Patience

Learning to wait for what I want

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There’s absolutely nothing like having children to make us realize how much we need to grow in patience!

That’s not an insult about children. It simply reflects reality. 

As we mature into adulthood, we take on greater amounts of responsibility. Adding children to the mix exponentially increases those responsibilities. And with all the concerns and demands on our time, we realize we can sometimes be woefully lacking in patience. As our children grow in ability and maturity, we find that our patience must also grow! 

So what are some ways we parents can grow in patience, and how can we teach our children this essential character trait? Read on to find out. As our children grow in ability and maturity, we find that our patience must also grow!

But first, patience

If we’re going to work on growing and teaching our children patience, we should first understand what it is. 

There are many nuances to the word patience. Capturing all these nuances of patience into one definition is a challenge. And a toddler will see patience quite differently than a teenager, of course. When working with the youngest of children, we might describe patience as “learning to wait for what I want.”  This general definition is still relatable for us even as adults, but as we mature we recognize that our understanding of patience deepens considerably.

This general definition is still relatable for us even as adults, but as we mature we recognize that our understanding of patience deepens considerably. When faced with extremely rude or perhaps even aggressive behavior, for example, it takes patience to not lash out in words or actions and react with some form of vengeance (Proverbs 10:19). That type of patience might be described as remaining objective, staying calm, restraining an angry impulse, or not reacting adversely. In this example, patience is tied closely to self-control.

Patience when waiting for answered prayer represents another facet of the word. In that scenario, we may feel calm and trusting of God (Psalm 27:14).  Or perhaps we may feel unsettled and must work diligently toward overcoming feelings of anxiety or ingratitude. In this case patience is linked closely to faith.

As we mature and can gain a little hindsight, we recognize that patience does in fact “have its perfect work.”

Then there’s the patience we experience when working through a long trial, which may be painful, exceptionally inconvenient, or emotionally draining. We might describe that type of patience as fortitude or being able to withstand difficult circumstances. Here, patience is aligned with endurance.

Yet another form of patience is that which is required in achieving a challenging goal. Training for a marathon, learning to play a musical instrument with mastery, or writing a novel all take focused effort—forms of patience. Patience’s ally here is diligence. 

Many character traits in fact reinforce and overlap with patience. Over time we begin to see, as will our children, that patience means much more than waiting for our wants. Sometimes it means realizing that our wants were ultimately unimportant and that God had something else in mind for us. At times it even means waiting for what we need. And as we mature and can gain a little hindsight, we recognize that patience does in fact “have its perfect work” (James 1:4).

Patience is best taught, not during moments of conflict, but during those positive interactions when children are most receptive.

Stretching and building the “patience muscle”

Patience is like a muscle: it must be stretched and built. Just as with a weightlifter training to build muscle tone, flexibility and endurance are required. And respectful communication and positive reinforcement are essential. Like so many virtues, patience is best taught, not during moments of conflict, but during those positive interactions when children are most receptive.

The early years with our children are opportunities for us to gently and lovingly stretch and build their patience. As soon as children can understand simple directions, parents can begin working to build their patience in gentle little steps. 

Patience can even be taught in the form of games. Play a fun family game of “freeze tag” outside, for example. Play “Red Light, Green Light.” Board games and card games help reinforce the concept of needing to wait to take turns. 

Older children may appreciate more mature solutions. How about a penny jar? Each time your child successfully completes a step toward achieving a goal, place a penny in a jar. When it’s full, choose a reward together that your child will especially enjoy. The visual of seeing the jar fill up with pennies can be a motivating tool.

Or give a special gift in the form of a weekly and monthly planner that you have written encouraging notes in throughout. Fill it with inspirational pictures and quotes that you think your child would appreciate. As they work toward a goal, they’ll be encouraged and will be building patience. 

As they work toward a goal, they’ll be encouraged and will be building patience.

Plant a garden and watch it grow. Build a model from a model kit. Or create a paper chain counting up or down to a special event. Be always looking for constructive ways to encourage patience and delayed gratification in your children.

