The Spirit of God has been repeatedly convicting me for my lack of patience. As I confess, repent and wrestle with patience, I have learned how important this virtue is to godliness. As I have searched for someone to model patience for me I have also discovered how rare it is.
Psychologists tell us that one of the most important attributes we can teach our children is delayed gratification - the ability to resist the impulse for instant reward in hope of obtaining something better in the future. The famous ‘marshmallow test’ illustrates this well:
A child around 4 years old is asked to choose between a larger treat, such as two marshmallows, and a smaller treat, such as one marshmallow. After stating a preference for the larger treat, the child learns that to obtain that treat, it is necessary to wait for the experimenter to return. The child is also told that if he or she signals the experimenter, the experimenter will return and the child will receive the smaller treat. Thus, the smaller treat is available now, but the larger treat requires waiting. To get the larger treat, the child must resist the temptation to get an immediate treat.
Successful children are more socially and academically successful into high school. When adapted to adolescents, successful students have higher grades, better physical health, better psychological health, less behavioral problems and are much less likely to indulge in smoking, alcohol and drugs. Patience is an essential character trait for delayed gratification. Patience is vital for life to the full and God wants to give it to us.
The problem is that often we don’t really believe that patience is a good thing. We would rather be doing something and we feel better and less guilty when we are active. We explain away our impatience by claiming that we should always be doing something even when we are waiting. We have become so afraid of boredom that we would do anything to avoid it. Most young adults say that they pick up their smart phone within seconds of finding themselves with nothing to do. Psychologists are also telling us that in this culture of information overload, we are becoming more distractible, have shorter attention spans and more forgetful. We have a strong preference for visual learning (through a short informative video) rather than a book or lecture. Visual learning is faster than reading and listening but it tends to be superficial and prone to error. Visual learners have less capacity for abstract thinking. They are weaker when it comes to original, imaginative or complex thought.
Patience is a jewel hidden in a deep mine full of booby traps in our modern culture.
For thousands of years, people of a judaeo-Christian faith have valued and pursued patience as a Godly virtue and a fruit of the Holy Spirit at work in us. In a culture that aggressively opposes patience we are at risk of loosing something precious. Many Christian fathers and mothers of church history have told us of the depth of the riches of a contemplative life: the joy of Christian rest, hearing God speak to us in the silence of our souls, opening the beautiful mysteries of God while meditating on scripture and tearing down evil strongholds by memorizing scripture.
We are so impatient in our expectations for God that we loose faith too quickly, slip into unbelief and give up way too easily. Waiting for God is one of the toughest tests of our faith because we choose to do nothing, trusting that God will do something. It honors Him when we do this and He frequently asks us to do so. Waiting in patience makes Him greater and makes us less.
In our pursuit of patience we should look to the example and teaching of Jesus and the teaching of the Spirit through the disciples of Jesus. Consider the patience of Jesus waiting until age 33 to begin his ministry, enduring 40 days of fasting as he waited for the devil to tempt him, spending 3 and a half years, training the same 12 people. It seems he often spent sleepless nights praying alone. Finally he endured the trial, torture and the execution with poise and patience. An even greater display of patience is not only to do nothing while you wait for God to act but to endure suffering while you wait for God to act! In Jesus, we see this patience like no other.
Jesus said he only spoke as the father instructed him. Presumably, like the rest of humanity, he had to wait on the father to direct him. It is tempting to think that because Jesus was God incarnate and because he had such intimacy with God that he did not have to patiently wait upon the father. I am tempted to think that as I grow more to be like Christ I won’t have to wait to hear God or have Him act on my circumstances. However this is not the picture of Christ that the gospels paint and is probably a hope that is grounded in our selfish reluctance to learn patience.
Many times, Jesus disciples exhort us to prize patience. Galatians 6:9 says “let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Ephesians 4:2 describes a life worthy of the gospel as “humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love”. The famous list of the attributes of love in 1 Corinthians 13 begins with patience!
In closing, if I may share some practical opinions from the wisdom God has given me on how I have been trying to learn to be more patient. Learn to refuse instant gratifications e.g. snacks before a meal. Choose the deeper option: read the book before you watch the movie. Learn to read and learn to think and ponder with a good friend. Teach yourself to remember who God is and what He has told you. Re-affirm your convictions and beliefs in the sovereignty and power of God.
Choose to rest and NOT do anything by learning to be still, quiet and silent for periods of time. Don’t be afraid of boredom. Control your stimulation: ambient noise, screen time, sports, news articles. Learn to meditate and memorize scripture. Use a blog, diary or a journal as tool for your conversation with God’s spirit within you.
May God bless you and keep you.