What’s your least favorite fruit?
Well, unpopular opinion alert here. I think my least favorite fruit these days is a banana. And I should probably be a little more specific. I particularly don’t like an overripe banana. In my opinion, any banana that has the smallest speck of brown on it should be put in a smoothie, turned into bread or thrown in the trash. But to eat it straight? Uh uh. No way.
This summer we’ve been doing a sermon series on the Fruit of the Spirit, good things, good qualities that God wants to grow in us and through us as we grow closer to Jesus and through the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit.
And sooner or later, we were bound to come across a less desirable fruit. In fact, when you look up and down this list, I sometimes wonder if Paul should have coined this list “the vegetables of the Spirit” – because in some respects that imagery would have made more sense to me. Where just like a vegetable or in my case an overripe banana, I know they’re good for me, I know I need more of them in my life, but they don’t taste all that good or go down all that easily.
And that’s kind of how I feel about our Fruit of the Spirit for today, as we talk about patience. For whatever reason, growing in patience and striving to be a more patient person feels like a lot of work and effort without all that clear of a payoff. And even more, there are so many moments in life where I don’t want to be patient, rather I want what I want and I want it now!
But yet, but yet, the more I think about it and the more I reflect on this fruit of patience, the more I am convinced of our need for it. And in addition, there’s an incredible need for you and I as followers of Jesus to demonstrate patience in an impatient world. And I hope that in 15 minutes or so, you’re convinced of the same.
And for our time together this morning, I don’t have a singular scripture that’s going to guide us all the way through, rather I want to highlight a couple key areas in our life where you and I are in greatest need of patience, and they’re kind of big catch all categories. And so here are two, and we’ll look at relevant scriptures as we go.
You and I need …
Patience with others
Patience in the struggle (waiting)
Let’s dive into the first – Patience with others.
This is very likely the area in our lives where the need for patience is most obvious. Truth is, you and I need patience with others for oh so many things.
We need patience with others when they annoy us or get on our nerves. We need patience with others when they have opinions or beliefs that baffle us. Patience when others are slow to change. Patience when the ones we love make the same mistakes and commit the same sins over and over and over again. Patience with our kids, our spouse, our neighbors, our co workers, the clerk behind the counter or with the person driving in front of us.
You and I need patience with so many people for so many reasons.
In just about every New Testament letter that the Apostle Paul writes, he implores his people towards patience. And this makes great sense, because relationships are messy and people are flawed, which requires patience. Patience is a relational oxygen of sorts, breathing life into relationships when times are tough. And if we are to have meaningful relationships of any kind, you and I have to grow in and practice patience. We have to.
So how do we exactly grow in patience? What exactly does it look like? What practical guidance does scripture give us?
Well, I think James captures the essence of patience so very well when he tells us this -
19 You must understand this, my beloved - let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.
Be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to become angry. So much of what it looks like to be patient is to practice these three things.
Maybe the hardest part of that command is the “quick to listen” part. There’s a sign at my in laws house that says, “My wife says I never listen to her … or something like that.” Yeah, well that sums it up pretty well. We often fail to listen, or at least fail to listen well.
To be patient means we are quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.
And so practically speaking, here might be a couple specific ways in which we live these principles out.
Say you’re having a tense conversation with someone, a disagreement of opinion or values or beliefs, maybe a simple way to be quick to listen is to simply ask a basic clarifying question, “Hey, can you help me better understand what you mean by that or where you’re coming from?” Often times, simply getting more information and context helps us to practice patience and be slow to angry.
Here’s another –
Take your time when responding. Often times in emotionally charged conversations or when it comes to making a difficult decision, we’re tempted to be impatient and respond right away. But it is perfectly fine in a heated moment to tell someone, “I need some time to think about this or I don’t think it’s wise for me to respond quite yet.”
There’s a person here at church who is often slow to respond to emails that I send and initially I was frustrated with their slow response and would find myself ironically enough getting impatient. But then this person mentioned that they were thinking through things so that they could have a more measured and ultimately helpful response, and having heard that, my perspective shifted as I found their slow response admirable rather than irritating.
Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for our anger does not produce God’s righteousness. Friends, think about the difference it would make in our politically charged, divisive world today if we simply heeded those words? My goodness, it would be an absolute game changer.
Friends, I want to give some homework, if that’s a thing and encourage you this week to ask someone who knows you well and ask them how they would assess you in terms of patience. And maybe ask more pointed questions, such as, with what people, in what moments, with what triggers do you see me struggling with patience most? And how does my impatience most often present itself – Is it through anger? Annoyance? Sarcasm? Judgment? Discontentment? Encourage you to have that conversation with someone you love and trust who knows you well.
