GROW In Patience

By Richard A. Wiedenheft


Ours is the age of instant everything. We want what we want and we want it now. We have instant coffee, condensed books, microwave ovens, fast cars, fast check-out, and fast-food. Almost any- and every-where we go, we have telephones, CD-players, TVís and now computers. Patience is just not one of our cultural virtues.

We may have instant this and quick that—but we donít have much patience, and our relationships are in shambles—because if thereís one thing that requires patience, itís relationships. In this regard, the Apostle Paul set a fantastic example:

"I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength" (Phil 4:11-13; NIV throughout).

We, too, can learn the secret of contentment.

Accepting Oneself

One of the basic prerequisites for being patient with others is to learn to be patient with oneself—to accept oneself. I donít mean acceptance in the sense of approving of everything that you are or do. I mean acceptance in the sense of recognizing what you are—the good as well as the bad, the strengths as well as the weaknesses. Paul urged the Romans to think of themselves with sober judgment (Rom 12:3). This means to have a realistic picture of ourselves—recognizing that we are far from perfect, that we have and do make many mistakes, that we have many shortcomings. As James put it, "We all stumble in many ways" (James 3:2).

It is by recognizing our own imperfections that we can have patience with those of others. If we recognize that we have suffered illness, we can be patient with others who are ill. If we see our mistakes in rearing our children, we can have patience with others who are struggling with theirs. If we admit our own anger, we can bear the anger of others. If we recognize that we have spoken unkind words, we can accept unkindness in others.

Remember, acceptance doesnít mean approval—in oneself or in others. But just as God loves us and Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners, so we should love and support and be patient with those who are yet sinners-and that includes ourselves.

Symptoms of Non-self-acceptance

Self-acceptance is essential for patience. Hence, it is important for us to recognize some of the symptoms of a person who does not accept himself-primarily so we can evaluate ourselves. But we can also look for these traits in others—to help us understand why they may not be as patient as we would like.

—Have to win arguments

Some people always have to have the last word. Typically, women complain of this trait in their husbands: "He wonít ever admit heís wrong"; "We canít have a fair fight"; "I always have to do the apologizing." One who canít admit heís wrong has difficulty accepting his own imperfections and will tend to be impatient with others.

—Poor listener

This person finds it difficult to be quiet while others talk. Either he canít admit that he doesnít know more about the subject than everybody else, or he canít stand to let someone else have the spotlight. Perhaps he has an exaggerated view of his own importance. He doesnít accept his own ignorance, so he wonít be patient with ignorance in others.

—Canít take correction

This person canít admit that heís done, said or been wrong. When confronted with mistakes, he justifies his actions, lies about them, excuses them, or simply withdraws—condemning the shortcomings of those who would dare to criticize him. Job had this problem. He was so sure of his own righteousness that he accused God of injustice. Such a person, who cannot accept his own shortcomings, will have little patience with others. (Later, Job repented of his error.)

—Seeks to control others

This person gets ego-satisfaction by controlling others—either by commands, psychological pressure, brute force, or by manipulation. He finds it difficult to take orders (to do so is to admit weakness). Typically he is a man who finds it difficult to give his wife any freedom or space; he seeks to control his children even as they become adults; he finds it difficult to delegate authority or to watch someone else do something differently than he would do it. Such a person simply canít accept himself as a human being with shortcomings and imperfections.

—Grandiose aspirations

Some people believe they have a unique calling from God. They think of themselves as modern prophets and deliverers. Their sense of identity is wrapped up in having a special pipeline to God. Not being able to accept their own humanity and similarity with other humans, they have difficulty accepting others—especially others who doubt their special calling.

—Materialism and activityism

Many people escape from accepting themselves through acquiring or doing. They are into buying clothes, jewelry, cars, tools books. Or they are into doing things—perhaps even ministering to others. But theyíre always in motion—going and doing or going and buying. They canít be content with what they have and who they are. They certainly arenít going to be patient with others who are different, or who have less, or who do less. In fact, they may be jealous of others, but they wonít be patient with them.

In all these various symptoms of non-self-acceptance, there is one common factor: not seeing oneself with sober judgment, not being able to accept oneself where he is right now. And a person who doesnít accept himself, wonít be patient with others!

