Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love… Ephesians 4:2
I remember the day my father received an unexpected letter from the bank – it must have been some time in the 1970s. It made him very angry. Why? Well, the envelope contained his first ever credit card.
We probably find it hard to believe now – but at that time credit cards were new. If you wanted to buy something, you had to choose one of three methods: cash, cheque, or a negotiated loan. But now here were these new-fangled pieces of plastic which enabled you to get things without paying for them.
My father did quite a dramatic thing. He got hold of a pair of scissors, cut the card into pieces, put it in another envelope, and sent it straight back to the bank with a strong letter. He had never asked for credit in his life! And he didn’t want it now, thank you very much! He was seriously offended.
Well, I haven’t followed my father’s example, even though I admired it. Like you, I imagine, I have found credit cards very useful. But I could see his point, given his background – and that loaded word “credit”.
An advertising slogan for credit cards was “taking the waiting out of wanting”. Quite clever, that. Short, snappy – and, in its way, accurate. But also very misleading. Because, of course, you do have to pay for what you are buying – it’s just that the paying bit, the not-so-pleasant bit, is hidden away. What the credit card adverts didn’t tell you was that – don’t you worry! – that bill would come back to bite you in due course.
And so we have evolved a society where debt is part and parcel of most people’s lives, and where millions of people, even those with high-flying jobs and big pay packets, are enslaved to possibly massive, unrepayable debts – the kind of debts that keep them awake at night, and that threaten nervous breakdowns, marital disputes and possibly ruined lives.
Paul writes “Be patient “. Elsewhere he tells us that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience…” (Galatians 5). He tells his friends in Colosse to “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, gentleness, humility and patience…” (Colossians 3). He isn’t in fact talking mainly about money, but about how we relate to people we find difficult and annoying.
But the need for patience covers many areas of life. Another obvious example is sex. The Bible principle is that sex is God’s beautiful gift to those who have committed themselves to one another in marriage. But who these days wants to wait? You must be joking!
There’s an old saying that “the best things in life are free”. There’s truth in that. But it’s also true to say that the best things in life are worth waiting for. You can’t study for a worthwhile qualification in a fortnight. You can’t learn to play a musical instrument in a couple of lessons. You can’t master a foreign language by listening to a few CDs. No: quiet, disciplined, patient application is what’s needed.
Building relationships requires patience. So does the vital matter of prayer. Any fruitful area of Christian ministry is a long-term prospect. “Growing” a church needs patience. In our “I-want-it-and-I-want-it-now” world, we who seek to follow Jesus have an important witness to make about the way to fulfilment, peace and true, lasting achievement. God give us grace to buck the trend and to nurture the virtue of patience!
In calling us to be patient, the Bible is in effect calling us to be like God. Where would we be without his patience?
God showed patience with the killer Cain by giving him the protective “mark” (Genesis 4). He showed patience with a whole world gone bad with the sign of the rainbow (Genesis 9). He showed patience with sinful Nineveh through the preaching of Jonah. He showed patience with his people through repeated pleadings (eg, Jesus’ parable of the tenants in the vineyard, Mark 12). He is still showing patience today by delaying Christ’s return (2 Peter 3). And that list is just a tiny sample.
Non-Christian cultures also reflect the great importance of patience. Says a Chinese proverb: “One moment of patience may ward off great disaster, while one moment of impatience may ruin a whole life.”
I’m afraid I have no idea who Ulrike Ruffert is, or was. But I like his words: “Patience is the ability to put up with people you’d like to put down.”
So… Are you a patient person? Patient with life in general? And patient in the sense of “long-suffering” with people who vex and trouble you?
Dear Lord and Father, you have been infinitely patient with me, my shortcomings and frailties. Thank you! Help me in this life to be patient with those who I feel have acted badly towards me – and to be satisfied to build patiently only those things that will last. Amen.