Patience—Why So Rare?
EMILIO was in his 60’s.* He had come to Oahu on a sad mission—to bury his adult son. While walking on a quiet hillside street and talking with some friends, Emilio was startled by a car speeding up a driveway in reverse. The car nearly struck him, and out of anger and impatience, Emilio yelled at the driver and slapped the car with his hand. An argument followed. It seems that the driver pushed Emilio, who fell and struck his head on the hard pavement. In a few days, Emilio was dead because of his head injury. What a sad result!
We live in a world where patience is a rare quality. More and more automobile drivers speed. Others tailgate—follow too closely—cars going the speed limit. Yet others weave from lane to lane because they cannot abide being behind another vehicle. In the home, family members may give vent to fits of rage and become violent. Even some Christians may get overly upset because of the shortcomings or mistakes of their spiritual brothers.
Why is patience so rare? Has it always been that way? Why is it so difficult to be patient in our time?
Examples of Impatience
The Bible tells of a woman who did not wait to consult her husband before making a critical decision. Her name was Eve. Running ahead of Adam, perhaps partly because of impatience, she ate the forbidden fruit. (Genesis 3:1-6) What about her husband? He too may have manifested impatience by following Eve into sin without first approaching his heavenly Father, Jehovah, for help or direction. Their greed, possibly combined with impatience that led to sin, had fatal consequences for all of us. From them we have also received as an inheritance the tendency to commit sins, including those of arrogance and impatience.—Romans 5:12.
About 2,500 years after the sin of our first parents, God’s chosen people, the Israelites, displayed a deep, persistent lack of faith, as well as a lack of patience. Although Jehovah had just miraculously rescued them from slavery in Egypt, they quickly “forgot his works” and “did not wait for his counsel.” (Psalm 106:7-14) Time and again they fell into serious wrongdoing because they would not be patient. They made a golden calf and worshiped it; they grumbled about Jehovah’s material provision of manna for them; and many of them even rebelled against Jehovah’s divinely appointed representative, Moses. Truly, their lack of patience led them to grief and disaster.
The first human king of Israel, Saul, lost the opportunity for his sons to be his royal successors. Why? Because he failed to wait for the prophet Samuel, who was supposed to make a sacrifice to Jehovah. Fear of man caused Saul to run ahead of Samuel in offering the sacrifice. Imagine how he must have felt when Samuel appeared just after Saul had completed the ceremony! If only he had waited a few minutes more!—1 Samuel 13:6-14.
If only Eve had waited for Adam instead of rashly reaching out for the fruit! If only the Israelites had remembered to wait for Jehovah’s counsel! Yes, patience might have helped to save them and us from much grief and pain.
Causes of Impatience
The Bible helps us to understand a prime cause of impatience today. Second Timothy chapter 3 describes our generation as living in “critical times hard to deal with.” It says that people “will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, self-assuming, haughty . . . without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness.” (2Ti 3 Verses 2, 3) Such a greedy and self-centered attitude infects the hearts and minds of many people, making it difficult for all, even true Christians, to exercise patience. When we witness worldly people driving too fast or cutting into lines or hurling insults at us, our patience can be sorely tried. We may be tempted to imitate them or to retaliate against them, thereby stooping to their level of selfish pride.
Sometimes it is our own mistaken conclusions that cause us to lose patience. Notice how wise King Solomon portrayed the connection between hasty, faulty reasoning and impatient, angry behavior: “Better is one who is patient than one who is haughty in spirit. Do not hurry yourself in your spirit to become offended, for the taking of offense is what rests in the bosom of the stupid ones.” (Ecclesiastes 7:8, 9) If we take the time to gain a full, accurate picture of a situation before reacting to it, we will likely be more understanding, more sympathetic, more patient toward others. On the other hand, a haughty, self-centered spirit might cause us to be narrow-minded, impatient, and bitter, like the murmuring, stiff-necked Israelites who tormented Moses.—Numbers 20:2-5, 10.
Another cause of this world’s increasing lack of patience is its hopeless condition, resulting from alienation from Jehovah. David expressed man’s need for hoping in Jehovah: “Indeed toward God wait silently, O my soul, because from him is my hope.” (Psalm 62:5) Many people who do not know Jehovah have a limited, bleak outlook, so they try to grab every bit of pleasure and profit that they can before their time is up. Like their spiritual father, Satan the Devil, they often do not care about how their actions may hurt others.—John 8:44; 1 John 5:19.