If you would aspire to become more patient with others, you must first become patient with yourself. This doesnít mean that you approve of your shortcomings. But it does mean that you fully recognize them! It means that you accept the fact that you are in the process of personal growth, that you are in the process of becoming more like your Savior—and that you have a long way to go. Only when you accept yourself as one more pilgrim on the road of sanctification, can you be patient with others who are pilgrims on the same road.

Saved By Grace

The Bible makes it clear that there is one means and one means only for us to escape the condemnation of eternal death and come into a right relationship with God—and that means is Godís grace. Our sins are forgiven by the shed blood of Jesus Christ. We are translated into the kingdom of God through believing in Him! No deed of righteousness, no acts of obedience, no works of service could ever pay the price of our eternal life.

A person who clearly sees his own sins and who recognizes the magnitude of Godís grace will find it easy to be patient with other sinners. On the contrary, a person whose spiritual identity is rooted in being at some level of perfection or knowledge will have a tough time being patient with others who donít measure up. On the contrary, if we fully recognize our utter inability to save ourselves, if we know we are the recipients of Godís great patience toward us, it will be much easier for us to be patient with others.

Accepting Others Where Theyíre At

Itís virtually impossible to see things from another personís point of view—but thatís one of the most important keys to patience. There is much truth in the Indian saying that one should not criticize another unless he has walked several miles in his moccasins. We really donít know what someone else is going through unless we have walked his walk, borne his burdens, felt his hurts, and lived his life.

Our tendency is to condemn what we donít understand; to stand in judgment of something that is new or different; to be impatient with those who donít know what we know. If we would be patient, we must accept the fact that people are different. They have different values different aspirations. Sometimes people with the same goal have different ideas about how to attain it.

For example, Iím very achievement oriented. I want to get things accomplished and see tangible results. My wife is concerned about relationships and feelings. Iíve always believed that feelings are of little consequence, but she can become so overwhelmed with feelings that she simply has to express them. What a challenge it has been over the years for me to learn to see the importance of feelings—and to take time to listen to them. And it is only because Iíve been married to someone with deep feelings that Iíve learned to be patient with others whose feelings boil over from time to time. My wife, on the other hand, has had to learn to be patient with my impassiveness and rational approach to everything.

When you see someone doing something that irritates you or frustrates you, ask yourself, "What would I do if I were in his place?" or "Have I ever done that?" How many times have I seen a driver do something stupid in traffic—and then remembered a time when Iíd done the same thing myself.

When we look at our own actions, we tend to judge by our intent. Even when we fail, we excuse ourselves by saying, "Well, I meant well." But when it comes to others, we tend to judge by action only. How unfair. We should judge others the same way we judge ourselves.

Youíre Not Always the Target

When ancient Israel complained about not having food, Moses was able to be patient with them because he recognized that they were really angry with Yahweh (the Eternal), not with him (Ex 16:7-8).

Consider the man who has a bad day at the office. When he comes home, he yells at the dog who barks, curses the door because it sticks, kicks the cat whoís in the path, and scolds his wife because she forgot to put salt on the table. She will find it much easier to be patient if she can just remember, "Iím not the target; heís just venting his work frustrations." This doesnít justify his actions, but it can help his wife to be patient with him.

Experience Trials

None of us wants to go through difficult times, yet experiencing trials is precisely what we need to grow in character in general—patience in particular (Rom 5:3). Daily frustrations as well as major traumas in life can teach us to trust God and to be patient. When we look back to see how we learned valuable lessons through trials, we can be patient with others who are going through trials. When we see that we did not always behave properly when we were under duress, we can be patient with others who are acting improperly as they endure difficult times. But a word of caution: If you pray for patience, God may send you a trial!

Itís Not the Last Chapter

One of the hardest things to realize when weíre going through a tough time, is to realize that itís not the last chapter of the book. When Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, he could have despaired—but he didnít. It wasnít the last chapter. When he was imprisoned, he could have despaired—but he didnít. It wasnít the last chapter. When he was forgotten by the butler, he could have despaired—but he didnít. It wasnít the last chapter. Finally, he became the ruler of Egypt and was reunited with his family. That was the last chapter of his life on earth.

If weíre tempted to become impatient with ourselves anywhere along lifeís way, we should remember, "Itís not the last chapter." If weíre tempted to be impatient with others anywhere along lifeís way, we should remember, "Itís not the last chapter" of their life either. We are all still in process. God is working a wonderful work in our lives. "ÖFor He Himself has said, ĎI will never leave you nor forsake youí" (Heb 13:5). "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand" (John 10:27-28). &