Of all the traits in the fruit of the Spirit that Paul tells us that we should possess, the one that seems to disappear from my life at those key moments of stress is patience.
It seems that one of my least favorite words in the English language is the word “wait.” I am not sure why this word brings up such feelings of pain and frustration in my spirit. However, I do not think that I am alone in my struggle with showing patience towards others.
Should we be surprised that the Father led Paul to include patience or long-suffering among this list of those character traits that should mark the life of every follower of Christ?
Whether we find ourselves failing to show grace when someone is less than courteous on the highway, or uses their position to impose their wants and wishes upon us, our response is supposed to mirror the character and grace of our Lord Jesus.
As I began to focus my thoughts on this particular aspect of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, it was clear that patience should truly become increasingly evident in my life.
The dictionary defines patience as “the quality of being patient, as the bearing of provocation, annoyance, misfortune or pain, without complaint, loss of temper or irritation” – Dictionary.com.
When we are confronted by circumstances beyond our control, it is natural for us to express frustration when things do not progress as we had hoped. What Jesus does in our hearts and lives is transform us so that our response to these types of situations honors Him.
At its core, patience in God is trusting that He is in control. While there may be circumstances that occur in our lives that cause us to doubt this fact, they are unable to change the reality of His presence and power to work in our lives.
By deciding to not show patience during those frustrating situations that we all encounter, we are actually showing a lack of confidence in the Father’s ability to work out His will even when things are not going the way that we had hoped.
I believe that the apostle Paul understood clearly the need for patience in His walk with Jesus. If one takes even just a cursory look at Paul’s life and ministry, it is obvious that he found himself surrounded by both difficult people and circumstances.
There seems to be a constant struggle between Paul and certain leaders in the early church regarding the role of God’s grace in our salvation. He was often ridiculed and maligned for both his approach to ministry as well as his willingness to take the Gospel to the Gentiles.
His former allies in Judaism now saw him as an enemy to everything that they held dear. It’s difficult for me to imagine the painful wounds that were inflicted upon Paul through the unkind and harsh words of men who were once his friends.
Obviously, he understood what it meant to suffer for the cause of Christ. It seems that he spent more time in prison than out of it. For example, in his letter to the church at Philippi, he says, “… whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ … I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them rubbish so that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:7-8).
This is the type of patience or long-suffering that the apostle is trying to help his readers comprehend. It would be wonderful if those of us who follow Christ would never experience trials and tribulations. Of course, such teachings would stand in direct opposition to the life and teachings of our Lord.
As believers, we are called to stand firm and to trust the Father in each and every situation. We are not being told to ignore the pain and frustration that often comes with difficult circumstances. Rather we are being encouraged to choose to trust in the One Who sees all things and truly has a plan to bring about that which He knows is best.
Indeed, there are times in my life when I struggle to embrace this powerful truth. It is during these times when I am more short-sighted and self-centered that I struggle to respond to both people and circumstances with the loving patience of Christ.
My prayer for each of us is that we would begin to manifest the long-suffering that our Lord showed toward those who hurled both physical and verbal abuse at Him while He hung on the Cross. In that amazing act of sacrifice, our Savior exemplified patience. (Mike Cooper is Missouri Baptist Convention’s director of Sunday School Discipleship.)