Ah, patience. I think there are actually times when I exhibit this particular fruit of the Spirit quite well, such as when surrounded by about 15 to 20 children of ages 2 and 3 on a Sunday morning, trying to actually get them to sit and listen to the Bible lesson for that week. However, with basically anything or anyone besides young children, I can definitely lose my patience (and it can be very hard to find again). I don't like sitting in traffic, I get a little hangry when my food takes a while to come out at a restaurant, and I find myself struggling to stay patient with adults more often than with children. If we're honest, I know we all have areas in our lives where patience goes out the window. It is not easy to be patient at all times. I know.
So how in the world are we supposed to bear this particular fruit when our culture today is so much about instant gratification and—quite frankly—people just get on our nerves? Let's look at Jesus. Let me tell you, He had things that would test patience way more than being cut off in traffic or not getting food at a restaurant in what we may consider a reasonable amount of time. There are many examples to give of Jesus exhibiting unbelievable amounts of patience, but I was especially drawn to two of them.
Example 1: His Disciples
I mean, come on. They did life with Jesus, they saw Him perform miracles, they spent time with Him every single day, and they still just didn't get it most of the time. They still doubted, they still questioned, they still needed things explained multiple times. I know I would have probably just stopped trying to help them understand at some point, but Jesus never lost His patience with them. Not even at the last supper when He instituted a new covenant (you know, the one that completely changed everything because He was going to die to forgive all of our sins—past, present, and future—so that we could have salvation as a free gift, independent of any deed or sacrifice we could ever pointlessly try to offer to atone for our sins), and then afterwards the disciples proceeded to argue over which one would be considered the greatest among them. Can you imagine being Jesus in that situation? Knowing how important that supper was, knowing it was your last one before you'd be crucified to save the very men in that room, knowing that you'd be leaving them very soon, and all they seemed to care about was knowing who was the best disciple. I'm pretty sure I would have lost it at that point, but not Jesus. He answered as He always did, and basically told them how to be great and still promised all of them a place at His table in His kingdom:
'A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves. "You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.' (ESV)
I don't truly know how He did it, how He never lost His patience with them, but I do know that He loved them, and more than anything, He wanted them to know the Father. So maybe that's how. Maybe it's not as hard to be patient with people when you focus on loving them and wanting what God wants for them instead of how—for lack of a better word—thick-headed they can be...
Example 2: The Woman at the Well
The woman at the well is most definitely a well-known story in the church. It is often used for a lot of different teaching aspects, but I don't know that I've ever heard it used to discuss Jesus's patience. It shows His love, His truth, His omniscience, and much more. But it also shows His patience as He explained to the woman who He was and showed her Truth.
'A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink." (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?" (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water." The woman said to him, "Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock." Jesus said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water." Jesus said to her, "Go, call your husband, and come here." The woman answered him, "I have no husband." Jesus said to her, "You are right in saying, 'I have no husband'; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true." The woman said to him, "Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship." Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." The woman said to him, "I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things." Jesus said to her, "I who speak to you am he."' (ESV)
Through the first half of the conversation, the woman was solely focused on her physical thirst and failed to pick up on the fact that Jesus was trying to meet her spiritual needs, not just her physical ones. Plus, she continually questioned Him and then made it clear that after all He had said to her, she still didn't recognize Him as Christ the Messiah. Yet, throughout the whole exchange between them, Jesus never once lost His temper or gave up on trying to offer her Truth. Instead, He guided the conversation in a way that led to the ultimate Truth: that He was the Messiah and that He wanted to offer her living water. So rather than losing patience with her as she was focused solely on her physical situation, Jesus continued to guide her back to the point He was trying to make.
From this story, we can learn very practical ways of how to have patience like Jesus did. It's all about perspective. Rather than being focused solely on the present moment, Jesus focused most on eternity. He also focused on Spirit and Truth. He didn't care about the nitty-gritty details of where people worshiped or were supposed to worship like the woman at the well did. He cared about how we worship. His perspective was so deep in what God wanted (He said that God was seeking true worshipers) that it aligned His heart directly with God's heart, and therefore aligned His perspective with God's perspective. My guess is that it's a lot easier to have patience with others when we've aligned our perspective with God's and can therefore remain intently focused on Spirit and Truth.
Obviously having patience will never be the easiest thing, but I genuinely believe that if we learn from Jesus and truly love people, align our hearts with God's heart, and embrace an eternal perspective, patience will come as a beautiful byproduct of all of those things.