Posted on May 4th, by Doug Ponder in God, Life. 2 comments

The Illusive Virtue

“Patience is a virtue,” as the popular saying goes. But it’s also a command from God:

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 also, be patient” (James 5:7-8).

Yet despite God’s call to be patient (which is repeated throughout the Scriptures in many ways), I know of very few people who would describe themselves as “patient.” I don’t think our problem is a lack of awareness. We know that we should be patient, and we know that we are not. I often hear friends confess, “I’m not a patient person.” Our problem doesn’t seem to be a lack of desire to change, either. For many also tell me, “I pray for patience, but it doesn’t seem to work.”

Picking the Fruit, Leaving the Root

So what’s going on?

It may be that our confession, prayers, and attempts to change are not going deep enough. We are not addressing the root of our problem.

It’s like pulling dandelions out of your yard every day, only to see them grow back in a week, and keep coming back year after year. That happens because the root of a dandelion is much deeper than the little yellow flowers we see on the surface. (I’ve that their roots can be as deep as several feet in the ground!) The flower is the only “fruit” (the product) of the plant, but the root is the source of its life and growth.

The same is true with patience or its opposite, impatience. Those are merely the fruit (or effect) of a deeper problem, not the root (or cause) of it. So, praying for patience without addressing what is causing your impatience is a bit like plucking dandelion flowers without pulling up the roots. In other words, don’t be surprised if it doesn’t seem to “work.”

Pride and Prejudice Patience

We don’t have to guess about the root or cause of impatience. God tells us plainly in his Word: “Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit” (Eccl. 7:8).

In that short verse, God contrasts patience with pride because pride is the root of our impatience. Think about it. When you’re stuck in traffic and angry at the drivers around you, what is the cause of all your impatience? You think that you have somewhere to go, something important to do, and you need to get there now! But this arrogantly overlooks the obvious: you are surrounded by hundreds and thousands of other cars filled with real people who also have places to go and things to do. Hello, Mr. Prideful.

Or suppose something has not happened as quickly as you would have liked. Maybe you have been praying for God to heal you for years, but so far he hasn’t done so. You’ve grown secretly bitter with God, impatient with him for not doing what you want when you want him to. You see? Pride again.

The definition of pride is “thinking too highly of yourself,” which is true, but doesn’t help us unless we know that we shouldn’t think well of ourselves at all. The Scriptures say that like our ancestors before us, the intentions of our hearts are “only evil all the time” (Gen. 6:5). Even the good that we try to do is so often poisoned by a selfish view of ‘what’s in it for me.’ We are not righteous, not even the best of us. We don’t understand the world rightly without God’s help. The Scriptures say that our sins make us “worthless,” with our lying mouths and our feet that are swift to shed blood, leaving behind them a trail of ruin and misery (cf. Rom. 3:10-18). And that says nothing of our tendency to belittle others, to judge them, to look down on them, or to exclude them.

It would be utterly foolish to put someone like that—someone like ourselves—at the center of the universe, yet that is exactly what pride does. You know the old saying, “He thinks the world revolves around him”? That’s a picture of pride at work.

How Pride Produces Impatience

How does pride produce impatience, though? By placing ourselves at the center of everything, we grow impatient when things do not go our way.

When we don’t get things as fast as we want, pride nudges us to take them by whatever means necessary, instead of waiting patiently for them.

And when circumstances do not go our way, we don’t just think, “I can’t believe this is happening.” Instead, pride nudges us to say, “I can’t believe this is happening to me,” which then becomes, “This shouldn’t be happening to me,” which is another way of saying, “I don’t deserve this,” which, finally, is our prideful way of saying that we ought to get what we want.

All of this means that if we want to grow in patience (as we all do), then we need to repent of our pride and seek to grow in humility. Only by killing the root of pride, will we see less of the fruit of impatience.

And if you want to know how to repent of pride, then start by reminding yourself of who God is and what he has done for you in Jesus. Think often on those truths. Remember that he is the center of all things, not you (Col. 1:16). Remember that you only exist because he decided to give you life (Rev. 4:10-11). Remember that you are a depraved sinner deserving of God’s wrath for your rebellion against him (Eph. 2:1-3), but also remember that he has shown his mercy to you in Christ (Eph. 2:4-7). Remember that what you could not do to save yourself, Jesus has done for you—not because you are worthy, but because he is gracious (Eph. 2:8-9).

The more you grasp the gospel, the more you will grow in humility. And the more you grow in humility, the more patient you will become. It is proof of God’s work in your life: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23).

Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.

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