What does the Bible teach about patience?
Patience is not often easy to demonstrate. Looking for the perfect job, waiting for a life partner, hoping to conceive children, being the victim of an injustice, long lines at the checkout counter, and bumper-to-bumper traffic are just a few of the situations in which it is easy to be impatient. Often, we can even feel that our impatience is a righteous anger in the face of irritations and trials. It is human to feel this impatience, but we are called to trust in God's divine timing, sovereignty, and love. The Bible praises patience and lists it as part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23) that is built up in us when we follow Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:14).
Though patience is often associated with waiting, and waiting is often associated with passivity or a gentle tolerance, the biblical meaning of patience does not imply passivity. Most of the Greek words translated as "patience" in the New Testament are active and robust. Hebrews 12:1 provides an example of this (note that "patience" in this verse is translated to "endurance"). "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us." Persevering in a race takes endurance, and followers of Christ are similarly expected to endure trials, be on the look out for promises to be fulfilled, and have self-discipline when reaching for a goal. This is a patient stance, but not a passive one.
Because our human nature is not inclined towards patience, we must make the choice to build patience into our character. As with everything else, however, we need God's strength and grace to develop this fruit in our lives (Colossians 1:11). The trials that we face are opportunities for us to perfect our patience through Christ's support (James 1:2–4). We are called to rest in God's perfect timing, which is beyond our linear understanding, when we face unfairness and wicked schemes (Psalm 37:7). Our development of patience hinges on our hope that "the coming of the Lord is at hand" (James 5:7–8) and that "The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him" (Lamentations 3:25).
There are three steps that help us develop patience:
1) Thank God! We are called to first give thanks to God in all situations for his unwavering love and support (Philippians 4:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18; 1 Peter 1:6).
2) Seek His purpose. We may endure hardships for many reasons according to God's will. Sometimes we experience trials to be a witness to God's redeeming love, or sometimes we go through a painful event so we can learn greater dependence on God.
3) Remember God's promises. Romans 8:28 reminds us that God works for the good of those who love Him. We can rest in this promise when we feel stuck in the midst of pain and hardship.
The Bible contains numerous examples of people who were characterized by their patience in the face of trials. Job is one the greatest stories of a man acting in patience instead of disobedience to God. James mentions Job and also the prophets when he gives us examples of how we are to act when we are in difficult situations (James 5:10–11). Job was finally rewarded for his dependence on God. Abraham also "having patiently waited, obtained the promise" (Hebrews 6:15). Jesus exhibited patience as well when he was led to the cross. The writer of Hebrews gives Jesus as an example for our endurance: "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:1–2).
A human's natural response is impatience and frustration, but since we have been made new creations in Christ, we can practice developing patience (2 Corinthians 5:17). We have the strength of God and the hope in God's promise to always work in our favor to lean on while we develop this difficult characteristic. Romans 2:7 reassures us that, "to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life."