Cultivate Patience

(The following is a transcript of Steve Carter’s message “Cultivate Patience,” part IV of the Cultivate series. The video is also available to you.)

We’re in this series called Cultivate because we wanna be the kind of people who cultivate the Spirit of God in our lives. And there is a tension. We have this tension to choose to do it all in our own strength. To live, as the Scriptures would say, in the flesh. Or we can trust God. Be filled with the Spirit. Be Spirit-led. And live our lives bearing the fruit of the Spirit.

And we’ve walked through some of these virtues already. Because it’s tricky. It’s really, really tricky to try and cultivate this fruit when our culture’s trying to sell and teach and mentor us into a new way. And so we’ve talked about how we could be the kind of people who are cultivating love in a culture of self-interest. How we could be the kind of people who are cultivating joy in a culture of more. How we can be the church who is cultivating peace in a culture of pieces.

But today, we’re gonna look at a different virtue, a different fruit of the Spirit. And it’s, in my opinion, the most underrated fruit of the Spirit. And when I flip that page over, you’re gonna be like, “Ah, nah, really? I don’t have time for this. I don’t need to learn this. This one is actually impossible to do in today’s world.” For many of you, that’s what you have thought. But I want to tell you what the cross teaches us. What the Gospels teaches us. What Jesus teaches and models for us.

Today, we are gonna learn what it means to be the kind of people who are cultivating patience in a culture of efficiency. Oh! We want things faster, don’t we? You want this sermon to go so fast. We want things to get to our house as quick as possible. Domino’s Pizza. They were just like a mid-major pizza company. So, one day, the CEO said, “Every store, thirty minutes or less. A pizza will make it there on time, or we will pay for it.” And they jumped up because a lot of America were like, “I’ll take that challenge.”

We want our Wi-Fi quicker. Some of us will leave Comcast today if AT & T is correct that they can get us Wi-Fi quicker. Even if it’s one second quicker, we’re like, “Yes!” It’s like a gift from God. I don’t want seven-day delivery, I don’t want five-day delivery, I want two-day delivery, at seven-day cost. We want everything faster. And faster. And faster.

And yet, for many of us, we are struggling. We’re struggling. Because we’re missing out on the people that God has put around us. I love walking around Lake Michigan, picking up stones. I love just to kind of skip the stones—one, two, three, four, five, yes! Pick up another one—one, two, three, four, five, six, even better. Pick up another one—one, pfft. Ah. Okay.

But when we are moving so fast, friends... trying to go quicker and quicker and quicker, we’re losing out on depth. And we are just skimming the surface. Not seeing people the way God sees them. Not knowing people the way God knows them. Not hearing and truly listening to people. Cause we don’t got time for that. And we just skim the surface. And, inside, we want something more deep. And that’s what the Spirit wants to give us today. That’s what the Scriptures want to teach us today.

So if you have a Bible, you can turn with me to Proverbs chapter 14. And let’s look at this word patience and what it really means. In verse 29, says, “Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick-tempered displays folly.” See, in the book of Proverbs, there were two types of people: a wise person and a fool. And you could either choose the way of wisdom or you could choose the way of folly. And so this writer says, “Ah, the person who is patient, they have learned deep understanding about how they work, about how this world is supposed to be. But those who are quick-tempered find themselves in folly. Just speaking out, saying things, just being so quick-tempered.” And when you look at this word patient in the original language, it means long-tempered. We know people who have a short fuse, who are short-tempered. But to be patient is to be long-tempered.

I think about it like this. When a bomb goes off, they usually will do a little bit of a countdown. Maybe ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one... boom! Right? Let me just ask you, how short is your temper? What does the countdown clock get at before the explosion begins? Is it like two, one, boom!? Or is it something more? Maybe you’re driving into church and there’s an Olds Mobile. And it’s rolling in a 45 mph speed limit going 35, and you’re like, “I can’t. I can’t do this.” And you just feel, internally, the countdown. “I’m gonna get as close to you as possible. I know it’s daylight, but I’m flipping my lights at you, you better— no? You’re not moving? Oh. Two, one, boom! “And I’m gonna cut you off, and I’m now go 25 in front of you, cause I’m gonna slow down the Olds Mobile.” And this is what impatient people are.

But patient people, oh, so much more. Patient people, they’re like long-tempered. Their countdown starts at like 97. 90s. “You wanna go 35? That’s cool. We’re all going to the same place.” Here’s the thing. So many people are in a rush to go nowhere. I remember like living in this small little town outside of Grand Rapids, Michigan, coming from California, I was like, “I gotta get here, gotta get here, gotta get here.” And I realized, they know they’re not going anywhere, so why rush? They just took their time. I just loved it. Like, what’s your countdown start at before your temper explodes? Is it like three, two, one? Or is it long-tempered?

