Cultivating Patience, Kindness, and Generosity
Today we are continuing our series of sermons in which we are asking this question: “What do you want to be like when you grow up?” And as we think about that, part of what we realize is that the person that we’re going to become down the road is being shaped today. And I want to paint a picture of what we could be; what the apostle Paul says we were made to be in his listing of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. He helps us to see this is what you were made for.
We’ve already focused on the first 3 last week. There are 9. These are attributes or qualities that represent the virtues of the Christian life and what the Holy Spirit does inside of us when we allow God to do that. Last week we talked about love, joy, and peace. This week we’re going to explore the second 3 fruit of the Spirit patience, kindness and generosity.
Now I want to ask you this question. If I were to talk to your spouse or your children or your best friend and I were to ask them, “Is this person, are they a patient person?” What would they say about you? Would they say yes or no? If they’d say yes would you shake your head yes. If they’d say no. Alright some of you just don’t know if you’re patient or not.
But you know I really think I’m a pretty patient person. I think I’m very patient – except when I’m not! And as I think about the things that precipitate me not being patient as I thought about it there were like 4 scenarios that it seemed like produced impatience in my life. Let me just see if these match up with yours.
The first is the fact that we live in a culture in which we want everything right now. This is the instant gratification culture. And unfortunately the internet has fed that for us. So you want to buy music? You can buy it right now. You don’t even have to wait. You want buy a book. Don’t go to a bookstore. I mean that’s old fashion. Just buy with one click. You can have it right now. Software? You can have it right now.
And then anything that can’t be downloaded onto to your computer you can have with next day shipping if you order it by 11:00 it will be there at your house by 5:00 the next day. You know you pay an extra $15 but I’m the kind of guy who pays the extra $15. I want it now.
Even with patience we pray, “Lord, give me patience and give it to me NOW!”
And so I find that this sort of takes over my life and then I feel like I’m constantly wanting the thing in this moment. If I have to wait for it, I don’t want it. That’s sort of my perspective.
You know when you dare to preach a sermon on this the Lord has a way of forcing you to deal with it. You ever notice that? You say I want to work on patience and what does the Lord do? Everywhere you turn He gives you an opportunity to exercise patience. He’s funny like that.
We went to go out to eat the other night and for some reason it was packed. It’s rarely ever crowded when we go in, but of course we get there and as I walk up I see people standing outside and inside the lobby waiting. When we went in they said it was going to be about 30 minutes. And I was like “No way! I’m not waiting 30 minutes!” Well we were there and Robin wanted to eat there so we waited and I sulked outside. Well 10 minutes later we were seated and the meal was great. But if I had gotten my way I wouldn’t have waited. I was hungry and I wanted it now.
So this is part of what happens to me. When things are happening slower than what I want I get frustrated. Now by the way the word patience in the New Testament is a Greek word that means “Long-tempered or long-fused.” And when we are impatient we are short-tempered or short-fused. And that is that it doesn’t take very much to agitate us, irritate us, or frustrate us. And what the Bible, what Paul is saying is that we’re meant to, if the Spirit’s working in us, the longer we live and the older we get, the more we grow up, the longer our fuse gets.
Except for what happens with many of us is as we get older our fuses get shorter and shorter and shorter. We don’t even realize it. That’s not how it’s supposed to be. So we must cultivate patience.
But we have to be aware of what causes impatience and instant gratification is one of those for me.
A second one is my own tardiness. The fact is I always think that I can do more than I can do in an allotted period of time. I get to the end of the day and I’ll say, “Robin I’ll be home in 10 minutes I just have a couple of things to finish up. Or I will meet you somewhere at a certain time.” And 9 times out of 10 the time comes and goes and I’m in the middle of something and time gets away from me.
I know exactly how long it takes for me to get from the church to her school: 22 minutes. That is assuming it’s not raining, there’s no traffic, there’s no accidents, there’s no construction. As long as all of those things work it takes 22 minutes. So if I need to meet her there for something I leave the church exactly 22 minutes before I’m supposed to be there. And guess how often that gets me there on time? Maybe one in 5 times!
