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In the late eighties, Heinz ketchup ran an advertising campaign with the tagline “The best things come to those who wait.” How many companies today would try to market their product by encouraging people to have patience? The last thing we want to do is to wait; we want what we want, and we want it now. The occasions on which we manifest impatience are legion. If we have access only to dial-up internet, we might be willing to wait for a webpage to load, though we won’t like it, but having enjoyed the privilege of DSL, cable, or fiber-optic internet service providers, we grow more and more frustrated by the second if we click a link and the page doesn’t appear onscreen immediately. When the light turns green and the driver in front of us is staring at his cell phone; when an employee at a store or a customer-service agent appears to be incompetent or slow; when our children interrupt our plans for a quiet evening; when someone doesn’t respond to our text, email, or voicemail in a timely fashion—in all these cases and many others, whether toward people, toward circumstances, or ultimately toward God, we vent our impatience both inwardly and outwardly.
Yet the Lord commands His people to exhibit the Spirit’s fruit of patience (Gal. 5:22; 1 Thess. 5:14; James 5:7–8). It is to mark our relationships with other people (1 Cor. 13:4; Eph. 4:2; Col. 3:12), our suffering (2 Cor. 1:6; Col. 1:11; James 5:10; 1 Peter 2:20), and our ministries to the lost and the found (2 Cor. 6:6; 2 Tim. 2:24; 3:10; 4:2). So how do we cultivate this most challenging of graces?
- Since the nature of impatience is in large part being in a hurry, we cultivate patience by looking out for those areas of life in which we are prone to want things to happen quickly, even immediately. Satan will seek to tempt us where we are least protected, so by identifying the occasions of temptation, we will be able to resist sin with greater alertness. Solomon’s exhortation to vigilance over our desires is key in becoming a more patient person: “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Prov. 4:23, NASB).
- Contrary to conventional wisdom that would flippantly warn us not to pray for patience, we cultivate patience by beseeching the Lord earnestly for it. Having sought the Lord’s grace, we need not avoid the difficult situations that call for it. This may sound contradictory to the first point, but if our guard is up, then prayerfully and carefully entering difficult situations around difficult people gives us opportunities, by the Spirit’s power, to work out the muscle of patience.
- Patience, like so many other graces, grows best in winter. “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22), and so we learn to wait patiently by enduring suffering with our eyes fixed on the hope to be brought to us when Christ returns, believing that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18). In this life we groan within ourselves, enduring the pains of childbirth until, along with creation, we enter the freedom of the glory God has reserved for His children (Rom. 8:19–23).
- One way that the Spirit enables us to put off sin and to put on righteousness is by causing us to see how sinful sin truly is (see Rom. 7:13). Therefore, we cultivate patience by realizing the sinfulness of impatience and with a holy fear reminding ourselves often not only that impatience is itself a sin but also that it leads to further sin. Impatience led Saul to disobey God by offering the burnt offering that Samuel the priest was supposed to offer (1 Sam. 13:8–15). Impatience led the Israelites to grumble against God and to impute evil to Him and to His servant (Num. 21:4–5). Impatience leads us to anxiety and worry and to disbelieve that God’s providential timing is best.
At root, all impatience is impatience with God, His will, His wisdom, His plan, and His ways. When God’s schedule is not our schedule, we lash out in our selfish hearts, with defiant wills, and with angry words. The trajectory of impatience away from God and His commandments shows us how important it is to clothe ourselves with patience.
- We cultivate patience by recollecting all the times that we have done the very things for which we grow frustrated and impatient with others. We have looked at our cell phone when the light turns green. We have been incompetent and slow. We have interrupted someone’s plans. We have responded too slowly to an email. How often have others been patient with us? Since we have been the recipients of patience, we should have grace and compassion on others.
- More than anyone else who has shown us patience, God has. His kindness, forbearance, and patience toward us are designed to lead us to repentance (Rom. 2:4). His patient forgiveness and love in Jesus Christ are meant to lead us to patient forgiveness and love (Matt. 18:21–35; Luke 7:36–50; Eph. 4:32–5:2). His electing grace should fill our hearts with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience (Col. 3:12).
As we pursue patience, we will repeatedly fail. Yet secure in the knowledge that our impatience is already forgiven in Jesus Christ and that we are clothed in a righteousness from God through faith in our Savior, let us boldly forget what lies behind and reach forward to what lies ahead in our journey to the perfect patience that will be ours in glory (Phil. 3:8–14).