And to be patient is to be long-tempered. This is what the Spirit wants to do inside us. But it’s hard. It’s hard when everything in our day, in our culture says, “Go faster! Go faster! Go faster!” And so, today, I want to teach you the three pressing types of patience that must be embodied as a Christ follower today.

The first one is everyday patience. Everyday patience. And I want us to look at James chapter 5, the brother of Jesus says these words in verse 7: “Be patient,”—be looong-tempered—“then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming.” Be patient. “See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!”

I love this because this series, Cultivate, it really takes us into this agrarian culture that the first-century disciples they knew about. And James writes, “Look to the farmer. The farmer’s gonna go out, and he’s gonna till the land, he’s gonna pick the weeds. He’s got his seeds; he’s gonna plant those seeds. And he’s gonna pray for rain. He’s gonna pray for the fall rains. He’s gonna pray for the spring rains. And he’s gonna wait and trust that he’s done his part and it’s gotta grow. But there is so much for him in just being patient. There’s nothing that he can do that can speed up the growth of that plant. It’s just waiting. Being patient. Standing firm.” And James says, “We gotta live with that kind of patient mentality. Having everyday patience. Cause Christ’s coming is near.”

But something happens. Because when we are this kind of efficient culture, we live our lives trying to go from point A to point B as fast as humanly possible. How many of you wake up each morning, and you create a list? Nine of you. The rest of you are liars. You create a list mentally in your head. I gotta check this off. I gotta do this. I gotta do that. I gotta do this. But something happens in our day. We wanna go as fast as we can from A to B, and then the unexpected interruption, disruption, something happens—Olds Mobile cuts in front of us. Someone says something. Someone asks for more of our time. Someone we see is in need. And we got a choice. We got a choice. And what I’ve begun to discover is people who struggle with patience, they have an unhealthy relationship with what I call TIC. They have an unhealthy relationship with Time. Time.

Did you know that the first mechanical clock was created by Benedict monks in the west? And the idea was that you could create an order where, on the hour, groups of people, within the city, within the world, could stop what they were doing, have this moment of pause, and simply pray. The clock and time was a tool to go deeper and deeper with the Father and the Son and the Spirit. But for us? The way that we talk about time today is more of it as a commodity. We gotta invest our time. We gotta save our time. Time is money. I’m in a time famine. Even the way that we talk about time is deeply fascinating. And for many of us who struggle in these moments of impatience, it’s because we have an unhealthy relationship with time.

The second letter, I, stands for Identity. If you have an unhealthy relationship with identity, I guarantee that you will struggle with impatience. Here’s why. Because if you make a list—and most people who make a list don’t just stop at five. They make lists that are entirely impossible for any human who walked this earth, except for Christ. And at the end of the day, they’ve only checked off eight of their forty-nine items. Which just invites a whole bunch of shame. And they go, “I didn’t, I was worthless today. I didn’t do anything today.” And underneath that is someone who finds their identity in what they do and what the accomplish. And so if anything comes to disrupt you from finishing this list—oh, man. This person or this thing is the enemy. Cause I gotta get this thing done so that my identity, my worth, my purpose can be held intact. And friends, that’s gonna make you quite impatient.

The third—Time, Identity—C, for Control. Patient—the idea to be patient literally means to surrender control. To surrender control. None of us like to surrender control. And this concept of patience really took on something interesting with the emergence of physicians and doctors in the Middle Ages. Because people started to come to a doctor and say, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I don’t feel well. And everything that I’ve tried to do isn’t working. Can you help me?” And they didn’t know what to call these people who were surrendering control, and so they started to call them a patient. Because they were surrendering control to someone who, they believed, knew.

And then, as time went on, these physicians created waiting rooms that do teach us what patience is all about. Cause doctors are never on time. And so now, a patient goes into a waiting room to wait to learn about how to be a good patient. But truly become quite impatient and surrender their control and have incredibly high insurance bills.

Now, what’s amazing to me is, for many of us, if we struggle with our relationship with time, identity, or control, we’re gonna struggle with patience. Every person, or everything that comes up... we’re just gonna see as the enemy.

