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Praying for patience.


Silly me. I used to warn people not to pray for patience. This advice was the outgrowth of some Bible study I had done, concluding that patience was the natural result of hardship, tribulation, difficulty, or trials. You know, the kinds of calamity that test our emotional and spiritual reflexes. Praying for patience, in that line of reasoning, was an open invitation for trouble. I reckoned that life is vicious enough as it is. Whatever you do, don't ask for more!

Well, there are several layers of almost in that thinking. One is the partial depiction of patience so evident in it. Patience, deriving from the Greek macrothumia (makro meaning long, and thumia meaning hot or passionate or angry) isn't essentially a physical or even emotional response. Yes, high levels of impatience can certainly trigger numerous physical and emotional symptoms in all of us. Essentially, however, patience is putting our passions or anger or heat on hold. It is waiting. My almost understanding of patience was basically conditioned by the King James Version translation of the word macrothumia. Then, it was generally translated long-suffering. Today, most translators render it patience. At least now I know why people in the hospital are called patients. They were thought to be long-sufferers. But, patience isn't really about suffering. Well, with the exception of suffering with self. It is the stretching of our emotional reactions to life beyond the flashpoints. You know...mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Chill. Wait.

There's a second angle in my almost grasp of the meaning of patience. In Scripture, macrothumia is a fruit of the spirit and not a discipline to be learned. We humans are hard wired for the concepts of now, right now, and not a nano-second later. So, the Apostle Paul, writing to the believers in Galatia, spelled out the natural fruit that should grow in the rich, fertile soil of a believers heart---

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness,

faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23, ESV

That the patience branches of my spiritual tree are often barren is a give-away to an under-nourished spiritual life. Being impatient doesn't mean I need more wrestling with trouble or wrangling with life's dilemmas. The absence of patience in my spiritual fruit means there should be more time in personal communion with Christ. Which does, in fact, direct me to the prayer closet more often. I can, and should, pray for patience to be a natural fruit of my spiritual life.

King David asked "How long, O Lord?" often in the Psalms. In many of these instances he was asking for endurance, that is, the strength to withstand the many hardships of life. In others he was pleading for perseverance, the strength to continue his mission to lead the nation of Israel. Just the same, many of his "How long, O Lord?" prayers were the result of his impatience, most notably the hours he waited on God to intervene, or speak, or provide what was needed in an important crisis of leadership. Like many of us, he needed to grow the fruit of patience.

When he was calmed through spiritual refreshment and renewal he expressed the personal fruit of waiting on God. It is another theme of his songs. One of those special passages was ironically given to me as a life verse forty years ago. It is ironic because waiting, the fruit of patience, is such a hard spiritual growth element for me. These verses are framed on my wall where I see them every morning while sitting at my desk.

I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me

up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock,

making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our

God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.

Psalm 40:1-3, ESV

My impatience is usually most visible when that new song isn't echoing in my heart and the motions of daily life. It's because patience is a fruit of the spirit that should grow naturally in me as my communion with Christ is celebrated in personal devotion, prayer, Bible study, and worship. And, when I pray for patience. My wait problem isn't an emotional flaw. No, it's spiritual to the core.

Friday I'll mention the other important elements of King David's "How long, O Lord?" prayers, his pleas for endurance and perseverance. Tune in, please.

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