My father was a gardener who loved to grow plants from the collected seeds of the previous year. One of his favourites was the Busy Lizzy. I remember when he first showed me, how when the matured seedpods were touched, they would explode, launching their contents over a great distance. I have many happy memories of helping them on their way! The Latin name for the Busy Lizzy is the ‘Impatiens walleriana’. They live up to their Latin name of ‘Impatiens’ – meaning ‘impatient’, reacting violently when touched! They are also known as ‘touch-me-nots’.
As we become Christ-like and bear the fruit of the Spirit, we will not be like the Busy Lizzy, reacting when provoked. We will be the opposite; we will be patient. The Greek word used by Paul in Galatians 5:22 is makrothymía (from makrós, meaning ‘long’ and thymós, meaning ‘passion’ or ‘anger’). It is being ‘long-tempered’ rather than ‘short-tempered’. It is the same word used of God himself in 1 Peter 3:20 as he ‘waited patiently in the days of Noah’.
Throughout the Bible, we read that the Lord is patient. He proclaimed to Moses, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in love and faithfulness’ (Exodus 34:6). When the Israelites grumbled, Moses reminded them, ‘The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love…’ (Numbers 14:18). David recalled that ‘you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness’ (Psalm 86:15).
Some people appear naturally more patient than others, but the patience spoken of in Galatians is not natural, it is supernatural. It is not a product of our own efforts but a fruit of God’s work in us. It is part of the fruit of the Spirit, and hence we will only display it because of the power and work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Yes, it requires our co-operation with God, our obedience to him, and our efforts to ‘put off the old man and put on the new’, but it is his fruit.
Patience is not a gift that we receive; it is a fruit that grows. Patience is cultivated within our hearts as we are obedient to Christ. Patience does not suddenly appear overnight. Patience grows. It grows through the experiences we face in our lives from day to day. Patience grows as we seek to ‘live by the Spirit’ (Galatians 5:17) and be ‘led by the Spirit’ (5:18) and ‘keep in step with the Spirit’ (5:26).
What does it mean to be patient?
There are a variety of situations we face where the fruit of patience is required. When we are mistreated, patience is required. Many Christians are mistreated as they face persecution in hostile lands. But all of us know what it is to be mistreated in some way – in the office by an unreasonable boss or difficult colleagues; in the home by a spouse or child or parent; even among the church family where others have unreasonable or wrong expectations. The fruit of patience enables us to face this without reacting or growing resentful.
At times we are provoked by the actions, attitudes or words of others which cause us to be angry. Whether displayed outwardly or harboured inwardly, our natural response might be like the seedpod. We might think that ours is a ‘righteous anger’, but we must consider whether our response is tainted with, or rooted in, sin. The Lord is ‘slow to anger’, and if we are to bear the fruit of the Spirit when we are provoked, we will be too.
On other occasions, we become frustrated by the faults and failings of others. These might not be directed against us but can still cause irritation or disappointment. This kind of impatience often has its root in pride. We think we are smarter or better and are frustrated because others are not like us. I suspect this kind of impatience is prevalent in our churches and fellowships. Paul says to the church at Corinth, ‘Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience,’ and goes on to tell them, ‘Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another’ (Colossians 3:12-13).
Becoming more like Jesus
Like me, you may wish your life would show a greater display of the fruit of patience. How can we change? Firstly, we must consider Jesus. He understands what it is to be mistreated. He understands what it is be provoked and he understands what it is to be disappointed by the faults and failings of others. Secondly, we need to repent. The way we respond when mistreated or provoked, or when we are disappointed with others, can be the result of deep-rooted sin – often pride. We must return to the cross and seek God’s wonderful forgiveness and pardon. Thirdly, we need to have faith, believing that God can change us and praying that he will, remembering that he does this through the power of the Holy Spirit in us.
Next time you see some Busy Lizzies bearing ready-to-burst seedpods, enjoy the moment and help the seeds on their way. Then, take the opportunity to remember that it is God who is at work in us by the power of the Holy Spirit to make us bear the fruit of patience.