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Patience (Mark Smith)

I don’t know about you, but I’ve struggled over the years trying to understand more completely this concept of the way that the Holy Spirit becomes evident in our lives.

In my simple thinking, I have kind of laid it out this way, it all begins with God’s love, which is the foundation, the impetus for everything that follows. Scripture tells us how God creates and provides and protects his people. Because of our nature, we continually turn from God. But then God will send his only Son Jesus, to give us a way to return to our creator and his love.

Our job, our only job, is to believe and trust and obey. God does everything else. It can be a simple as the prayer that Chad taught us: Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner. Scripture tells us that believers then are infused or inhabited by the Holy Spirit and that the Spirit allows that fruit to become evident and useful in our lives, for the strengthening of God’s kingdom where we are. I know this is a very simplistic outline, and we have skipped over huge parts of the truths of Scripture, but in terms of the fruit of the Spirit this is the way I see it.

So today we focus on patience. You may have noted that almost all these manifestations of the fruit of the spirit overlap with each other; if you’re patient, you will probably also be gentle and have self-control. If you are loving, you may well be gentle and kind. So, the signs of the fruit of the Spirit are not mutually exclusive, but mutually dependent. So, that’s how this old Presbyterian tries to understand these deep God-principles.

I started volunteering at the church about 10 years ago when Jim Davis was our pastor. Early on, Jim began to encourage me that I needed to study the ancient languages of the Bible to become more familiar with ancient Hebrew and biblical Greek; he finally wore me down, and I took his classes in Greek and then later on a class in Hebrew. Jim was right, there is great richness to understanding the original languages of the bible: English translations sometimes don’t justice to the original writings. So, II went back to the original writings about patience in the Scriptures, hoping to see what the original writers really meant, how they saw the concept of patience. It turns out there’s actually no word for patience in ancient Hebrew; apparently the concept was fairly uncommon and of the few instances where the idea of patience appears, it is most often in reference to God and his patience. The way that Hebrew most commonly explains patience refers to slowing down or stretching out. One of my favorite phrases for patience describe it as a stretching out of the nose, which I assume means taking a deep breath. (Demonstrate breathing). Being patient, for the Jews, means slowing down your breathing, stretching out your nose.

Now by the time of the Greek New Testament, there was actually a word for patience, and it truly means the same thing in modern English. So here is our working definition for patience today:

Patience is enduring discomfort without complaining. Enduring simply means to wait, to let some time pass without expecting immediate gratification. Discomfort means that there is a cost; patience is not meant to be easy, it requires effort, it is a burden of sorts. Without complaining means to wait with anticipation, with hope, with trust that things will turn out OK. Another curious sidenote is that in the Greek and also in many modern languages the words for Wait and Hope are the same; it is simply assumed that if you were waiting you were hoping and if you were hoping you were waiting.

Perhaps you know a few stories about patience from Sunday School.

You might recall how God promised Abraham and Sarah that they would have children, although it never had happened for them.

It was a brash promise considering that at the time, Abraham was 86 years old. But just a few chapters later, we hear the miraculous story of Sarah giving birth to their son Isaac. An item not commonly discussed is that Abraham was 100 years old when Sarah delivered Isaac. Abraham had waited 14 years for God’s promise to be kept. There’s no record of him complaining or whining or revisiting any doubt or apprehension with God about this long delay. He simply endured the discomfort without complaining; he waited and hoped. He was patient.

You may know another story of patience from the gospel of Luke, a parable of the Prodigal Son from Jesus about a patient father and his selfish son.

We were never told how long the prodigal son was away from home, but the implication is that it was a long time, involving squandering of money, working with pigs, and enduring famine.

Imagine enduring, waiting without complaint the absence of a loved one, hoping for their return, especially one who had parted on unhappy terms. Imagine waiting all that time and hoping that a good outcome might follow. The father had a long time to wait, and little reason to hope. No wonder the father felt the need to celebrate with a party.

Perhaps the story of the prodigal son does not have patience as its central theme, but the parable would be incomplete without the father’s enduring the discomfort of separation without complaining. He waited and he hoped. He was patient.

In fact, that is the real beauty, the real blessing of patience. Patience blesses us with God’s outcomes, perhaps not with the timing or style that we would’ve chosen, but in the timing and style that God has chosen. There is no doubt that Abraham waiting on the fulfillment of God’s covenant must have wondered how this would end. And the father of the prodigal son waiting on the return of his wayward son must have found that patience was a hard discipline. But in God’s time their patience was rewarded, all ended as it was always meant to end. Their patience, our patience, it gives room to God build on their endurance and their hope, as he willed it. Giving time and room and permission to God to love us and provide for us, perhaps in ways we would not expect or choose; that’s a gift, a gift we give to ourselves and a blessing to those around us.

Perhaps that is what all these manifestations these fruits of the Holy Spirit do for us and for our world; they give room for God to work in his way and his time. Perhaps our love, our joy, our patience, our kindness, our goodness, our self- control: they all allow us to step back and make a way for God to move; not only in our lives, but in the lives of others.

