As a follower of Jesus there are many things I’m encouraged to pray for; my family, school, government, finances, marriage, kids, and also for qualities like strength, perseverance, and love. BUT, there is one thing many Christians think I should never pray for—patience. The story goes, a Christian should never pray for patience because God will then bring something difficult into their life requiring serious patience. For anyone who believes this, you may not realize it, but this theology is incredibly hurtful and inaccurate. I want you to know that you can, and should pray for patience.
Now, maybe you’ve never heard this warning about praying for patience (count yourself lucky). But, I’ve heard this many times throughout the years, including twice this past week. Each time I hear someone joke about the God who strikes down and inflicts those who ask for patience, it makes my skin crawl. But, unless we examine the real problem with this point of view, we won’t understand what’s wrong with it.
The real harm in perpetuating the fear of praying for patience is what this belief really says about God. The idea that God will get us if we pray for patience paints God in a very bad way. It’s like God is up in heaven just waiting to rain down bad stuff on those who dare acknowledge their need for more patience. But, what does this view say about how God answers our other needs? If we ask Him for more love will He intentionally bring some extremely difficult person into our life just to torture us into loving more? Heaven forbid we ask for help improving our marriage or parenting because who knows what terrible thing God will bring into our life if we do?! But, there’s good news- this is NOT how God answers prayer.
I love how John 3:17 reads in the Message. It says, “God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.” He came to help! I love that so much! We serve a God who looks at our brokenness and need and decided to not stick our nose in it, but instead offers to help clean it up. Instead of pointing an accusing finger, he offers a helping hand.
Jesus said in Matthew 7:9-11, “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! God gives good gifts to those who ask, not problems. If you ask for more patience, do you know what God will probably give you? More patience.
Now, having said that I do think we have a problem when asking for patience. The problems is not that we ask, but how we ask. Our big issue is that we’re not specific enough. Yes, you need more patience, but patience with what? Chances are you need more patience with all the various relationships you presently have. You need to be more patient with your spouse, parents, kids, boss, coworkers, customers, and those you pass by on your way to work. God doesn’t need to bring anything extra into our lives to test our patience because we probably have a lot of room to grow with all the relationships we already have. You don’t need some weird annoying person jumping into your life to build patience- you have kids. You don’t need a strange sickness to challenge you- you’re spouse does a good enough job on his/her own.
So, instead of praying for patience in general. Be specific. I remember asking for feedback from my two oldest kids on areas I could grow in as their parent. They both asked that I yell less. Knowing this helps direct my specific prayers to not only be more patient with my kids, but also to yell less when I’m impatient. This self-awareness forces me to be honest with my weakness and to be specific in how I should try to respond when impatient. I hope you can see how much more powerful this specific prayer is than the generalized, “God give me patience” approach. The more specific we are in our prayers, the easier it is to see when God answers them.
If you have ever jokingly warned a friend to never pray for patience, then I hope this explanation helps you understand how this inaccurate view of God actually hurts your view of Him. Instead, I hope you will take a moment right now, consider the specific areas you need to be more patient, and then ask God- the God who gives good things to his children- to help you be more patient in that specific area. He is glad to help!
p.s. Asking God for general prayers, like for more patience, or to be blessed is like asking God to raise the water levels in the ocean. He may answer, but chances are you’ll never know it.