Pastor Tim Smith: Daily opportunities to learn the practice of patience
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Do you know there are some laws of life that aren’t necessarily written down anywhere, but we discover them in our daily experiences?
One of these ‘life laws’ is that when you are waiting in a queue at a supermarket checkout, the one next to you will go quicker than yours, until you switch queues to join it!
I recall the day I was standing in a slow-moving supermarket queue, because the person serving at the till was holding a long conversation with the customer she was serving, and both were seemingly oblivious to the rest of us in the queue.
The lady behind me began to huff and puff; I could feel her breath on the back of my neck!
I tried to look calm and unflustered, but inwardly I was shouting as loud as I could for the shop assistant to stop talking and start serving the next customer.
An observer of human behaviour once calculated that on average a person will spend between 45 and 62 minutes each day waiting. Waiting in a queue of traffic, or for a bus to arrive or for a kettle to boil. We also wait for the gas man to come and fix the boiler, for the computer to finish updating, or sat in the dentist’s reception dreading our impending appointment with pain.
If that statistic is accurate, this means that in an average year we will spend at least 273 hours - that’s almost 11.5 days - waiting.
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We can’t avoid these daily delays but the question is, will we wait patiently?
We’re told in the Old Testament, (in 1 Samuel 16) of the day when the prophet Samuel anoints a young man called David as God’s choice to be the next king of Israel.
However, David has to wait at least 15 years before he takes his place on the throne, during which time the king he’s to replace, Saul, attempts to kill David on numerous occasions.
During those years on the run from the king, the Bible tells of at least two occasions when David has Saul at his mercy, but refuses to take the opportunity to fast-track his route to the throne by killing the king.
Instead, he entrusts himself to God’s care and timing, and at the beginning of Psalm 40 (words that, incidentally, the Irish band U2 put to music), David writes of what he learnt: “I waited patiently for the Lord.”
When, in the New Testament, the apostle Paul tells believers in Colossians 1:11 that one of his prayers for them is that they might have great ‘endurance and patience’, the two Greek words he uses - hupomone and makrothumia - describe perseverance in any situation, no matter how trying the circumstance, and patience with every individual, no matter how trying the person.
In relation to how we cope with difficult people, that Greek word literally means ‘slow anger’, and the Bible tells us it’s exactly the same patient disposition that the Lord displays towards you and me when we ignore his will and go our own way.
Psalm 103:8 says the Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.
Every day, I encounter challenging circumstances and troublesome individuals, where the temptation is to lose my cool and get hot under the collar. But each person and trial is also an opportunity, with divine assistance, to learn the practice of patience.
Such fortitude is also good for my physical, as well as my mental and emotional, wellbeing.
A 2007 study by American college professors Sarah Schnitker and Robert Emmons concluded that, not only are patient people healthier, but they also tend to be ‘more empathic, equitable and forgiving’.
In other words, a patient person is a better friend and neighbour - 16th century poet and playwright John Florio was right when he said: “Patience is the best medicine.”