And you all, make no mistake about it. Practicing and growing in patience is hard. There’s no doubt about it. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, calls the church to be patient with one another and then follows it immediately by saying, “bearing with one another in love.” That right there is in so many ways is the essence of patience, it’s a bearing with, a struggling with, a suffering with, a steadfast commitment with another. It’s hard, it’s a challenge, and ultimately patience is a form of love.
After all, think about 1 Corinthians 13, the passage you hear at virtually every single wedding, it begins by saying, “Love is patient.”
Patience is a display of love and one of the areas, maybe the most important area in our life where we practice patience is with others.
Now, here’s the second.
Patience in the struggle. (Waiting)
That’s a bit vague I know, but in it I’m try to capture another big part of our life where we need patience.
And that’s patience in life’s circumstances. Patience throughout hard times. Patience that things will get better, whether it be with your finances, your health or your job situation. Patience when change and growth and progress are slower than you like. Patience when it doesn’t seem like God is hearing your prayers.
Patience in the struggle. In some respects, patience in the struggle is learning to be patient with God and trust in His timing. I’ve had conversations with numerous people in our church whose health is uncertain, whose treatments don’t seem to be going according to schedule, and they’re struggling and wrestling with God trying to be patient in midst of trying circumstances.
You and I need to have patience in the struggle, or maybe another way to put it is patience in our waiting.
And of course, let’s name the obvious, the elephant in the room. And that is, the patience we need to endure everything having to do with COVID-19 and the uncertainty that surrounds it.
Lord knows, there has been and there will be so much we can be impatient about. Everything from, How long will we have to wear face masks? When will my kids be able to go back to school? To When will we worship in the sanctuary again? To When, for goodness sake’s will there be a vaccine?
When it comes to having patience in the struggle, we may very well need it now as much as ever.
Here I think again James is helpful as he encourages us to be patient, and he does so by having us consider the farmer and his crops. James says,
7 Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. 8 You also must be patient.
Think about how the comparison to the farmer informs our understanding of patience. For the farmer there are both things that are in and out of his control. Yes, he waits for the rain to come, and for the sun to shine, things that are out of his control. But he also plants the crop, tills the soil, harvests the grain, things that are in his control.
The same is true with us in this season. We’ve got things that are in and out of our control. And if we only focus on the things that are out of our control, we’re likely to get discouraged and get impatient. But if we focus on what is in our control, then we can move forward in hope even in midst of uncertainty.
So with that in mind, how do you want to grow in your faith in this season? What do you want to teach your kids? What do you want to see happen in your marriage? How can you use your time, talents and treasure for the good of this community?
Maybe it’s as simple as praying this prayer, by yourself and with others -
God, what do you want to do in us and through me in this season? What do you want to teach us? How do you want to change us? What do you want our church to look like in the weeks and months ahead?
If we focus on what’s in our control and ask God what he wants to do in us and through us in this season, it’ll help us be patient in the struggle, patient in the waiting.
Patience with others.
Patience in the struggle.
I’ll finish with this.
All of this is possible, or at the very least, all of this ought to be rooted in God’s patience with us.
When you step back and think about the overarching storyline of scripture, what you will see is a God who has been unbelievably patient with stubborn, hard hearted, rebellious people like you and me.
First there was Adam and Eve, commissioned to rule the world on God’s behalf. They rebelled against God and were cast out of the garden. Then there was Noah and the flood, God’s response to a world and people gone evil. Then there was Abraham, and Moses and David. All of whom had their faults, and yet God was patient throughout it all. Then Jesus comes on the scene, and he finds a ragtag group of teenagers who are slow to learn and slow to change, and he’s patient with them too.
The pastor at my previous church says that one of the ways you can sum up the story of the bible is that ‘God never gives up.’ That is to say, our God is unbelievably patient.
As Christians, here’s how we can be patient with others and how we can be patient in the struggle. It’s because God has been patient with us.
Friends, have you seen that in your own life, do you recognize that in yourself? Time and time again we sin, time and time again we fall short, and yet through Jesus’s death and resurrection, we’re accepted and welcomed time and time again with open arms.
And the more and more we see ourselves for who we are, sinful people loved by a sinless God, broken people loved by a perfect God, who has been patient with us throughout it all, even when we’ve been slow to change, how we can we not be patient with those around us? It’s because of God’s patience with us that we can be patient with others.
And in addition, we can be patient in the struggle, we can be patient in our waiting. As we look back on scripture, as we look back and see God’s faithful patience with his people throughout years. We can trust that he is good that he is loving even in the struggle.
The Apostle Paul says it better than I can when he says this -
1 Timothy 1:15-17
15 The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost. 16 But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost (perfect) patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.