It is no wonder that patience is so rare today. This wicked, selfish system of things, its god Satan, and the sinful tendencies of our fallen flesh make it difficult for everyone, even sincere ones, to be patient. Yet, the Bible exhorts us to “exercise patience,” particularly regarding the outworking of God’s purposes. (James 5:8) Why is patience so valuable? What rewards can it bring us?
Patience—Why So Valuable
“They also serve who only stand and wait.” Those words were uttered by the English poet John Milton over three hundred years ago in his sonnet “On His Blindness.” Earlier in the poem, he expressed his frustration and anxiety over his feeling unable to serve God fully because he had become blind in his 40’s. But as reflected by the poem’s final line quoted above, he came to realize that one can worship God by patiently enduring tribulation and calmly seeking available opportunities of service. Milton saw the value of patient reliance on God.
Most of us may have good eyesight, but all of us have limitations that can cause us to become angry or anxious. How can we acquire and exercise patience?
The Bible provides us with several fine examples of patience. Jehovah’s patience makes possible everlasting life for millions upon millions of humans. (2 Peter 3:9, 15) In his kind invitation that we take up his yoke and “find refreshment for [our] souls,” Jesus perfectly reflects the wonderful patience of his Father. (Matthew 11:28-30) Meditating on the examples of Jehovah and Jesus can help us to be more patient.
One who seemed to have ample reason to be angry, bitter, or vindictive was Jacob’s son Joseph. His brothers had treated him most unjustly, plotting his death and finally selling him into slavery. In Egypt, despite his conscientious, loyal service to Potiphar, Joseph was unfairly accused and jailed. He patiently endured all his tribulations, probably understanding that such tests could serve Jehovah’s purposes. (Genesis 45:5) Because he cultivated faith and hope in Jehovah along with humility and understanding, Joseph could exercise patience even under very trying circumstances.
Another important aid is Jehovah’s holy spirit. If, for example, we have a quick temper and a biting tongue, we can pray for the help of holy spirit so that we can cultivate its fruitage. Meditating upon each of these fruits, such as long-suffering and self-control, will help us to see how they are deeply related to patience.—Galatians 5:22, 23.
The Rewards of Patience
Being patient can bring us many benefits. It strengthens our character and protects us from committing rash, foolish acts. Who of us has not made hurtful mistakes because of our being too quick to react to difficult or stressful conditions? We may have said an unkind word or behaved in a rude manner. We may have allowed a trivial incident to escalate into an all-out battle of wills with a dear loved one. After much anger, frustration, and pain, we may ruefully have thought, ‘If only I had waited just a little bit.’ Exercising patience can protect us from all kinds of grief. That fact alone gives our lives so much more peace, stability, and contentment.—Philippians 4:5-7.
Being patient can also help us to have a calm, trusting heart. This can lead to our enjoying better physical, emotional, and spiritual health. (Proverbs 14:30) Unchecked, raging anger can cause severe emotional and physical illness and death. On the other hand, by being patient we can gain a more positive attitude toward others, especially our spiritual brothers and family members. We will then be more prone to be considerate and helpful rather than irritable and critical. In turn, others will find it easier and more pleasant to be around us.
Elders in the Christian congregation especially need to exercise patience. At times, fellow Christians approach them with serious problems. These sincere ones may be confused, upset, or depressed, while the elders themselves may be tired or distracted by their own personal or family problems. Yet, how vital that the elders exercise patience in such trying circumstances! In this way they can instruct “with mildness” and “treat the flock with tenderness.” (2 Timothy 2:24, 25; Acts 20:28, 29) Precious lives are at stake. What a blessing to the congregation are kind, loving, and patient elders!
Family heads should treat their households with patience, understanding, and kindness. They should also expect and encourage all family members to exercise these same qualities. (Matthew 7:12) This will greatly contribute to love and peace in the home.
Exercising patience while engaging in the field ministry will help Christian ministers to enjoy this service more fully. They will be better able to endure any indifference and opposition encountered. Instead of arguing with angry householders, patient ministers will be able to give a mild answer or quietly leave, thus retaining peace and joy. (Matthew 10:12, 13) Furthermore, when Christians treat everyone with patience and kindness, sheeplike ones will be drawn to the Kingdom message. Jehovah has blessed patient efforts on a worldwide scale, as hundreds of thousands of meek truth-seekers flock to Jehovah’s loving congregation each year.
Truly, exercising patience will bring us fine rewards. We will avoid many accidents and problems caused by rushing about or by being too quick with our tongue. We will be happier, calmer, and likely healthier. We will experience greater joy and peace in our ministry, in the congregation, and at home. But most of all, we will enjoy a closer relationship with God. So wait on Jehovah. Exercise patience!
The name has been changed.
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How patient are you in daily life?