A train was filled with tired people. Most of them had spent the day traveling through the hot dusty plains and at last evening had come and they all tried to settle down to a sound sleep. However, at one end of the car a man was holding a tiny baby and as night came on the baby became restless and cried more and more. Unable to take it any longer, a big brawny man spoke for the rest of the group. “Why don’t you take that baby to its mother?”
Then the big man who asked the cruel question was out of his seat and moved toward the man with the motherless child. He apologized for his impatience and unkind remark. He took the tiny baby in his own arms and told the tired father to get some sleep. Then in loving patience he cared for the little child all through the night.
I cannot think of a virtue that is more desperately needed, or harder to produce in our lives, than patience. And we’re not often prone to waiting. It reminds me of the prayer offered by the impatient Christian: Dear God, please grant me patience. And I want it right now.
The story is told of a young Christian who went to an older Christian for help. “Will you please pray for me that I may be more patient?” he asked. So they knelt together and the old man began to pray. “Lord, send this young man tribulation in the morning; send this young man tribulation in the afternoon; send this young man…”
At that point the young Christian blurted out, “No, no, I didn’t ask you to pray for tribulation. I wanted you to pray for patience.” “Ah,” responded the wise old Christian, “it’s through tribulation that we learn patience.”
WHAT IS PATIENCE?
“Patience” (makrothumia) is the quality of putting up with others, even when one is severely tried. The importance of patience is evidenced by its being most often used of the character of God, as in the great text from Joel: “Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and repents of evil” (2:13, RSV).
Ulrike Ruffert had an interesting take on this, as well: “Patience is the ability to put up with people you’d like to put down.”
“Patience is self-restraint which does not hastily retaliate against a wrong.” That’s pretty good. When someone does you a wrong, how do you respond – with patience or anger?
Here’s another: “Patience is the ability to accept delay or disappointment graciously.” How do you deal with delay or disappointment? For some that’s really tough. Yet, patience is the ability to accept it without becoming upset.
Finally, perhaps this speaks to each of us? “Patience is the powerful attribute that enables a man or woman to remain steadfast under strain – and continue pressing on.”
Maybe that is where some of us are. We’re dealing with difficult circumstances. We’re a raising a child, or we’re caring for aging parents, or maybe we’ve had a loved one who is ill and we’ve spent long hours at the hospital or nursing home.
We’re weary, but patience is the quality that says, “This too, will pass. It’s almost over. I can keep on keeping on.”
This is my favorite definition: “Patience is a calm endurance based on the certain knowledge that God is in control.”
In the midst of a storm, a little bird was clinging to the limb of a tree, seemingly calm and unafraid. As the wind tore at the limbs of the tree, the bird continued to look the storm in the face, as if to say, “Shake me off; I still have wings.” 
From the spiritual realm, and because of our devotion to petitions through prayer to God, we learn valuable lessons. As a rule, prayer is answered and funds come in, but if we are kept waiting, the spiritual blessing that is the outcome is far more precious than exemption from the trial. 
The word translated for patience (makrothumia) expresses a certain attitude both to people and to events. It expresses the attitude to people which never loses patience with them, however unreasonable they may be, and which never loses hope for them, however unlovely and unteachable they may be.
It expresses the attitude to events which never admits defeat, and which never loses its hope and its faith, however dark the situation may be, and however incomprehensible events may be, and however sore the chastening of God may be.
The story is told of an artist who went to visit an old friend. When he arrived, she was weeping. He asked why. She showed him a beautiful handkerchief that had great sentimental value, but which had been ruined by a spot of indelible ink.
The artist asked her to let him have the handkerchief, which he returned to her by mail a few days later. When she opened the package she could hardly believe her eyes. The artist, using the inkblot as a base, had drawn on the handkerchief a design of great beauty. Now it was more beautiful and more valuable than ever.
Well, as desirable as patience may be, as the young Christian found out, it is not easy to develop patience. For instance, I think developing patience is difficult because it goes against human nature. We aren’t born patient, are we?
When a baby wakes up in the middle of the night and is hungry, or its diaper is wet, it doesn’t lie there and think, “I know Mom and Dad are tired. So I’ll just wait until a more convenient time to let them know that I need something to eat or my diaper changed.”
No! That baby cries impatiently and continues to cry until it receives the attention it demands. Children aren’t very patient. Have you ever traveled with a child? That can be quite an experience.
How about the little 4-year-old boy who was traveling with his mother and constantly asking the same question over and over again: “When are we going to get there? When are we going to get there?”
Finally, the mother got so irritated that she said, “We still have 90 more miles to go. So don’t ask me again when we’re going to get there.”
The boy was silent for a long time. Then he timidly asked, “Mom, will I still be four when we get there?”
A second reason why developing patience is difficult. It’s because there are weeds of pride, selfishness and anger that can choke out the fruit of patience.
A couple of years ago a survey revealed that we have become an impatient and often times angry nation. You see it at work. You see it in school. You see it on the highways.
A man’s car stalled in heavy traffic just as the light turned green. All his frantic efforts to get the car started failed, and a chorus of honking horns behind him made matters worse. He finally got out of his car and walked back to the first driver behind him and said, “I’m sorry, but I can’t seem to get my car started. If you’ll go up there and give it a try, I’ll stay here and honk your horn for you.”
