The Wisdom of Patience
Galatians 5:22-23, Ephesians 4:2
First Baptist Church Laurens
June 25, 2017
Many of you know the name Tony Dungy. You may remember him as the former coach of the Indianapolis Colt during their heyday when they won the Super Bowl back in 2007. Likewise, you may also remember him for the excellent books that he has written for men that focus on faith, leadership and fatherhood or for his leadership in helping start the program All-Pro Dad in Public Schools that invites fathers and children to grow in their relationships and character development.
One of Dungy’s great stories is about his dad whose name was Wilbur. The elder Mr. Dungy was a quiet man who enjoyed taking his sons fishing on the lakes of their home state of Michigan. One day, Tony and his brother Linden were out in the boat with their dad. While they fished, Wilbur was focused on teaching his boys how to properly cast. At the time, Tony was 9 and his brother Linden was 5. As Tony watched his own line in the front of the boat, he heard his father working with his brother behind him. “Hey Linden,” his dad said in his usual, very calm and unexcited voice, “don’t move for minute please. Now Linden, always make sure that you know not only where your pole is when you’re starting to cast but also make certain you know where everyone else is around you too.”
What captured Tony’s attention as he turned around to look at the two of them is that his father was saying all of this while never having changed the tone of his voice. In fact, he had not gotten one bit excited which was absolutely amazing considering the fact that Linden’s hook was hanging from the side of their dad’s head.
You see, on his last cast, Linden had hooked their father squarely in the ear. Yet despite the pain and the frustration of being Linden’s big catch of the day, Wilbur had never changed his demeanor at all. (Wes Stafford, Just A Minute, Pages 73-74.)
Galatians 5:22-23 says that one of the Fruits of the Spirit is patience. That is to say, that one of the obvious characteristics of the life of someone who has the Holy Spirit inside of their being and who is led by the Spirit is that they are people of patience – even in moments like the one that Wilbur Dungy found himself in which was a moment when he had ever right not to be patient.
For me, there are three big lessons about patience that are in keeping with scripture that I want to remind us of this morning and that I want to tie directly to this wonderful little story from Tony Dungy and his experience with his father and his brother.
First, we learn to be patient through experiencing patience. Galatians Five, where we find the Fruit of the Spirit actually contains two lists. One is a list of virtues, i.e. the Fruit of the Spirit, which prove that God is at work in our lives and the other is a list of vices which suggest that some other force or set of priorities has our attention. What is interesting and that is worth seeing is that these two lists are not lists of beliefs. No, they are lists of behaviors. Let me say that again. These are not lists of beliefs, they are lists of behaviors.
In turn, our learning to be patient happens as we spend time around patient people. Likewise, the ability of others to learn patience happens as they experience our patience.
Think again about these behaviors being called fruits. We know what an apple is not because we have studied this fruit scientifically and can affirm its anatomic makeup. We know an apple because we have seen it, felt it and tasted it. We have experienced it. Tony Dungy’s dad didn’t give he and his brother a lecture, he exhibited patience. This must be our goal too.
Second, when we are on the receiving end of profound patience we don’t forget it. What I found interesting in my studies this week was the fact that the Greek word that we translate as patience in the list of the Fruit of the Spirit is quite unique. The idea behind the term is not simply someone who is patient when patience is expected but rather it is the idea of patience when getting angry, loosing our cool or being restless would seem expected and justified. (“Makrothumia”, A New Testament Wordbook, William Barclay, pg. 83-84)
Again, think of the Dungy story. Their dad’s ear was likely throbbing and he knew his son had not paid attention to what he was doing when he cast the rod. Who could have blamed him for being upset? Anger was the expected response. His patience was not expected. In turn, it was a sign of his maturity, wisdom and that something else was at work in his life. Remember also that Tony Dungy was 9 years old when that little incident happened. Today, he is 61. Yet, 52 years later he still has not forgotten. Patience experienced had a profound affect.
Third, patience means that we have dared to see things from another’s perspective. What the Bible so regularly invites us to do is to realize that the very behavior that we so crave from others, is the same response that we so often struggle to give. What do we want from others? We want their love. We want their patience. We want their kindness and their generosity. Why? Because we didn’t mean to say what we said. Because, we are doing and trying our best. Because, as Paul said, we are human and thus we do what we don’t want to do and fail to do what we do want to do.
This is what we need. Yet, we just can’t find a way to offer the same to others. Again, the Dungy story. Somehow, their father had the capacity to understand that Linden was 5 years old. He was not Bill Dance. He was not intentionally trying to hurt his father. He was just doing his best. And, when he thought about it that way, when he saw the experience from Linden’s perspective, why get angry? Why loose his tempter? Why expect more of his son than he should?
This past Friday evening, we were in downtown Greenville window shopping on Main Street. While we were there, Caleb and I went into O.P. Taylor which is a fantastic little toy store next door to Mast General. Caleb was browsing and I became fascinated by a board game they were featuring.
It is called Traffic Jam and it has been around for a while but it was new to me. Traffic Jam is a puzzle game in which about a dozen colored plastic cars are placed in various patterns on a board. The object is always the same – to get the red colored car from the left hand side of the board to the right hand side despite the patterns of the other cars that make it seem impossible to move the red car.
As I looked at the puzzle, I had a moment where I thought that there was no solution. But, in reminding myself that this was a puzzle game I knew there had to be a solution. If I was willing to be patient, to take a deep breath, to not allow my emotions to get the best of me and to take it one step at a time, there was a solution. I simply had to believe that there was.
The same is true in life. Life is like a big game of Traffic Jam. It is so easy to throw up our hands, get frustrated and convince ourselves that the situations, relationships and issues in front of us cannot be overcome.
Yet, if we can cultivate patience, if we can take a breath, and continue to trust God’s ability to get from where we are to where we want to be, we might just be amazed at what we can do and what problems we can get beyond.
Today, who do you need patience from? Today, who needs your patience – in action and by your seeing things from their perspective? Today, what life situation do you need to find a way to be patient with? In your life, where does this fruit, the fruit of patience, need to grow, develop and mature? Amen.