After posting a somewhat cathartic emotional piece yesterday, I think with this post, I will return to some reflections on the fruit of the Spirit, and, an invitation to “walk with me” as I seek to walk with Jesus. I’ve already reflected a bit on love, joy, and peace. Today, let’s share a bit what it means to walk in patience. I suspect many of us have a somewhat ambivalent way of looking at or longing for patience. We know we “should” be patient. It is a good thing to be patient, but we also know becoming a patient person comes at a price. And, patience also implies some kind of waiting or delayed gratification of sorts. Now, I may not mind waiting so much for my entree to come at my favorite restaurant. It probably won’t take long, and, in the meanwhile, I’m pigging out on the free rolls and peanuts and enjoying a conversation with my wife and/or fellow diners at my table. I don’t mind the wait. But how about waiting for certain circumstances in your life to change? For your wife/husband to change? For your roommate to change, for you to change? That kind of waiting is hard. But, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. As we seek to see the character of Jesus and His Spirit’s fruit define who we are, what does it look like, feel like to be “patient”? How was Jesus patient with those around Him, and, what kind of freedom comes as we grow in patience? Below are some thoughts on this. I hope that as you read, you will know you are not walking alone in our quest for this fruit of patience.
– First, a definition. One online source says patience is “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.” It’s interesting too, we use the same word “patient”, to tell of someone who is in the hospital. So, being a “patient” implies some level of suffering and waiting to be well. In the Greek, the word for patience found in Galatians 5:22 is makroqumia. It is made up of two words: “long” and “suffering”. So, patience means the ability to “suffer long”, a steadfastness, and the ability to endure. So, with this brief understanding, at the very least, to walk with and in patience means we do not let the negative circumstances of life drag us down. We don’t stay angry, bitter, or cynical when pain and suffering come our way. Eugene Peterson in his marvelous Message, paraphrases this idea of patience as “we develop a willingness to stick with things.”
– Second, patience, like the rest of the fruit found in Galatians 5:22, tends to be exercised in relationship with other people. I might think myself to be a patient person, but if I get easily annoyed at others, even if it is the anonymous person in front of me in the banking or check-out line, I am not being patient.
– Third, we can see the patience of Jesus in how He related to other people. I can easily imagine how potentially frustrating it must have been for Him to be around His disciples for nearly three long (!) years and they still didn’t “get it”. Think of Peter. He didn’t understand what was involved with Jesus being the Messiah who would have to suffer on behalf of His followers (Matt.16:21-23). And so often, it seemed His followers, just like the rest of us, were jockeying for positions of prestige and appreciation (Mark 10:35-45). I wonder if Jesus ever sighed in spirit, if any of His followers would ever wash one another’s feet? Yet, He was unfailingly kind in His patience. He kept giving Himself to His followers, all the way to the end. He literally walked with them over the hills of Judea. He taught them. He ate with them, slept with them, not withdrawing from them. It seems at a minimum, to walk in patience means we keep walking with those around us, who also do not always “get it”.
– What does it feel like to walk in patience? I think sometimes it feels lonely. When Jesus asked Peter, James, and John to keep watch and pray with Him, we remember they fell asleep. Three times. Jesus was “deeply distressed, troubled, overwhelmed with sorrow” (Mark 14:33-34). His continual call to keep watch with Him and to pray went unheeded. yet He still loved these men, and, desired their fellowship. I think walking in patience also means we might be opening the door of misunderstanding. We might come across to others as weak, incompetent, or not assertive enough. But if walking in patience involves “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset”, then we must accept this possibility of being misunderstood. For the one who walks in patience knows it takes great strength to suffer long.
Finally, how does walking in patience mean for our freedom as followers of Jesus? Primarily I think it empowers us to walk in love, the first fruit of the Spirit. Before we read of the Spirit’s fruit, which really is a description of Jesus’ character in and through us as we walk with Him, we are told to “use our freedom, not as a way to indulge the sinful nature, but to serve one another in love (Gal. 5:13).” Paul’s “So I say, live by the Spirit” in verse 16 reminds us that when we walk by the Spirit via the fruit of the Spirit, we are empowered to love one another. We are no longer “biting or devouring” one another (5:15). We are set free from letting those who are not walking by the Spirit define who we are and what we are becoming. Without patience, it’s impossible to truly love those around us, as we insist on having our own way, getting our way, now, and not later! Growing in patience, we are not captive or enslaved any longer “and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence” (Gal. 5:18, The Message). When we walk in patience, in the Spirit, we will no longer groan as we do now, but will be brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21). And, while presently, we do not enjoy this freedom in its fulness, we do get a satisfying taste of this freedom to love even now. Lord Jesus, may we walk with You and by so doing, increasingly resemble You. May we do this out of love for You and Your willingness to suffer-long for us. We thank You for Your undying (and resurrected!) love! Brothers and sisters, may we walk with one another in His patience.