HH, Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
Forbearance μακροθυμία (makrothumia) is not a word that most of us commonly use. The Greek word in Galatians 5:22-23 is often translated using other words such as patience, endurance, constancy, steadfastness, perseverance, longsuffering, and slowness in avenging wrongs. The Holy Spirit empowers believers to withstand challenging situations with perseverance and endurance.
The Greek root of this word relates to two words that mean long and passion. Through the Holy Spirit, we are able to wait longer before indulging our passions- we become “long-tempered” rather than “short-tempered.” Paul used this word when he was describing Jesus’ patience (μακροθυμία) with him.
“But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:16)
Like Paul, we have all benefited from Christ’s immense patience with us. The evidence of the Holy Spirit in our life is also seen in our ability to persevere, be patience, steadfast and long-tempered. Ephesians 4:1-2 encourages us to “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”
I read these words in an article a few years ago: “Patience is a virtue, and a virtue can’t hurt you.” That little rhyming phrase has stuck with me for at least until now, even though I wrote on the fruits of the Spirit when I started this online ministry, especially when I’m prone to be impatient about something.
And there has been a lot to be impatient throughout my life: waiting to hear the lab results of the cancer test, waiting for the biopsy results, waiting for the doctor to call with some good news and so the waiting continues. Less weighty circumstances also require waiting: waiting for a friend to call me back to make plans for the weekend, for example, or waiting for a load of clothes to finish in the dryer, or waiting for the day of my retirement so I can go back to the homeland, the land of my birth. So many things can take place while waiting but it goes to show your patience and if you can endure the wait.
Waiting is not easy. But it births something in us that is incredibly difficult and astoundingly beautiful: patience. It invites us to trust Jesus—and his impeccable timing—with our thoughts, our time, our relationships, and our resources. And it reminds us that we can’t make anything happen on our own. I can’t make my car gets to my destination more quickly while encountering all the stoplights. I couldn’t speed up the application process for the job I applied for. I just had to sit and wait.
And the truth is that we can’t develop patience any other way than by waiting.
In some translations of the Bible, the list of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 uses the word forbearance for patience, which has a bit of a deeper meaning. Forbearance also includes self-control, restraint, and tolerance, implying that we have a choice about how we respond to God and others in our times of waiting.
We can, for example, receive patience as a gift that helps us develop restraint (as in, “I’m not going to obsessively check my phone to see if the company where I applied for a job has gotten back to me,” or “I’m not going to keep refreshing my browser to see if my order was mailed”). Or we can become resentful and anxious, bucking against the reality that we have very little control over our circumstances (as in, “Forget this. It’s taking too long. I’m just going to escape into something so I don’t have to think about it.”).
While giving in to our impatience can feel good in the moment, it often sends us spiralling downward into frustration—because even if we do send that email to check on the status of a job we applied for or to find out about the order we’re waiting to be shipped, the fact remains that we can’t do much to change the circumstances. We have a choice in moments of impatience: let Jesus cultivate our inner world or escape into destructive behaviours or attitudes.
Pray and wait
The world doesn’t stop while you’re waiting for something. There are things and people that still need your attention. Your own soul needs your attention too, as does your body. So, while you’re waiting, pray and wait by focusing your attention on something you actually do have influence over. Make a date to do something with friends, do some house cleaning, read a book, or do some work in the neighbourhood.
When I’m impatient, I find that menial things like these help me to pray and wait, I write notes that I will use in a future message and pray with thanks to Jesus for his control of my life and future. I work on cultivating the things I can pay attention to—my relationships with God, family, and friends—and thank God for the people in my life. I work on becoming healthier and not escaping into food or drink to comfort myself. And I find that what grows within me as I wait and pray and work is something I’ve desired all along: love for God, myself, and others, along with greater self-control.
Patience is a virtue and a virtue can’t hurt you. So keep waiting. Work on what you can. And pray to Jesus—the one who is at work even while you wait for him to move.