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Monday, August 27, 2018

The Fruit of the Spirit - Patience

Galatians 5:22-23
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

Today, We Learn About Patience
As a pastor, I have done my share of funerals and been in many different funeral processions from the funeral service to the cemetery. However, I've never seen anything quite like I did this past weekend. As we were driving a few cars behind the hearse toward the seminary, our headlights were on and our hazard lights were flashing and we moved along in a solemn train toward the cemetery. Normally, cars will pull over to the side of the road as a sign of respect to the family of the deceased. But this weekend, so many people must have been in a real hurry. It seemed like at least have the cars we encountered did not pull over or slow down at all. I lost count of how many cars even sped up and passed our procession. At first, I thought they didn't realize we were conducting a funeral. Maybe when they see the hearse at the head of the parade, they will pull to the side. Nope. They just passed the hearse and kept right on going! I even had one car rudely squeeze in front of me in the middle of the funeral procession! Really? How impatient are you that you butt in on someone else's funeral train?

We are all guilty of being impatient at times. And when we are, I suspect we can be pretty rude too. We all need a little more patience. And that's what I want to talk about today.

What is Patience?
In a recent Bible study, I learned the Greek words commonly used in the New Testament for patience are Makrothymia and Hypomone. Makrothymia literally means long anger; i.e. it takes a long time for someone with patience to get angry. The other word for patience is hypomone which means to remain under; you get the image of a person carrying a heavy backpack, but they don't put it down; they patiently continue to carry it even though it's difficult. These two concepts together give us the picture of Christian patience--to persevere for a long time while carrying a heavy burden 

Longsuffering and perseverance are the two elements that bring balance to Christian patience. Some fear being patient means you must let people walk all over you. What keeps you from just being a doormat? It is the second element of perseverance. Perseverance means you aren’t just ignoring troubles or troublesome people. Perseverance means you’re going to keep a cool head methodically work your way through it.

There is a kind of patience that can just ignore trouble and tune it out, but this is not Christian
patience. That is escapism and it's not very healthy. People may turn to drugs or alcohol or other substances to help them cope and numb their discomfort. Others build an emotional wall or just run away. I can relate. I grew up in a turbulent home. I learned to cope by tuning out. Rather than boiling over with rage or acting out, I just shut down and ignored it all. I was just a kid, but that's the best thing I knew to do. People often thought I was being patient, because things just wouldn't bother me. But I eventually learned, that's not real Christian patience and it's not healthy. The problem for me--and for others who cope this way--is that people who bottle up their frustrations or who run away or tune out of conflict are like volcanoes. All that bottled up pressure is going to come spewing out somewhere eventually. They may remain dormant for a few days, weeks, months, or even years. However, the explosion is coming and you better watch out. Have you ever known someone who is always sweet and easy-going? It's like they never get upset. And then one day, some small irritation sets them off and they go into a rage. And you're thinking: "What's their problem? It's so unlike the, and they're getting upset over such a small thing." Well, they're erupting and it's not just the small thing that set them off they're spewing about. They're blasting out all the pent up emotions from from months or years of built up frustrations.

Christian patience means we can’t just tune out or bottle up or run away from your problems. Christians must endure their burdens and bear up under them. We must carry the load with patience. If our burden is dealing with a difficult or mean behavior, we deal with it. If it is physical suffering, we bear up under it. If it's deep grief, we go through the grieving process. We don’t ignore our troubles. We carry them patiently until God takes them away or shows us a way to eleviate them in a healthy way.

The perfect picture of patience is Jesus hanging on the cross. It was a terrible ordeal, but Jesus didn't cope by tuning it out. He experienced the full agony of it all because he knew it was God's plan. He didn't run away and try to avoid it. He prayed for a way out of it ("Father, if there's any other way, let this cup pass from me. However, not my will, but Your's be done."), but followed his Father's plan instead of running away. He could have called down an army of 10,000 angels to rescue him from the cross and destroy this evil world. Instead, he patiently endure the cross for our sake and salvation. That is the perfect picture of Christian patience.

Our Spiritual Garden
Gardening takes patience.  You can’t make the garden grow; only God can do that. You have to be patient, but that doesn’t mean you do nothing.  Right?  You have to be active in your patience to do what you can to create an environment for growth—fertilize your garden, water and weed it, get rid of pests, etc.  There’s a lot to do while you wait. 