And another thing that’s really fascinating to me is people try to make themselves more busy. Cause it’s kind of seen as you’re more important the busier that you are. So we don’t have margins for when people need to be seen, or heard, or listened to. And even in our conversations with people, when someone just interrupts us with something unexpected, we’re like, “Yeah, yeah, totally. Got to go. Thank you.” And we just find ourselves trying to move away from them.

One of the easiest ways to live an invitational life is to have margin. It’s to value, see, hear, know, and truly listen. When you listen, you’re surrendering control. You’re surrendering the floor, and you are hearing them. But in our culture of people skimming the surface, moving faster and faster, heads down, looking at screens, may we be the kind of people who have an everyday patience. The kind of people that see disruptions not as the enemy but as an opportunity to engage, to see, and to know.

First pressing way of patience is this everyday patience.

The second one. Let’s go back to the book of James. Verse 10: “Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”

The pressing is everyday patience. The second pressing way of patience is enduring patience. And so James writes, and he says, “There’s some of us who are going through seasons of suffering.” And maybe you find yourself there today. It’s a medical report. It’s a cloud of depression just hanging over you. It’s the loss of a loved one. It’s a relationship that is just split, and people are living in different homes. And you find yourself in this place where life has just delivered some pain at your doorstep. Everyday patience, it deals with people. But enduring patience makes you wrestle with God and makes you wrestle with the way of this world and the way that life works. And for many of us, we just get blown over, like a tumbleweed being brought over here and over here and over here. And we don’t have roots. And yet, in this passage, James goes, “Remember Job.”

And for any of you who are going through a season of suffering, may Job be a brother to you. Someone that you can look to. Someone that you can see how he trusted and persevered. And the word perseverance, it means to have such deep, deep roots. It’s to be able to endure in the face of a storm, in the midst of a crisis, to stay put and not go anywhere. And it has this imagery in the original language of a battlefield and an athletic field.

See, in a battlefield, it would be as if a commander walked down to a soldier, grabbed him by the shoulders, and said, “This is our last stand. We can’t allow the enemy to gain any more ground. You, and the rest of the troops, got to hold strong in the face of this opposition. Please hold your ground.” That’s what it means to have enduring suffering.

Or an athletic field. Cause, friends, football is almost here. Ha ha ha ha! We are weeks and weeks away. Imagine yourself—the coach of an incredible college football team. And you find yourself walking up, and you know, this is the last play of the game. We have to hold them. So you walk up to your defensive line. You grab them by the face mask. You look them in the eye. And you say, “You’ve got to hold your ground.” And so all of the guys get down in that stance, and they know, this is a goal-line stand. Nobody is getting by me. This is what enduring suffering is. And having to endure patience and persevere—have those roots go so deep and say, “Nobody is going to get by me!”

There’s this powerful song by Hillsong United. Song nine on the new album. I keep listening to it over and over. It’s called “Not Today.” And the whole chorus goes, “No, the Devil, no, not today.” Nothing is gonna get by me! In the face of suffering, nothing is going to take me down. And you have that kind of deep, deep roots? Oh, man. You find yourself deeply connected to the people who’ve been revered in the Scriptures.

And then James kind of flips it, and he kind of points you to someone who truly endured patience. You know who that was? It was Jesus. Someone who was mocked, betrayed, doubted, beaten, spit on, kicked, and even killed. And, at any moment, He could’ve walked Himself away and said, “Enough of this. I don’t deserve this. I did nothing wrong.” At no point did He do that! And even as He’s on the cross, one person to His right is mocking Him. A person to His left is asking Him profound questions. And He still takes it. For you. For me. For us. All of our sin, all of the things that we’ve ever done to make ourselves less than what God intended us to be, He took it on that cross; He endured it.

And so any of you who are in the face of suffering, may you look to Jesus. May you look to Jesus! When I find myself tasting suffering, tasting suffering in some possible way, I just simply pray, “Jesus, how’d You do it? When he doubted You, when he denied You, how’d You do it? When they mocked You, how’d You still exude forgiveness? Even on the cross, how did You say, ‘Father, forgive them, they know not what they do’? How did You have that kind of mentality and focus? Teach me.” And any of you in the face of that, you will see the roots go deeper and deeper. And you know who they will be attached to? Nothing of this world. But Christ alone. And you will have this enduring patience.

Everyday patience, yes, deals with people. Enduring patience deals with life. But there’s another kind.

And it feels a little bit weird to talk about. Because there are some things in our life and in our story that it is unacceptable for us to have patience. There are some things that happen that are so broken, fractured, not as God intended them to be, that if we just stay on the sidelines and going, “Give me more patience,” it will be heresy. I could rattle off a number of these. People are suffering. People who are just in deep, deep pain. People who have been pushed to the fringe. People who have been neglected. People who have just been pushed because of the color of their skin. Unacceptable. And sure, we should have everyday patience. And sure, we should have enduring patience. But can I tell you the third pressing form of patience we need to have? It’s engaging impatience.

