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20 November 2017

Patience. Or longsuffering. Either.

How angry Christians lack it, and how to work on it.

Years ago I casually mentioned to someone I was praying for greater patience.

He. “Aw, why would you do that to yourself?”
Me. “Why, what’s the problem?”
He. “You realize how God teaches you patience, right?”
Me. “Of course. He’s gonna make me practice.”
He. “And life’s gonna suck. You’re gonna wind up in more situations where you gotta be patient. You’ll have to wait for everything.”
Me. “So everybody’s been telling me. They’ve been about as encouraging as Satan itself. You sure it didn’t send you? Get thee behind me.”

Yeah, don’t tell the dude who’s struggling with patience that his life’s about to suck. He’ll turn on you.

But it’s something we Christians need to strive for. Patience is a fruit of the Spirit, one of the ways love behaves, and impatient Christians wind up exhibiting works of the flesh like anger, unforgiveness, argumentativeness, and unkindness. Much of the reason Christians get a bad reputation with pagans is because of how we get when we’re impatient—and how we justify the impatient behavior with cheap grace. Not cool, folks.

However. Strive to actually attain patience, and we’re gonna come across Christians who thick-headedly joke, “Oh, you’re praying for patience? Good luck with all that. Man are you gonna get reamed with it.” Again: Not cool.

True, there’s a faction of Christians who imagine once we become Christian, the Holy Spirit downloads fruit into our character like a scene from The Matrix. Doesn’t work that way. Wish it did. But these Christians, imagining they somehow have patience even though their behavior proves they don’t, try to interpret all sorts of other things as patience. Most commonly despair: Just give up. Quit striving. Stop hoping. (And quit feeling.)

The rest of us recognize God wants his kids to be patient like he is. So we gotta bite the bullet and pray for patience. And yes we’re gonna slam into a lot of situations where we simply gotta wait things out.

But don’t forget: God is kind. When we get into those situations, we who seek God’s patience are gonna find we’re somehow, somehow, actually able to bear them. Before, we’d lose our cool in minutes. Now we don’t. (True, some of us now take a few more minutes. It’s still more.) We acted in faith, and the Spirit’s reply was to grant us his patience.

See, all those nimrods who tell us, “Ooh, you prayed for patience; now life’s gonna suck” have forgot God is kind. He’s not interested in developing our characters through suffering. That’s how humans behave. That’s how parents and drill sergeants work. God’s not a jerk. He develops our character through our obedience. Not through our disobedience, so now we gotta pay some sort of karmic debt. That’s not grace, and God does grace.

So when we seek God and strive to obey him, when we put our faith in his ability to equip us for every good work, he gives us opportunities to practice that obedience, and he empowers us with those very traits we’re looking for.

God’s a relational being. So—no surprise—he wants us to develop fruit through the relationships which we have with other people. Think of it as hands-on experience. ’Cause once we have the hang of it, we’ll have to apply that patience towards every future relationship we develop with new people. Including some people whom we’ll need to be very patient with. But in the meanwhile, we gotta work on being patient with friends, family… and enemies.

Yeah, that’s no fun sometimes. Do it anyway.

One of God’s traits.

I remind you: Same as every other fruit of the Spirit, patience is a trait of God’s character. The LORD is infinitely patient with his kids. It takes him a really, really long time to get angry. Ex 34.6

True, God doesn’t necessarily have that reputation. (For sure neither do his kids.) That’s because people don’t bother to read their bibles, and sure as heck don’t look at the context. The Old Testament contains various stories about God dumping big ol’ bowls of wrath on the Hebrews. So people assume that’s God’s usual behavior: Thunder, lightning, rage, wrath. That is, till he mellowed out ’cause of Jesus. So, in the Old Testament God’s really smitey, and in the New Testament God’s really chill… and in the End Times God’s back to being smitey.

Like I said, they don’t read the context. The stories which came before all the smiting, consist of people being awful to one another. Particularly to the weak and needy. For decades. Despite loads of warnings from God and his prophets to cut it out lest they trigger the cycle. By the time God finally cracked some heads together, he’d been really f---ing patient with them for a mighty long time. ’Cause God’s slow to anger.

But it takes God no time at all to forgive and show mercy. Ne 9.17 Something the prophet Jonah was seriously annoyed about, ’cause he didn’t want God to show mercy to Nineveh, Assyria. He wanted that city destroyed, dangit, but after he prophesied to them they repented, so God forgave ’em. Because that’s who God is.

Jonah 4.1-4 KWL
1 To Jonah, this was evil, greatly evil. It burned at him.
2 Jonah prayed to the LORD, saying, “Please, LORD!
Why isn’t this my message I was given in my homeland?
This is why I went east, to flee to Tarshish!—I knew you’re a gracious God!
Compassionate, slow to anger, great love! You change your mind about evildoers!
3 Now LORD, please take my soul from me. Death is better than life.”
4 The LORD said, “What good is it for you to be angry?”

God’s way more patient than Jonah ever was. Or than we could ever be.

So the evidence of God’s work in our lives (i.e. fruit) is that we’re patient like he’s patient. It likewise takes us a really long time to get angry. We likewise are willing to wait for people to repent. We’re likewise quick to forgive.

Well, those of us who do listen to the Spirit. As you’re likely wholly aware, Christians have more of a reputation of being impatient and smitey. Same as how they imagine “the Old Testament God” was. They really need to read their bibles; but I digress.

Angry Christians.

One of the defining characteristics of dark Christians is their lack of patience. Connected to this is a lot of fear, and a lot of anger.

