Someone once defined patience as being like idling your motor when you feel like stripping your gears. It’s what we always expect of others, if not ourselves.
As a sign in a deli said: Be patient. None of us am perfect.
Now that seems to be what patience is all about. But Scripture takes us deeper.
The first thing to remember is that we are talking about love in 1 Corinthians 13, or what God expects of Christians. Hence today love is patient. But notice something here. Love includes patience, but patience does not cover all of love. It is one part of it.
It is a fruit of love. Love exists prior to patience. Patience shows love, the way a tree produces fruit. Love is something of itself before it is patience. But because love is so hard to describe we talk of its signs, such as patience.
Love is more than patience, but includes it. Is that reasonably clear?
The second thing to note is the word patience.
Some of you will prefer older versions of the Bible to modern translations. During the Franklin Graham Crusade in Adelaide, one of the old campaigners was devoted to the authorised King James version, overseen by the son of King Henry the Eights. Our American friend said he liked to read modern translations because they reminded him of the Bible.
Now, in those older versions, patience is translated as a much more descriptive word – longsuffering. A most vivid translation of the word ‘macrothumia’. Macro is the opposite of micro – large, huge, eminient. Thumos means temper or manner. Thus, macrothumia means to have a great temperament.
We understand longsuffering. We might think of John Cahill, or the organisers of the Tour de France, or the public when Ringo Starr announces that all illicit drugs should be legalized.
So patience is a very deep word. It is about having a great capacity to wait, even when provoked.
Third and surprisingly, this word is not first applied to us but to the Lord. Scripture says in Exodus 34: 6 – The Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and fathfulness.
The Lord is patient with you and me. He waited many years for some of you to give your lives to him. He was patient with you. You got on with life, family, success, career and forgot about him.
But he never ceased to love you, never forgot you, always waited for you, never gave up on you. Maybe for some of you he is still waiting.
Patience is also used on people like us. Ephesians 4: 2-3 – With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
I see a gracious lady in our parish who suffers with patience. Many of you know her and love her. Grace Warlimont, in hospital with advanced cancer, was a model of patience with her medical personnel while waiting for the Lord to take her home. She was longsuffering.
How do you handle suffering, complaints and self-pity? By listening to what the Lord might be saying through that headache about your lifestyle. Suffering can be a great teacher.
I have noticed over the years something of a female conspiracy about men in this connection. We have a reputation for low pain tolerance. Some women say, ‘there would be no population problem if men had to have babies.’ Or one says to another, ‘You know what men are like when they are sick.’ What an injustice.
The challenge for all of us is to grow in that capacity for longsuffering. You see the word has depth to it. It is like the woman who came up behind us at the supermarket when we were doing our fortnightly shopping, and looked for exasperated that no checkouts were free.
Patience is much deeper than that in the Bible, but those situations are most common for us. I most often identify with that woman.
So then, to conclude, here are three key ways to grow in love through patience.
First, a theological point – recognise that your impatience may be related to a lack of trust or faith in the Lord. Unless that phone call comes when you want it, you assume you will be worse off. Impatience does not believe that God wil exercise his sovereign power and bring about good in his time. His timing is more important that yours, and life could be so much better if people had God-given patience.
Think of people affected by car accidents. Who would they be if they had been prepared to wait another 15 seconds at a car intersection.
Think of couples who would have less complications in their relationships if they had waited until they were married before fully giving themselves to each other.
Think of some young couples who plunge themselves into debts so that when they marry they can have the dishwashers, lounges, air-conditioning and cars their parents ended up with after working for many years.
Patience can save us from pain, worry and folly.
Second, it is important to look at what your impatience is telling you. It may be that it is telling you that you have a problem with anger if your anger breaks out with little provocation. It may be telling you that you need help to overcome and deal with it.
Ask the Lord to help you. He has more practice at being patient, deferring anger because of love, than anyone. Martin Luther said, ‘If I were God, I would have trampled rebellious humanity underfoot long ago.’
Ask for the Holy Spirit to come into your life in new ways. We can live our lives in the Holy Spirit on the ‘getting-by’ level or the ‘abundant’ level. The Holy Spirit will operate at the level we let him. Let him know today that you want a deeper encounter with his power, a deeper walk in the life of Jesus. Make a note of the things that make you short-tempered this week, and then pray over them, but also share them with someone else. Make yourself accountable and it will help you to grow.
Third, remember that patience is usually selfish anger deferred, and by deferring your anger, you are trusting God to bring about a good result. You can wait because God holds the future in his hands, and works through all things to bring about good.
Patience is one of the deepest forms of love. It tolerates, it waits, it trusts. It is not easily provoked and through it you will know greater joy and better relationships. But most of all God calls us to be patient with one another.
According to a traditional Hebrew story, Abraham was sitting outside his tent one evening when he saw an old man, weary from age and journey, coming toward him. Abraham rushed out, greeted him and invited him into his tent. There he washed the old man’s feet and gave him food and drink.
But the old man immediately began eating without saying any prayer or blessing. So Abraham asked him, ‘Don’t you worship God?’ The old traveler replied, ‘I worship fire only, and revere no other God.’
When he heard this, Abraham became incensed, grabbed the old man by the shoulders and threw him out of his tent into the cold night air. When the old man had departed, God called to his friend Abraham and asked where the stranger was. Abraham replied, ‘I forced him out because he did not worship you.’ God answered, ‘I have suffered him these eighty years even though he dishonours me. COuldn’t you have endured him for just one night?’
By George Robert Iles