FIRST-PERSON: The necessity of patience
DALLAS (BP) -- "Lord, give me patience, and give it to me right now!"
Patience is a virtue that does not come naturally to most of us. We hesitate to pray for it, since we know it comes out of trials and suffering.
Cultivating patience is not easy, but it is a mark of spiritual maturity. Bearing with others' weaknesses (Romans 15:1) is a characteristic of biblical leadership and good shepherding.
Patience, in its highest sense, can be defined as "the capacity to endure without complaint something difficult or disagreeable." It is steadfastness despite adversity. Patience is not resignation or apathy but firmly believing God is sovereignly at work despite no visible evidence.
"Patience can persuade a prince and soft speech can break bones," Proverbs 25:15 tells us.
This implies that one who holds the greater power in a relationship can be won over by a tiny thing called patience. Persuading a peer is one thing, but a prince? That's another.
Every church goes through certain levels of crisis. When unity is undermined, conflicts surface. There will always be those who push back on every decision or question motives. Cultivating patience with others during these seasons requires gentleness, humility and faith.
I've seen this modeled throughout our ministry life by wise leaders. I have benefitted from it. Patience and kind words can minimize negative dynamics whether in personal relationships or a congregation. Even if disagreements exist, relationships can be maintained in the bond of peace.
Here are three things I have learned about patience:
1. Give the Holy Spirit time to work in people's hearts.
We once experienced what I thought was the end of a close friendship over a church matter. The couple was angry and left the church, abruptly ending our relationship. A year or so later, we bumped into them at an event. To our surprise, they approached us and struck up a conversation. As we talked, it was clear that their anger had somehow been resolved.
I was relieved and was reminded that we are not called to fix people. We must do everything we can to make things right, but sometimes only prayerful waiting can bring healing. Rather than assume a relationship is dead, wait patiently and prayerfully for the Spirit to work. Our job is to examine our own hearts and wait patiently for God to work in theirs.
2. Give people time to process actions or policies they may not immediately support.
Usually the staff, elders and committees have planned and worked on a project for months. They have had time to ask all the hard questions, look at both sides of the issue and examine alternatives. Give others the same space. Give them time to question, time to pray, time to understand what a specific event or a recommendation means for the future, waiting upon God to do His work in the hearts of the people.
3. Give grace when you speak. Always.
Soft words can break hard hearts. This is the power of "soft speech." It is disarming and sometimes unexpected, but always timely. "A soft answer turns away wrath," Proverbs 15:1 says. The story of Abigail's words to and David in 1 Samuel 25 is a classic example of this point. Abigail's humble response to David's anger over a soured relationship with Nabal won David's heart and prevented bloodshed.
There are times when confrontations are necessary and hard truths must be communicated. However, patience and soft speech can make restoration, forgiveness and acceptance easier to find in the aftermath. Patience waits on God to work, claiming the promise of Isaiah 64:4, "God works on behalf of those who wait for Him...."