Whichever method or approach you find works best to motivate and encourage your children, keep lovingly stretching and building that “patience muscle” in them. It will serve them well as they grow into adulthood (Proverbs 22:6).   Keep lovingly stretching and building that “patience muscle” in your children.

A popular parable

One day when Jesus Christ was instructing His disciples, He presented a parable about a sower (a gardener or farmer). In the parable, a man scatters seeds in various places. Some seeds do well but then wither. Some don’t grow at all. Some grow but are choked out by weeds. Finally, some grow and thrive and eventually bear fruit (Luke 8:4-8).  

Jesus Christ explained that in this parable, the seed is symbolic for God’s word (Luke 8:11). He described the seedlings that eventually grew and produced fruit as “those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15, emphasis added throughout).

The parable of the sower is a familiar story to many of us. But if we typically only read it from the accounts of either Matthew or Mark, we miss that little nugget that Luke’s account includes: the phrase “with patience” (Luke 8:15).   

It’s a parable with many lessons to glean. But why is it directly relevant to parenting? Read on. 

Be reassured that as you are teaching your children an essential part of God’s Spirit, you are being perfected as well.

Bearing fruit … with patience

True Christians recognize that even when studying the Bible regularly and applying the principles learned, results will not be immediate. We don’t take on the character of Jesus Christ overnight or merely by professing belief in Him (Galatains 5:25).

The same concept applies to parenting. And that’s where the “with patience” comes in. 

On a daily basis, we’re committed to reinforcing biblical standards with our children—sometimes to the point of exhaustion and discouragement on our part. Perhaps you find yourself repeating yourself ad nauseum to “ask in a nice voice,” “treat others with respect,” “text when you get there,” or any number of other phrases that you are consistently using with your children.

It’s the rare parent who doesn’t find himself or herself occasionally frustrated with feeling like the kids aren’t making progress or just plain aren’t listening. Rest assured, your efforts are producing fruit. Stay grounded in God’s word, stay consistent, and stay the course. 

Don’t allow yourself to “grow weary” with a defeatist attitude (Romans 2:7; Galatians 6:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:13). You can do this! And be reassured that as you are teaching your children an essential part of God’s Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), you are being perfected as well (James 1:2-4). There are two types of patience described in the New Testament: patience with people and patience with circumstances.

Patience with people

In your Bible studies, you’ve probably come across the concept that there are two types of patience described in the New Testament: patience with people and patience with circumstances. (This distinction in Scripture exists because of two specific Greek words that convey different nuances of meaning.) 

As an example, in 1 Corinthians 13, the apostle Paul writes: “Love suffers long and is kind” (verse 4). This “longsuffering” that is described in Scripture indicates the need to patiently endure with other people.  

In another letter, Paul encouraged members of the Church to walk the Christian way of life “with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2). If we prepare ourselves each morning to be patient with our children and others we encounter throughout the day, we may be better able to bear with them. It takes greater strength of character to refrain from arguing and to be the peacemaker.

Having patience with people does require forbearance—another word we don’t often use anymore. To forbear with an individual, especially one with whom we disagree, requires us to hold back and refrain from being provoked or goaded into a worthless argument (Proverbs 20:3; 1 Timothy 1:4; Titus 3:9). This takes considerable self-control. 

In our modern era of prolific opinions and endless debates, being meek is often seen as a sign of weakness. But in reality, it takes greater strength of character to refrain from arguing and to be the peacemaker (Proverbs 17:14; Romans 14:19; 1 Peter 2:20-23).  (We of course are not suggesting that anyone should endure abuse, however.) 

Most of us are familiar with what longsuffering looks like in daily family life. We parents know full well that on the days we have been pressed to our limits and it just feels like our buttons are being pushed constantly—by our children or by outside influences—it is so very difficult to “forbear.” 

Those are the days we must put forth extra effort in prayer, asking God to stir up His Spirit in us so that we can “suffer long.” We’re told to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).  And some days require constant prayer as challenging new situations arise seemingly without limit. 

