Oh Merciful Patience!
“Patience is a virtue” they say, I’m not quite sure who ‘they’ are, but as I join the applause and celebrate this God-quality, I am so very aware of the ‘duck quick’ mentality we have for patience, the closest we get is ‘Hurry up and WAIT!’
Louisa (my co-teacher) and I rigged bible study this last week to help the gals ‘get into character’ for teaching on patience. Before entering the room, there was a sign that read (boringly so) “Form One Line and Take a Number” The gals did just that, took a number and stood along the wall. Louisa and I stood at the head of the line, smiling, chatting, drinking coffee and ever so ignoring the line forming. Then a few minutes PASS the time our gathering is to start, numbers were read off, “Numbers 1-3 you may go in…” Our goal as the women FINALLY took their seats was to simulate how quickly non-patience can occur. They felt the frustration with the circumstance and the personnel up front. Patience.
In the New Testament there are two main kinds of patience mentioned, and often seem to be interchangeable according to the different translations. “…bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father.” Paul, Col 1:10-12 (emphasis mine) Endurance, (‘hupomone’ in the Greek) is patience in circumstances, the quality of ‘steadfastness.’ Some would say … staying power. That is hupomone. This ‘staying power’ is motivated by HOPE. It is the characteristic of a man(or woman) who is not swerved from their deliberate purpose, sustaining through to the end. Keep, keeping on.
Endurance, perseverance, patience, we’ve heard it defined as ‘staying up under pressure.’ But it is much more, it isn’t just standing there, surviving (if you will) it is applying pressure, a leaning into. So when conflict or tough circumstances come our way, we don’t just merely stand there holding it up, we are leaning into it. What happens when we exert energy? Muscles are used and muscles are strengthened. Right? Metaphorically – our spiritual muscles are exercised and strengthened as we lean into – against in the midst of uncomfortable circumstances.
There is a prime example of endurance that pointed to hope in the Old Testament, Noah. Genesis chapter 8, they have been out on the water for a very long time, can you image all the ‘poo’ on board and how many rounds of ‘Row, row row your boat’ they sang. After 40 days Noah opens a window and sends a raven out, it flew around, coming back with nowhere to land. Later he sent out a dove, with the same results. Then, v10 “He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark.” Noah waited. Verse 11, When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. 12 He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.” Looking at this we’d think Noah got really good at ‘waiting.’ But you see his waiting changes. After the lack of results the first couple of times, he waited and tried again, this ‘waiting’ is the Hebrew word, ‘kuhl’ (pronounced ‘cool’) which means to dance or writhe in pain… to twirl in motion, painting the picture of to ‘wring the hands.’ This is a painful waiting. But the next time, the dove he sent returned with an olive leaf in its beak. Verse 12, He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again. This ‘waited’ is completely different; it is ‘ya-hawl’ – HOPE. Noah waited with hope, gone are the wringing of the hands. He had hope! I love the end of verse 12, “But this time…” in the midst of HOPE. Isaiah speaks of this too, “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those … (BUT THOSE) who hope (ya-hawl) in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (40:29-31) The writer of Hebrews: “So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere (hupomone) so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised.” (10:35,36) The King James says: “For ye have need of patience” We have to fulfill the ‘need’ to get the ‘you will.’
The fruit of the Spirit, is love, joy, peace… patience. God inspired the word Paul used here not ‘hupomone’ (though defiantly a quality of the Spirit, we determined that) BUT Paul uses ‘makrothumia.’ Makrothumia unlike hupomone which is patience in circumstances, inspired by hope, makrothumia is patience with PEOPLE, inspired by MERCY. Remember the parable Jesus tells in Matthew 18, the King has a servant who owed a large sum of money, when the debt was called, the servant fell on his knees before the King. “Be patient (Makrothumia) with me!” he begged. The King offered mercy, holding back punishment, releasing him. As soon as the servant went out, he found a friend that owed HIM money, he too called the debt, the friend begged the same, “Be patient with me…” But the servant refused mercy and put the friend in prison. The King heard of this, summoning the servant, stating I gave you mercy, shouldn’t you have given mercy as well. What an amazing picture, the unmerciful servant. Patience is motivated by mercy. May we too ‘remember when…’ When God has patience with us!
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.(Makrothumia) Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Col. 3:12-14, again I emphasis) And “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, (makrothumia) bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Eph 4:1-3) Both verses seem to repeat… especially the phrase ‘bearing with one another.’ The word is ‘anecho’ in the Greek. It literally means ‘to put up with’ – but not just that, it is holding back, to hold in. STOP! Patience is not only about what we ‘DO’ but what we don’t. Patience is RESTRAINT. God’s mercy is withholding what we do deserve, where His grace is giving us what we do not. One hand pushes forward in giving, the other holds back in restraint. Patience.
“Take My yoke upon you. Let Me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” – Matt. 11:29-30 When fitting the ox with the yoke, it is BEST that the ox raises its head up into the yoke for the most comfortable and easy fit. This comes by time and trust, that the animal is willing to voluntarily lift their head to the master. If forced down by the master, the fit could cause irritation, causing the ox to lean, favoring one side and not work at full potential. Jesus says, ‘Take My yoke… for My yoke is easy to bear.” May we rise up into His yoke. God is SO patient with us.
To pray for patience sounds a bit risky (in all honesty) do we really want to point out, wave in the direction of patience? Perhaps we too, like Noah was, in a ‘painful waiting’, may God show us the ‘olive leaf’ leading us to hope! Let’s ask God to remind us of the patience & mercy He has for us. As the verses above declare, the bearing with one another is done in ‘love.’ Love through us Lord.
In Him, DeDe (“Let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love & good deeds.” – Heb. 10:24)