It’s nice to say that we must have patience in times of trouble, but how is it that we develop patience in our lives? Certainly, that is not typically an easy task and patience is clearly not a spiritual gift with which we are born. If you question that, spend some time volunteering in the church nursery next week. Patience is something that is learned, but how do we go about learning it?
For Calvin, learning patience took place as one sought the common equity of one’s neighbor. In other words, as you apply the golden rule, seeking to ensure that your neighbor receives just and fair treatment, you will (almost as a byproduct) grow in your ability to be patient both with others and during times of affliction.
Let us suppose, for a moment, one of the classic illustrations of needing patience in western society. When we go to the store to buy a product or some groceries, imagine getting to the check-out counter and being stuck in a line that is moving very slowly. This is something that most westerners can relate to quite easily. Imagine discovering that the reason that the line is backed up is because there is a person who is checking every price as it is registered, arguing a discrepancy as to how coupons are to be rung up, and then counting out pennies to finish paying for their purchase! Then imagine that you have somewhere you are supposed to be in a short amount of time. For many westerners, especially Americans, that is enough to make you want to run up and choke the person.
From Calvin’s perspective, the Christian is to ask himself or herself, “How would I want others to treat me were I that person counting out coupons and pennies? Certainly, I would want people to understand my situation and give me the opportunity to take advantage of any discounts I can get. Certainly, I would also desire to not be rushed and to not have other customers rolling their eyes, grumbling, or otherwise making me feel like a lesser human being. And thus, for Calvin, intentionally treating the other person (your neighbor in a Biblical sense) as you would genuinely like to be treated, that develops patience in your person.
But, how is that supposed to develop patience during times of suffering or persecution? To begin with, when you realize that, for the Christian, times of suffering are designed to strengthen our faith and reliance on God, then you realize the one with whom you are being called to be patient is God himself. And, since you know that the intentions of God are to conform you into Christ’s image, is not the end result a good and benevolent thing? So, shall we not patiently persevere recognizing the equity with which God works and desiring that His ends be done in our lives (isn’t that part of what we pray when we pray the Lord’s Prayer?).
Finally, we often struggle with patience towards self. Yet, do we not wish to be treated equitably by others? If so, shall we not treat ourselves with that same equity? And in doing so, patience, even with self, continues to grow.
In the end, being patient during times of trouble is something we must do — and can do as a result of God’s providential governance of all things. But it is also a Christian virtue in which we must invest time and effort. The old statement, “Give me patience and I want it now,” does not apply here…