Parenting is not easy. Anyone who claims it is, isn’t doing it right. 

As we look to the Bible for guidance, we see example after example of God the Father having such tender patience with us, His children.

God the Father, the ultimate Parent

So how does the ultimate Parent do it? As always, we should look to God for the solutions. How does God the Father approach His children—us? 

King David wrote, “For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You…. You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth” (Psalm 86:5, 15).   

The apostle Peter wrote that God is “longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).  

Our ultimate Teacher, Jesus Christ, instructed us that when praying to God the Father, we should ask to be forgiven “as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).

As we look to the Bible for guidance, we see example after example of God the Father having such tender patience with us, His children. That is the example to follow. 

Having patience with other people, and especially with our own children, requires compassion, graciousness, mercy, and forgiveness—the very attributes of God’s own loving nature (1 John 4:7-8). If these are the things we are regularly asking for in prayer and are genuinely asking God for help with, we will see the fruits of patience in our lives.  At times like these, we must comfort our children and remind them that God does have a plan.

Patience with circumstances

As we develop patience with people—especially our children—we recognize another type of patience we must build as well: endurance. Endurance through challenging circumstances is another aspect of patience described in the Bible.  

In the famous “love chapter” of the Bible, the apostle Paul wrote that love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7).  To endure requires being able to “take it patiently” when faced with difficult circumstances. 

Sometimes these difficult circumstances arise because of our own poor choices, and we experience bad consequences as a result. But events outside of our sphere of control create challenges for us as well. When those outside events continue to place pressure on us with seemingly no end in sight, it can be very difficult to endure. 

At times like these, we must comfort our children and remind them that God does have a plan. We may not be able to see that exact plan clearly unfolded before us, but we can always keep the vision of the ultimate destination in mind: God’s Kingdom and all His righteousness (Matthew 6:33).  

Meanwhile, there is a very real enemy of God actively at work in this world, trying to discredit God and discourage those who choose to follow Him. Reassure your children that they do not need to fear the adversary, Satan the devil, but they do need to have an awareness of his devices. He will use anything he can to distract us from our destination and cause us misery along the way. We must endure. 

They must continue sailing in one particular direction to reach their destination—a far-off land—but in between are unfamiliar waters and uncharted territory.

The great adventure

Help your children visualize God’s plan and purpose for them by imagining they are explorers on a vast open sea. They must continue sailing in one particular direction to reach their destination—a far-off land—but in between are unfamiliar waters and uncharted territory. Their job is to sketch outlines of islands, reefs, and other natural formations over the course of this imaginary journey. They begin with a virtually blank canvas, knowing only the departure point. 

There are many unknowns and unpleasant experiences on an unexplored open sea. There are storms, hunger and thirst, hidden reefs, large sea animals, strong currents, and the always-possible chance of shipwreck. As they sail through and explore their imaginary course, they can sketch the discovered lands and features on the map more accurately. A bigger picture begins to emerge. In time, they can see where they’ve been and can appreciate all the understanding they have gained. 

The apostle Paul knew something about traveling on an open sea and of the dangers it involved, having experienced shipwreck three times (2 Corinthians 11:25).  Perhaps this image was fresh in his mind as he counseled the young pastor Timothy of the dangers of shipwreck “concerning the faith” (1 Timothy 1:19).  

The beauty of this analogy is not only in knowing that the destination is there waiting for us on the other side of these uncharted waters but also that it is a place being prepared for us (John 14:2-3). We can have great assurance in the leadership of Jesus Christ, the Captain of our salvation, as well (Hebrews 2:10).  

Our Captain is right there on this journey with us. And having experienced suffering and endurance Himself, “He is able to aid those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18).  

During the crushing disappointments, the buffeting storms of life, or the just plain uncomfortable inconveniences, we have an Advocate who can sympathize and appeal to God the Father for us when we pray and seek help (Hebrews 4:15-16).

“See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain.”

