It is a very old saying that patience is a virtue. Fortunately for me it is also a fruit of the Spirit, because there is no way I would ever have developed it on my own.
Patience was never in my character inventory as I grew up. It never even made it on to my many lists of "I wish I were more ..." I regarded it as an elusive art form, perhaps even a social delusion. There was little of it to observe within my social context and even those folks would point out that I had none at all.
When I became a Christian in my early 20s I summarily dismissed it as too hard even for God to achieve. Whilst working on most of the others (joy being quite a mystery to me still at that time) I steadfastly ignored the patience factor. Then I learned about spiritual gifts and how those are distributed among each community of believers so that, as a community, they formed a wholeness of gifts. This gave me just enough information to (very wrongly) decide that it works like that with the fruit. Then I didn't even bother to think about it.
I was impatient primarily with myself. Oh, and queueing. That is damaging enough, but I'm glad now that was all! Some people are impatient with wait staff, cashiers, traffic, traffic lights, the government, relatives, neighbours and even friends. There are those who are impatient with their budget, their bank, their bosses and even - wait for it - and even with their churches. The irony!
Let’s see what the Bible tells us about patience.
1 Timothy 1:15-16 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners - of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.
2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
Jesus is patient waiting for people to get to know him and ask him to forgive their sins. Seeing his patience toward us as an example, how does this inform us about how we can be patient in our relationship with him?
James 5:7-9 Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord's coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near.
This is a theme repeated again and again in the Bible. Think of these stories:
Abram and Sarai waiting for a baby and the consequences of their impatience
Hannah praying for a child
Noah waiting for the rain to start, then to stop, then for the water to recede
It can be hard to be patient with circumstances, such as waiting for an upcoming holiday or waiting for a baby to arrive. It can be hard to be patient with ourselves, such as when we fall back into a bad habit or forget to do something important. It can also be hard to be patient with people, such as when they let you down.
At the root of it, impatience is a sign of frustration. Frustration is, in turn, the result of unmet expectations. Are our expectations right, fair and realistic though? Do we have the right to hold those expectations?
At work it is actually easier than in the rest of life to know what expectations are realistic. We can perform skill assessments and working style assessments on those who report to us. We can seek guidance from the managers of people we need to work with on projects. If expectations are not met, there are established procedures to have the necessary discussions and take action to address the shortcomings.
Is this patience though? We are really talking here about the self-righteous feeling of injustice when things don’t go our way. There is no place for this at work and no need for it. Even so, we feel it. How can we turn this around?
Don’t leave yourself off the to-do list of patience. Sometimes we are our own harshest critics and the sense of failure we can embed in ourselves is unhelpful, to say the least. There is nothing wrong with setting goals, aiming high, improving on our skills, but give yourself some time and some realistic milestones. If you become frustrated in your spiritual growth, talk to God and use your weakness to right-size your opinion of yourself – turn to God and be patient with yourself as you let the Holy Spirit work in you, on you.
This is a mission, but unlike any other it doesn’t start with the phrase “let’s synchronise our watches” – trust that God’s timing for things is right. Not necessarily convenient for us from our perspective, but right nonetheless. God has been enormously patient with us … surely we can follow His lead?
First and foremost, I'm a Christian living in a real and positive personal relationship with God. Through serving Him, reading the Bible and praying I grow to know Him more every day. Partnering with God is humbling, exciting, fun and serious business all at once!