Christian patience is a fruit of the Spirit.  You can’t make it grow. You have to trust God will make it grow in His timing, but that doesn’t mean you do nothing.  Maybe you have a situation that requires patience.  That doesn’t mean you do nothing.  You pray.  You prepare.  Maybe even prepare your own heart.  Then you will be ready when God reveals His plan. 

While You Wait… (How to Nurture Christian Patience)
So let me give you a few things to practice while you wait that help nurture a space where Christian patience can grow. 

First of all, be thankful. Don’t ignore your troubles, but don’t fixate on them either. When you give thanks for your blessings, it helps put your burdens in proper perspective. They are there and you have to carry them, but they are not as heavy as them seem if they are all you think about. When you are thankful and recall how God is walking with you and has blessed you, you're burdens seem lighter.

Breathe and Pray. Take some slow, deep breaths. This physically slows your heart rate and calms you down. It clears your thoughts and releases the stressful buildup of impatient pressure. Breath God's Spirit in, and breathe out the stress and toxic feeling bubbling up inside you. As you breath out, carry your burdens to God in prayer. He will help you carrying them or take them away completely.

Trust in God’s Timing. We don’t like to wait. We want to solve the problem (right now!); but do you realize, God may work out many of your issues all on His own without any help from you at all? When you jump ahead and force a solution on your own, in your own way, by your own impatient timeline, you usually end up making a huge mess. Galatians 5:17 reminds us that there’s a spiritual war going on inside us between God’s Spirit and our sinful nature. Our timeline seeks to do things to satisfy our sinful, selfish nature. God’s timing satisfies the Spirit. Which side do you want to support in this battle—the Spirit or the sinful nature? Every time you choose to do things your way on your timeline, you are just empowering your sinful nature. We have to let go and trust God.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. People sometimes say with exasperation, “Yes. But this is really important. It can’t wait. It has to be settled right now!” Does it? I know there are some things that have to be attended to right now. (When your baby is screaming because it needs a diaper change, you need to settle that right away!) However, not everything we think fixate on is as important as we think it is. There are many things in life that seem urgent, but they are not that important. A simple example is when your cell phone rings. Do you really have to answer it every time? What about text messages, Facebook notifications, etc.? And their are many other things, situations, and people in life that beg us to attend to them right away that really are not that important. Meanwhile, there are many other things in life that aren't as urgent, but are very important--getting the oil changed in your car, annual checkups with your doctor, spending time with your spouse, taking time to regularly rest and pray and study your Bible and worship God at church. Neglect these unurgent things for too long and your will have a very urgent emergency before too long. So, don’t let the small stuff bother you. You’ll have more inner peace and you’ll have more time to focus on the important stuff. As you are being patient, walk closely with the Lord in prayer. Then you will know the Lord’s timing and you will know the difference between what really is important and what isn’t. And you will know when to wait and when to move forward. Walking daily in harmony with the Holy Spirit through prayer is the key.

Be Patient
Think about how patient people have been with you.  Think about how patient God has been with you (and is being with you even now).  Can’t you extend the same grace to others?

I will leave you with a story I heard at my Bible study last week.  A middle aged man took his aged mother in to live with him.  She was growing old and feeble and needed people to help look after her.  Every night, the mother and her son and his family would sit down at the table for a family dinner together.  But she was very feeble and clumsy and would often make a mess or spill her drink or drop a plate that was handed to her.  Over time, this frustrations began to irritate the son more and more.  One night, the mother dropped a dish of steak on the floor, ruining the meat and making a huge mess.  The impatient son angrily barked, "That it!  From now on, you are gong to have to eat at a table by yourself so we can enjoy our meal in peace!"  Sure enough, the next night, the son had setup a seperate card table for the mother in another room.  He sat her down there and brought her plate of food to eat by herself.  As the son returned to the family dinner table, his own son asked a question, "Dad, did you make grandma sit a table by herself because she made a mess last night?"  Stubbornly, the father replied, "Yes son.  I did.  Why do you ask?"  "Well," said his son, "I just want to know how I'm supposed to treat you when you're old and come to live with me."

Offer patience today so that you others will be patient with you tomorrow.