John 15: 1-8
Whether we are driving around town, in a long line at the airport or waiting to be served in a restaurant, tempers can easily flare. If our “fast food” order takes too long, we’re impatient. If our Amazon order takes two days instead of one, we’re impatient. In our instant gratification culture, he or she who waits is lost in the dust.
Technology has dramatically sliced our patience levels in half. Bing! We have a text message that we think demands an immediate response because we don’t want to keep the person waiting. What if they’re impatient? With high-speed Internet, who wants to wait longer than 1.5 seconds for a web page to load?
At the root of a lot of our impatience is anger. A quick temper can be like a fire out of control. It can burn us and everyone around us in its path. Anger divides people. We want what we want now, and we will do whatever it takes to be fast and first in line, regardless of the consequences. Proverbs 14:29 says “Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick-tempered displays folly.”
Patience is not an easy virtue to develop.
I have often thought I was seeking spiritual growth by piously praying for more patience, but in all honesty, what I really wanted God to do was simply remove all situations that require patience from my daily life.
What does it take to develop patience?
Consider the practice of planting seeds. Digging around in the soil is calming for me. Dropping in string beans, lettuce, cucumbers and carrots is fun. I realize that I can easily buy all the vegetables I’m trying to grow at my grocery store down the street, so why do I bother?
Because co-creating with nature teaches me patience.
I would not call myself a gardener, but watching a seed grow into ripe fruit is a fascinating process that cannot be rushed. It reminds me that there are greater unseen forces at work around me. It reminds of my dependence on God. A seed draws nutrients and water from the soil in the same way we draw trust and confidence in God when we surround ourselves with Him. We need the living water of scripture every day.
Consider the leaf. Pluck the leaf off a vine, and within hours, it goes limp, shrivels and dies. A leaf abides in a vine in the same way we abide in Christ. Jesus uses this concrete example as he’s teaching an agrarian culture of ancient Israel what it means to abide or remain in him in John 15:1-8. Jesus is the Vine, and God is the gardener who carefully plants and cares for the branches with one purpose – to bear fruit to eat. The branches are all those who claim to be followers of Jesus. The fruitful branches are true believers who, by their union with him, produce much fruit.
Abiding with Jesus means drawing our energy and nourishment from him. Not from the world. Not from accomplishments. Not from other people. Abiding means a total surrender of control to Christ. Our impatient tempers ignite when we abide in the wrong things.
Learning to abide takes time. But God bears patiently with us, carefully watering, providing sunshine as we struggle to push through the darkness, gradually unfolding our leaves and stretching toward the heavens. That’s the imagery that the Y-shape of the young bean shoot brings to my mind. God waits so patiently on us to cry out to him, to surrender, to confess our sins. If God was not ridiculously patient and slow to anger with us, we would not exist in this life as we know it.
In her book, In His Image, Jen Wilkin writes, “Patience is not just the ability to wait, but to abide. It is not just gritting our teeth and waiting for a circumstance to change or a trial to resolve, crossing off days on a calendar. It is living daily in the awareness that God holds all things together, and that, in the grand scheme of things, whatever trouble we face is light and momentary. Sin and suffering have an expiration date. They are not eternal.”
Ouch! Gritting my teeth and waiting for a circumstance to change has been my coping strategy for years.
Bear patiently at a red light when running late. Bear patiently in the pick-up line at my
son’s elementary school. Bear patiently with my daughter who flies into a sobbing rage when she can’t find a toy or is disciplined. Bear patiently after a resume has been submitted. Bear patiently with someone during his or her grieving process. Bear patiently with someone who is not learning quickly enough a new skill that you think is easy. Bear patiently while waiting on the results of a mammogram. Bear patiently with the tech department as they struggle to help you fix your high-speed Internet.
Jesus was never in a hurry during his public ministry because he knew how to wait on God’s timing. Jesus never displayed frustration or impatience with his disciples in all their mistakes and misunderstandings as he prepared them for his earthly departure. Jesus patiently endured the cross.
When we feel anger flaring within, let’s pause and try to look for the cause. Are we reacting to an evil situation that we want to set right? Or are we responding selfishly to a personal insult? May God give us the wisdom to discern the difference.
Dear Heavenly Father,
Please help us to control our quick tempers. Guide us as we channel our feelings into effective action and overcome selfish anger through humility and repentance. Teach us to abide more fully in you, and not in things of this world. Give us the desire to walk in your timing, even if that takes slowing us down. Amen.