And so on those other 4 times guess what begins to happen? With each red light, with each delay, with each car not going as fast as I want them to go in front of me, what happens? I get more and more frustrated at all of these things. When I should be saying, “Dude, whose fault is this?” I mean if you left 10 minutes earlier this wouldn’t have happened. I can’t blame the traffic for that. It’s my own fault. But when we’re tardy we find ourselves impatient with everybody and everything around us when it’s really our own fault. And so scheduling margin into our lives of course becomes important if we’re going to be so impatient.
A third root cause of impatience is closely linked to the last and that is stress. And here’s what I find. When I feel stress I can feel it in my chest and in my neck and in my stomach and I leave the office – and usually that stress comes not from any particular thing but a whole bunch of little things and so I feel that stress and I get home and all Robin or one of the boys have to do is look at me funny. That’s about as long as my fuse is by the time I get home. And because my own stress has created a situation in which I’m not very long tempered.
Now the worst of these or at least the one that I’m most hesitant to admit is – well it’s captured if you just listen to the causes of impatience: “I get impatient when you inconvenience me. I get impatient when you slow me down. I get impatient when you don’t get what I’m trying to say. I get impatient when you don’t do something the way I want it done.”
Do you hear a certain word that showed up in there at least 8 times? I, I, I, I. And so a researcher and a professor at the University of North Carolina noted that the root cause of much of our impatience is narcissism. Man I hate that word! I don’t want to be a narcissist. But when I begin looking at my impatience with other people or with other circumstances or things I recognize the narcissist in me.
And you see it’s helpful to recognize the root causes of some of these things and to say, “You know what, I desperately don’t want to be a narcissist! Or a fool. Ecclesiastes says this in Ecclesiastes 7:9. It says, “Do not be quick to anger for anger lodges in the bosom of fools.” And I’m thinking call me anything but a narcissist or a fool. “I don’t want to be impatient. God help me to be long-tempered; long-fused.”
Now when I think about this I began thinking about Paul’s letter to the Colossians. In chapter 3 he commands the Colossians to be patient with one another. And then when he does that he goes on to describe what it takes to be patient with other people. And this is really important. I frequently read this at wedding ceremonies because it is a key to making a marriage last. But like 1 Corinthians 13 it really about all of life. Paul says if you’re going to patient with each other then, “Bear with each other. And if anyone has a complaint against another forgive each other just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all clothe yourselves with love.” (Colossians 3:13-14)
This is important. You have to put up with each other. Guess what? Nobodies’ perfect! Not even you! And so C. S. Lewis said, “If you spend 3 or 4 years with the same person in a regular relationship, after a while you’re going to learn every time of voice that grates on your nerves, every facial expression that irritates you. It doesn’t matter who you are that’s how it works. We find ourselves butting heads with each other. And the only way this thing is going to work in life in any relationship, any friendship, really any working relationship is if you come to be able to forgive somebody else; to put up with them.
And to do that you have to say, “You know what, I’m not perfect. I’ve got my issues too. And you know all those people around me; they have to put up with me. So surely I can put up with them.” That’s called grace. And then a second component to grace is actively forgiving. That person cuts in front of you and they catch the green light and you get stuck with the yellow or the red, and you’re mad as all get out because you were running late for something and you’re all stressed out. But you know you’ve got to go, “How many times have I done that to somebody else?” Or “How many times have I done something worse than that to somebody else?” Or “How many times has God looked at me and wondered, “How long until this person’s going to get it?” And yet God continuously shows mercy to me.” “Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive one another.” That’s a huge part of patience is the ability to say, “Hey, this is really no big deal.” And to forgive.
Now another part of beginning to cultivate patience is really reframing the situation. So to reframe the situation goes something like this:
John Ortberg says when he goes to the grocery store, in order to cultivate patience there are times he picks out the longest line. He doesn’t go for the short one. He goes for the longest one. And then he realizes he’s intentionally taking the line that’s going to take 5 minutes longer. And he says, “Hey, what can I do with 5 minutes? I get 5 extra minutes right now in my day where I’m not forced to think about anything or do anything. I’m just here.” And so maybe you pray during that time. You pray for all those people on National Enquirer’s cover as you get up closer to the register. They need your prayers. Or whatever. You just breathe. You know that’s a blessing not a curse that you have 5 minutes extra time in the line, right?
