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A friend wrote a message to me in which she reflected at some length on the Lord’s efforts to teach her patience. Her observations resonated with me. The Lord spends a lot of time teaching his people patience.
Some form of the word “patience” appears almost one hundred times in the scriptures. I found the word three times in Old Testament, forty-six times in New Testament, twenty-three times in The Book of Mormon, and twenty-two times in the D&C.
I took the time to read every reference. Some of my favorite passages follow.
David counseled us to wait patiently for the Lord to act in our behalf, and to refuse to fret because others who are involved in “wicked devices” appear to be more prosperous.
“Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass. And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday. Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass” (Psalms 37:5-7).
David also enjoined patience while we wait for the Lord to hear us and help us.
“I waited patiently for the LORD; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry” (Psalms 40:1).
The parable of the sower teaches a similar message. We may not pick the fruit of our righteousness the day we plant the tree from which it grows.
“And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection. But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience” (Luke 8:14-15).
Ecclesiastes tells us that we must trust in the eventual outcome of righteousness over evil. We are much better being patient than being proud.
“Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit” (Ecclesiastes 7,8).
We must move forward toward our eternal goals with steadiness and patience. President Dieter F, Uchtdorf said of our mortal journey, “Brothers and sisters, we have to stay with it. We don’t acquire eternal life in a sprint—this is a race of endurance” (Ensign, May 2009, p. 74). Paul taught this principle many times.
“In your patience possess ye your souls” (Luke 21:19).
“And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end: That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Hebrews 6:11-12).
“For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise” (Hebrews 10:36).
Paul described some of the present blessings that come from learning patience:
“We glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Romans 5:3-5).
James extolled the virtues of this divine quality as well.
“My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. Let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (James 1:2-4).
Patience is one of the defining characteristics of true disciples.
“And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient . . .” (2 Timothy 2:24).
In his efforts to teach us patience, the Lord will allow us to confront challenges, suffering, and chastening . . .
“And the Lord said unto [the sons of Mosiah] also: Go forth among the Lamanites, thy brethren, and establish my word; yet ye shall be patient in long-suffering and afflictions, that ye may show forth good examples unto them in me, and I will make an instrument of thee in my hands unto the salvation of many souls” (Alma 17:11).
“And when Ammon did meet [his brethren in Middoni] he was exceedingly sorrowful, for behold they were naked, and their skins were worn exceedingly because of being bound with strong cords. And they also had suffered hunger, thirst, and all kinds of afflictions; nevertheless they were patient in all their sufferings” (Alma 20:29).
“Be patient in afflictions, for thou shalt have many; but endure them, for, lo, I am with thee, even unto the end of thy days And again, be patient in tribulation until I come; and, behold, I come quickly, and my reward is with me, and they who have sought me early shall find rest to their souls” (Doctrine and Covenants 24:8).
“Nevertheless the Lord seeth fit to chasten his people; yea, he trieth their patience and their faith” (Mosiah 23:21).
If, however, in our trials and challenges, we learn and live patiently, blessings will surely come.
“And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord. And it came to pass that so great was their faith and their patience that the voice of the Lord came unto them again, saying: Be of good comfort, for on the morrow I will deliver you out of bondage” (Mosiah 24:15-16).
“Ye are not able to abide the presence of God now, neither the ministering of angels; wherefore, continue in patience until ye are perfected” (Doctrine and Covenants 67:13).
I have included these few verses in this discussion because they include some form of the word patience and because they teach worthwhile principles. But many of the great scriptural stories involving patience do not include the word. Think of Noah preaching 120 years before the flood, and Job with his boils and his bitter wife. Think of Joseph in slavery and in prison.
Remember the man at the pool of Bethesda, infirm for 38 years, the woman bowed together for 18 years, the man at the gates of the temple who was lame for more than forty years, and the man born blind. Remember the sons of Mosiah who “suffered every privation” and who were “cast out, and mocked, and spit upon, and smote upon . . . and . . . stoned, and taken and bound with strong cords, and cast into prison . . .” and who experienced this for much of 14 years. If my mission had been like that, I might have come home after a week and a half.
Elder Holland spoke of President Kimball, who demonstrated patient submission throughout much of his life.
“Surely you will find comfort in the fact that a man who has suffered like Job of old has led this Church into one of the most exciting and revelatory decades of this entire dispensation. President Kimball has had few days in the last 30 years which were not filled with pain or discomfort or disease” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “For Times of Trouble,” New Era, Oct. 1980, 10).
How many others do we know or know of who suffer and submit cheerfully, trusting in the goodness of the God of Heaven that one day the pain and discomfort and sorrow will end forever.
All of that is a preamble to a question and an observation: What is the reason for the Lord’s unending efforts to teach patience to righteous people? God could end all of it with a word and a gesture. In fact he has many times by his matchless power given peace in place of pain. But so often he has not . . .
I read these verses and asked myself a question: Why does God go so such great lengths to teach patience? And this thought came clearly to my mind: Nothing could be more frightening than an impatient God! Like the Greek Gods on Mount Olympus, our mortal mistakes might call forth fire from heaven.
But the patient God we worship was willing to give the ante-diluvians 120 years, and the Nephites 1000 years to get it right. Remember the words of Jarom:
“Behold, it is expedient that much should be done among this people, because of the hardness of their hearts, and the deafness of their ears, and the blindness of their minds, and the stiffness of their necks; nevertheless, God is exceedingly merciful unto them, and has not as yet swept them off from the face of the land” (Jarom 1:3).
What if there were no second (or third or fourth or fifth) chances for the ancient House of Israel or for the modern one? I would certainly have used up the good will of God within a few weeks of my baptism, and another 157 times before my mission, and probably a few times on my mission. And I would have deserved the flames.
But if we one day hope to be like him, then patience is a quality we must understand and acquire. It is a quality the Savior seems intent on teaching to all of his disciples. Therefore we must
Seek the face of the Lord always, that in patience [we] may possess [our] souls, and [we] shall have eternal life (Doctrine and Covenants 101:38).