TODAY’S VERSE TO PONDER: Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. – Romans 12:12 (HCSB)
I must confess: I am not a patient person.
I am keenly aware of my strengths and weaknesses as a human being and as a follower of Christ; thus, I know full-well that I struggle with patience. So, I also knew that writing this particular chapter in this series on Romans 12:12 would force me to take an unvarnished look at myself and my personal impatience.
Thankfully, I take some comfort in knowing I am not alone in this very human imperfection. Thankfully, too, I know the best and truest way to develop patience: God. As I grow and mature as a Christ follower, I know that I will get more skilled in the art of being patient with God, with others and with myself.
I just have to be willing to do the necessary work on my faith to refine that particular “fruit of the Spirit.”
We human beings are not naturally wired to be patient. Scientific study has clearly proven that our human instinct is to make choices quickly in pursuit of smaller, short-term “rewards” – instant gratification – rather than wait patiently for a greater reward over the long haul. The old adage “good things come to those who wait” is too often considered a quaint, outdated sentiment in our fast-paced culture.
Technology certainly isn’t helping matters. One recent study of internet viewing habits by the University of Massachusetts showed that many online users waiting for videos to start streaming “lose patience in as little as two seconds.” Our society is bombarded with so many choices for instant gratification that we have been conditioned to want every stimuli and every answer to every question NOW!
As Christ followers we must accept – and I would argue, we should celebrate – that God doesn’t work like our smartphones. Psalm 27:14 (NIV) instructs us to “be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” God works His plan and His purpose in our lives in His perfect timing, which often seems to us like an eternity – especially when we are going through tough times. God, however, is always faithful.
The Bible also tells us that “the Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9, NIV) For this, we should be thankful that God doesn’t instantly give us everything we want, because He also doesn’t instantly give us everything we deserve.
God doesn’t rain down His judgment on us immediately when we are willfully and arrogantly disobedient to His desire for us. He is patient as we take our time to choose to ask His forgiveness, accept Jesus Christ as our savior, and start to make amends for our mess-ups. God models for us how we should live as Christ followers.
A new study released this spring by the University of California at Berkeley employed MRI technology to show that “imagination is a pathway to patience.” In two experiments, scientists found that the imagination centers of the brain were activated when people were given a choice between receiving $100 cash the next day or more money if they would wait 30 days. Participants were given the chance to imagine what they might do with the greater reward, and imagining the outcome before acting on impulse seemed to increase patience among participants.
A very similar principle may be applied by those of us among the family of Christ followers (myself included) who struggle with the instruction to “wait for the Lord.”
Instead of acting on our impulse and expecting a “quick-fix” when we are faced with pain, struggles, anger, disappointment, and assorted other “afflictions,” what if we stopped in our tracks and imagined the outcome if we simply prayed for God’s will to be done? What if we poured ourselves into His Word when we get angry or discouraged? What if we said, “Lord, take this burden from me” and waited patiently for God to act?
In this age of instant gratification, it is counter-intuitive to apply the brakes to our very human tendencies to get angry, get even, get loud, get discouraged, get fatalistic, get sinful (whatever that might look like to each of us). I confess: as I was sitting down to write this post today and began studying my Scripture, I had to push back against my own instincts, my own disobedience, and choose to do the right thing after making a choice earlier that I knew in my heart was not pleasing to God.
So, it’s an ongoing process. Patience is a choice, a hard-won skill that as Christ followers we have to practice in spite of our human imperfections. In Ephesians, the Apostle Paul writes that we are to “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18) and that patience is among the “fruit of the Spirit” when we continually and intentionally fill the Holy Spirit.
For me, I feel more patient – and loving, joyful, peaceful, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and otherwise “fruitful” – when I am intentional about prayer, Bible study, service to others, and gathering in fellowship and worship with others. I have to work at practicing my spiritual disciplines, and most of us Christ followers do too.
So, the next time you’re feeling impatient, just as I felt today, try this: Stop and imagine the long-term reward if, instead of choosing the short-term impulses of impatience and disobedience, we try filling the Holy Spirit with actions and thoughts we know are pleasing to God and simply “be strong and take heart and wait on the Lord.”