It’s been my experience that folks, including me, struggle to grow the fruit of patience. We are impatient to become patient, desiring God to instantly plop it into our hearts. When we pray for patience it seems that our challenges and struggles increase. Some folks, having been through this several times, have come to the conclusion that it is dangerous to ask God for patience. But what if all of this is some giant misunderstanding over what the fruit of patience is really like?
“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, NASB95)
If you are just joining us, this is the sixth article in a series on the Fruit of the Spirit. And yes, we’re working backward. For this series we are going to be looking at three things, what does the fruit look and taste like, how can we encourage its growth, and how can we give it away. The fruit of the Spirit that grows in us by walking with Jesus is not only for our benefit but also for those around us. In addition to this article, there is a link to a short story I wrote in 2004 which portrays in some way a Fruit of the Spirit that is being given away.
What does the fruit of patience look like?
In our world “patience” is generally seen as the ability to wait for something without worry and anxiety. The Bible’s view of patience is deeper and richer than simply having the ability to wait. But even the world’s definition of patience seems to be in shorter and shorter supply as we come to expect instant communication, lightspeed answers to our questions, and same day or next day delivery of our heart’s desires. Where previous generations went months while letters traveled between distant shores, we get anxious if we don’t have a response to our instantly delivered text within a few minutes. While the real fruit of patience includes passively waiting with peace filled faith there is also an active side to patience.
The deeper meaning of patience is found in the seldom used English word “forbearance.” Who uses that word anymore? This kind of patience is active. It does something when faced with provocation, challenges, struggles, offense, anger, bullying, teasing, and persecution. The ultimate example is Jesus. During his arrest, trials, and crucifixion He demonstrated tremendous forbearance. While His demeanor was passive there were actions such as His refusal to defend himself, His declaration before Pilate (John 18:37), and His prayer for forgiveness (Luke 23:24). He never returned the blow, the offense, the words, or the pain back to the giver. Those things weren’t stored up to be repaid later or transferred to someone or something else. Instead, He bore it, shunted it, put it somewhere so it couldn’t hurt anyone else. Patience and forbearance sees a larger picture than the challenge and pain of the moment. Forbearance willingly absorbs, even forgives, the offense instead of throwing up defenses or seeking revenge.
How do we grow the fruit of patience?
While some fruit, like apples and grapes, only need to hang on. stay connected, and bask in the “Sonshine” there are some “fruit” that need something to struggle against in order to grow. While not technically a fruit you could say that growing patience is like growing potatoes, carrots, and onions. All of these grow underground, formed by pushing against the surrounding soil. Is it any wonder that when we ask God for patience He provides or allows the soil needed for its growth? Now, we don’t need to create trouble so our patience grows, each day has enough trouble to do the job if we’ll let it. The challenge in all of this is seeing the larger picture when all we want to do is focus on the moment. So, growing patience is more than just surviving some trials, it is learning to see past the moment towards what God is doing in our lives and in the folks bringing us trouble.
How do we give away the fruit of patience?
Giving away patience and forbearance may seem like you’re doing nothing. But remember, there’s a larger picture to see. Anytime we can be someone’s shock absorber we are giving away the real fruit of patience. While a car’s shock absorbers do make the ride smoother their real job is to keep the tires touching the ground. That’s what giving away patience looks like. We absorb instead of reflect the shocks that others are facing while at the same time keeping them in contact with Jesus and God’s big picture. It’s like the difference between sympathy and empathy. Sympathy gets in the ditch with someone, it feels their emotions and reflects them back in agreement. Empathy also feels their emotions but helps them climb out of the ditch instead of leaving them there. One way we give away patience is when we willingly give away our time and pleasure to just sit with someone. We aren’t there to teach, give advice, or provide weak prayers and shallow encouragement (think of Job’s “friends”). We are there, making contact and connection, to remind them that they are not alone in their journey. It may seem like we’re doing nothing, patience often seems that way, but it is lifegiving.
The fruit of patience is something we can’t wait to grow. We need it, our family and friends need us to have it, the world out there is longing for someone to absorb the shocks of life. Yes, sometimes circumstances require us to wait. To trust that God will provide our heart’s desire in His own time. Those who wait on the Lord really do renew their strength. “Yet those who wait for the Lord Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary.” (Isaiah 40:31, NASB95) More often than not patience requires forbearance, carrying the burdens of others in ways that may seem unfair and unjust to ourselves. Even then we are to have an attitude of joy instead of inviting pity because we see God’s big picture. Growing patience and forbearance may not be fun but it is desperately needed by our increasingly divided and easily offended world.
The short story from 2004 about the fruit of patience is called The Fishing Pole. That story condenses many of our fishing trip stories into one event. My sister did out fish us with her cane pole, Grandma’s hat did fly off mid-cast, and I really did hook a duck. Click here to see read The Fishing Pole.