I would like to think of in practical terms today how the fruit of the spirit is manifested in our lives. The fruit of the spirit is a gift from God; a gift inserted into our hearts and minds that we might reveal Christ to people around us. These gifts are like licenses, like authorizations to display these traits in the way that we deal with each other and the world around us. We have all been given, in one measure or another, these gifts of the fruit of the spirit; but for them to be effective, we must apply them and employ them. I suspect many of you, like me, are unsure which of the fruit are most applicable to us. Some of these marks of the fruit of the Spirit will be more evident to ourselves than others will be. But in the same way that if we are granted a driver’s license but never actually drive a car, we’ve wasted that gift that permission, that opportunity. It takes deliberate intention and effort to allow these gifts to emanate from us, so that the fruit of the Holy Spirit would be clear to us and to others we meet. We have been given permission, by our faith and the receiving of the Holy Spirit, to develop and enlarge and expand these gifts.

Remember, these are the very gifts beautifully manifested in the life of Christ as he lived and taught and was crucified and resurrected, all the while displaying his humanity as he lived among ordinary people, and yet completed a life defined by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

So, I offer one last bit of advice in learning how to reveal the fruit of the spirit in our daily lives. Some people, like me, might say, you know I just really don’t have patience in me. One might say: I don’t know how to make it happen and although I know I have permission to display this fruit of the spirit, I am simply not a person whose style is to be patient, or kind, or gentle, or self-controlled.

How might we develop a strategy to become better at these personality traits that clearly mean so much to God and to the world around us? How do we allow the fruit of the spirit to become evident in our lives, if, not because we oppose it, but simply that we are not very good at it

You may have noticed that in our church we frequently refer to CS Lewis, a Christian writer from the middle of the last century who is very adept at explaining Christian life to his readers. Lewis actually addresses this very problem, our natural disinclination to allowing the fruit of the spirit to become manifest in our lives, not because we think it is wrong, but simply that we’re afraid we won’t be able to bear this particular fruit. Lewis has a chapter in his book Mere Christianity called Let’s Pretend. His proposal is this: that although we are called to be Christians it may not be our natural predisposition, our style, to mirror Jesus’ behavior.

Although in our minds, we can intellectually appreciate that patience is a valuable fruit of the spirit, we don’t feel it in our hearts, and don’t trust ourselves to practice patience well. So, since it may not be our nature to routinely display this fruit of the Spirit, Lewis suggests that we pretend. For example, if it is not your personality nature to be patient, pretend that you are patient. Think about the ways that a patient person would behave, and then behave that way, even if it feels awkward and un-natural to you. Lewis points out that this is the way that children learn, by playing games of pretending to be mommies and daddies, pretending to be cowboys or doctors or policeman. They pretend and they learn through their pretending what it feels like to grow into adult with responsibility and purpose and worth. This pretending is not deception, no child really thinks they will be mistaken for an adult. It is practice: practice to become something we are not. Lewis suggests that the more we practice and pretend that we actually are loving, joyful, peaceful, patience, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled, the sooner these traits will become a part of our God-ordained personality.

This is a good kind of pretending, where the pretense leads up to the real thing. Let’s imagine, for the moment, that perhaps you were like me, and there are times when you are driving on a road, and someone passes you at a frightening speed, takes dangerous chances. At that moment, not patience, but anger, leaps from your heart to your lips. Let’s imagine further, in that moment that you are inspired by the ancient Hebrew scripture authors, and lengthen your nose, take a deep breath, and then pretend that you are patient person. Imagine what a patient person would say or do in such a situation. A patient person might think: well, maybe that driver is hurrying to an emergency, or I’m in no rush, I’ll let him or her slide as they are clearly in a frenzy to get somewhere, or maybe the safest thing is for me just to pull over and ensure that we are all safe. You are pretending that you are a patient person, and Lewis would contend that if you continue to practice this kind of thinking, patience will take begin to take root in your heart and become a part of your very being. Patience will, slowly but surely, become your default reaction when patience is required.

This kind of pretending, this practicing, is not only acceptable; it is necessary for us to grow, and develop, and expose the fruit of the spirit God has licensed us, permitted us, to reveal to our world.

So that is my challenge to you today, and for the weeks to come, as we explore patience and these other marks of the fruit of the spirit. Try pretending. Try practicing; and be consistent enough with it that eventually you become better at it, more skilled, more effective. Let your nose grow, pretend that your nose is longer than it is, pretend that you can lengthen your breath further than you thought you could. Allow the fruit of the spirit to bloom and grow. God has given you permission, given you license to use these gifts, to put them to work in your life. Take advantage of the fruit of the spirit: it is God’s gift to you, and to the world around you. Let's pray.

Father God we give thanks that you have given us the gift of our very lives, your creation, your provision, and especially the life and death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now we ask you to allow the Holy Spirit to inhabit our hearts and our minds so that the fruit of your spirit will become evident in the day-to-day events of our world. Where we are weak, give us strength and confidence; where we are strongest, refine our skills. And in all events, allow the fruit of the spirit to be such a part of our daily lives that it will be as natural as taking deep breaths. We ask it all in Christ name and all God’s people in one voice said: amen.

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