Do you remember an old bumper sticker that read, “Be Patient! God isn’t done with me yet”? The idea is certainly humorous, but it also reveals something about human expectations. Notice how it demands nothing of the driver and subtly shifts the burden of patience to the person following him or her. Patience is something we all want from others but likely don’t desire for ourselves because, to be honest, we don’t like to wait or be inconvenienced, especially in a world that expects instant gratification.
Patience is the ability to tolerate delay, endure difficulty, or show forbearance to others. This trait isn’t something we are born with or receive instantly at the moment of salvation. Rather, it is developed over time with God’s grace and our cooperation. Patience is one way we demonstrate God’s love to others, and without it, we will never become the peacemakers Jesus references in the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:9). If we impatiently demand that everyone do what we want when we want, the result will always be conflict.
Sadly, impatience is considered an “acceptable sin” because it’s not as egregious as others. But in God’s eyes, we need to put this and all sin to death in ourselves. It usually rises to the surface when we encounter problems, difficulties, or disagreements. Then negative emotions like frustration, anxiety, or anger take over. The result is inner turmoil, rash words, and foolish decisions, but one of the most damaging consequences of impatience is the hurt it causes other people. It can wreck marriages, alienate friends and family, and cause division in churches.
To get to the root of our impatience, we must recognize the self-centeredness of what Scripture calls our “flesh” (Eph. 2:3). We often think our rights and desires are more important than those of others. As a result, we become frustrated whenever things don’t go as we want. Sometimes we even rationalize our impatience by saying that God made us like this, but in reality, it’s just one of the ways in which sin has corrupted us. These sinful attitudes must be replaced with biblical beliefs that promote patience in our lives. Sometimes Christians mistakenly think that their past salvation is all that matters, but God’s purpose for salvation also includes sanctification, or holiness. This is what Jesus meant when He said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8). The Lord’s goal is to conform us to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29).
Patience isn’t something we are born with or receive instantly at the moment of salvation. Rather, it is developed over time with God’s grace and our cooperation.
An accurate understanding of God’s sanctifying process is the foundation for patience. Although this transformation is His work, believers are not passive in the process. Paul put it this way: “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13). He wasn’t advocating working for our salvation but, rather, employing effort to grow in holiness, knowing that it’s God’s good pleasure for us—and that His power working in us produces it.
Our Need for Patience
We need to practice patience in three areas:
With Ourselves—When it seems as if we’re making little progress in spiritual growth, we should remember that God’s work of sanctification is a long, slow process. We must be patient, knowing this: “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).
With Others—Our attitudes and behaviors toward people should mirror those of God, who has been so patient with us (2 Peter 3:9). In the Bible, patience means longsuffering, yet too often we are quick to become exasperated with those who don’t believe or act as we desire. When we focus on how other people should change, we become blind to our own need for a transformed heart that loves others with patience, kindness, humility, unselfishness, and endurance (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).
With God—All impatience with people or circumstances is ultimately directed at God, who is sovereign over all things (Psalm 103:19). Instead of trusting in His good purposes and perfect timing, we become upset if He doesn’t answer our prayers or change our circumstances. In reality, we are finding fault with the Lord and judging Him by our standards.
Pray for it. Since patience is one aspect of the fruit of God’s Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), we can confidently ask the Lord for it, knowing He answers prayers that are in accordance with His will (1 John 5:14-15). However, if we ignore or fight against the Spirit’s work in our life, our requests are meaningless. Patience is the fruit He produces as we submit to Him and allow God’s Word to change our mind, emotions, and will.
Think biblically. God uses difficulties to develop patience within us. That’s why James says, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4). Although trouble is not joyful in itself, we can still rejoice because God uses it in our life to produce something good. Rather than grumble or feel sorry for ourselves, we must learn to look at our trials from God’s perspective, knowing that this is the way He makes us more like His Son.
Accept responsibility. No one drifts into patience. If we give no thought to our spiritual life and make no effort to grow, we will be governed by our circumstances rather than by Christ. However, while we’re responsible for developing patience, we are never alone in our efforts, since the Holy Spirit indwells and empowers us. The grace of God that saves us also teaches us to deny ungodly habits and live righteously (Titus 2:11-12).
- Romans 2:4
- Romans 5:1-5
- Ephesians 4:1-3
- 1 Thessalonians 5:14-18
- James 5:7-11
When we focus on how other people should change, we become blind to our own need for a transformed heart.
Next, let’s consider how we go about putting on a heart of patience. We must …
Patience is the fruit God produces as we submit to Him and allow His Word to change our mind, emotions, and will.
Being patient is an act of faith. Do you believe that God is sovereign? Do you believe you can trust Him to use difficult circumstances and people to make you more like Christ? If so, God’s attributes and ways have become more than mere theological truths to you. They are the foundation for your patience, and because of this, each trial you face becomes an opportunity to trust God and wait patiently for Him.
One of the most difficult tasks for a believer is self-denial, but that is exactly what patience requires. You must consider the interests of others as more important than your own and let go of your rights. This applies not only to people but also to your relationship with the Lord. Do you think His purposes and will for your life are more important than your own plans, dreams, and expectations? Are you willing to lay them aside in order to take hold of what He has for you, even if it comes in the form of a trial?
How about your relationships with others? Do you readily let your irritation be known? James reminds us that we should be “quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20). Anyone can act ugly, but believers have the privilege and power to behave in a Christlike manner.
One of the most difficult tasks for a believer is self-denial, but that is exactly what patience requires.
Patience begins with the way you think. When your thoughts are anchored in Scripture, you’ll find that you’re more patient with others and willing to endure difficulties that once caused frustration or anger. Instead of complaining to God about your situation, you’ll thank and praise Him for His wise and loving choices.
Heavenly Father, I ask that You fill me with the knowledge of Your will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding so that I can live in a manner worthy of You. My desire is to please You, bear fruit in everything I do, and grow in the knowledge of You. Please strengthen me with Your power so that I can become steadfast and patient. Thank you for saving me and bringing me into the kingdom of Your beloved Son. Amen.
Patience takes time and energy to develop, but you can begin to plant seeds today that will lead to a rich harvest. Take what you know to be true about God and His Word and apply it to every situation in your life. Begin looking at your difficulties as opportunities to practice patience. Ask God to use them to make you more like His Son. When people irritate you or get in the way of your plans, thank the Lord for bringing those individuals into your life and using them to transform you.
Illustration by Adam Cruft