And so it’s reframing how you choose to look at what’s going on. Those are just a few hints. There’s a whole lot more that you can find – count to 10, before you let the fuse blow, count to 10 and take a few deep breaths and usually that’s going to be enough to say, “Wait a minute, what am I doing? Over this?” Forgive.
Alright. Let’s talk about kindness. In order to understand this fruit of the Spirit it’s also helpful to think about its opposite. So when I think about kindness and then I think about the work of the flesh that comes naturally to me, its unkindness; it’s sort of a harshness, a way of hurting other people with my words or actions, or not really caring about other people. It’s really kind of all about me. That’s the opposite.
And so the fruit of the Spirit of kindness is actually being concerned about other people around me; concerned about their feelings, looking at ways to bless them. And the Greek word doesn’t signify some big humongous thing you’re going to do as an act of kindness. It can but typically it means small things.
So when I think about this I think about Mother Teresa’s famous quote, “Small things done with great love will change the world.” That’s acts of kindness.
Now I don’t do this all the time and I miss it many times but one of the things I try to do is I try when people are serving me, at the cash register or their a server in a restaurant I try to find one nice thing to say to them or about them before I walk away. Again I don’t always practice it but I try. On a regular basis things like this happen.
But again not long ago I was standing in the line at the Starbucks down here at the Safeway. There’s a guy who works there I have gotten to know because im a regular. He knows my order before I even say anything. This young man has some mannerism that I guess can be rather upsetting to some people. I was in line the morning and some rude person in front of me started saying things to him that were very insulting. And it obviously hurt his feelings. You could tell he was very frustrated and upset. So when it was finally my turn I found something to compliment him on. He had a pin on his apron so I said, “I really like your pin. It’s really cool. Where did you get it?”
And it’s like it took him by surprise. He’s like, you know, “Oh!” And then he told me where he got his pin and then she smiled. I told him I thought he was doing a great job and I gave him my money. And you know it’s interesting, that one kind word changed the situation.
Now here’s the neat thing about kindness and practicing the fruit of kindness is when you practice it, it not only blesses the other person and changes their day but it has a way of changing you. Because when you’re there at the register and you see that person’s face change and you walk away, how do you feel? You feel better don’t you? Like, “Hey that was a blessing to me that I had a chance to bless her. And then you want to do it more. And that’s kind of how the gift of kindness works.
And you know kindness when we’re practicing it actually increases the likelihood of success of almost anything that we do.
This week I saw an article someone had shared on Facebook. It was from businessinsider.com. The title of the article was, “Science Says Lasting Relationships Come Down To 2 Basic Traits.” Psychologist John Gottman and his colleagues from the University of Washington began studying couples. By observing their interactions, Gottman says he can predict with up to 94 percent certainty whether couples will be broken up, together and unhappy, or together and happy several years later. Much of it comes down to the spirit couples bring to the relationship.
Science says lasting relationships come down to—you guessed it—kindness and generosity. Do they bring kindness and generosity; or contempt, criticism, and hostility? Kindness, he says glues couples together. Research independent from theirs has shown that kindness (along with emotional stability) is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage. Kindness makes each partner feel cared for, understood, and validated—feel loved. The lesson from the research is clear: If you want to have a stable, healthy relationship, exercise kindness early and often.
Kindness changes you. It not only changes humans it changes cows too. Did you know that? There was a study that was done in England a couple of years ago and they were working with dairy farmers. They had one group of dairy farmers who just did what they normally do. They just milk the cow, you feed them, you give them their shots.
They had another group that they said, “We want you to be kind to your cows. We want you to give them names. We want you to talk to them softly and gently. We want you to thank them for their milk.”
You know what they found? They did this study for an entire year. The milk cows whose dairy farmers called them by name and spoke to them kindly gave 68 gallons more of milk a year than those who were not treated with kindness by the dairy farmers. Imagine that!
Perhaps this is why Jesus when he called His disciples to be a part of His kingdom told them to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Because in that world, in that kingdom where we’re all treating each other with kindness, the world changes dramatically.
As we grow up, as we grow older we’re meant to show more kindness not less because we’re growing in our Christlikeness.
Paul says this in Titus. He says to Titus, “I desire that you insist on these things, so that those who have come to believe in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works; these things are excellent and profitable to everyone.” (Titus 3:8)
We’re called to do acts of kindness.
