Monday morning I drove down to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to visit with Kathy Sternfeld who, as you heard was being treated for serious kidney issues. Kathy is home now but has suffered with this ailment for as long as I have known her—and is very thankful for the excellent care she has received at Bethesda over the years. I hope you’ll join me in continuing to pray for her.
Now—it had been a while since we’ve had anyone at Walter Reed—and I had heard rumors that it has becoming increasingly difficult to get on the base to visit someone—but I cast those rumors all aside. I thought, “I’ve visited people there hundreds of times—I’m the pastor—I’ll have no issues visiting with Kathy.” So, I drove into Gate #2—where I have always entered before. I showed my drivers license and told the guard I was a pastor and had come to visit someone in my church who was in the hospital. But, instead of being waved right through—the guard told me I would need to exit the base—and head back north on Wisconsin avenue and enter through Gate #1. He told me they have a new procedure for visitors to get into the hospital.
Now you have to get a pass at the new visitor center before being allowed on base. He saw the perplexed look on my face and assured me I would have no problem. All I had to do is drive in Gate #1—and I’d see the new center. I could park in the new parking lot—go inside and get a pass and head for the hospital to see Kathy. Easy – Peasy So, I made a U-turn and headed for Gate #1. But—way before I got to the actual gate, I came to the end of a long line of cars waiting on Wisconsin Avenue to enter Gate #1. I sat in line for nearly an hour until I finally got close enough to see the cause of the hold up. The new visitor’s center was there alright—but in its “infinite wisdom” the planners had put a parking lot there with only five spaces—five spaces for a hospital that size—not to mention the med school and all the other things on that base—FIVE SPACES.
Well, I had to wait my turn to get my car into one of those precious spaces—which I eventually did. Once I parked, I rushed inside the building under the watchful—impatient eyes—of the people who were still waiting in the long line of cars behind me. Inside I found five MVA-style windows—which should have given me a hint as to how things would go. I saw a sign that said, “Please check in at Window #1.” So—I headed there—-only to find it vacant with a sign that said, “Please check in at window #3.” At window #3 three was a sign that said, “Please check in at window #5.” Well at that point I just picked a random window to find someone who could tell me how to get my visitor’s pass. I could see that behind the desk were about six or seven soldiers—none of whom seemed to know what he was doing. I guess everyone is still learning how to make this new visitor’s center with its five parking spaces work. Well, I finally got a soldier’s attention and told him I needed to visit someone in the hospital. With a perplexed look on his face he asked a fellow soldier what to do. This other soldier said, “You need to check the list to see if the person he wants to see is really here. After all, he could actually be a spy posing as a pastor.” Just kidding about that last sentence. Anyway, even though she had already been there several days he couldn’t find Kathy on the list. I assured them she was a patient—so the other guy suggested, “Call the hospital.” He did—and in about five minutes the person on the other end of the phone found her registered and gave her room number. The first guy said, “What do I do now?” Pointing at me, the other guy said, “He has to be vetted. Give him a form to fill out. Remember, he could be a spy posing as a pastor.” I got the lengthy form, filled it out—both sides—turned it in and was told to grab a seat and wait. I did that—and in about ten more minutes they called my name and I had my pass. I hurried to my car knowing dozens of other people were waiting to grab my parking space—and finally made my way to the parking garage behind the main hospital. With my patience worn very thin—after well over an hour I found my patient. FINALLY, I got to Kathy’s room and we had a good visit. We talked about her situation and caught up on our families. She had a procedure while I was there so Mike and I had time to talk in the hallway. When it was over we re-entered the room visited a little longer and then we prayed together before I left.
As I made my way to my car—God tenderly planted a thought in my mind. He said, “All this time you spent waiting is not wasted—after all, you got an introduction for this week’s sermon!”—which, as you just heard, I did—because today as we continue our study of the fruit of the Spirit we come to PATIENCE—the fruit I was having a hard time bearing this past Monday.
