During a chat on the fruit of the Spirit, some guys talked about which of the listed characteristics they felt most lacking in their experience. Patience seemed to the be popular choice. All of the men in the discussion were fathers, so all have had their share of frustrating waits.
It wasn’t until the day after, when I was out and needed to do some phone banking to pay for something. My data connection just wasn’t working. I moved about, turned the phone off and on again, took the cover off, tried holding it different ways. Nothing! After about 15 minutes of trying and getting the “unable to connect to the internet” message, I started to get quite cranky. With the phone, the carrier, with the shopping centre for obstructing the signal, even with the other shoppers walking past. Nonsense really. Then the discussion about patience came back. So, it seems a bit of patience would be handy at this point. But, I needed my phone to work immediately!
What is patience? What has it got to do with a Christian characteristic? The word (in Galatians 5:22) is translated from a term that pictures remaining calm even if provoked or in the event of misfortune. It has the idea of enduring without changing demeanour. i.e. getting cranky, or frustrated, taking things into your own hands to bring about a faster (better?) resolution. One dictionary I have says, “to keep your heart from jumping”. That sounds about right – because when I get impatient, my heart rate increases!
To be patient is to accept that the immediate situation or change isn’t going to be rectified by my outburst. That doesn’t mean to be passive. It means, that in the face of something that is out of your control, you are prepared to trust in either a different or a later result. e.g. You go to meet up with someone for lunch. They’re late. You try to call to check if they’re ok and there’s no answer. You check social media to see if they’ve posted something about bad traffic and there’s nothing. You now have a choice. You probably make it in less than a nano second, but you still have a choice. Start to fume, or be patient. Which of the two is going to make your friend arrive earlier? Neither. Which of the two will keep your friendship (and your blood pressure!). Hmm.
In the case of Christian patience. We’re not simply talking about keeping calm when a lunch appointment is 5 minutes behind schedule. Although, that’s probably a wise thing anyway. Patience has a far reaching view into the future promised to those who believe in Jesus. For instance in the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ passage. Paul is talking about how some people were going about trying to improve their relationship with God (and probably their standing before others in the Church community). They had adopted a ‘take charge’ concept of constructing behavioural codes (Including circumcision. Ouch!) to improve the way God accepted them.
Paul explains that nothing you construct on the outside is going to change what is happening on the inside. In fact it will end up being counter productive. Instead those who have trusted in Jesus to do what was promised (make them right before God – provide forgiveness, new life now and in eternity to come) can wait for the hope of righteousness. He uses an agricultural concept, fruit, to explain how this takes place. God says he’ll do it, slowly, the way fruit grows on a tree. It’s an act of his Spirit and it’s eventual outcome is an experience in the fully realised kingdom of God.
Patience, then, waits for God to complete his work and fulfil his promise. Our response is to “keep in step” with him – not run ahead, not fall behind, and not take things into our own hands to build an inferior form of righteousness. Inferior, because it is more concerned with one-upmanship than the love of God and neighbour. Instead be “imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”
Can you be patient? Now?