A teacher told me about arriving at school one morning, to see a group of little children ripping down the blossom buds of a tree and tearing them apart. It looked incredibly destructive and violent, so the teacher stopped them and asked "What are you doing?" The children replied "We're trying to find the flower inside."
These children weren't deliberately being destructive. They thought the flowers were hiding in there, not realising that the only way the fully formed flowers would emerge is by patiently waiting for them to grow and develop.
Patience isn’t that you don’t have a goal or a hope for the future. Patience sees that future, and doesn’t sabotage it by thoughtless action or abandoning that future. Patience holds the tension between what could be and the reality of our limitations.
Impatience says “Something has to happen! I have to do something, or someone else has to do something”. It doesn’t see what might be happening already.
Sometimes we are impatient with ourselves because we want to be more powerful or competent. It takes hours of practice to master music, but lots of students get annoyed they can’t do it and don’t put in the hours. We can get impatient with ourselves in spiritual areas and give up.
Patience with picking up a new skill is different to patience when out of control.
James chapter five gives us some good metaphors: gardening, farming and being in nature teaches us patience – the farmer knows he has work to do, but also that there are elements out of his control. The early rain softens the ground, so the farmer can plant the seed; the late rain waters the seed so it can grow. In both cases, the farmer can’t hurry up the process.
Patience often means being at peace with being out of control. Our greatest challenge is to learn patience with ourselves.
This passage also draws our attention to God’s coming and judgment. We are warned not to grumble against others, because God is the judge, not us.
When we are grumbling, we are making a judgment.
Impatience makes us want to blame someone or something – the future hope hasn’t happened, and I want to know why! You get stuck in a queue at the shops and you want to know if you can blame the checkout chick or the "Karen" demanding to see the manager. If I’m not impatient about myself, then I look to blame others and I appoint myself judge.
The opposite of patience is judgment. Patience says “I will let God judge others, but I won’t jump to conclusions.” Beware we don’t jump in before God has a say!
James 5 reminds us of the story of Job, a man who had the worst of circumstances – losing his wealth, his family, and his health. He couldn’t see any reason for it, and got no communication from God on the topic until the very end of the book. He was genuinely angry and frustrated with his circumstances and with God. Yet, when he was told to give up on God, he wouldn’t.
Stuart Murray describes our role like this: “This I believe is the primary task of the church…to offer hope humbly, graciously, gently, and winsomely. Hope must be realistic, not triumphalistic. It must be sensitive to the pain and disorientation of the present as well as confident in God’s future. It is hope rooted in the story of Israel and culminating in the story of Jesus…”
How is your patience?