Today we want to talk about the sin of impatience.
This is a challenge for many, especially in an age in which we expect everything, yesterday.
The presence of high speed technology, Amazon’s 1-click next-day shipping, and streaming services on demand, certainly don’t help this. We now live in the I-generation in which we can create our world, customize our experience, and force the world to move at our personal pace and preferences.
Further, patience is no longer viewed as a virtue because it communicates to many the presence of weakness, and at times, incompetence. So instead, impatience is viewed as a virtue, because frankly, impatience gets things done.
The reality is that rudeness, boorishness, and insensitivity is pragmatically useful.
Expressing sinful anger gets us what we want. It cuts through the stuff that we don’t have time for, and accomplishes our goals.
The truth is that many of us know exactly what this is. This is not something we even need to argue for, or show to be true. We all know how much impatience is a struggle in our own lives.
Further, in light of living in a time of COVID, riots, tumultuous political realities, and many other unpleasant issues, impatience seems to be an increasing experience for many Christians.
All of this only adds fuel to that daily battle that already exists within the Christian life.
So, if this is you right now: first, we want to say you are not alone, but secondly, the Bible has some things to say about this issue.
Before we get into formally, if you’ve not read it, we would highly recommend picking up a book by Jerry Bridges, called Respectable Sins. The premise of his book is to address sins that we view as respectable, more tolerable, or sins that we don’t think are really all that bad.
So we all understand the evils of murder, theft, rape, lying, etc., but rarely do we actively seek to root out the ever-present sin of thanklessness, selfishness, envy, or irritability, etc.
Yet, the point of Bridges's book is to show how much God actually hates those kinds of sins, and how the sins of the tongue (for instance), makes you just as much unlike Christ as the murderer.
We often forget that Israel was killed in the wilderness, in part, for the sin of grumbling. God despised the fact that they wanted to go back to Egypt (the land of slavery) because they missed their leaks and garlic, and then griped about it - constantly.
“Respectable Sins” are sins which typically deal with the issue of a person’s character.
Bridges points out how the purpose of his books doesn’t minimize the reality that there are sins worse than others. By any standard, especially the biblical one, there are acts that are more morally reprehensible.
For instance, God doesn’t require the death penalty for not installing a parapet on the roof of your house—something commanded in Mosaic Law. Yet, He does require the death penalty for the murder, so God does understand gradations in morality.
However, Bridges is quick to point out that sins of the tongue are just as efficient at putting a person into hell as the serial rapist, because it is still ungodliness and something He hates.
The problem for us is that something like gossip is a bit more respectable in our eyes, than stealing. So we think less of it, and commit more of it.
All this to say, today we want to discuss one of these sins, which is the sin of impatience. This is a sin every human (and every Christian) commits, but it’s especially true for Westerners. Wealth breeds technology. Technology breeds desires. Desires breed demands. Demands breed impatience, and impatience is sin. Since we are very rich, we have ample opportunity to live in the veritable state of impatience.
The Sin of Impatience
So what is impatience?
Bridges defines it as “A strong sense of annoyance at the (usually) unintentional faults and failures of others.”... This impatience is often expressed verbally in a way that tends to humiliate the person (or persons) who is the object of the impatience.”
Here, Bridges is obviously limiting the scope of his discussion to interpersonal issues.
This would include things such as having to wait in line, people walking slowly in front of you, issues while driving (e.g., road rage), the new McDonald’s employee who can’t figure out the right button to push, or the waitress who doesn’t get the order right, etc.
There is also impatience when it comes to longer term issues:
- You want to achieve a certain level in your career yesterday.
- The teaching and training of your children.
Why aren’t they learning to read quicker?
Why aren’t they walking yet?
Why can’t they figure out potty training?
Why are they not respecting and speaking to me as I want (all the time!)?
- Or, why hasn’t God brought me a spouse?
- Why won’t this sickness or disease go away?
- Why are people not giving me the respect I want?
There are many ways in which we express impatience and frustration, and we all know it. Now it might look different in each person’s life, but impatience rears its ugly head all too often.
The major problem for us is that we don’t see impatience as sin. However, impatience is the result of thinking that we are owed something—and we think we are owed it now.
Impatience is the result of self-seeking. It puts us first, and thinks that our desires being met is what is of ultimate importance.
We are really good at justifying the sin of impatience by saying that “we have high expectations,” as if that makes it no longer sin. Or, because I would never do something “this way,” it is therefore justifiably right to be impatient that this person is not doing it my way.
Further, because we’re in love with money in this country, whenever money gets involved, we believe that it’s now acceptable to express impatient behavior when something doesn’t happen our way. This one is very difficult because it is so ingrained in us. “I paid for it, so I have rights.”
