What do you call people who are waiting outside a doctor’s office? Those people who are forced to ignore outdated magazines, look at bad artwork on the wall, and who look up like hungry people at a restaurant when the server comes by with a tray every time the door opens and someone steps out?
These people are called patients.
This kind of patient is different than patience, which is a virtue, but they do seem to live in the same word family. The funny thing is those who are called ‘patients’ are really ‘impatients’ if the truth were known. We are all impatient about getting behind that door to be poked, prodded, and interrogated about our bodily functions. We are impatient to know if we are sick. Are we getting better? Do we need a prescription? Is it catchy? Is it COVID-19? Do I need to see a specialists where I’ll have to sit in more rooms filled with impatients?
And what do we call these rooms filled with impatients? Waiting rooms. Of course we do. Because impatients are always waiting.
Patience is the fourth listed Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), but it is the first in the second group of three, thereby we should understand it as the guiding line for this second trio.
Love/joy/peace – general overall characteristics
patience/ kindness/goodness – focus on other people
faithfulness/gentleness/self-control – focus on our habits and discipline
Patience is the first of this second trio, and this second tier is mostly about how we relate to other people. Are we patient with people? Are we kind to others? Do we do good things to others or for others? These three represent the gooey middle of the Fruit of the Spirit.
Patience is, for reasons I can’t quite understand, deemed by many people who follow Jesus as optional. We do the same thing with gentleness, I think. We act as though some people just don’t have gentle dispositions or they are not patient people and that is just okay because we’re all different. Hogwash. The Holy Spirit transforms us into the image of Christ, so we all should be moving further down the line toward patience and gentleness whether we were born with those dispositions or not.
The Biblical material for patience is spectacular. The Psalms affirm over and over again that we ought to ‘wait for the Lord.’ The Lord is the doctor and we are the impatients. Psalm 37 is the clearest:
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way; over the man who carries out evil devices! Refrain from anger and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.Psalm 37:7-8
In this passage we are encouraged to wait for the Lord’s justice instead of becoming angry or bitter when evil people prosper.
Patience is a product of spiritual growth, a Fruit of the Spirit. As such, we should pray for greater patience. This is contradictory to what many of us, including me, were taught as a child or as a new Christ-follower. We were taught that if we prayed for patience, the Lord would send trials and tribulations into our lives (James 1:3) to develope that prayed-for-patience. Ergo, you don’t want to have a trial filled life with woes and tribulations, so don’t pray for patience. Better to be impatient, they would say, than to suffer.
A better image, though, should come from the parable of the soils. Jesus talks about seed being sown. Some falls on the path or rock, and some gets swallowed up by the birds and others get choked by the weeds, and of course the sun scorches some. But some of the seed, which is symbolic of those who follow the Lord, falls on good soil and grows and produces fruit. The Lord then explains:
As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold if fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.Luke 8:15
There are many synonyms for patience in English. Longsuffering. Forbearance. Restraint. Endurance. Calmness. Tolerance. These are all good words. The New Testament word is a compound from ‘macro’ and ‘thumia’, macrothumia – or μακροθυμία to be precise. Macro means big, as in the big picture. We find it in such words as macro-economics. It is usually the opposite of micro — when you go off in the little details.
Thumia is anger. In Galatians 5 you see the word used in verse 20 as one of the works of the flesh. Anger is a hot headed loudmouth temper tantrum, whereas patience, macrothumia, is a long slow burn. It takes a long time to reach boiling temperatures when you are patient.
Developing patience is vital to drawing closer to God and be made in the image of Jesus. You may need to work on this important attribute if you find yourself bogged down with:
- Incomplete projects
- Lack of thoroughness
- People are always saying ‘slow down’ or ‘wait’ to you
- You get irritated when people are late
- You burn the roof of your mouth on hot food because you’re too impatient to wait for it to cool off.
Patience makes life better, but the process of developing it is painful as we deny our impulses, work on our pacing, and refuse to let the moment dictate our response. Don’t be an angry hothead, be patient. Don’t be impulsive, be patient. Don’t be reactionary, be patient. Wait on the Lord.