange when one stops to consider how patient He has been with us. Jesus told a story to illustrate this point. It is related in Matthew 18:21-33. One man who had an enormous debt asked his creditor to be patient with him until he paid. Yet he in turn went out and demanded immediate settlement from one who owed him a mere pittance.
Many of us are like that. This is not the love of God.
We tend to chop people down. By nature we are demanding and harsh. We want our pound of flesh from the next person; we will not put up with poor performance on the part of others. We want almost instant results, and we will not give others the benefit of the doubt or wait to see what God can do their lives. We will not prevail in prayer for them.
In the case of adversity or difficult circumstances we want “out.” Looking for the nearest exit, we duck and dodge to free ourselves from any unpleasant situation. We even pray earnestly to be delivered from every difficult or demanding experience.
All of this is the opposite of love in action. Love means I will push on in spite of obstacles. Love means being willing to suffer and endure the slings and stones of life. And love perseveres against formidable odds, just simply “keeping on.”
When even a small glimmer of this grace takes root in our lives by the in-working of God’s own Spirit some astonishing things happen, both to us and others.
The Effect of Patience
Perhaps the most amazing thing is the manner in which our conduct generates hope and optimism in those around us. Even the most difficult people, drowned in despair, lost in their own selfish self-centeredness, will gain hope when they find someone who will be patient and persevere with them – who will pray for them unceasingly.
The very fact that someone cares enough to keep coming back again and again will begin to convince them that all is not wrong in the world.
Patience in God’s people is one of the surest signs whereby even a non-Christian can discern and discover something of the nature of God. This attitude will pulverize the nonbeliever’s prejudice more surely than almost any other Christian virtue. It will encourage him, reassure him, and convince him that there is more to Christianity than mere theory.
The Benefits of Patience
For the child of God the development of patience has two enormous benefits. First it produces within his own character tremendous strength and endurance. A better word to use is “toughness” – not tough in the sense of being rough or rowdy, but rather tough in one’s ability to endure hard people and hard situations with serenity and stability.
Secondly as we are patient under adversity we discover the great faithfulness of our God to us in every situation. Little by little we learn the practical truth of that great statement made by Paul in Philippians 2:13, “It is God who worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”
Patience Is a Learning Experience
This fruit of God’s Spirit is not something we pray for, expecting God to drop it down into our little lives like a neatly wrapped gift package. If we pray earnestly for the gift of this special grace, God will arrange for such people and circumstances to enter our experience that only the presence and exercise of His patience will enable us to cope at all. Thus we will learn to practice patience in the fierce furnace of affliction.
We will quickly find out that we do not go through life fighting the people or problems put in our path – we do not quarrel and complain with our lot in life. Nor do we try to slip out of every sticky situation. We are not those who look for just the soft spot and the comfy corner.
Instead we face whatever arrangements God our Father makes for us as His proper and appropriate provision for us. We accept these as the great, good mills of God that will grind us into fine flour to feed His hungry people. We recognize our trials as the winepress of God’s own creation in which our lives can be so compressed that there will flow from us refreshment for the weary, thirsty world around us.
In such acceptance there lies peace, but also beyond that there also emerges patience. Not a grudging, shriveled sort of sour stoicism, but a cheerful delight in the divine work of the Master Gardener in my life. The deep spading and the heavy plowing of God’s Spirit in my soul are what eventually will produce the rich fruit of His own patience in my character. It can come no other way.
In all of this as I continually remind myself that He, God very God, is dealing with me in patience and perseverance, I will lift up my heart and spirit to rejoice. I will rest in the sure confidence and quiet knowledge that He does all things well, both for my sake and His own.
It is when the actual awareness of Christ Himself in our lives steals over our spirits that we become still before Him. We sense that His gracious Spirit can and is conveying to our characters both the peace of God in adversity and the patience of God in tough situations.
This is to know something of Christlike contentment. We are not bent on battling and battering our way through the thickets and obstacles of life. We stand strong and sturdy, serene in the quiet assurance that “All things can and do work out for good to those who love God, who are called to be His contented people amid a very complex and conflicting culture” (Rom. 8:28, paraphrased).
It is God who empowers us to face the fever of living with good cheer and gracious optimism. For He is with us both in our joys and in our extremities. So all is well. We can be at peace and we can also be patient. This is good news for all of us.