The Virtue of Patience
By William B. McGrath
Throughout the Bible the virtue of patience and its rewards are spoken about, and you also find examples of the sad results of impatience. Tolerance, endurance, forbearance, and the ability to remain kind toward others who may not have been so kind to you can all be qualities that tie into being patient.
Hebrews 12:1–2 tells us: “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.” Some more recent Bible translations use the word “perseverance” or “endurance” in place of the word “patience.” The word “race” is used as a representation of our life as a Christian. We leave behind being a mere spectator sitting in the bleachers, and we enter into a lifelong race, a lifelong endeavor, aspiring to live close to God. Jesus becomes our trainer and role model. As is the case for athletes who run a race, training, commitment, and focus are required.
It seems I need to be reminded on almost a daily basis that I need to learn to be more patient. So many little tasks that I feel capable of doing get a monkey wrench thrown in or are laid on the shelf altogether due to some unforeseen circumstance. Over and over again, when I set out to do some errand or to begin a work project, I run into complications that put a damper on the whole thing, trying my patience. Delayed traffic, lines for little business transactions, tracking down some car part, the list goes on. Sometimes other people will request my help just when I’m in the middle of making that long-awaited progress that I thought was so important.
These little things tempt me to feel a bit impatient and a bit resentful. But I wonder if these might be what God uses to help develop my character, to teach me to let patience do its work? Might He have different and more important goals for me that I might easily overlook and not include on my to-do list? He surely sees the need for more refining of my character.
I hope to learn how to take these setbacks in stride and even use them as reminders to accept and yield to His plans more cheerfully. Who am I, really, to feel I have a right to get impatient or resentful about the delays He allows, when He has done so much for me? I know it’s a privilege to invite Him in to be my pilot in everything. What could be better than being willing to let go of my own projects to partner with Him on His projects?
Perhaps these little delays may also work toward developing a higher level of patience, to prepare me for greater opposition, or greater affliction, or greater loss that only He knows may come in the future.
In the book Poems with Power to Strengthen the Soul, we find the poem “Patience of Jesus,” by Edward Denny:
What grace, O Lord, and beauty shone
Around thy steps below!
What patient love was seen in all
Thy life and death of woe!
Forever on thy burdened heart
A weight of sorrow hung;
Yet no ungentle, murmuring word
Escaped thy silent tongue.
Thy foes might hate, despise, revile,
Thy friends unfaithful prove;
Unwearied in forgiveness still,
Thy heart could only love.
Oh give us hearts to love like thee,
Like thee, O Lord, to grieve
Far more for others’ sins than all
The wrongs that we receive.
One with thyself, may every eye
In us, thy brethren, see
That gentleness and grace that spring
From union, Lord, with thee.
Another reference to patience in the Bible is found in the book of James, chapter 5. This time we’re told to look to God’s own example of patience, as well as to that of all the past prophets, in particular the patience of Job. God is pictured as a farmer over the field of all the souls He has ever created: “See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”1
Then we’re told to look to the past prophets: “Take the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction and of patience. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”2 Job kept his patience through major loss and affliction. Undoubtedly, there were times when he was tempted with impatience and resentment, especially while listening to the surmises of his counselors. But despite all that, in the end Job came through, keeping his faith in God and praising God in the midst of his loss and affliction.3 This, no doubt, is pleasing to God. Job was greatly rewarded.4
In the book Poems with Power to Strengthen the Soul there is another poem about people like Job, the people whom God allows to endure a great loss, or persevere through some hidden suffering or painful affliction; those who live the martyr’s life, though they might not be called on to die the martyr’s death. Some of those who suffer through this life may not see the rewards for their patience during this life, as did Job. But they remain patient and faithful and are surely rewarded in the next life. The poem is called “The Noble Army of Martyrs Praise Thee”:
Not they alone who from the bitter strife
Came forth victorious, yielding willingly
That which they deem most precious, even life,
Content to suffer all things, Christ, for Thee;
Not they alone whose feet so firmly trod
The pathway ending in rack, sword and flame,
Foreseeing death, yet faithful to their Lord,
Enduring for His sake the pain and shame;
Not they alone have won the martyr’s palm,
Not only from their life proceeds the eternal psalm.
For earth hath martyrs now, a saintly throng;
Each day unnoticed do we pass them by;
‘Mid busy crowds they calmly move along,
Bearing a hidden cross, how patiently!
Not theirs the sudden anguish, swift and keen,
Their hearts are worn and wasted with small cares,
With daily griefs and thrusts from foes unseen;
Troubles and trials that take them unawares;
Theirs is a lingering, silent martyrdom;
They weep through weary years, and long for rest to come.
They weep, but murmur not; it is God’s will,
And they have learned to bend their own to his;
Simply enduring, knowing that each ill
Is but the herald of some future bliss;
Striving and suffering, yet so silently
They know it least who seem to know them best.
Faithful and true through long adversity
They work and wait until God gives them rest;
These surely share with those of bygone days
The palm branch and the crown, and swell their song of praise.5
It is certainly not for us to compare why some people seem to suffer more than others or the level of suffering each one endures, but it is for us to bear our own cross, to take our own losses or sufferings the best we can, and to strive to have a positive attitude, thereby allowing patience to have her perfect work in us.6
1 James 5:7–8 ESV.
2 James 5:10–11 NIV.
3 See Job 13:15.
4 See Job 42:12–17.
5 Author unknown.
6 See James 1:2–4.