Let’s read our text. Once again, I’ve removed the fruit we’ve studied so far. Let’s see how you do.
Galatians 5:22 – the fruit of the Spirit is , joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 – ________________ and – . Against such things there is no law.
Let’s start our study by defining this fruit.
The word we translate as “patience” or “forbearance” is “macrothumia” in the Greek. It’s made up of two words: “macro” — meaning “long” and “thumia” meaning “temper” or “explosion.” A synonym would be “long-suffering” which means it takes a lot to make you lose your temper. A patient person has a long fuse instead of a short one. It’s a long time before they “explode.” He or she is slow to become angry—amidst the frustrations of life—like being forced to wait 90 minutes to get inside and see someone in the hospital. Charlie Brinkman, who I think is an excellent example of a patient person, delivered a wonderful sermon on this spiritual fruit about six years ago—and in it he gave some other great synonyms for this particular fruit: “endurance,” “persistence” and “perseverance.” Charlie also shared what I think is a perfect definition. He said patience is, “the capacity of quality of enduring pain, difficulty, provocation or annoyance with calmness. It’s the quality of persevering; of calmly awaiting an outcome; of not being hasty or impulsive.” As we’ve learned thus far in our study—when we bear the fruit of patience and love and self-control and gentleness—we are becoming more like our Lord. After all, these are fruits of HIS Spirit. And we see tons of examples of the patience of our Lord in His book.
- God gave the people of the world 120 years to repent before He sent the flood.
Think of it. Noah’s neighbors spent twelve decades watching that ark be built and hearing him preach, calling for their repentance, before God sent the waters to cover the earth.
- Another example is God’s patience toward the sinful Ninevites. Do you remember how frustrated Jonah was with this fruit of God’s Spirit?
- And do you recall God’s statement to Abram in Genesis 15 concerning the Amorites? They were inhabiting the promised land—but rather than immediately wipe them out. God chose to wait for over 400 years to bring judgment on them. These enemies of God would be displaced as God settled His chosen people in the land He had promised them. But they didn’t need to remain enemies. In His longsuffering—His forbearance—His patience, God gave them ample time to turn from their wickedness and be forgiven.
And of course Jesus—God become flesh—showed His patience constantly—especially in dealing with His first disciples.
- Do you remember how calmly he responded to those quarrelling brothers James and John—and to Peter, who was always putting his foot in his mouth.
- Jesus spoke of God’s patience toward the people of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday when, as He wept He said, “Jerusalem Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings and you were not willing.”
- Later that week our Lord patiently endured beatings and crucifixion so that we can be forgiven.
I could go on citing examples but the fact is God is patient with you and me every minute of every day. Paul refers to this in Romans 2 when he says to his rebellious readers, “Do you show contempt for the riches of [God’s] kindness, tolerance, and patience?” And to you remember 2nd Peter 3:9? It says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” So—just like all the other fruit—the better we learn to be patient—the more we become like our Lord. Of course, we all struggle with this particular fruit—especially here in the good ole U. S. of A. In his message Charlie wisely pointed out that Americans are known around the world as impatient people. David Jeremiah says this is because we have made speed a “god” — and of course both of these men are right. In our age of hyper-connectivity, patience is becoming a lost art. More and more we expect things to happen immediately.
You know, I’m old fashioned in that, I like to send snail mail cards to people—sympathy cards, thank you notes, welcome to our church cards, etc. But whenever I put one in the mail I worry. For example, when I send a welcome card I think, “For three days this person is going to think I’m not glad they joined the church. They will expect a quicker response from me.” My hope is when they get a real card printed on real cardstock—it will counteract their wonderings. I mean, e-mail and other technological advances are wonderful—but let’s face it—they increase our penchant for impatience. This week I came across the results of a poll conducted by the Associated Press. They surveyed over a thousand adults about Americans’ attitudes and behavior regarding impatience. Some of the findings included:
- While waiting in line at an office or store, it takes an average of 17 minutes for most people to lose their patience.
