For all the talk I hear about the important role that patience plays in the Christian life, I’m surprised by how little the Bible actually has to say about the subject. As I mentioned in an earlier post, patience in the New Testament concerns our appropriate response to difficult people, while endurance concerns how we are to approach difficult problems.
If you read each of the Bible references on the word “patience” or the word “patient,” you’ll find a good measure of them refer to God’s patience with people like you and me. Solomon has a little to say about the topic, connecting patience with virtues such as strength of spirit and wisdom. But we have to look to James 5 for any kind of substantial treatment of this particular Fruit of the Spirit.
Here are some summary observations about patience from Jesus’ half brother:
1. Difficult people will be in our lives as long as we are alive. “Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return…” (James 5:7, NLT) Yes, we are to patiently wait for the return of Christ, but we need to remember that God’s waiting room is usually crowded with others, many of whom have challenges that infringe on our comfort levels.
2. Sometimes patience is required simply because God is trying to do some heart work in a person’s life that isn’t quite complete. “Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen. You, too, must be patient” (James 5:7, NLT). Like fruit that ripens over time, we cannot rush the work of God in a person’s life.
3. Patience builds strong character. “Take courage, for the coming of the Lord is near” (James 5:8, NLT). There is an old saying that goes something like this: Give a child everything he wants and a pig everything he wants and you’ll have a very fine pig and a very poor child. We don’t want patience. When we do, we want it now! But exercising patience doesn’t hurt us. Rather it builds us. Think of it as eating your vegetables.
4. Complaining about problem people only makes things worse. “Don’t grumble about each other, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. For look—the Judge is standing at the door!” (James 5:9, NLT) When you criticize and complain about “problem people” to others you risk the danger of making the problem bigger than it is and give it a life of its own. Keep the circle small.
5. Others have exercised patience successfully. If others have done it and are doing it, so can you. “For examples of patience in suffering, dear brothers and sisters, look at the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord” (James 5:10, NLT)
6. Patience produces the blessing of God. God is compassionate and merciful and will reward your patience. “We give great honor to those who endure under suffering. For instance, you know about Job, a man of great endurance. You can see how the Lord was kind to him at the end, for the Lord is full of tenderness and mercy” (James 5:11, NLT)
I hope these simple observations will encourage you today as you deal with difficult people. I know the temptation is great to “fix” those challenging people, but keep in mind that God may be using those difficult people to knock a rough edge or two off of your character!