I’ve been using the fruit of the spirit as a performance checklist. Love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control. Depending on how well I’m doing in these 9 areas, I ‘ve been trying to determine how fully my life is given over to Jesus. In my mind exhibiting them means that I’m doing okay with God. If I’m not doing well in them, then I feel like I’m failing as a Christian and that there must be something I’m doing wrong.
There are a lot of these “fruits” with which I have good days or bad days and one or two that I do decently well a fair amount of the time. There are a few in there that I struggle with consistently. Patience is one of those. I am almost never patient. I’m actually impatient with my own impatience. And I want so badly to change, but despite my most earnest prayers and best arguments with myself regarding the virtue of patience and my tendon-straining efforts against the feelings that well up inside of me, I just can’t seem to be different.
There may be some people who read my admission and quickly dismiss it. Impatience certainly isn’t drug abuse or murder or human trafficking. But there can be a very ugly side to impatience. I hate the way my heart looks when I’m waiting behind a chatty Cathy at the check-out line, overflowing shopping basket digging into the flesh of one forearm while my shoulder sags heavily with a gallon of milk on the other side and I just need to get out of there quickly enough to make the next thing on my agenda. Or I’m running late for pre-school drop off (again) and now my 2 year-old is insisting, full-out back-arching demanding, that she buckle her own carseat and my hands are just itching to take the fastener out of her hands and do it for her. Or it’s Friday afternoon. Just another Friday afternoon like any other. And I want to be anywhere but the same messy-house, moody-people place I’ve been for the last 5 years. Anger, resentment, bitterness… it’s not a far stretch between these thoughts and feelings and actions that can cause greater damage. I am sure that’s the truth of the wisdom behind this admonition in Matthew.
I’m not sure it was the first time I heard the expression but Rachel Lynde makes reference to the “patience of Job” in the (rockin’ awesome) Anne of Green Gables book series. And actually, in James 5:11 in the King James Version reference is made to the patience of Job as well. But recently as I was reading a more modern translation (NASB) I noticed that the word endurance is used instead. And, in fact, the foot notes in my bible clarify that Job wasn’t actually patient but that he persevered.
This was so dramatically different than the way I remembered hearing the story of the man who was put through unimaginable trials and yet was considered blameless in God’s eyes that I had to go back to read the references to confirm this for myself. I scanned the monologues of Job and it is clear that he was, in fact, not really very patient at all as his troubles escalated.
What is my strength, that I should wait? And what is my end, that I should be patient? Job 6:11
As for me, is my complaint against man? Why should I not be impatient? Job 21:4
In the first verse he’s acknowledging his lack of faith in himself, in his own ability to endure or to bring things about by his own strength. It’s as if he’s saying, “What am I waiting for? Why should I be patient? What ability do I have to make this end well?” What I found interesting about the second verse is that in the same breath as he’s admitting his bad attitude, he’s showing faith in the Lord. It’s almost like he’s saying, “Why should I be patient? God could immediately relieve me of any troubles I have!”
But perhaps most arresting of all are not the words that Job speaks about himself but the words that are spoken about Job. At Job’s first reaction to his persecution, the bible says “Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God.” Hmmm…. This is puzzling. Job’s attitude doesn’t seem to be quite exactly praiseworthy in the chapters that follow. He’s (understandably) cranky and angry and sarcastic and despairing and definitely impatient as his property and his children and his health are taken from him.
As we read Job what is remarkable about him is not, in fact, his patience it is the steadfast way that he clings to God as his only hope. He doesn’t rely on his own strength or understanding to remedy the situation, only on God, a God who appears to have become “cruel” to him but who is God all the same. He refuses to deny God, no matter that it seems by every tangible measurement by our senses that God has turned his attention away from Job. “God might kill me, but I have no other hope. I am going to argue my case with him.” He leans on his relationship with God and trusts in His mercy alone. He’s honest with God about how he’s feeling, but he acknowledges God as God.
By the end of the story, we find that Job proves God to be right in His original assessment of him: “For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man fearing God and turning away from evil.” He is not a perfect man, but he is a man whose puts all of his faith in the Lord as the only way.
And that is the crux (cross) of the matter:I am not right in my relationship with God because of my own merit evidenced by my ability to tick off certain behavior from the Fruit of the Spirit checklist. I am right in my relationship with God because of the merits of God. God is perfectly just and merciful and faithful and loving towards me, a truth ultimately confirmed by Jesus’ death on the cross. And that is the only reason I am okay by Him: Jesus’ death on the cross makes me more than just “okay,” it makes me righteous in God’s eyes. I am righteous, not because I am patient but because Jesus is perfect. Job somehow understood, well before Jesus was even born, that his relationship with God was based on God’s mercy and not on himself or anything he could do. He blessed God when he was given and he blessed God when things were taken from him, trusting God in all things.
In regards to my impatience, does my lack of it an indication that something is “off” between me and God? Maybe, but it’s not on God’s part. I am right with him in Christ. I am wondering if I’m not demonstrating perfect patience specifically because I’m trying to experience it in my own limited understanding and by my own limited strength.
What am I always running so hard to get to? Why am I always tapping my toes and checking my calendar as time tick tocks by, “if only and if when….?” My body and my mind and my soul are in a constant state of unrest because I’m always thinking, “If I just do this one different thing or accomplish that one other goal or get past this one last obstacle, then I’ll be at peace.” The truth is that my peace doesn’t depend on myself or my circumstances, it depends wholly on the Lord. And though I might feel restless, yearning for a time and place when all is right with the world, I am able to rest in Him. No matter how I feel, the truth is that I am perfectly at peace with Him in all circumstances and despite all my failings. If I can really get this, the truth of Him in me and me in Him, then how much patience from Him could I draw for myself and for everyone and everything else in my life? There’s only one thing on the performance evaluation between me and God and He already ticked it off and it’s this: The work of Jesus on the cross.
“I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” Philippians 3:8b-9