Engaging impatience. It’s what Bill would talk about, it’s that Holy Discontent. Something inside you where you say, “That is not okay! God, I don’t have time to wait for this. You’ve put this on my heart, we’ve gotta do what we can to make this how You intended it to be.” Do you have any of those in your life? I’ve got a couple. I love the Scriptures. I’ve devoted a lot of my life to just trying to understand more and more what they mean. And I realize that I always have something to relearn about God, something to learn anew about God. And that there are things I need to unlearn.

But as I find myself digging into the Scriptures, I see that this is the inspired Word of God. Yet it still inspires today. It’s something that we should live under. There’s some sense of profound teaching and learning how to live like Jesus. But here’s my problem. Sometimes, I watch people use this book for their own agenda. Sometimes, I watch people use this book to politicize. Sometimes, I watch people use this book, and they take something so far out of context that I’m like, “Oh, man.” And I’m not saying I hold all of the perfect ways to interpret this. This is God’s word. But, sometimes, I find myself going, “I don’t know if I can stand on the sidelines and just watch that.” For me, I want to engage that. I find it just a deep, deep privilege. It’s a scary bring-me-to-my-knees privilege, that every time I get the chance to get up here and teach you from this book.

And it’s scary in a sense cause I want you to see this—how the first writers, the first listeners, heard it. Because I think it’s still applicable for today. But it’s scary. There is this engaging of the impatience that I want people to have a healthy hermeneutic or interpretation of this beautiful book.

A second one for me to engage impatience. Someone came up to me recently and was like, “I can’t wait for Jesus to come back!”

And I was like, “Me neither! That’ll be awesome.” And then I’m walking to my car, and then I start thinking about this. When Jesus comes back, everything gets put back to rights. And everyone who has a relationship with Him gets to join Him for eternity in heaven.

And then it hits me.

But what if I don’t have a relationship with Jesus?

And then all these names start coming. My neighborhood and my friends. These restaurants that I frequent. Family members. And for the weirdest moment, I sat there, for a second, I was like, “Jesus, don’t come back today.” And I realized, deep down, I gotta engage this impatience because people are living without grace and peace. People are trying, in some way, to fill this hole in their heart, and I think for every one of us, God goes, “No, no, no, we gotta live invitationally. We have to be able to invite people into God’s great story. We have to engage this impatience. Because when Christ comes... that’s it.” I don’t want to go to heaven without a number of my friends.

And so, for me, it’s around the Scriptures and it’s around living invitationally. But then third... my impatience comes when I see what’s happening in the world. And I don’t know about you, if maybe you flip on the news or you start reading different articles of all that’s taking place in some parts even of our city and of our world, and it just, it just, breaks you.

My wife saw me come home one day and she just walked up to me and goes, “We gotta do something about this.”

And I’m like, “About what? What did I do wrong?”

And she’s like, “No, no, no, no, no. I just read this article from our friend Jeremy. And he’s serving over in the Middle East. And he’s working there. And he’s working with people who are on the run from ISIS, and they’re in these camps, and there’s nothing that they can do. There’s no food. There’s no grass. There’s no rice, there’s no beans, there’s no chicken. There’s nothing. And so these parents are just going, how do I feed my kids?” It’s just a question that no parent should ever have to wrestle with, in my opinion. And so then my wife shows me her phone after telling me this. And she goes, “This is what they are feeding their kids.” Here’s what it was:

1. Boil this box in water.

2. Feed it to your kids.

A cardboard box. And the parents going, I don’t know what to feed my kids. There’s nothing. And so, for forty cents, they’re buying a box and they’re like, “Okay, maybe we can just boil it. And maybe food will come tomorrow. And we can just boil it. And then we can just get it down, and that way they can drink it. And maybe that will fill their stomachs with something.” I don’t think God would say, “Hey, just stay on the sidelines, and be patient!” No. I will engage that impatience all day. And I think God in you has put in you things that are not right in this world, and He said, “Please don’t stay on the sidelines. Engage with impatience. Engage with impatience!”

And you can watch heaven invade earth. Everyday patience. Enduring patience. And engaging impatience.

Can I just ask you, how are you doing with this? Do you have an unhealthy relationship with time or identity or control? Is it creating in you a short tempter, a short fuse? Does your family, coworkers, and friends just dance around your anger and chaos? What would it look like for you to engage with this?

