It’s kind of a running joke in Christian circles: Whatever you do, don’t pray for patience! It’s funny because we all know we could use a little more patience, but when we pray for it, God doesn’t typically endow us with great patience, instead He gives us opportunities to display patience… which often means undesirable circumstances or people. It’s occurred to me that patience is really the result of other things at work in our hearts and minds, and so I want to suggest that until you begin growing in patience, that you don’t pray for patience. Pray for something else.
In his letter to the church at Ephesus, the apostle Paul writes, “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom His whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power, through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:14-19). When we love one another as Jesus commanded His disciples, patience results because we are less concerned with our own interests and comfort and more concerned with the well-being of others. There is no patience without love and so as we seek to be more patient, we must pray to become more loving. After all, “love is patient.”
We are told in scripture that, “The joy of the Lord is our strength.” God is always joyful. True, He is sometimes angry, grieved, and there are things the Lord hates (yes, hates). We are created in the image of God and have these emotions within us as well, but even while staring the full weight of the wretchedness of sin in the face, watching it poison His creation, God persevered with great patience and worked His plan of salvation. Why? “For the joy set before Him” (Hebrews 12:2). God is our Living Hope. We know that His plans will always succeed and that no matter how bad things may look to us, God is sovereign over everything and working in all things for the greater good. If we really believe this, then we also can “consider it pure joy when we face trials of many kinds,” knowing that those trials are working God’s will in our lives and in the lives of those around us. Seeing the glory and majesty of God and His gospel, we can rejoice when others are blessed, even if it’s through our suffering. Pray for a heart open to the gospel, not the concept of the gospel, but the living gospel unfolding in your own life, and pray to be joy-filled. Joy leads to our next prayer.
One of my favorite images in scripture is Psalm 23, “the Lord is my shepherd.” I read it and see Jesus trying to get us to relax in green pastures, trying to help us refresh at still waters, and guiding us in His righteousness, though we still wind up in the darkest valley — and even there, Jesus still leads us to where we might find rest in Him. Jesus is the Prince of Peace. A stubborn, untrusting sheep may wander and find itself in the valley, but the rod of correction and the staff of guidance can bring us back into His fold and teach us to trust and find rest in His leadership. We become irritated and agitated when we don’t feel safe or cared for; we get restless. We can’t be patient if we don’t have that peace that passes our understanding. Without it we will often find ourselves contending with God about how things should go, and that really is the heartbeat of sin. Before you pray for patience, pray for peace.
You may have noticed by now that there is a familiar pattern to this train of thought. Rather than praying for patience we pray for love, joy, and peace. Sounds a little like Galatians 5:22-23, the fruit of the Spirit. “But the fruit of the Spirit is first of all love, joy peace…” and then comes patience. After patience is listed, “kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” I believe we have these traits in this order for a reason. Until we know, really know and are filled with, God’s love and joy and peace, we will not know patience. Once secure in Christ through love, joy, and peace, then we find—not that we have patience, but that we are patient. When we are patient, then through us will flow kindness, gentleness, and self-control. I want to encourage you, don’t pray for patience. Pray for the love of God, the joy of God, and the peace of God in Jesus Christ our Lord and see how that begins to change your life, your interactions with others, and your outlook in trials of many kinds.