Impatience results when we are bad at math. When we fail to count the cost of a particular endeavor or situation—the cost to our time, to our wallets, or to our egos — our patience ends up in the red. Any time you have ever thought, “This is harder than I expected” or “This is taking longer than I expected,” you have faced the temptation to be impatient. And judging by how common impatience is, we are all bad at math.
Each of us has areas in our lives where, when it comes to estimating the cost, we miscalculate with vigor. We think marriage will give us bliss at a negligible cost. We think parenting will give our lives deep meaning at no expense. We think ministry or work will give us purpose without requiring much in return. Upon discovering the costly nature of a commitment, we lose patience and long only for it to improve or terminate in the shortest time possible.
We are bad at counting the cost of relationships, but we are also bad at counting the cost of trials. Most of us are observant enough to recognize the universal nature of suffering. We do not expect exemption, but we do tend to expect an express lane to the other side. We are surprised when our trial does not resolve in a timely manner after a round of faithful prayer and fasting. We are not good at math. We believe that the amount of time necessary for us to be made complete through suffering is much shorter than what God ordains.
If we can’t be patient longer than five seconds for a website to load, we are not likely to weather a lengthy trial or sustain a hard relationship very well. Our anger will be easily kindled every time we don’t get what we want when we want it. Amazon gets the package here the same day we order it. If we are not careful, we may begin to resent God’s lack of concern to offer goods and services according to our timetable. We may even question his goodness. We may overlook the possibility that the waiting itself could be the good and perfect gift, delivered right to our doorstep.
It is often wryly observed that the secret to a happy life is holding low expectations. There is certainly some truth to the idea, though perhaps it is not low expectations, but right expectations we need most. Jesus spent considerable time establishing right expectations for what it would cost to be his disciples. He redefined blessedness, as we have seen, but he also reset expectations about how the world would respond to the message of the gospel, the amount of time it takes for righteousness to grow in us, and the amount of time it takes for the kingdom of heaven to come in fullness. To help us think rightly about these things, he told parables employing the language of harvest.
Most of us are far removed from agrarian settings. We lack the shared understanding of Jesus’s original audience that farming takes time. Wheat harvests take months to sprout heads. Vine- yards take several years to yield a vintage. A mustard seed takes decades to grow into a giant tree. We also lack a sense of the intense work farming involves. My limited experience with growing tomatoes involves daily visits to my plants thinking, “This is taking longer than I expected. This is harder than I expected.”
So, when Jesus uses harvest images in his stories, the necessity of patience is assumed. It is also mentioned explicitly: “As for [the seed] in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience”(Luke 8:15).
James, too, mentions patience in the context of harvest language: “Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient” (James 5:7–8 NIV).
Why is the farmer patient? Because, by experience, he knows exactly how much time and what circumstances are necessary to yield a crop. He is good at counting the cost.
God is never impatient because he is very good at math. He never labors under a wrong expectation for what a circumstance or relationship will cost. He has never looked at the ongoing sin in your life and thought, “This is taking longer than I expected.”
He has never looked upon the troubles of this world and thought, “This is harder than I expected.” He is able to bear with us in our weakness because he understands the end from the beginning, and because he is able to not only count the cost of relationship, but to pay it.
The cost was a spotless Lamb.
Jesus Christ, who is the revelation of the patience of the Father, is also the perfect human example of patience.
The Patience of Christ
By the time I complete my morning commute and take a seat at my desk, I have committed the sin of impatience multiple times. By the time I make the commute home, I will have committed it multiple times more. Living shoulder to shoulder with sinners means our patience will be tried regularly. More often than not, our anger will be kindled and our response will not produce the righteousness that God desires.
Jesus Christ lived thirty-three years shoulder to shoulder with sinners, no doubt tempted constantly to sinful impatience and quick anger. Yet, the Bible records only two instances in which his anger manifested itself. Two. In thirty-three years. At every turn, he encountered people transgressing his Father’s commands. To have expressed anger would have been justifiable, righteous. But even in expressing his righteous anger, he was slow. He endured patiently with sinners.
Not only was he patient with sinners, but he was patient with circumstances. He timed his miracles and his teachings so that his ministry would unfold according to the will of his Father. When prodded by his family to speed things up, he responded that his time had not yet come (John 2:1–5; 7:1–8). He knew how to wait patiently on the Lord.
He was also patient in suffering. The apostle Peter, eyewitness to the crucifixion, recalls the patience of Christ in affliction:
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Pet. 2:21–24)
Patiently, he endured the cross. Christ is our example of patience with sinners, patience in circumstances, and patience in suffering. He shows us what perfect human patience looks like.
After making his famous declaration that he was the foremost among sinners, Paul mentions God’s purpose in saving him: “But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Tim. 1:16). Paul knew that the depth of his sin displayed the depth of Christ’s patience. When we view our own salvation as an expression and example of the perfect patience of Christ, we begin to desire that our lives thereafter would exemplify that patience, as well. We begin to wait patiently on the Lord. We begin to bear patiently with others, even those who are the foremost among sinners.
Content taken from In His Image: 10 Ways God Calls Us to Reflect His Characterby Jen Wilkin, ©2018. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.