- On the phone, it takes about 9 minutes for most people to lose their patience.
- Women lost their patience after waiting in line for about 18 minutes. For men, it was an average of 15 minutes.
- People with lower income and less education are more patient than those with a college education and a high income.
- People who live in the suburbs are more patient than people who live in the city.
These and other stats show the sad fact that we are indeed an impatient people.
I’m reminded of a story of two women named Gladys and Rhonda who were leaving a church service. Rhonda said, “That was a great sermon on patience.” Gladys replied, “Yeah, but he went five minutes long.”
Well, to be like our Heavenly Father—to give evidence that His Spirit lives in our hearts, we must go against the hectic flow of our culture and learn to fight the promptings of technology—
and learn to slow down—so we can bear this fruit. As Ortberg warns, “Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual growth. It can destroy our souls and keep us from living well.” Carl Jung said, “Hurry is not of the devil; Hurry IS the devil.”
Okay—this morning I want to wrap the rest of our study around the answer to two questions.
First—where do we most often give evidence of this particular spiritual fruit? Second—what is the source of patience? Or, to keep with the “gardening metaphor,” what “soil” is best for growing this fruit of the Spirit? Okay—question #1.
(1) Where do we most often give evidence of this particular fruit?
Well, as I have inferred, patience is most often seen in our dealings with others. In fact this Greek word, “macrothumia”— is primarily a relational word. It refers to being patient with people more than circumstances. And—I’m sure you’ll agree it’s easier to be patient with circumstances—than people. I mean, if you’re waiting at a restaurant for a table and you can see the place is jammed—it’s frustrating—but you realize there’s nothing anyone can do about it so you wait. But, if you’re waiting at a restaurant and you can see there are three tables empty that just haven’t been cleared yet—you start looking for the manager. So, patience refers to difficult people more than difficult circumstances. It’s the ability to put up with the foibles of fallen, foolish people like you and me without losing our cool. I think one of the main relationships in which we learn patience is as parents. I mean children can really TRY our patience can’t they—especially when they are small. Babies and toddlers require non-stop care. They either need changing or need to be fed or need a nap that they don’t want to take—or they just get into things that make spills. Parents of little ones HAVE to learn patience to survive. This week I came across the story of a young father in a supermarket pushing a shopping cart with his little son, who was strapped in the front. The little boy was fussing, irritable, and crying. The other shoppers gave the pair a wide berth because the child would pull cans off the shelf and throw them out of the cart. The father seemed to be very calm; as he continued down each aisle, he murmured gently: “Easy now, Donald. Keep calm, Donald. Steady, boy. It’s all right, Donald.”
A mother who was passing by was greatly impressed by this young father’s attitude. She said,
“You certainly know how to talk to an upset child—quietly and gently.” And then bending down to the little boy, she said, “What seems to be the trouble, Donald?” “Oh no,” said the father. “He’s Henry. I’m Donald.”
All, kidding aside, let’s face it—no matter what their age people can be frustrating—like those soldiers who didn’t seem motivated to help me get my pass to visit with Kathy—like the people in the cars in front of me—who didn’t pull forward fast enough. But—before you think or say an “amen,” remember—judgments like these I just mentioned convey an unspoken thought on my part. I’m thinking, “I am more important than you guys in front of me are. My need to get into the hospital is more important than yours. I am better than you soldiers—I would know what to do—you don’t. My time is valuable and you are wasting it.”
Am I more important than the people in line in front of me? NO—they may be waiting to get a pass to see a loved one who is at death’s door. Am I better than the soldiers? NO—I wouldn’t know what I was doing if I was just starting to work in this new visitor center either.