Or maybe for some of you here today, you’re watching this, and experiencing this enduring patience because some form of pain has just showed up in your life. And I just need you to know Jesus sees you. He’s walked this. And we wear necklaces with the cross on them. And the cross is just this beautiful perspective of Me, too. I know what it means to suffer, too. And if you’re in that, I don’t want you to do this alone. Maybe you have to come up front after the service, go to our prayer room. Maybe you just need to say, “I need people to walk with me. Cause I feel like I’m about to be pushed over. My roots are just almost starting to give up. It’s just too hard right now. Please, don’t leave this place without letting somebody see you and notice and hear and listen... and pray for you.”

And the third one, engaging impatience. Are you on the sideline? Maybe you need to research. Maybe there’s something you need to do just to begin to engage. Cause it matters.

So how do you do it? In a culture of efficiency—going from A to B as fast as humanly possible. How do we, Willow, live with patience? How do we cultivate patience? I’m gonna tell you. Four ways. Number one: suffering. If any of you have tasted suffering, you have tasted what it means to surrender control. If any of you have tasted suffering, you have had to wrestle with the questions of life, with God, and you’ve had to trust. And if you have still stayed put, friends, you are a survivor. And you model, teach, and live out patience in ways, woo, can’t even explain. If you’ve never tasted suffering, you might be living too safe of a life. If you’ve never tasted suffering, wow. Very comfortable life, just might say.

But I want to walk you through just these remaining three. How God has been teaching me. Cause I want to move at a speed, I want to do as much as humanly possible, I want to stay busy, and God has been slowly, over the years, trying to slow my RPMs down and teach me how to see, how to notice, how to hear, and how to be with people.

The first one is this word Selah. Now, if you read through the Psalms, Psalms are basically prayer training. But you read through them and you will see a few verses that they will say, “How great is our God, majestic in glory. Honor and honor and praise.” And then, right underneath it, it will say, “Selah.” And then it will go back. Selah literally is this phrase that meant “a pause.” It’s as if, when the musicians are singing, and they stop singing, but the instruments just continue, it allows the musicians to exhale. This pause, this selah, this moment, you have that throughout your day.

Or is your day so jam-packed with meetings and busy and stuff and hurry that you find yourself just wired and anxious? What would it look like for you to have just two minutes after a meeting? A couple of times during your day just to sigh. There are times where meetings are back to back to back here. And I just need to just take a moment, walk around for a second—sometimes just walk into the restroom, wash my face. Sigh. And be reminded, “God, thanks for what You did in that last meeting. Give me the strength, let me focus on you.”

I know many of you in this room lead teams, lead companies. Lead families. Lead communities. And I need you to understand those moments realign you and reattach you to God’s heart and direction. And it will keep you patient.

Number three. Sabbath. And nobody does Sabbath, except for Chick-fil-A. But it works for them! Friends, this is so mission critical. Because if you don’t have a Sabbath, I’m telling you, you will wrestle with impatience, cause you will have an unhealthy relationship with time. And your identity. And control. You ought to have a day where you just... delight in God’s creation. Where your identity is not fixated on what you’ve done and accomplished. And when you find yourself resting in God’s presence. Sabbath changes you. And it will give you the spirit of patience, just by—

And it will be hard. Some of you will start doing this, and you’re like, “I hate this. I hate you, Steve. I’m never doing this again.” Because it’s so hard for us to slow down.

But when you learn to Sabbath, you learn to have these selah moments, man, whenever the disruptions come, they’re not disruptions, they’re invitations, and they’re opportunities. And then, lastly, solitude. And seasonally, I’ve just been taking an afternoon or a morning or even some days a whole day just going to a different neighborhood or a different city and just walking around or just sitting. No email. Just a Bible and a journal. No conversations. Just trying to detox from all of the stimulation. And just having that solitude, that space, slows me down.

And I know that many of us can’t just do this right away. But can I just challenge you, maybe, as you look and start to plan your schedule in August, to maybe think about, could I have a morning? Could I take a Sabbath? Can I really think about, throughout my day, having these pause moments? And if you do that, you will begin to watch how the Spirit cultivates patience. And it’s a big deal. Cause our world is desperate to be seen and known. And if we’re just skimming the surface, we miss it. We miss the opportunities for grace, for peace, and for the way of Jesus to invade and transform a human life.

Patience is the most underrated virtue but, done right, will cultivate so much life not just in you but in everyone around you. Amen? Amen.