In Galatians, Paul lists the “fruit of the spirit” which the Holy Spirit is graciously at work producing in the lives of believers. These qualities are aspects of God’s character – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, that he in turn is developing in his children. The lack of these qualities are attributes of evil. For most of these characteristics, we don’t even think twice about describing Satan and his work in words depicting the opposite. Of course he is unloving and harsh and unkind. But what about impatient?
Thinking through this list, it struck me that we should be applying the same principles to patience as we do to love. Patience is an attribute of God coming from his love (2 Peter 3:9), and therefore Satan has no part in it because he has no capacity for love. Satan is an impatient being, and impatience, as much as hate and unkindness, is a tool that he uses to destroy us and damage the work of God’s Kingdom.
Satan’s impatience is demonstrated in the way that he operates, quick to attack any open wound or weakness in our lives. It also comes in the way he tempts us to be impatient in the same way that he influences us to be unloving. Often patience is summed up as “waiting without being grumpy about it,” but I believe something far deeper is going on, something that matters far more than our attitude in heavy traffic. Patience at its essence is a declaration that God is the Lord, and I am only his creation. To stand against impatience is really to stand against idolatry.
This world carries a lot of grief. To be human is to hurt, and in our hurt huge questions about the goodness of God surfaces. How can God be loving and kind when this happened? The impatience of Satan demands that we decide now in the middle of our grief what our circumstances must mean about God. It tells us to close the door on the questions and walk away from the wrestling, and when the questions and the wrestling are painful, this is so very tempting.
Godly patience allows us to be real about the depth of the pain of trauma, loss, and grief and to say that we don’t understand how this works with who God is. It allows us to stay there and to acknowledge that perhaps someday we might understand and that we refuse to be pushed into making a decision now about what we think. Patience is at the core of David’s cry in Psalms 27:13, “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord.”
Patience allows us to sit in paradoxes and to be okay in the not knowing. It gives us the space to settle into our own humanity and not require ourselves to be anywhere other than where we are at in the moment. Patience reminds us that omniscience belongs to God alone, and we are not required to understand. Stubbornly walking in patience is an insult to darkness as it refuses to give into the temptation to want otherwise.
In relationships, especially difficult ones, it takes considerable care not to just write people off when they hurt us or are simply hard to be around.* The impatience of Satan temps us to do just this. While there is wisdom in boundaries, impatience bypasses this kind of wisdom and prioritizes our own frustrations over someone else’s development. Impatience requires us to view people only through the lens of the present and respond to them accordingly. However, patience allows us the grace to view people as sojourners on a journey, imperfect people being wooed into a transforming relationship with Jesus. Godly patience allows us to be gently gracious with people who have a history that led them to who and how they are now and who will not be the same because God is at work.
In full discretion, I struggle deeply in this area. I can be a pit bull in a debate, and I am often tempted to write people off as ignorant, immoral, or deceived. While there may be truth to those descriptors sometimes, patience allows us to treat others as people who God is redeeming and it helps us operate out of a place of hope rather than anger. When we approach relationships with patience, we see God using us to draw others to Himself, and we see others (even the obnoxious ones) as God’s blessing on our lives to transform us as well. It is the impatience of Satan that makes it easy for us to abandon our relationships when they get difficult and to plant ourselves only with people who think and act like we do. Godly patience in relationships frees us to love people exactly as they are in the moment without trying to “fix” them because we understand that transformation is a process birthed by the Holy Spirit, not by us.
It is human nature to want to act. We like decisiveness, and we get anxious when we are waiting for anything. Other times we burn out and settle into apathy and fatalism. Neither is fit for God’s Kingdom or his children who are commissioned to advance it with him.
The impatience of Satan tempts us to act quickly in our own wisdom. It tells us that we are smart enough and capable enough to make the right decisions and to see the big picture accurately. It leads us directly into hastily missing God’s purposes for our own grandiosity, anxiety, and insecurity.
Refusing to make ministry (or life) decisions impatiently is not merely about the wisdom that comes from slow consideration of all the facts. That is an important element in decision making, but not necessarily what godly patience is about. Patience is not about wisdom so much as it is about a deep belief that God is already at work where he is sending us. It declares that we are confident that God has chosen Kingdom work for us to accomplish (Ephesians 2:10), and that we will not miss if we remain steadfastly connected to him (John 15:5).
The weapon against impatience is worship. The enemy would have us frantically trying to figure out what to do next, making assumptions about what God is doing and what we should do rather than stopping and waiting on him to move and joining him there. The way to defeat impatience is sitting at the feet of Jesus acknowledging his authority over us and the calling he has put on our lives. This is not apathy; it is action into a deeper relationship with God. It is a physical expression of a recognition that a relationship with Jesus must not be forfeited to produce ministry activities.
Ultimately whether we are looking at our inner lives, our relationships with others, or our vocations, we have to ask if the fruit of God’s Spirit is being birthed in us. Patience is a gift freely given to us not only for our own benefit, but for the sake of the world because it reflects the nature of God as much as do kindness and faithfulness and the rest of the virtues. We cannot produce patience in ourselves, but we can cooperate with the Holy Spirit while he develops it in us. And we do it gladly because it is an act of worship to our God and an affront to our impatient enemy.
* I am applying this to normal functioning relationships. In cases where abuse is present, the loving thing to do for yourself AND for your abuser is to remove yourself from the situation. You can patiently wait for God to work in that person from a safe distance where he/she is not going deeper into sin through harming one of God’s precious children.