Patience toward others shows up when we realize we are all on a journey—we all have needs. We all have things we need to learn. Back in the 60’s people would wear buttons that said: PBPGIFWMY – “Please be patient. God isn’t finished with me yet.” I know that campaign is 60 years old—but maybe it’s time to bring it back. We need to remember that Philippians 1:6 doesn’t just apply to ME—that “He Who began a good work in—not just me but you as well—–will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Patience shows up in our relationships with others when we realize that we are just as broken as they are—just as dependent on God’s grace. This is why Paul said, “Be kind and compassionate with one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32) We must “be completely humble and gentle; be patient bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2) Whenever we are tempted to lose our patience with someone who is driving us up the wall—we must remember other “walls” are packed with people we have driven up there. Remember, patience means forbearance with others. It means, putting up with things people do—or don’t do. Remember, when we talk about “people” being frustrating—we are ignoring the fact that WE are people.
One of my favorite movies is “Lars and the Real Girl.” I think it’s one of Ryan Gosling’s first—and best—films. It’s a great illustration of the power of patience with an individual who needed a lot of it. Plus—it’s a great story about a community with a lot of forbearance for a broken neighbor. It focuses on a guy named Lars—played by Gosling. Lars is a gentle young man whose mom died in childbirth. He’s painfully shy and socially awkward. He lives in the garage of the family home, while his brother and sister-in-law, Gus and Karen, live in the actual house. Except for going to work every day and to church on Sunday, Lars spends his days in the garage, alone.
Gus and Karen are worried about him, but he rebuffs all of their efforts to build a relationship with him. One day, to their surprise, he knocks on the door and announces that he has a girlfriend. Gus and Karen are thrilled! He explains that her name is Bianca, he met her on the internet, and she’s come for a visit! He explains that she’s very religious, just like him, and so Lars asks if it’d be okay for her to stay in the house, since it wouldn’t be appropriate for them to share the garage. Gus and Karen can hardly believe it, but they happily agree. That’s when things get very strange. It turns out that Bianca’s not a real person. She’s a doll—a life-sized, plastic doll! But Lars treats her like she’s real. He talks to her. He cuts her meat for her at dinner. He tenderly carries her from room to room—because she’s handicapped. She can’t walk.
Gus and Karen are obviously upset by this turn of events, and afraid for what’s happening to Lars, so they get him to see a doctor. Gus and Karen sit in the doctor’s office and talk about what this all means: “We need to fix him.” Gus asks. “Doc, can you fix him?”
Isn’t that what we all want to do with people who drive us crazy—people who disappoint us and refuse to change? We want to fix them—and the quicker the better. But as the doctor explains, people are complicated. They can’t always be fixed with medicine or a treatment of some sort.
Sometimes they just need to be loved. They need some space. They need some time. So, we meet them where they are, and stand by them, and wait for them and with them.
That’s exactly what Gus and Karen do—they go along with Lars’ fantasy. As uncomfortable as it is, they treat Bianca like she’s real. But it’s not just Gus and Karen who participate; the whole town goes along with it! The people at church, his co-workers in the office, even the ladies in the beauty salon where Bianca gets her hair done. And over time, a remarkable thing happens.
I’m not going to tell you what exactly, but over time, Lars gets better. And the whole town gets better, too. What an example of patience! Or as Bryan Wilkerson refers to it: redemptive waiting. We are patiently loving with others—knowing God is not finished with them yet.
Let me just ask, “Who is your ‘Lars?’” Who tries your patience most? It could be a child or a spouse or a co-worker or that strange neighbor—it could be church member two rows back. It could be your pastor. Who is it? With whom is God challenging you to bear this fruit most?
Ask God to empower you to be like Him in your dealings with whoever it is. Pray, “Please be patient with me God. Don’t be finished with me yet—-keep making me PATIENT like You.”
Okay—time for the answer to question #2.
(2) Where do we get patience?
Of course, as I just said, we get it from God—patience is indeed the fruit of HIS Spirit.
