I am not a particularly patient person. When we go someplace, my wife has to gather her stuff, touch up her make-up, search through her purse for five minutes, solve world hunger, and then double-check she has everything before slowly getting out of the car. I’m out before the car is in park. I don’t have time to wait around.
In a world of streaming video, instant access, online shopping and fast food, we are ruled by our desires. Between YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and text messages we are used to getting all our information immediately. We have access to more computing power in the palm of our hands then ever before. Anything we want, we can find with the push of a button. Our desires have become exigent. We want what we want and we want it now. We live in a culture of instant gratification.
Our generation wants to climb higher, have more, and do less than any of the generations that came before us. For generations when you went to work, you started at the bottom and through hard work and commitment you could work your way up the ladder. Reaching a high-level position was something that could easily take twenty years. Now, we are annoyed they don’t give it to us straight of college. We have lots of ideas and goals. So much has been handed to our generation that we have become overwhelmed by entitlement.
Goals are great. Dreams can be powerful motivators. Without patience we will be slaves to our desires. The trouble we face is that life moves so fast that we are trained from an early age to be impatient. It seems harmless, but it’s not. Impatience reveals the selfishness of our hearts. We aren’t thinking about other people. We are impatient because we are only considering our point of view. When someone cuts us off, we aren’t thinking, “Maybe they are running late for a meeting at work,” we are thinking of how their actions impacted us. When we cut someone off, we aren’t thinking about how our actions impacted them, we are thinking about how they are in our way. Impatience is ego-centric, arrogant, and self-centered. The impatient person isn’t considerate of others, they expect others to be considerate of them. They place themselves above God and above others. Impatience is always about us.
Patience on the other hand, comes when we remove our focus from ourselves. Patience is a calm endurance. It’s not just waiting. Patience is perseverance. Patience is enduring trials and suffering without complaint. We lose a lot of people with that “without complaining.” Complaining is evidence of a lack of patience. Patience can handle the weakness and the shortcomings of others with kindness. Patience is keeping anger in check, and often, patience is keeping your mouth shut. Patience is getting treated unfairly without whining or retaliating. It suffers insults without bitterness. Patience isn’t rushed or hurried. Patience is the ability to delay gratification until the proper time for it.
Now here’s what often happens: we look for the “open door” or “God’s direction.” What we are looking for is a sign to tell us it’s okay to do what we want to do. It’s okay to sin, because …. It’s okay to do this, because …. We aren’t really looking for God’s direction. We are looking for an excuse to justify our behavior. That’s not patience. That’s calculated selfishness. It’s easy to look for signs, to convince ourselves that what we want is right. The more we desire it, the more we should be leery of it.
Human beings have a unique ability to make whatever we want sound reasonable. Without an understanding of the truth of God, we will follow whatever sounds right. No matter how well we can justify it, no matter how good our reasons; nothing can make sin a good thing. No amount of excuses can make a wrong, right. Patience is willingly moving at God’s speed rather than trying to force Him to move at ours. When things don’t go our way, or fit into our timing, that’s where we have opportunities to learn patience.
Why should we be patient? Why should we deny ourselves the immediate gratification we desire? Patience is the pre-requisite to love. 1 Corinthians 13 says love is patient. There’s a reason Paul lists patience first. Love can’t exist without patience. All functional human relationships are built on the foundation of patience. There is nothing more frustrating than imperfect people. Without patience there is no love, no community, no friendship, and no human interaction without violence. Patience allows us to overcome selfishness so we can actually care about another person. It takes patience to love imperfect people despite their imperfections.
So how do we learn patience? Patience is about love and value. The more we love others, the easier it is to be patient with them. The more we value and respect someone, the longer it takes them to get on our nerves. What often makes us impatient is that the person we love the most, in many scenarios, is ourselves. The time we value most, is our own. The dreams we care most about fulfilling, are ours. Impatience comes because, especially as Christians, we care and think way too much about ourselves. A little humility, a little consideration and value for others would go a long way in building the foundation of our patience.
Patience is dying. Patience comes when we let go of ourselves, our desires, our agenda, our goals, our control. Patience is where we remove ourselves from the center of our universe and the throne of our hearts and we surrender to God. Patience requires us to die to ourselves, to let go of our selfish desires. Patience requires us to pay attention, to focus on something besides ourselves. Patience is when we value others ahead of ourselves, love others more than ourselves.
Maybe start with driving; when someone cuts you off, instead of getting aggravated, pray for them ‒ right there ‒ pray that God would bless them and keep them safe as they travel. It’s hard to be angry with someone and to pray God’s blessing over them at the same time. It’s amazing how combatting impatience with something as simple as driving can impact our patience in every other area of our life. Maybe start by resisting the urge to complain. Systematically begin tearing down our habits of complaining until there is nothing left. Perhaps we can start by trying to focus our attention on someone else, once a day, to consider their feelings the way we would consider our own. There are things we can do, but the solution to our impatience is not more effort, it’s more of Jesus.
John 15:4-5 tells us that a branch cannot bear fruit by itself. Jesus is the vine and the way we develop and grow fruit, like patience, is through our abiding in Him.
The brilliance of God’s design is that it all works together. Serving others helps grow our patience, which helps grow our love, which helps grow our desire to serve others, which increases our joy, which impacts our peace, our kindness, our goodness, and our self-control. The more we invest in the things of God, the more the nature of God flows through us. We don’t become patient. We abide in God and He produces the fruit of patience in us.