“Count it all joy, my friends, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces patience.” James 1:2-3
Patience is the topic this week. I can hear the groans. Patience is an irritating subject for most of us because we’re convinced that we’ve already been patient enough. We’re ready for resolution. To be told to stay patient is simply exasperating.
What’s really irritating about patience is that the need for it never runs out. We’re all going to need patience for some issue in life. Always. So the best piece of indisputably accurate advice for anyone facing difficulty is “be patient.” And that is irritating.
We can break the topic down a little bit. Think about where you need patience in your life right now.
Do you need patience with people? The New Testament has a word for that: makrothumia, a combination of two words: makro which means long, and thumos which means anger. The idea is that the patient person takes a long time to become angry.
Paul used this word in 1 Corinthians 13:4 as his first description of the qualities of love. Love is patient. If we’re going to love another person then we’re going to love an imperfect person. No one does everything the way I want. We all come with challenges, big and small. So love must be patient.
A young father in a supermarket was pushing a shopping cart with his little son, who was strapped in the front. The little boy was fussing, irritable, and crying. The other shoppers gave the pair a wide berth because the child would pull cans off the shelf and throw them out of the cart. The father seemed to be very calm; as he continued down each aisle, he murmured gently: "Easy now, Donald. Keep calm, Donald. Steady, boy. It's all right, Donald."
A mother who was passing by was greatly impressed by this young father's solicitous attitude. She said, "You certainly know how to talk to an upset child—quietly and gently." And then bending down to the little boy, she said, "What seems to be the trouble, Donald?" "Oh no," said the father. "He's David. I'm Donald."
Let’s give Donald some credit. He was trying to be patient in the sense of makrothumia. By the way, this form of patience applies to ourselves as well. We’re going to make mistakes, and constantly beating ourselves up for our flaws does not make us better people. Be patient with all people, including yourself.
Do you need patience with circumstances? The New Testament has a word for that! It’s hupothume. It’s the word used in James 1:3 that can be translated as steadfastness or endurance. When faced with difficult circumstances we don’t give up. We’re patient. We’re trusting. We endure.
This word has another important facet to it. It’s associated with hope. Patience with people involves more of an acceptance of them, and not an active anticipation that they will change. That expectation can easily morph into a resentment when no change occurs. So we simply accept people where they are.
Hupomone expects change. The image is not simply of a person sitting in the midst of the storm. It’s a person leaning into the wind, not giving up, and expecting deliverance. Hupomone has the idea that something good is coming. It is patience combined with divine optimism.
So James would later write “blessed is the man who endures (hupomone) trial.” This is one of the greatest mysteries of Christian spirituality. Our hope is never based on the removal of all vexations. We will have trials, one after another. Jesus said, “in the world you will have trouble.” We all know that. What we forget, or misunderstand, is the rest of that saying, “but rejoice, for I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). We find peace in Christ, not in a world that caters to our every whim.
God will save us. He will. He may remove the storm, or He may ride it through with us. The greatest blessing is to accept joyfully either of the options He chooses. This acceptance is patience.
The fact of the matter is we usually focus on the lingering irritations of life and lose hope. We regularly forget all the ways the storms around us either have been stilled or that God has given us strength to survive them.
God is in the long-term business. He is working out all things, but the working out takes a very long time. We take a picture of one brief segment of the process and throw up our hands. God’s response is simply “be patient.”
I recently heard someone say “In the end everything will be ok. If it’s not ok right now, it’s not the end.” James wrote that we will receive the crown of life after all the testing. That eternal perspective doesn’t remove the present difficulty, but isn’t it good to remember that we’re not created merely for the present moment? We’re destined for eternity, and there everything will be ok.
So what do you need most right now? Patience with people? Or with circumstances? Probably both. Either way, be patient. As Winnie the Pooh said, “Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We will get there some day.”
Dr. Terry Ellis
August 21, 2016