But—to keep with the “gardening metaphor,” the “soil” that is required to grow this fruit is our faith in God. As Lloyd Ogilvie writes, “Patience is rooted in an overarching confidence that there is Someone in control of the universe or world, and our life. It is the conviction that God does work in all things for our good. Patience is first and foremost faith in action.” Patience “grows” in the faith that God uses even the frustrating struggles of this life to make us more like Jesus—it’s trusting God’s timing—it’s the knowledge that whereas we look at the clock—God looks at the calendar—so He knows much more about our situation than we do. Patience comes from the belief that—as Ben Patterson puts it— “What God does IN US while we wait, is as important as WHAT WE ARE WATING FOR.” Patience is rooted in the Word of God where it says: “Perseverance does indeed produce character and character hope.” Romans 5. And Ecclessiastes 3:11 where it says, “God really does make all things beautiful in His time.”
When we face trials we must be patient and, “consider it pure joy, because we know that the testing of our faith produces perseverance and when perseverance finishes its work we will be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1) Basically, patience comes from the faith that waiting through tough times is indeed good for us.
Do you remember the famous marshmallow test that was done on children decades ago. Kids were told they could have one marshmallow now—or if they waited until the adult came back they could have two. The study found that the kids who could patiently wait were more successful as adults. They had lower rates of divorce, lower rates of addiction, higher SAT scores, better salaries—and were less likely to become overweight.
So—patience really is good for us. Like milk—it is a “fruit” that does the body good. Patience comes from the faith that God is still creating us—shaping us—using everything that comes our way for our good and His glory.
This week I read about a pastor in Florida who used to have count-it-all-joy parties every now and then. He so believed this verse, that when he would face a difficult situation, he would call friends over to his house. He’d say, “I want you to come over to my house for a party.” They’d say, “Oh, is it a birthday?” “No,” he would say. “Uh, you got a promotion?” they’d continue. “No,” he’d say. “What’s the situation?” they would finally ask. “Well,” he’d say, “I’m going through this incredibly difficult crisis right now, and I’m having a count-it-all-joy party. We’re going to celebrate the difficulty, because I know that this difficulty is going to bring something of special value to my life. I don’t know what it is yet, but I want you to come and count it all joy with me.” That’s faith—the kind of faith that we must cultivate to bear the fruit of patience.
But it’s a faith that goes deeper than that. It’s a “richer soil” than just the faith that God is working in the present. It’s the caliber of faith that looks to the future—a faith that knows one day this life with all its frustrations and fears will end—and God will take us home. That sure hope fertilizes our patience. It keeps us going—because we know we are going somewhere. We are going HOME to that place where there is no sorrow or fear—no sickness or death—that place where there is no longer a need for patience.
The movie Rabbit-Proof Fence is the true story of three girls in Australia who were torn from their home in 1931 and taken twelve hundred miles away—to be placed in a residential school. These girls were part Aboriginal and part white—and at that time the racist laws of Australia said that children like this were to be forcibly removed from their homes and families—and educated under conditions of brutality, abuse, shame, and deprivation. Well, the three girls escape. But the only way they know to get home is to follow a rabbit fence, a fifteen-hundred-mile wire mesh fence that snakes along the wilds of western Australia. It is an amazingly difficult journey. They trudge through blistering desert. They evade wild animals and the police. They survive on the food they scavenge. But they make it. Nine long months later they return to a joyful reunion with their family. Years later, one of the girls, Molly, now a mother and pregnant, is once again taken captive and returned to the same school. She escapes again, this time with her children and makes the journey all over again but under even harder constraints. Now—a journey like that, 1500 miles of walking through danger, only makes sense if it leads you where you want and need to go. Those girls knew that and that’s why they persevered. As old ladies, Molly and Daisy reflect on their life and decide that they would do anything; they’d do it all over again, just to get home.
Well, we know that as the old hymn puts it, “the way of the CROSS leads home.” We can be patient because we know the struggles of the journey of life in this world are temporary—that one day we’ll be home. In 1st Peter 5:1 it says that on that day we, “…will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” In 1st Peter 3:11b-13 he says we must persevere—we must be patient—because, “We are looking forward to a new Heaven and a New Earth the home of righteousness.”