Why do we think that because money is involved, it simply makes certain behaviors and heart attitudes acceptable?
Perhaps the greatest justification for impatience is busyness and stress. When our bandwidth runs out, we get shorter and shorter with people. Yet, in our minds, the impatience is okay because we’re stressed.
Further, a sin that is closely connected to impatience is irritability.
Bridges defines impatience as a strong sense of annoyance or exasperation. But irritability is described as, “the frequency of impatience, or the ease with which a person can become impatient over the slightest provocation.”
He goes on to say, “Most of us can become impatient at times, but the irritable person is impatient most of the time. The irritable person is one whom you feel you have to tiptoe or ‘walk on eggshells’ around. This person is no fun to be with, but unfortunately family members or coworkers sometimes have no choice.”
This is the kind of person with whom you never know what you’re going to get. You often wonder if they’ll be in a good mood, or if they’re just going to be “bugged” by everyone and everything.
We all know people like this. Perhaps we are a person like this. Frankly, it can be exhausting.
More than exhausting, it is just sin. Plain and simple. This is a person who is in the sinful pattern of making everything about them. It is self-seeking, self-focused, self-serving. In short, impatience is the result of pride, which says that my life, my ease of experience, and my preference is what matters. I am first, and people need to start getting this.
So while it is certainly an ungodly character flaw, it is also sin. And God hates it.
Well the bible has something to say about this, and so we’re going to take a look at a few passages to gather some principles for how to fight impatience, but also see what true patience can produce.
The Battle for Patience
Principle #1 – A godly person learns to overlook offenses.
Prov. 19:11 says that “It is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.”
There is much that is resolved right here, if we could simply be controlled by this. (*BTW, this would apply to anger as well, which is something that commonly results from impatience).
This is simply the idea of showing grace; and resolves many small, daily offences that give rise to impatience in our own hearts.
Remember, grace is not deserved, but something freely given. Bridges says impatience typically results from someone committing unintentional acts that bug you, slow you down, or even harm you. The key word there is “unintentional.”
So if someone does something that gives rise to impatience, or irritability in you, you would do well to simply overlook it.
This is easier said than done, but that is the biblical, God-honoring response. Especially if it’s a one-time occurrence. You’ll often do more harm than good, by making a big deal out of something, that in reality it was only unintentional (and only happened once or twice).
This is especially helpful for newly married couples.
On the other hand, if something is becoming a pattern, and you are not able to overlook it any longer, then you should address it in a mature manner.
Avoid using the language of “always” or “never.” (e.g., “You always leave your towel on the floor,” or “you never put your shoes away”). Do point out the issue, and explain the challenge that is being created for you.
However, if you are able overlook the offense, then you are showing the person grace. This helps maintain the relationship, especially when offenses are not a continuous pattern.
If you choose to allow a one or two-time offense to get under your skin, then the issue may simply be one of self-control. Why turn something into a big deal, when it can simply be overlooked, and have it go away?
Learning to show grace is a discipline, and sometimes we need to actively preach this to ourselves. There will be times we feel ourselves growing very impatient, but those moments we must put that impatience off, and choose to put on patience. This means, instead of getting irritated (or puffing around in impatience), we must actively tell ourselves that we are going to overlook this, and seek to forget about it.
1 Peter 4:8 – “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.”
Again, we see that patience is of greater virtue than impatience. Here, the offense is not something that was inconvenient, but an actual sin. So it is possible to overlook even sin.
Sometimes we feel the need to nit-pick every sin committed against us. Peter would say, instead of making an issue every time someone sins against you simply overlook it.
The focus in this passage is on service toward the brethren, as Peter goes on to give instruction regarding loving one another via our spiritual gifts.
The contrast here is helpful. Instead of making everything about us, and how someone has offended or sinned against us, a great way to battle anger, bitterness, or even impatience with a person when this happens, is by willfully choosing to overlook it. Not only are we to overlook it, but we are then to actively serve them.
So the goal here is unity. In fact, one of the reasons why impatience can be so destructive is because it can eventually destroy unity. So if you can check your impatience before it turns into anger, then you are doing well. This is true within marriages, between parents and children, but especially within the church.
1 Peter 2:23 – Peter said this about Jesus... “and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously...”
If there was anyone who would have been justified in impatience and irritation, it was Jesus. He would simply not let Himself be controlled by this, rather, He was entrusting Himself to the Father.
Knowing that the Father would sort out every injustice, was the reason He was able to overlook in the moment.
That’s enough in this episode for all of us to think about. We will pick it up next episode with two more principles related to this common sin, and how to address it in your life.