It’s said that patience is a virtue. It’s a very old saying from the 14th C and is attributed to William Langland. It reflects a Latin proverb, patience is the greatest virtue.
But is patience a virtue? Let me suggest that it is the context that helps us understand why it is a virtue.
Consider what we learn about Jesus in Mark chapter 1 verses 29-39.
Jesus commanded extraordinary authority. With a word he could heal people of all kinds of sickness – Peter’s mother-in-law who was sick with a fever; all who were sick with a variety of ills or who were demon-possessed; and even a man with leprosy. As Mark’s Gospel unfolds, we are invited to see that into a world plagued by sickness and despair, Jesus brought new hope.
But Jesus did something much more – he had a message. Jesus’ primary purpose was not to come simply as a miracle-worker or social-worker to address the physical and mental ills of men and women. He was not a politician or celebrity using his wealth to cure the social evils of a messed-up world. Rather, he had come to perform radical surgery for a sick and messed up humanity. He knew, in the words of Jeremiah, that the hearts of all men and women are deceitful above all else.
Malcolm Muggeridge, one-time editor of Punch, understood this when he commented that men and women are imprisoned ‘in a tiny dark dungeon of the ego,… involving us in the pitiless servitude of the senses. So, imprisoned and enslaved, we are cut off from God and from the light of his love.’
Earlier in Mark chapter 1 we read that the central theme of Jesus’ ministry was the kingdom of God. His ministry and mission is summed up in these words: ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe the good news’ (1:15).
And now, despite the pressure of large crowds from Capernaum, calling on him to heal their sick, Jesus was resolute: ‘Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do. I must preach the good news of the kingdom in other cities also,’ he said (1:38).
Mark wants us to know that Jesus’ mission is bigger than Capernaum, and bigger than Galilee. And bigger than healing physical ills. His mission was to impact the world with God’s good news – not with a sword or through power politics, but through a ministry that revealed God’s justice, compassion and hope.
Prayer is another theme we find in the final section of Mark chapter 1. In verse 35 we read: In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus (he) got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.
Jesus regularly took time out to speak with his heavenly Father. When I first started to think about prayer and why I should pray, this verse was very important to me: If the Son of God prayed, I too should pray.
Words were central to Jesus’ life and ministry. With words of authority, he healed the sick and gave orders to the powers of evil. With words he taught with extraordinary wisdom and fearlessness about God’s kingdom and our need to sort out our relationship with God. And with words Jesus regularly spoke and kept his personal relationship with his heavenly Father vital and fresh. As with any meaningful relationship words were key.
It is therefore significant that in his Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:4-15) Jesus explains that ‘the seed is the word of God’ (8:11).
When we think about this we appreciate that Christian ministry – which is to be Word-centered – is like sowing seed. And just as a farmer needs to learn patience as the seed does its work of germination and growth, so we need to learn patience in building one another up in the faith and drawing people to faith through the ministry of God’s Word today.
Yes, sometimes there is rapid and exciting growth. But generally, coming to faith and growth in the faith takes time. We are to learn patience, trusting the Lord to do his work.
And this is why we need to pray – keeping our own relationship with the Lord fresh and vital, asking him, amongst many other things that he will honor his promise and therefore his Name.
Never forget Jesus’ promise: “… On this rock (repentant faith in Jesus the Christ, the Son of God) I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
Significantly, in praying for his Colossian readers Paul the Apostle prays that they (and we) will be strengthened to display great endurance and patience… He prays for the kind of mentality that tackles the tough issues of life and the kind of stamina that perseveres. He asks that God’s people have the resolution and determination to stay in the long-distance race of Godly living.
How different all this is from life in our culture where immediate solutions are demanded, success is lauded, and independence is prized. Paul prays that God’s people will have the capacity to survive stressful times with joy, overcome insult with composure, and most of all, know that God can be trusted to be working out his all-wise and all-good purposes even in the toughest times.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23).