How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look on me and answer, O LORD my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death; my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall. But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD for he has been good to me. (Psalm 13). When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants ofthe earth and avenge our blood? Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed. (Rev. 6:9-11). If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity he will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed. This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints. (Rev. 13:10). My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:27-28).
I’ve heard it said numerous times from at least two pulpits: “patience is long-suffering and in order to be long-suffering, one has to have been long bothered.”
Indeed, of the virtues we have studies so far, I feel I know very little of “patience.” While I struggle with anxiety, at times I have most definitely felt the Lord grant peace. I’ve experienced it, both the gut-churning absence and the beautiful fullness. I can’t say that with patience. In fact, now that I think about it, I don’t believe I’ve ever heard another Christian say, “I really have God’s patience about this decision.” Or, “God has just filled me with patience for this person.”
I’ve prayed for patience. I’ve prayed for the Lord to lead me to a place where I can understand patience better. Even in the context of this Bible study, I spent a week or two specifically thinking about patience. What I found was many opportunities to exercise patience with my family (opportunities I frankly fumbled as I muttered under my breath, “Lord, give me patience,” a few seconds before raising my voice and issuing an angry mandate). No automatic Spirit-granted patience.
So, I did what I typically do when I’m struggling with something: break it down and analyze it. In this case, I blew the dust of my old physical Strong’s Concordance and, after fumbling around a little bit to remember how it works, began looking up the verses in which the same Greek word (3115 – makrothumia – mak-roth-oo-mee’-ah; “longanimity”) occurs. The majority of the verses we looked up in Day 1 are from this word.
Although not exactly the same word, the verses we looked up in day 2 are from the same root word – which is a combination of “makros” – long in place/time – and thumos “passion (as if breathing hard): – fierceness, indignation, wrath” and “makrothumeo” which Strong’s says is “to be long-spirited…patiently endure.” (In case you want to pull out your Strong’s, too – it’s 3116/3114 respectively).
1 Corinthians 13:4 is 3114.
It’s actually quite surprising to me that part of patience is a picture of anger long restrained – long restrained wrath. I have a picture in my head of “patience” as some sort of zen-like figure at the top of a mountain who doesn’t actually experience the emotions which cause us mere humans anger. Of someone who is so enlightened that things don’t bother or fluster them. But when I hold up the Biblical definition of patience to the passages in Scripture of God’s patience – well, that enlightened iconic monk figure isn’t right. I’m actually a little relieved, because it’s hard to reconcile the iconic monkish Jesus with the rage-filled Jesus who seized a whip and scattered the money changers in the Temple.
Despite this, because a human being’s anger is not what God’s is – we would be better off if we could keep ourselves from being affected by our anger. The key to this, as the key to the fullness of the fruit of the Spirit is Jesus. If we have a true view of God’s great love and our very real and present need for it – if we can truly grasp how great His forgiveness of us is – how can we be impatient with other people? How can I lash out in anger against someone who has done me less wrong than I have done to God, considering His great and beautiful gift of salvation to me when I was actively against Him?
And yet, there is no room in Scripture or life to pretend that things are not difficult. To pretend that we never feel anger. To fabricate good cheer in the face of suffering. God’s word is filled with the cries of His people: how long? How long will the non-believer prosper? How long will lies fill the air? How long will this gnarly situation last unresolved? How long will I face this health issue? Patience does not require us to pretend. No. Patience requires us to pour our heart and souls out to God, holding the broken things up to Him. Repeatedly and as often as necessary. But it doesn’t stop there. Patience requires us to fix our eyes on Him and remind our souls of His great love and salvation.
I’ve not come out the other side of this, but friends, it must be a messy, frustrating and difficult business. Patience must be worked out – much like a muscle that is strengthened only by repeated strain. As Dallas Willard says in The Divine Conspiracy, “when Paul writes to the Colossians, he prays that they will walk worthy of the Lord, pleasing him in every respect, bearing fruit in every good work and constantly growing in their knowledge of God (Col. 1:10). Then he asks that they be ‘strengthened with all power, in terms of God’s glorious power’ (v. 11). One might expect that this would be for the sake of some astounding outward manifestations! But no, it is required to enable the Colossians to have “limitless endurance and long-suffering or patience, joyfully giving thanks to the Father who has equipped us for a role in the destiny of the saints in the light.” The most exalted outcome of submersion in the risen Christ is the transformation of the inner self to be like him.” (p. 280).
Thank you, Jesus, that nothing can snatch us from your hand and that you promise to carry out the workmanship you have begun in us.
At the end of this week’s meditations about patience: what have you learned? Where have you seen, heard or experienced patience? What other passages of scripture has the Spirit brought to you about patience?