By Beatrice Smith
Love, Joy, Peace; these first three on Paul’s list on the Fruit of the Holy Spirit sound very Spiritual! They are just the kind of things that good Christians ought to have and to show. But when it comes to forbearance, that is, in other words, patience, we’re coming to something, which is more to do with that area of life between Monday and Saturday, and what we’re like to live with in our places of work or in our homes or indeed in places where we take our leisure and play.
Patience, as a fruit if the Spirt means, on the one hand, the ability to endure for a long time the kind of suffering and opposition that may come our way, and on the other hand, the ability to put up with the weaknesses and foibles of others, including other believers.
But before we go on thinking about patience as a quality that we should show, let’s first of all think about patience, or forbearance as a quality of God. Now, maybe we wouldn’t immediately think of the patience of God as a feature of the Old Testament; usually this God of the Old Testament is often understood to be an angry and distant God; but the very first description that God gives himself in Exodus 34 verse 6 is when he says to Moses that His name is “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love..”.
Slow to anger is of the character of God! And when you look at history of the Old Testament, and indeed the whole of scripture, the Bible is a long story of God’s patience over many centuries and generations with, first, the Israelites and then with us and the world He has made.
The Prophet Isaiah (53:12) told the Israelites how God had “borne their sins” like a burden that he had to carry, in fact, he says, he had carried Israel himself from cradle to the grave. And actually the word in the Old Testament which loosely translates as to “forgive” is the word “to bear” or “to carry”. That’s to say, when God forgives, it’s because he chooses to bear our sins himself, which, of course, is exactly what Jesus did on the Cross.
So the Old Testament, then, shows God’s incredible patience and when the New Testament goes on to speak about the patience of Jesus, as he bore the injustice of the Cross, it shows us through Jesus practically, how we can exercise patience. Here’s what Peter says about the suffering and patience of Jesus in 1 Peter 2 verses 21-24:
“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.”
When thinking about patience, we can think about it in two ways:
Firstly, the patience of endurance of suffering; It’s very clear in the Bible, that God’s people will suffer. Even now, millions of Christians around the world are suffering hatred, discrimination, imprisonment and often martyrdom because of their faith in Jesus. We need to pray for them daily as they go through this. We may know several people in our lives who are also enduring hardship and this can be hard.
Secondly, we also need to remember that patience means forbearance with others. That is when we choose to bear with other people, rather than cutting them off when they annoy us or even worse. It is a choice to forgive someone rather than hold a grudge. It means choosing to overlook something that was hurtful or unkind rather than picking a fight and getting even. And that kind of patience is often hardest for us in our everyday lives.
To quote a famous poem:
“"To dwell above with saints we love, Oh, that will be glory. To dwell below with saints we know, well, that's a different story!”
It can be difficult to have the patience to put up with others , not to mention, sometimes the patience they may need to put up with us! But that’s what the Bible asks of us, and it is what we are called for even when we’re misunderstood, misinterpreted and when we’re treated unfairly. That’s really when patience is tested, and that’s when it really counts. The Apostle Paul knew a thing or two about being misunderstood and mistreated. Yet in his struggle he said in Ephesians 4:2: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love”.
When it comes to patience, I will be the first to admit my personal struggle, partly because I still haven’t fully figured out what is more challenging; patience with other people or patience with God. But patience in both can be hard to navigate. And this is partly because to be patient with others requires choosing to think about how others feel and this, psychologists have suggested, doesn’t come naturally to us as human beings. We naturally have a tendency to think about us and how we are affected by a situation rather than automatically about others; we have to work harder to think of the other.
To be patient with God means to see things from God’s perspective, which, again, isn’t always natural to us as human beings. Sometimes it’s not even clear whether it is God we’re waiting on. The unemployed person may wonder “is there something else I should be doing to speed up the process?” The single person may ask: “have I done enough to ensure I am sociable enough to meet someone?” Sometimes it is simply unclear which road we should be taking and whether God wants us waiting or doing something else especially when we might feel that there’s no guarantee that God will meet our desires or our needs in the way that we want him to. No matter where you find yourself on the journey in patience, know this: that even in hard things, God is at work on your behalf and for your good.
To be patient means to choose to stand with God where he is and not in the circumstances where we are. Thankfully through prayer, we are able to access that space with ease by simply asking God to hold our hand and illuminate our paths. And as we do that, our hearts are being transformed, from glory to glory.
Jesus, you are the example of patience. You endured so much for us on the Cross, thank you for all that you gave. We want to learn from you; help us to see as you see, to stand where you are, no matter what our circumstances are, today. We pray especially for those suffering persecution and hardship for their faith; help them persevere. And teach us to do the same in our daily lives. To depend on you and to look to you when it is hard. Thank you that in you, all things are possible. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Beatrice was born in Rwanda where she lived with her mum, dad and five brothers and sisters until 1994. At just ten years of age, a brutal genocide tore her country apart, resulting in her having to flee from her home at an early age. They travelled from country to country searching for a safe home, finally settling in the UK, where they have lived for the past seventeen years.
Beatrice is a wife & mother and author of The Search for Home, which chronicles hers and her family’s journey as refugees from the Rwandan genocide. She is passionate about Jesus and about people and loves meeting new people and talking, a lot. She loves coffee and laughter and cake and doing life with people, mostly across the dining table.