Here’s the last – and that’s generosity. Now depending on when you memorized or what version of the Bible you used to memorize the fruit of the Spirit, many of you memorized this list. If you used the NIV you memorized it, “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness…” but in the NRSV you would find “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity…” Which is it? Generosity or goodness? And the truth is it’s actually both of them.
The goodness that’s here when it’s translated is not moral goodness – there’s another word for that. This goodness is a goodness of giving yourself to other people. It’s doing good deeds toward others. And those good deeds cost you something. So it is a generosity. And that’s why it’s both generosity and goodness. It is doing good things – it’s helping people financially or with your time or your talents. It is investing in others. Giving up something of yourself for another human being.
And once more it’s helpful to see the antonym. And the antonym of generosity is depicted in a name we all know, Ebenezer Scrooge. Charles Dickens of course wrote about the human condition in his novel A Christmas Carol. It’s a story of redemption. You remember Ebenezer Scrooge didn’t start off being such a bad guy. He was actually a pretty decent human being. It’s just he lost his way. He began to focus on money, power, and possessions. And he became this shriveled up little soul.
And you remember what it took for him to finally break free from that. It took him seeing the ghost of Christmas past, present, and future, and finally with that in theological terms, he repented. And he expressed sorrow and regret and he turned his life in another direction. So it was a story of redemption.
And in the end Ebenezer Scrooge became an example of generosity and patience and kindness.
Now when we think about that, I don’t want to be Ebenezer Scrooge when I get older. I want to be the kind of person who freely gives; who recognizes that I have been blessed to be a blessing.
And Jesus says it this way. He says, “To whom much is given much is expected.” And He also describes the effect of generosity on our souls, because when we’re generous it changes us, like kindness, it changes who we are. Which is why Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Because we’re changed. We find the blessing in this kind of giving.
I saw a beautiful example of this a month or so ago. Amelia “Imagine no Malaria.” Raised over $300 for that effort.
That’s what generosity looks like. It’s that kind of goodness that freely gives to other people what you have, that you can offer to bless and care for them. And in the process what you see, and what you saw in Amelia when you talk to her about it, is she had joy. And generosity begets a generous spirit.
You know every week we have opportunities where we invite you to give generously of you time, your talent, or your resources. And a generous spirit doesn’t look at those and go, “When are they going to stop asking me to do something?” I mean that’s kind of the Ebenezer Scrooge in us. It’s like, “Man another mission project. Another special offering. Another call to volunteer. Please. I’m sick of being hit up for all this stuff.”
Well listen, you know when we ask for donations, or when we put a call out for volunteers, or when we ask you to make a commitment to the budget or even the capital campaign you know what, I hope you don’t say “I’m sick of it.” I hope you say, “Isn’t it great that we have a church that tries to respond and to reach out and help people? Isn’t it great that we have all of these opportunities to minister to people within these walls and to reach out beyond our walls to meet the needs of the community? Isn’t it awesome that we are building a ministry and helping to provide the resources that will enable us to be vital today and to continue to grow into the future? Isn’t it wonderful that we are sending teams to do mission work all over the country and around the world?”
We don’t expect everybody to do or give to everything. Of course the writer of Proverbs captured this when he said, “Those who are generous are blessed for they share their bread with the poor.” (Proverbs 22:9)
We find that we are blessed when we seek to be a blessing to others. The world changes and we change as a result of this.
Let me wrap it up in this way. When you talk to unchurched people, what you often hear unchurched people say is this, “You know what, I don’t like Christians. Because my experience of them is that they are mean-spirited, narrow minded, judgmental, hypocritical.” And you know there are a lot of us who are like that. No wonder there are a lot of people who don’t want to be around us. But when we’re actually becoming what God made us to be, and we demonstrate love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and generosity you know what you find, most of those unchurched people say, “I want to be around you. I feel better when I’m around you. I want to be like you when I grow up.”
What do you want to be like when you grow up? Somebody that people avoid because you’re just unpleasant to be around or the kind of person people say, “I see in them the fruit of the Spirit. I want to be like them. I love to be around them.”
And what you do today determines which of those two you’ll be tomorrow.