Thirdly, patience is difficult to develop because it’s contrary to our culture. We don’t live in a relaxed culture. Go to most third world countries today and you’ll find a much different lifestyle. They’re more laid back. They think, “Whatever happens, happens. It’ll be all right.” And they wonder why we’re so uptight.
It’s because we’re on a fast track, and in a rat race. We’re in a world of fast food and quick print and expressways and 10-minute oil changes and instant cameras and microwaves.
One Calvin and Hobbes comic strip pictured his father sitting at a computer saying, “It used to be that if a client wanted something done in a week it was considered a rush job, and he would be lucky to get it. Now, with modems, faxes, and car phones everybody wants everything instantly.” About that time Calvin walks by holding a microwave dinner, reading the instructions. “It takes six minutes to microwave this,” he says. “Who’s got that kind of time?”
I think another reason that patience is difficult to develop is because we have convinced ourselves that impatience is a virtue. So you hear people say, “Well, I may be impatient, but I get things done.”
We like “type A” personalities, hard-charging people who get things done, and somehow impatience is seen as a virtue. Proverbs 14:29 says, “A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly.” Proverbs 15:18 says, “A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel.”
A young man was very upset with his mother. They had argued, and at work that day he wrote her an angry letter giving all the things that he felt were wrong with her. It was a very nasty letter. After sealing the envelope, he handed it to a co-worker to mail it for him. Well, the co-worker knew what was in the letter, so he put it in his pocket. “Maybe he’ll have second thoughts about it. I can always mail it tomorrow,” he thought.
The next day, when he went to work, his friend was sitting there all forlorn, saying, “Oh, I wish I had never written that letter. I’d give $100 to have it back.” Well, you know what happened, don’t you? His friend pulled it out of his pocket and said, “Here it is.”
Patience in marriage works a lot like faith. It demonstrates the certainty that what we hope for–physical, emotional, spiritual oneness–is waiting for us, even though we cannot see it in the here and now. 
Sometimes expectations push us, making us grow in ways we wouldn’t otherwise. You can’t just automatically say no. Maybe God is opening a door. 
Thomas a Kempis offers this advice: “First put yourself at peace, and then you may the better make others be at peace. A peaceful and patient man is of more profit to himself and to others, too, than a learned man who has no peace.”
Christians, of all people, should understand that the MasterCard mentality is not the way to master life. The pattern Jesus established was one of deferring desires–not because the fulfillment of desiring is wrong, but because “my time has not yet come.” Most of us think our time has come five minutes after the desire first pops into our minds. 
People often discuss the importance of delayed gratification; what do you mean when you talk about “displaced gratification”? In delayed gratification, we put off something so that we can enjoy something even better later on–avoiding a “sex life” before marriage, for instance, so that we can more fully enter into a deeper love of the marital union. In displaced gratification, we put off something so that the gratification can go to somebody else. Within marriage, for example, we put our spouse’s needs ahead of our own.
When William Booth finally left the Salvation Army, he sent a one-word telegram to every member of his army. That one word embodied the guiding principle of Booth’s life: “Others.”
What is the reward of displaced gratification? The man or woman who understands delayed and displaced gratification realizes that “others” are what it’s all about. Instead of demanding our rights and satisfaction, we can work for the rights of others, we can find fulfillment in seeing other people satisfied, and we can serve instead of trying to conquer. Displaced gratification is the oil that keeps our society running smoothly.
Where do you draw inspiration to live this way? Learning to put the needs of others above your own is the “displaced gratification” my father taught me about. The ultimate understanding of displaced gratification is reflected in the life of Christ, who gave up heaven for earth, who could have been crowned king, and who could have called ten thousand angels to rescue Him from the cross. Instead He accepted brutal, humiliating torture on our behalf. He put serving others ahead of serving His own needs. 
Would you consider yourself to be a patient person? Do you show patience in your life? No doubt many of us struggle with this. No doubt we all could use a little more patience. It’s so often the case, is it not, that we allow ourselves to become guilty of impatience.
You know, it can even be said that in some ways, impatience lies at the heart of almost every sin you can think of. Just look back to the beginning of sin, when Eve was tempted by the serpent in the garden of Eden. The serpent tells her that if she were to eat of the forbidden fruit, she could be like God, knowing good and evil. She saw that the tree was desirable for gaining wisdom. She became impatient for that wisdom, she became impatient with the command of God which said to her that she did not need to have that wisdom, so she ate, and she gave some to her husband, and he ate.
We should simply wait on him. So doing, we shall be directed, supplied, protected, corrected, and rewarded. 
 Wayne A. Lamb in 100 Meditations on Hope; Christianity Today, Vol. 40, no. 4.
 J. Hudson Taylor (1832-1905), English Missionary to China, Founder of the China Inland Mission. “Money II,” Christian History, Issue 19.
 Harold B. Smith, Marriage Partnership, Vol. 9, no. 1.
 Bonnie Halcomb, Leadership, Vol. 5, no. 3.
 Joel Belz in World (May 11, 1987). Christianity Today, Vol. 33, no. 8.
 John Ashcroft, former governor of Missouri, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1994. He is author of Lessons from a Father to His Son; Men of Integrity, Vol. 1, no. 2.
 Vance Havner, Christian Reader, Vol. 32, no. 4.