Words to Live By: Patience

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Let’s talk about the exciting subject of watching paint dry or maybe watching water boil. How about waiting for the sun to go down, reading War & Peace, or learning electrical engineering. None of these things are going to happen overnight. These things simply take time, others take a certain amount of dedication, but all have one thing in common: they require patience. 

Most of us don’t care much for being patient. We live in a world where you really don’t have to wait on anything. Retail stores of various types supply most everything you could want. If you live in the right cities or close to them, you can order these things and have much of this delivered the day you ordered it. If we sit in traffic too long or at a traffic light too long, we become creative with our vocabulary. It is a wonder the English language does not grow by leaps and bounds daily and not in a good way. Any time we are asked to show the slightest bit of patience we act as though it is the greatest inconvenience humanity has ever faced. Okay, maybe it’s not quite that bad but sit in rush hour traffic on a major intestate or thoroughfare and then call me with your thoughts about it.

Patience is one of those things we talk about kind of tongue in cheek, (Lord, give me patience and give it to me right now), but deep down, I think we recognize the need for it. It is a godly virtue and one that many ancient traditions recognize. 

  • “Drop by drop is the water pot filled. Likewise, the wise man, gathering it little by little, fills himself with good.” – the Buddha
  • In the Islamic tradition, patience is, “being resolute in avoiding sins, constant in meritorious actions, and content in the face of affliction”[1]
  • The Hindu tradition says, “Purity, patience and perseverance are the three essentials to success and above all love.”

While we can see that patience is understood in other traditions, our Judeo-Christian tradition, has a tremendous amount to say about patience as well. We read two verses this morning along with the preaching text from James, but there are many others including,

  • “The end of something is better than its beginning. Patience is better than arrogance.”—Ecclesiastes 7:8
  • “Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience. Accept each other with love and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together.”—Ephesians 4:2-3
  • “But we desperately want each of you to show the same effort to make your hope sure until the end. This is so you won’t be lazy but follow the example of the ones who inherit the promises through faith and patience.”—Hebrew 6:11-12

In the passage that we read from James today, the word used is endurance, but that word could be translated as patience as well. I attempted again to do a bit translating for part of this passage and came up with, 

May every joy go before you whenever trials or worries fall around you to embrace you in various ways. You have come to know that tests, or the proving of your faith, works toward the ability to endure. Let this ability to endure work completely to its end in order that you may reach total wholeness, lacking nothing. — James 1:2-3, my translation

 For the writer of James, patience, or as its translated here endurance, is not something we are born with or something we are gifted. Patience is something developed, usually from the practice of patience in situations where we need patience. The testing or proving of faith, is not to see if we have faith but to sharpen and refine what faith we have so that it can mature into the ultimate expression of faith for that person. This like everything else in the Christian life is learned in and part of a process. Patience or endurance is something we work at and toward, understanding we will have to keep working at and toward it. Think of a small child at an ice cream stand. The wait but they are not really waiting, not really patient. They are waiting only because an adult or some other authority said they had to. Their heart and mind are already up to their elbows in Rocky Road and if there were no adult, they would be too. For the patient person, or better the person maturing toward patience, they can stand there and know that in a relatively short time, they will be able to get ice cream.

What do we do with this? How do we, especially those of us who struggle with patience, gain this wonderful virtue? 

We have to practice. Some things in life are only learned by doing them repeatedly, sometimes failing, sometimes succeeding but always knowing you will have to do it again. The writer of James lets us know that patience is one of those practice things we will have to do, working from immaturity to maturity, over the course of a lifetime. How do we practice? We learn to be aware of our surroundings, our circumstances, and the people in them. We learn to be aware of how other people may react to the situation and try to have a sense of how they feel. We respond (make a choice about our actions) rather than react (let our emotions direct our actions). We use measuring sticks from Scripture—Matthew 5-7, 1 Corinthians 13, and others. And we spend time going through the gospels, learning to think as Jesus did and act as Jesus did. The process will take time but ultimately, we may well mature into the ability to respond rather than react and in doing that, show the world an example of Jesus.

[1] Nasr, Seyyed Hossein; Dagli, Caner K.; Dakake, Maria Massi; Lumbard, Joseph E.B.; Rustom, Mohammed. The Study Quran . HarperOne. Kindle Edition.