“Don’t ever pray for patience!” Right? Isn’t that what everybody says? Why do you suppose that is? My guess is that it’s because when we ask for it, we’re waiting for the magic gift of patience, when in reality, patience is more the result of an arduous journey through sanctification (for more on the process of sanctification, see the blog post on Joy in Chronic Pain), and nobody enjoys that process.
Learning to have patience is not easy to do. It looks a lot like painfully peeling away our outer layers of anxiety and control to let a more relaxed roll-with-the-punches approach to life take over. Some of the most trying times of my life were when I was learning to wait.
If the path to patience is so difficult, how in the world can there be joy?
There have been two major periods in my life where I’ve had to experience this tough process. The first was when I was waiting to meet my husband, and the second was a few years later when we were waiting to get pregnant that first time.
I am naturally a control freak. Long ago, I had a plan in mind of how my life would go. But I learned quickly that there are a few things that are truly out of your control (or, at least they were out of mine, you might be different LOL). But trying to control these things, and not being able to, brought me anxiety and anguish that caused me to miss out on what was happening in the here and now.
Patience is An Action
The first thing to understand, that I literally just figured out yesterday (in my study on James: The Steadfast Life from the Daily Grace Co.), is that patience is not passive. I think my trouble has always been in feeling that I am not doing anything to help, or to further, the situation. I’ve previously viewed patience as the absence of action, but I couldn’t have been more wrong!
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.Philippians 4:6
Do you hear that? The opposite of anxiety (and control is a form of anxiety) is not inaction. Its presenting your requests to God, with thanksgiving, by prayer and petition. Those are not inactive things!!
Fruit of the Spirit
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.Galatians 5:22-23
So what is the fruit of the Spirit? You may have heard this referenced before, but might not understand it. When you’ve invited the Holy Spirit to come into your life and to dwell within you, He will begin to operate through you, all the while chipping away at that tough exterior of sin.
Once a few cracks appear in that thick outer layer, His light will begin to shine through. The way that looks is through actions like love, joy, peace, forbearance (or some versions will say longsuffering), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These are the fruit of His labor, and they should be evident (on some level) for all who have given Him control.
When We Are Impatient
All of the above is great, and makes a lot of sense, but what happens when God takes a really long time and we feel we’ve lost the ability to wait? What if we are worried that what we’ve asked for won’t happen? What if we take matters back into our own hands?
I think the best example of this is in Genesis 12-21. Here we see Abram (changed later to Abraham) and his wife Sarah. God had made a promise to Abram that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. But for 10 years, he and his wife remained childless. So, they grew impatient. Sarah gave her maidservant, Hagar, to Abram so that he could have the descendants that God had promised. Through that union, Hagar did bear a son to Abram and they named him Ishmael.
But there was one problem. Ishmael was not a result of the promise of God. He was a result of Abram and Sarah becoming impatient and trying to move forward on their own. And because of this, there were consequences. Ishmael’s descendants did grow to be numerous. But their path was one that began the journey to Mecca and the Islamic religion. This was a path that would set a people group to be forever at odds with God’s people. A relationship doomed to be forever full of strife and unrest.
But God is gracious, and true to His promises. He had made a covenant with Abram, and He would keep it. When Abram was 100 years old, Sarah bore him their son, Isaac. The son of the promise. From his descendants, the nation of Israel would come forth.
What About Me?
What if God hasn’t made a promise to me? What if I make the mistake of barreling forward on my own?
Well, God is still gracious. And He still fulfills His promises (and yes, He has made a promise to you).
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.1 John 1:9
God has promised that if we acknowledge to Him that we have done wrong, and we ask Him for forgiveness, He will give that forgiveness. At any point, we can stop the direction our choices have pointed us in, and we can choose to wait patiently on Him instead. We may still have to navigate those natural consequences of our choices, but He will be with us to help shoulder the burden.
Patience Brings Blessing
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.James 1:2-4
This is where that sanctification process comes in. The mature and complete part? If you notice in the verses above, that doesn’t come until the end. You must first go through the process of the trials, the testing of your faith, and the perseverance.
Job (pronounced Jobe) is the perfect example of this. If you’ve ever read his story in the Old Testament, you know about all that he went through. This poor man lost all of his children, his wealth, his property, his health (to the point that his friends did not recognize him), and his own wife told him to “curse God and die”! But he refused. He stayed the course, and trusted that God was still there and that He had a plan.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.Jeremiah 29:11
Job trusted, and he waited. And God blessed him for it.
The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys. And he also had seven sons and three daughters. Nowhere in all the land were there found women as beautiful as Job’s daughters, and their father granted them an inheritance along with their brothers.Job 42:12-13,15
The Ultimate Joy in Being Patient
All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.Hebrews 11:13-16
Ultimately, the prize for actively practicing patience and waiting on the Lord is the privilege of living out His plan, and gaining the intimacy of learning how to lean on Him. When we do these things, we grow closer to our King, and closer to the inheritance that He has promised.
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; For those who are evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.Psalm 37:7a,9
This is the joy we find in patience.