Is patience a gene? I have always been impatient. Overcoming this failing is part of my personal climb. I have read the biblical verses relating to this subject many times over and some have been helpful, but trying to be patient when you’re feeling impatient is a bit like trying to be well when you are feeling sick. It’s a nice try, but it usually doesn’t go far, and I know I still have a ways to go. Patience is a fruit of the Spirit of God, of course, but that doesn't mean that God makes us instantly patient if we ask for his help with it. As someone wryly observed, if you ask God for patience, don’t expect a quick reply. But seriously, we have to develop patience with the help we are given. That's why I was particularly happy with something I was reading in the Book of Ephesians recently. As I read in the New International Version, I saw something I hadn’t noticed before. Paul writes:
“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4: 1-2).
Now I just happened to look at these verses again in the King James version and noticed something different in the last part of the verse: “…with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love.”
The difference is small, but it triggered a thought in my mind: The semicolon used in the NIV directly before “be patient” makes it look like there are two separate thoughts (being humble and gentle on the one hand and patient and bearing with people on the other), whereas the series of commas in the KJV looks more like a continuous, connected thought. The original Greek of the New Testament doesn’t have punctuation, of course; but as I looked at it, it seemed to me that the sense of the verse really is one continuous subject and thought – with humility, gentleness, and patience seeming to be grouped together as related qualities.
Then when I looked at what Paul says in Colossians 3:12-13, I saw the same pattern: “… clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another…” Here we have compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience grouped together – the same qualities we see in Ephesians 4 with a couple more added.
What struck me about these verses is that the qualities Paul is talking about can indeed be interrelated, and this has a practical application which I found I was able to put into action. Instead of thinking about patience as an abstract goal when I’m feeling impatient with someone, I found that if I work on one of the more concrete qualities in the group Paul brings together, it helps with the impatience at the same time. For example, thinking about and working on being humble when I’m feeling impatient really makes a difference.
After all, when I remind myself I’m not the center of the universe, what does it matter that someone is late to meet with me? If I think about what it means to be compassionate, I can better empathize with the overwhelmed driver in front of me who is holding up all the traffic, and so on. If I focus on the other qualities on Paul’s list, I don’t even have to think about patience directly in order to better apply it.
Anyway, I think this small tactic is helping me grow in this area. Perhaps not as quickly as I would like, but I have to be patient.