Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Surviving on Patience

By standing firm you will gain life.
Luke 21.19


The King James Version translates this as, “In your patience possess ye your souls.” Jesus is talking about hard times—winters of rejection and trials, when His followers would face harsh criticism from the religious majority. “All men will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life.” (Luke 21.17-19) Patience keeps us in possession of our souls.

We discussed the first three fruits of the Spirit—love, joy, and peace (Galatians 5.22)—as “summer fruits,” sweet and wonderful products that develop over time, appealing to the eye and taste. Patience, along with kindness and goodness, are winter fruits. They’re born in us and born by us to sustain survival. They allow us to withstand cold blasts of hostility and brutal, battering winds that would cause weaker people to snap. Winter fruits aren’t as lovely to look at as love, joy, and peace. People don’t reach for them as readily or enthusiastically. In fact, when anyone asks us to be patient, kind, or good, it’s a good guess they’re in tough situations to begin with. But patience, kindness, and goodness are vital fruits that every believer must yield in their seasons, because they keep us supple, nourished, and enable us to adapt to our circumstances. All the love and joy and peace we have will come to naught if hard times of rejection and tribulation uproot or break us. “Patience brings about self-possession,” Jesus says. “By standing firm you will gain life.”

The Vital Link

Hebrews 10.36 says we need patience “so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.” Patience is the vital link that connects faith in God’s promises to their realization in our lives. So many believers blossom quickly with love, joy, and peace. Then when the weather changes and they sorely need patience to survive, they find its fruit dull and lackluster, not at all the festive, attractive produce that they initially enjoyed. Yet what they don’t realize these initial bursts of love, joy, and peace are first fruits—early tastes of amazing things that come to those who do God’s will. Patience gets us from one summer to the next. Each summer’s fruit grows richer, sweeter, and more outstanding in every way. If we neglect to nurture the winter fruit of patience between these summers, however, we will falter. The strength we need to bear even greater love, joy, and peace won’t be there when the time comes.

Proof Points
The Spirit bears different types of fruit in our lives to prove different aspects of His nature. As we discussed a few days ago, love bears proof of discipleship; followers of Jesus love. Joy proves that our God can transform sorrow and loss into blessings. Peace proves that we live above human understanding; our faith eases our doubts and calms our fears. So what does patience prove?

Paul writes, “We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path… Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses.” (2 Corinthians 6.3,4) Patience proves we are servants—more specifically, we’re waiters. We’re in no rush. We can hang on as long as it takes for God’s plan to work as He wills. The same intolerance, suspicion, rejection, and hatred we endured yesterday may be standing at our gate today. It may be there tomorrow. It may be there next week. But God has promised it won’t last forever.

Numbers 23.19 reminds us, “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” No.
The old gospel song says, “He may not come when you want Him, but He’s right on time.” That’s the fruit of patience at its most concise. Answers we seek, changes we pray for, and hopes we’ve set our hearts on—they’re in development even as we read this. Patience feeds our spirits as we wait. It keeps us in possession of our souls.

Patience is a winter fruit--not as colorful and sweet as love, joy, and peace, yet it's the vital link between accepting God's promises and seeing them realized.

(Tomorrow: Counting on Kindness)

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