Whenever a government, be it federal or state, does something the dark Christians don’t approve of, they immediately start talking about their favorite End Times scenarios of doom, judgment, and national ruin. They lack patience, so they assume God lacks patience same as them, and will smite our country instead trying to restore it. And they lack patience with me whenever I point this out.

In many ways anger’s the opposite of patience. Y’see, humans get frustrated when things aren’t as we’d have them. Patience recognizes that, with time and effort, they can be. Anger doesn’t care to wait the time, nor put in the effort. Hence impatience is almost always signaled by an angry demonstration. Whereas God, when he speaks of his own patience, talks of putting off his wrath and judgment. 2Pe 3.9

Anger’s one of the works of the flesh. Ga 5.19-20 Yet Christians justify their anger by pointing to the angry Christian’s favorite proof text:

Ephesians 4.26-27 KWL
26 Risk people getting you angry.
Don’t sin, nor let the sun set on your outrage.
27 Don’t give the devil territory.

That, or how even Jesus got angry from time to time, Mk 10.14 and how “righteous anger” seems perfectly all right.

I agree it’s appropriate to get angry at wickedness and injustice. God gets angry at these things too. But there’s a giant difference between how God gets angry, and how humans do. God’s slow to anger. We’re lightning-quick. The idea of Zeus flying into a rage and hurling thunderbolts came from human poets projecting their own rage upon their favorite god. Some of that has carried over into the way they imagine the One God. Totally false.

Our so-called “righteous anger” isn’t always so righteous. If it were truly righteous, or at least was headed in the correct direction, it’d be because God’s angry, or because people are being trodden upon. More often our “righteous anger” comes from the fact we’re offended. We don’t like how things are going. God is patient, but we wanna crack heads together.

Nor do we give ourselves time, and make some effort, and apply some love and grace and kindness to it, and attempt to change things. Nor do we ask God to intervene, and see what he does about it. We just fly into a rage, and label it “righteous.”

Typical of human behavior, it’s emotion first, rationalization later. We don’t look at the circumstances, ask ourselves as the LORD asked Jonah, “What good is it for you to be angry?” and presume there’s something righteous underneath our anger. Because we’re justified by faith, it means we’re automatically justified in everything we do. Right? Isn’t that how it works?

Rarely. It’s not our call to be angry.

Patient people recognize we aren’t in charge. We surrendered our authority and responsibilities to God, remember? We submit to his call in the matter. We may not personally like the way things are, but it’s up to God to make them right, or instruct us what best to do next. We’ve no business being angry.

Patient people—those trying to develop patience, anyway—realize we need to come up with healthier, less-destructive, even constructive, ways to vent our frustration. We need to count 10. Or 1,000, if 10 won’t do. The reason the KJV uses the word “long-suffering,” a literal translation of makro-thymía, is to emphasize how we may need to wait a long time before we take action or vent emotion.

The reason anger’s among the works of the flesh is because a hothead doesn’t control their emotions. The immediate, heedless release of anger invariably produces one sin or another. When we allow our emotions to run amok, we produce chaos, destruction, hurt feelings, damaged relationships—and in the end, we violate God’s commands. If God were to react in nothing but outbursts of anger, there wouldn’t be a human left alive on the planet. Again. Ge 7.21-23

When we release anger in a controlled manner, it can be constructive. But like sulfuric acid, we’d better be very careful with it. When Jesus whipped the merchants out of the temple, in everybody’s favorite example of our Lord getting angry, Jn 2.13-17 it’s because that court was meant for foreigners to pray in, not for dishonest capitalists to make a profit. Sell your animals elsewhere. There was only one solution to the problem, and Jesus’s was to scare ’em out of there right away. Problem solved, he went right back to teaching.

Of course, how constructive our anger gets, depends on whether we’re biding our time for God’s direction, or biding it for vengeance. A lot of Christians are being “patient” with pagans, but really they’re just passive-aggressively awaiting—eagerly—the day they figure God sends ’em to hell. That’s certainly not the Spirit’s fruit. It’s what passes for patience a lot of times, but the Spirit’s patience is loving patience, and the end result is good. It’s always constructive—never “They’ll get theirs,” but “They’ll get saved.”

Growing patience.

How do we develop patience? We start by looking for healthier outlets for anger. Shrink them by depriving them, not by dwelling on them. Nor by denying they exist.

I write a lot. When I get frustrated, I tend to write out my frustrations. Then—because I want the stuff I write to reflect how I’m trying to follow Jesus—I edit out any of the hurtful, sarcastic, self-focused stuff which might’ve slipped in there. I don’t wanna be that guy, so I’m not gonna say that.

Well, not anymore. I wasn’t always so conscientious. As you can suspect, it used to get me in trouble.

So yeah, I still vent when I write, but I now spend a fair amount of my writing time analyzing why I feel as I do, and critiquing myself whenever I catch any selfishness or sin in it. I pray throughout, of course. I find the end result to be pretty therapeutic. Then again, it took years of self-discipline to come to this point.

Other people recommend physical exercise, or some sort of activity which helps them get their aggression out through their muscles. Others like to yell at God, and there are plenty of examples in Psalms of those musicians cutting loose on God. The prophets too. Of course God can take it. Plus he can redirect us towards healthy attitudes as well.

But if you have real trouble with anger issues, you need outside help from fellow Christians. Maybe a discipleship group, a Christian 12-step group, or a therapist. When you’re struggling, don’t go it alone. Patience doesn’t come easy for anyone. Those who claim it’s totally easy… regularly turn out to be hypocrites hiding their anger issues, and it’s only a matter of time before the Spirit outs them. Don’t be among them. Get help now.