Establish your hearts

The subject of patience is huge. One study simply won’t cover all its facets. Thankfully there are multiple examples to learn from throughout the Bible to keep us busy in our studies as we teach our children. 

The apostle Paul wrote that the examples we read about in the Old Testament are there for our instruction (1 Corinthians 10:11). James, the half-brother of Jesus, wrote in his letter that Job and the prophets are examples of suffering, patience, and endurance (James 5:10-11).  

Noah, Moses, Joseph, Job: these are only some of the names that come to mind when reflecting on the subject of patience. And of course Jesus Christ Himself endured patiently and perfectly throughout His human life, and He now waits patiently at God the Father’s right hand for the timing of His return to earth to establish the Kingdom of God here. 

The wise words of James seem to sum it all up: “Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:7-8).

Taking the first step

Here are a few suggestions for teaching and growing patience in your and your family’s lives:

  • Write out a clear, workable definition of patience and display it prominently.
  • Write out one or two scriptures that will actively guide your family’s attitudes, speech, and actions towards patience. 
  • Search for opportunities to lovingly stretch and build your children’s “patience muscle.” You’ll grow more in the process too.
  • Ask God regularly for the compassion to forbear and suffer long with others. 
  • Build endurance by keeping the ultimate destination of God’s Kingdom in mind and avoiding shipwreck.
    He can take even the worst situation we’ve experienced and make it bring about something beautiful and good in our lives. Only God and His power can do this.

Guard and guide scriptures

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. —Romans 8:28

This is an incredibly uplifting scripture when we are struggling to endure through difficult times! This scripture doesn’t mean that we’ll never have anything bad happen to us. That wouldn’t be realistic. We’re even told that because we’re followers of Jesus Christ, we’ll have to endure “many tribulations” to make it to God’s perfect Kingdom (Acts 14:22). But it does mean that God has a plan for each of us on an individual level. He can take even the worst situation we’ve experienced and make it bring about something beautiful and good in our lives. Only God and His power can do this. 

The example of Joseph’s life illustrates this concept beautifully. Throughout everything horrible that he endured—slavery, being falsely accused of a violent crime, prison—he eventually realized that God was able to weave it all together for a greater purpose of good (Genesis 45:5, 7-8). God is not limited by our circumstances. 

And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. —Galatians 6:9

Sometimes if we’re not seeing results as quickly as we would like, we might get discouraged and be tempted to quit. But God promises that if we are doing the right thing for the right reasons, we will eventually see a positive outcome. There will be good results—but only if we keep going. 

But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. —James 1:4

This scripture has already been referenced twice in this resource study, and now we include it as one of our “Guard and Guide” references. If there were a “specific purpose statement” for patience, this would be it.

We can be molded and shaped into something beautiful and useful—a vessel for honor.

This verse shows us that patience has a refining effect on us, making us a more complete Christian over time. Its “perfect work” is that as we learn it and develop more of it, God uses it to transform us toward greater and greater spiritual maturity. It’s not something we can see as it’s happening. But over the course of a lifetime, we can begin to see how God has worked with us and in us with His Spirit, shaping us more and more into His image. 

The Bible describes us as a lump of clay being molded by God’s hands (Isaiah 64:8). As we learn patience, we can impatiently resist being shaped and changed by God and remain a useless lump—a vessel for dishonor—or we can be molded and shaped into something beautiful and useful—a vessel for honor (Romans 9:21).  

Further Recommended Reading

We also recommend these additional (but certainly not exhaustive) scriptural passages that are relevant to the topic of patience:

  • Jacob serves Laban 14 years (Genesis 29:1-30)
  • Joseph forgotten in prison (Genesis 40-41:46)
  • Hannah prays for a son (1 Samuel 1-2:11)
  • Simeon’s prophecy (Luke 2:25-35)
  • The persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8)
  • The early Church waits for Pentecost (Acts 1:1-14)
  • Patient continuance (Romans 2:6-7)
  • The perseverance of Job (Job 1-42; James 5:11)
  • The patience of the saints (Revelation 14:12)

Further Your Study

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