Summary: Patience reaches four layers: relational, emotional, sexual, and spiritual. At each level to be impatient is to fail to trust God to be God.
I know you’ve heard this old line, but I just can’t resist repeating it. It concerns the fellow who had realized that he was impetuous, compulsive, and impatient. And so he decided to ask the Lord to help him settle his personality problem. "Lord," he prayed. “Lord, give me the gift of patience and give it to me right now!"
Patience. Whether or not we are patient people may seem like a small matter. The question of patience may not sound like one of the truly profound spiritual issues of our time. But I hope to show you this morning that the question of patience goes to the very heart of who we are as believers. When we deal with the patience question, we will uncover layer after layer of spiritual sickness. Whether or not we achieve patience is not just a matter of how we are wired or what our temperament may be. Whether or not we achieve patience indicates how spiritually healthy we are and, deeper yet, demonstrates whether our belief in God is just on the surface or whether it goes deep.
Now some forms of patience and impatience we recognize easily. There is plenty of evidence of just ordinary impatience around. In fact, this morning my left thumb still hurts a little from an experience with impatience this week. A church member was preparing to leave the building one day, and said he was having battery trouble and didn’t think his car would start. Well, we are a full service church. We will charge you up either from the pulpit or on the street if we have to. And so I went out to try to help. No sooner had I turned my car around so that I could float over to the left and hook up the cables than some driver came roaring along Aspen Street from behind me and raced past me on that left side of the street. I gave myself a slight sprain jerking my steering wheel to avoid being hit! Plenty of evidence of ordinary impatience!
Was it one of you, by the way? I have on occasion found myself following some of you down the road, and I know that a sermon on patience is right on target!
There is plenty of impatience around, and, in fact, our culture does a lot to reward impatience. We value the get it done spirit, we affirm speed and efficiency, we speak with admiration of people who don’ t procrastinate, we are awed by managers who get lots of work out of their employees. Impatience looks a whole lot better to many of us than patience does.
But I say again, on the basis of Scripture, that the issue of patience reveals a whole lot more than our personality types or our managerial skills. The issue of patience reveals our spiritual health. It reveals whether or not our belief in God is just a set of ideas, out there someplace, or whether our belief in God is a deep and abiding trust.
In the passage we are working with all this month in Galatians, Paul tells us that one of the fruits of the Spirit is patience. "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience … " But before he tells us that, he has already given us a long list of what he calls the works of the flesh. That’s in verses 19 through 21. In that list there are really four groups of issues, four clusters of human mistakes. I’m going to ask you to look with me this morning at each one of those four clusters and to see those things as symptoms of the problem of impatience.
If you’ll just stay with your open Bibles and work with me through these three verses, 19 through 21, I think we’ll be able to see that Paul is addressing, first, relational impatience; then, emotional impatience; third, sexual impatience; and finally, spiritual impatience. I see four different kinds of human failings in Paul’s list, and when you put them up against that fruit of the Spirit called patience, you will see relational impatience, emotional impatience, sexual impatience, and spiritual impatience.
First is relational impatience. The fruit of the Spirit is patience, the sign of a healthy spirituality is patience. But the sign of an unhealthy spiritual life is impatience in relationships. Relational impatience.
Paul’s list is very long. You know it already. We’ve dealt with it in two previous Sundays. The works of the flesh include "enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy". All of these are signs of an impatient relationship, an anxious relationship.
We find it hard to wait for each other, don’t we? We have such a vested interest in managing one another’s lives, and when we can’t get others to perform for us as we want them too, then patience is the first thing out the window. When somebody doesn’t perform to our timetables, we want to write them off : so enmities, strife, jealousy, anger all the rest.