I knew a young man who had been a habitual cocaine user. God miraculously delivered him during a revival service, and soon he became enthusiastic for God. He didn’t touch cocaine for an entire year. As the religious high began to fade, however, he started using crack again.
I remember looking him in the eyes and saying, “God gave you a tremendous gift, completely removing your craving for cocaine, but it may not be nearly so easy the second time. The next time, God is likely to ask you to walk out of addiction rather than catapulting you out of it.”
While our natural tendency is to seek quick spiritual fixes, internally based change usually lasts much longer. What we need, ironically enough, is to be patient with ourselves as we learn patience. Climacus writes,
I cannot say why it is that some people appear to be naturally inclined to [be mild-mannered]. Others have to fight hard against their own natures to acquire [this], they have to force themselves on to the best of their ability, suffering occasional defeat on the way; and it seems to me that the very fact of having to struggle against their own natures somehow puts them into a higher category than the first kind.[i]
How do we grow in patience?
1. Accept Discomfort
The first step in learning to practice patience is accepting discomfort. Paul urges us to be “patient in affliction.”[ii] The growth of every virtue begins when we accept with humility what God allows to come our way.
This does not mean merely putting a lid on our anger and resentment; it means crucifying our anger through the virtues of surrender and detachment. When I was back in Virginia and faced my fifth consecutive day suffering from sinus congestion as the skies pressurized for the next thunderstorm, I reminded myself that this is the life God has chosen for me. No, I won’t get much work done this afternoon. No, I won’t be the life of the party with my kids. But this is the body God has given me. This is the climate in which God has placed me, and I need to accept it for now.
Since patience is born in acceptance and surrender, we have to be ruthless with our complaining.
“Put to death the disagreeable feelings which rise up inside of you when unpleasant things enter your life.”[iii]
Don’t entertain immature, unrealistic expectations. They’re wrecking your life. If you want your life back, you’ve got to rid yourself of fantasy.
2. Practice the Discipline of Forgiveness
Second, we need to practice the discipline of forgiveness. Paul tells Timothy that Christ’s patience is “unlimited.”[iv] Think about that: unlimited patience. There’s no breaking point with God. There’s no, “I’ve had it with you employees!” Why? God forgives us and lets us start over. Impatience erupts when we hang on to the past.
3. Extend the Same Grace You Received from God
Third, extend the same grace you have received from God. When I remind myself that my entire life has been two steps forward and one step back, or sometimes one step forward and two steps back, and yet God affirms me, loves me, and encourages me, I am more inclined to offer the same affirmation, love, and encouragement to those who try my patience. We’re not in heaven yet, and expecting our loved ones, coworkers, and strangers to live like we are is to set ourselves up for the poisonous anger that destroys us.
Beneath all this lies the need for wisdom. Proverbs 19:11 tells us,
“A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.”
Be the better woman! Be the better man!
4. Think About God More and People Less
Fourth, think about God more and people less. To enter the blessedness of patience is, in fact, to turn from wanting the world to love, cherish, and be kind toward us and to fall more deeply in love with God. “Learn to suffer all that happens to you—even confusion—but learn to do so out of only one motive: love for God.”[v] When a couple is on a date, infatuated and thrilled to be together, minor inconveniences become fun rather than traumatic. If they get caught in a downpour, they laugh. Their enjoyment of each other’s company is such that the rest of life isn’t nearly as important as the fact that they’re facing it together.
Live this life with God. God doesn’t promise a trouble-free existence in this world, but He does promise that He will never leave us alone and powerless in that trouble. This is your inheritance as a Christian. We’re told in Revelation that “patient endurance” is “ours in Jesus.”[vi] This is what God wants to give us, how He plans to rescue our life from this world.
Pray those short prayers that turn your focus toward God:
“Lord, help me love this challenging person.”
“Lord, help me be patient with my child.”
“Lord, help me get through this morning commute without poisoning my soul with anger.”
Instead of impatiently berating yourself for being less than your ideal, you’re patiently asking God to help you overcome a natural weakness. This is an expression of humility that builds our souls instead of ruining them.
The virtues of surrender, humility, and gentleness are thus key virtues that complement patience.
Learning to walk in fellowship with God, in the patient spirit of Christ, will turn our irritable souls into sanctuaries of peace, where the quiet glory of Emmanuel—God in us—steadily shines.
Taken from The Glorious Pursuit: Becoming Who God Created Us to Be by Gary Thomas. Copyright © 1998, 2020. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
[i] Climacus, Ladder of Divine Ascent, 234.
[ii] Romans 12:12.
[iii] Jeanne Guyon, Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ (Auburn, ME: The Seedsowers, 1975), 141.
[iv] 1 Timothy 1:16, EHV.
[v] Guyon, Experiencing the Depths, 140.
[vi] Revelation 1:9.