I recently started using my phone to pay at the store. At the checkout, all you have to do is double tap on your phone’s fingerprint sensor, hold the phone up to the credit card reader, wait a second for the lights to flash green, and you’re done. The receipt comes flying out of the printer, and off you go. It’s one of those contemporary technologies that would astound my 16 year old self.
Except for when it doesn’t work. When it doesn’t work, you know what happens? I immediately feel anxious because it is not working! I start tapping the phone all over the reader trying to get it to connect. I turn off the payment function on my phone, then turn it back on. Maybe resetting it will help. If a reset doesn’t help, I feel tension growing inside me. Is the malfunction my fault? Is my phone not working? Is it the payment reader? Finally, in frustrated impatience, I pull out my credit card and insert it. What a pain it is to have to get out my wallet, then my card, then insert the card into the chip reader, then tap the debit PIN. Ugh. All that work.
I’m partly being facetious, but partly not. We humans can be very impatient, can’t we? Sometimes about minor annoyances like the payment reader not connecting with my phone. But sometimes we can be impatient about major realities in life.
In our continuing series on the Fruit of the Spirit, we are learning to walk in step with the Spirit, which means growing the Fruit of the Spirit in our lives. We’ve learned about growing love, joy, peace, and now this coming Sunday we’ll study what it means to grow patience.
What is patience?
The people who study languages tell us that the word Paul used here is defined as “a state of emotional calm in the face of provocation or misfortune and without complaint or irritation”
They also tell us that “In a number of languages ‘patience’ is expressed idiomatically, for example, ‘to remain seated in one’s heart’ or ‘to keep one’s heart from jumping’ or ‘to have a waiting heart’.”
This week we’re going to learn that Scripture says quite a lot about patience. First Scripture teaches us that God is patient. Paul wrote in Romans 2:4, “Do you show contempt for the riches of [God’s] kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?”
God is our example. God never asks us to do something that he himself did not first demonstrate for us. As we learned recently in the Ezekiel series, God was extremely patience with the nation of Israel. He is patient with us too.
Patience is a part of God’s character. That means Jesus was patient. Imagine being Jesus, living a no-name life for 30 years. Maybe when Jesus was a kid, he knew that he wasn’t ready to go out on his own and have a preaching and healing ministry. But what about when he turned 20? Or 25? Of course, the culture of First Century Jewish Palestine was very different from our culture. We are used to pushing our kids to make a name for themselves as soon as possible.
We’re rarely patient with our kids. We want them to be superstars when they are still tiny, as if it is a major achievement that they got their first tooth at three months, or are reading by two years old.
Our culture breeds this impatience in us, pushing us so early on. I remember taking one of those career tests in 9th grade, where you’re supposed to find out what you are going to do with the rest of your life. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life in 9th grade. The only desire I had at that point was to be like Maverick in Top Gun and fly F-14 Tomcats for the Navy. But because my eyesight is so bad, I knew that wasn’t happening. How many of us knew what we wanted to do with the rest of our lives in 9th grade, and then actually did it?
I like the phrase, “Better to be a late bloomer than a flash in the pan.” Sure, the rare person achieves greatness at a young age, but most don’t. In fact, the popular people, the early achievers usually flame out. I’d rather be a late bloomer. That requires patience. I suspect Jesus was a late bloomer.
In Jesus’ culture there wasn’t much pressure to pick your career early, as more than likely, you’d do what your father did. But Jesus was different, right? It’s possible that he was identified as having a special mind early on, and some scholars believe that he could have been tapped to go to elite rabbinical schools. We don’t know. What we do know is that he would have learned his father, Joseph’s trade, some form of carpentry or more likely masonry, which was the more prevalent kind of construction.
Because his father, Joseph, does not appear in the stories of Jesus’ adult life, we believe Joseph had passed away, and Jesus being the eldest son, could have fulfilled the role of taking over the family business and making sure his mother, Mary, and siblings were cared for. You know what I am describing here? A totally normal life.
Even if he did go to the elite schools, at some point Jesus moved back to Nazareth, which was a tiny town in the northern Galilee region of Jerusalem. It was a nothing-special kind of town. You don’t come from Nazareth if you want a chance at stardom, and you certainly don’t go there if you want to make a name for yourself. But that’s exactly what Jesus did, and likely for years. Jesus was patient. Very patient.
I find Jesus’ example highly instructive, because we can want the next thing, or a bigger thing, a better thing, and we want it now. Yesterday would be better. Our American culture is not one that builds patience in our lives. Certainly circumstances can force us to work on becoming more patient, but our culture is all about faster, faster, faster.
Last week, I was sitting in my living room, and I heard a voice from on high, “Dad!!! The wifi isn’t working!!!” My daughter was in her room upstairs and her use of social media was suddenly interrupted. Maybe you know the feeling. When the internet is down, what happens? We freak out. Then there is the new world of email and text message etiquette. When you send a text message asking a question of someone, how long do you wait for them to respond before you start getting upset?
We are called to become like Jesus, which means we will cultivate patience. But how? In the next post, we’ll learn more.
 Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 306.