PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE
Pastor Vernon Giesbrecht
Andree Sue Peterson begins her recent World Magazine column with this: “Got patience? I know you got milk. And toilet paper. You will have patience by the time this all over. Or you won’t, and you will have wasted a perfectly good crisis, the word crisis being related to ‘opportunity’ in the Chinese language (which is ironic under the circumstances).” Well, I won’t get into that last reference to China, but it might be worthwhile to consider how this crisis provides opportunities perhaps not considered before, like developing more patience.
We all know we live in a “hurry-up” culture. We demand fast, fast relief from our headaches and heartburn. The grocery line is usually too long, especially six feet apart. We zip through fast food lines. We get instant loans, and instant cash from the ATM. Microwaves reduce normal heating times by “?” percentage, and we grumble when the food isn’t hot enough. We’d like to lose that weight …now! Google gives us instant information. But, something rises inside of us when the internet doesn’t spit out the information immediately!
Our patience is tested as we wait for that parking space. Penn State sociologist, Barry Ruback, confirmed that people take longer to vacate a parking space when they know someone is waiting. He and his colleagues observed 200 exiting drivers in a mall parking lot. When no one was waiting for the spot, it took an average of 26 seconds to back out. If there is a waiting driver – 31 seconds. Honk a horn, and you’ll have to wait an “excruciating” 43 seconds! Someone has aptly said: “Patience is the ability to idle your motor when you feel like stripping your gears.”
With all the regulations related to this pandemic, social distancing, repeated hand washing, wearing masks (for how long?), testing where possible, home isolation, business shut-downs or slow-downs, we’re tempted to ask: “How long will this go on? My patience is growing thin.” Perhaps impatience may be no more prevalent than with families, now forced to spend more time together. Annoyances that were quickly passed over before now raise our blood pressure. Will we have patience when this crisis is over, or should we see it as an opportunity to grow in our spiritual character?
In the Bible “patience” is sometimes translated as “steadfastness” or “endurance”. These qualities were especially applicable to believers facing persecution when much of the New Testament was being written. For example, James 1:2 – 4: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Counting it all joy goes against our inner yearning for peace and comfort. But, the test of trials produces a godly character, becoming more like Christ. And, for that we should be joyful.
James later noted that many of those under his care were longing for the Lord’s return to escape the terrible oppression they were experiencing. He understood their yearning, yet he wrote in Chapter 5:7- 8: “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” The farmers in our church will understand the comparison. While our present experience does not compare to the atrocities those first believers endured, the Lord will finally deliver us completely from all of sin’s effects on this earth…in His time. In the meantime, He calls us to wait on Him, to be patient, to be steadfast, to endure.
The Apostle Paul reminds us that one of the character qualities represented as a fruit of the Spirit is “patience”. Galatians 5:22-26: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” Here is spiritual theology linked to spiritual practical living, truths Paul emphasis in others of his letters. As believers in Christ, we gained a whole new identity; we are “in Christ and Christ is in us by the Holy Spirit”. When He died, our sinful nature died, no longer having control over our lives. When He rose from the dead, we have the opportunity to be victorious over selfish desires – to keep in step with the Spirit. And that should translate into our practical lives, developing the spiritual fruit of patience (and wisdom), waiting on God’s timing for life to resume some form of “normal”; being patient with each other when frustrations surface during these uncertain times.
Phillips Brooks, a New England preacher in the late 1800s, was known for his calmness and poise. His close friends knew that he, too, had moments of frustration. One day a friend saw him pacing the floor like a caged lion. “What’s the trouble, Dr. Brooks?” the friend asked. “The trouble is,” Brooks replied, “that I’m in a hurry, but God isn’t.” Our present circumstances are a test of our faith in our sovereign God. Will we be steadfast; will we endure, will we be patient?