For the last number of weeks, I’ve tried to write a column about patience, and it just wouldn’t come together. Revising, rewording, letting the thing rest for a few days…it still didn’t help. Try as I would, everything I wrote seemed smug or insensitive. I wanted to give up.
I kept thinking about various friends I know who are struggling with difficult situations, and in some cases have for years. Who was I to counsel patience and trust when I couldn’t practice it successfully for one day?
But still, the subject wouldn’t let me go. So I turned at last to where I should have turned first, and tried to examine patience in the Scriptures. And as I did so, a few characteristics of patience stood out in a fresh way.
First, patience is honest. Job is known in history as a patient man. But his patience didn’t mean being silent in his suffering, or putting on the tight-lipped “I’m fine!” smile. On the contrary, he extravagantly expresses his feelings. “Therefore I will not keep silent; I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.” (Job 7:11,12)
Or “I cry out to you, O God, but you do not answer; I stand up, but you merely look at me” (Job 30:20).
And this heartfelt cry “Surely O God, you have worn me out, you have devastated my entire household” (Job 16:7).
Job does not pretend.
Next, I think patience is humble. Patience takes the long view, and recognizes that there is more going on than I may see on the surface. There’s a common quote that says “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.” In other words, tolerate the trouble or suffering someone is causing you without getting completely angry. (The definition of patience). Knowing what is going on behind the scenes can change my entire perspective.
Patience is also active. This seems at first like a contradiction: somehow when I think of patience, I picture someone sitting passively, hands folded, with a resigned smile glued to their face. But I believe this picture is false. Hebrews 12:1 is a well known verse that in my translation encourages us to run the race with perseverance. In many translations, however, that word is translated as patience. So the verse reads “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that entangles, and let us run with patience the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1,2)
Patience in this instance means running forward, continuing to do “the next thing” set before us, and running toward Jesus, our perfecter.
Finally, patience is trusting. If I have faith that someone is in charge in a given situation, and I trust that person, I’m much less likely to get impatient. So the uncomfortable truth is that many times I don’t really trust God to run my life well. I’m impatient with my circumstances, and the things that hinder my path. Logically I believe that God has my good at heart, but a little voice inside whispers, “Yes, but at what cost?”
Or as C.S. Lewis wrote, “We are not necessarily doubting that God will do His best for us, we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”
Still, I am called to persist. “Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy” (James 5:10,11). In patient trust Job refused to curse God, and proclaimed, in the midst of his trouble : “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh will I see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes – I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-27)
In the big and small tests of life, my goal as a Christian is to freshly trust in the purpose and power of God’s long term plan. He is there to give new strength, endurance, and hope. We can be “strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.” (Colossians 1:11,12)