At one time or another, you have probably heard someone say, “Patience is a virtue.” Have you ever wondered why we needed that reminder? I don’t recall ever needing to be convinced that love is a virtue - or joy, peace, or any other facet of the fruit of the Spirit. Yet, somewhere along the way, we needed to be persuaded that patience was something we should seek to cultivate in ourselves. Why is that?
For starters, patience doesn’t fit into our fast-paced society. Our culture demands quick results. Delayed gratification means there has been a breakdown that needs fixing. When we’re out to eat, and we grow frustrated that several minutes have passed since our empty cup was refilled, notice how we diagnose the problem. The waiter is inattentive. The restaurant is too crowded. The manager needs more staff. For most of us, cultivating a patient spirit never comes into view - it’s not our natural response. Yet, the Preacher is right when he says, “a patient spirit is better than a proud spirit (Eccl 7:8).”
Patience is not our natural response, because it is the fruit of the Spirit. The ability to endure hardship with an even mind is one that must be sown in our hearts by our Creator, who knows what it means to be patient. Though he had every right in his dealings with Israel, the Lord never said, “I don’t have time for this.” Though they hurled at him the insults of idolatry, violence, and faithlessness, the biblical authors describe God as one waiting patiently to show them mercy and compassion (Isa 30:18; 2 Pet 3:9). Look no further than Christ enduring the cross on our behalf to find the epitome of the Lord’s patience. Patience may not be our natural response to hardship, but it is in the DNA of our God. Who better then, to be the one to cultivate this virtue in our hearts?
There will always be problems in our lives that cannot be quickly solved - prolonged hardships that give birth to sorrow. In the Christian faith, patience has long been understood as a form of protection in these seasons of life. Sorrow is a paralyzing force. It has the power to overwhelm and dominate a person’s life and make them feel like progress is impossible. Patience is our spiritual protection against despair, because it helps preserve us in the midst of hardship. This is why James urges impoverished Christians who are being exploited by rich landlords to be patient (Jas 7:7-8). James isn’t uttering a useless platitude, he’s offering life-giving counsel: the path to joy in the midst of suffering is paved with patience.
Patience may be out of vogue in our contemporary culture, but it is essential for navigating this life. Patience connects us to the hope that is ours in Jesus by serving as a buffer against anxiety, frustration, and despair. Most of all, it connects us to the love of our patient God, seen most clearly in Christ.