“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23 (ESV)
If we’re honest, most of us would admit that one of our least favorite words is patience. In a ‘me first’ western culture we can often get what we want, when we want it. Whether it’s Burger King saying, “Have it your way” or the Staples slogan, “That was easy,” our natural desire to be selfish only seems to be magnified by the messages marketed to us on a daily basis, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that the message of patience is nearly impossible to find in our culture. For those who have placed their faith in Jesus, however, patience is the fruit of God’s Spirit at work within us.
It’s easy to read about the people in the Bible that God used in amazing ways and yet forget about where God showed up in the timeline of their lives. The theme of patience and endurance is one we see throughout scripture. Abraham and his wife Sarah weren’t young when they finally had the child God had promised. Joseph spent years in jail on wrong accusations before he became a powerful leader, fulfilling the dreams God had given him. Moses lived a non-descript life before God called him to lead his people out of Egypt. The Israelites had to spend 40 years in the desert before God released them into the Promised Land. Even Jesus didn’t start his public ministry until he was 30 years old.
If you’ve ever been in a place in your spiritual growth or your ministry where you feel that nothing is happening, you can take great comfort that you’re in good company. God is always concerned more about our depth of character than our width of ministry. So how do you know if God is working in your life during a season where nothing seems to be happening? Jesus answers that question in the ‘Parable of the Sower’ in Luke 8.
“As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15, ESV).
If you’ve placed your faith in Jesus, hear God’s Word, and are holding it fast in your heart, then be on the lookout for seasons of patience and embrace them. As you do, be reminded that you’re walking the same spiritual road as Abraham and Sarah, Joseph, and Moses. And God used these individuals to change whole cultures.
Patience and God’s Timing
When my son was three, he and I were hanging out at home and lunch time was fast approaching. He was getting increasingly irritable and fussy, and I hadn’t quite learned how important it was to feed kids on time. He then asked me when lunch time was, and I told him I’d start making it in five minutes. Instead of saying, “Sounds good Dad,” my three-year-old son (to my ignorant surprise) proceeded to throw a tantrum that made me wonder if he had heard me say five hours instead of five minutes. As I quickly made him a delicious peanut butter and jelly sandwich two thoughts hit me.
First, my son didn’t have a concept of time. As an adult, waiting five minutes is nothing. For a preschooler with no concept of time, any amount of waiting is too long, whether it’s five minutes or five days.
Second, I am just like my son. Sure, I may not throw a fit if I have to wait five minutes but if something doesn’t happen on my timeline my response isn’t much more mature than his. How many times have I approached God and said, “Here’s what I need and when I need it.” The big problem here is that if God doesn’t answer my prayers on my timeline then I assume he’s just not going to answer them. But this isn’t necessarily true. While a young child has no concept of time, we as adults also don’t understand God’s concept of time because it’s eternal. He sees our needs but through the perspective of eternity. Though we don’t have an eternal viewpoint, God’s eternal viewpoint should give us comfort that God provides our needs and our answers at just the right time.
Jesus’ brother James says this about patience and God’s timing:
“Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” (James 5:7-8, ESV).
As sons and daughters of a perfect and loving God, being patient is evidence of our trust and faith in our heavenly Father. As we pray and make requests of our Father we can be confident that his timing is the best timing.
Take time to reflect on both answered and unanswered prayers. When and how did God answer those prayers?
For those prayers that have yet to be answered, ask God for his perspective and trust in his perfect timing.