When I was six, my dad took a sabbatical from the college where he taught to focus intensely on his doctoral dissertation. One of his first orders of business? He planted a garden. He laughingly told me years later that he was concerned my little brother and I would think, “Our dad doesn’t have a real job,” since he was now researching and writing from home at a time when most dads headed out each day to some mysterious place called “Work.” So he planted a massive fruit and vegetable garden in our yard and had the whole family out there learning to plant, cultivate, and harvest. It was a year of wonders—and lots of mud tracked into the house (sorry, Mom)—but mostly, wonders!
One of the greatest wonders of all was watching things grow from next-to-nothing—a small seed, a puny sprout—into something we could eat for dinner. But the thing about being six years old and watching stuff grow is that sometimes you’re watching dirt do nothing for what seems like a long time. I have these funny snapshots in my memory of the times I dug up what I hadn’t been able to see—half-grown, anemic-looking carrots, for instance—in order “just to check” what was going on. I hope I planted them back in the ground to wait for more growth. Not sure how that worked out. However, I also remember how things like strawberries and tomatoes tasted when you let them mature and ripen.
I was getting a tangible lesson on what it meant to be patient, on keeping the harvest in mind. It’s a lesson we have to learn about carrots and tomatoes, and it’s a lesson we have to learn about people, too.
This week, we’re wrapping up a series on how God changes us into people who embrace our callings. We adopted the phrase “Don’t quit your day job” to remind us that we are to put on our spiritual work clothes as outlined in Colossians 3:12-14 and get to work loving God and loving people. Last week we looked at humility, one of those spiritual garments that allows us to move forward with maturity in our relationships. This week, we look at the role of patience in transforming us from people who merely put up with the stuff of everyday life (at least until we can’t take it anymore and give up) to those who persevere until we see God’s promises delivered in our lives and the lives of those we love. It is living out our day jobs with the harvest in mind.
In the passage we’ve been studying, Colossians 3:12-14, the word “patience” in the NIV shows up in the NKJV translation as long-suffering. Now that’s a phrase we can embrace as we pat our little martyr-selves on the back and think, “I AM long-suffering—look what (and who) I put up with!” At least until we explode or walk out or otherwise decide enough is enough.
The word Paul uses when he says, “clothe yourselves with…patience” is the Greek word makrothumia (Strong’s G3115), which does have forbearance, perseverance, and endurance as part of its meaning. So yes, there is an element of bearing with people and circumstances over time. Hebrews 6:15 uses the same Greek word, translated as “patiently endured,” to speak of Abraham: And so after [Abraham] had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. What promise was it that Abraham was waiting on? It was God’s promise to multiply and bless his family—the very family that, generations later, would bring Christ into the world to save us all. That was a promise worth having patience to see delivered!
So when we clothe ourselves with the Colossians 3:12 garment of patience, it is NOT so we can revel in how long-suffering we are for the sake of the suffering. It is patiently enduring in order to see a promised outcome. When it comes to relationships, the garment of patience allows us to open our arms wide enough not only to embrace what’s to come in our own lives but to embrace what’s to come in the lives of the people around us. When we clothe ourselves in patience, we let God outfit us in His strength to wait, to trust, to never give up believing He will deliver on His promises.
But how do we develop patience that waits for the harvest without knowing what that harvest might be? How do we know what those promises are?
The short answer is God’s Word, the Bible. The longer answer is that we open a dialogue with God about what He says in Scripture. For me, that’s been through first reading the Word, and then activating my faith through prayer, journaling, and discussing His Word with others who challenge and encourage me. For example, when I was a young wife and mother, a friend introduced me to Stormie O’Martian’s series of books, including The Power of a Praying Wife and The Power of a Praying Mom. Armed with these practical, Scripture-filled prayer guides, I began praying, rather than just worrying, about different areas for our family. It wasn’t like picking out some kind of magic spell that was going to fix everything in an area such as finance or parenting. It was the start of on-going conversations with God about His wisdom and plans for our lives as outlined in His Word. As I became more secure in the brilliance of our Father, in His everlasting commitment to His children, I began to have more courage to take Him at His Word and to become more like an Abraham, patiently enduring to obtain the promises of God.
This process of developing patience and then applying it every day takes time and work. It can be tough. I know things get weary during our day jobs. I know things don’t always work out the way we’d planned. Sometimes we think we’ve watched the dirt in the gardens of our lives do nothing for what seems like a long time. But impatiently pulling up our hopes and dreams by the roots “just to check” or worse, pitching them out because nothing seems to be happening won’t get us any closer to fulfilling our purposes. Instead, let’s take courage and choose to clothe ourselves in patience:
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9