Thursday, 10 April 2014


Be completely humble and gentle; be patient... Ephesians 4:2

I remember the day my father received an unexpected letter from the bank - it must have been some time in the 1970s. It made him very angry. Why? Well, the envelope contained, courtesy of the bank, his first ever credit card.

We probably find it hard to believe now - but at that time credit cards were brand new. If you wanted to buy something you had to choose one of three methods: cash, cheque, or a negotiated loan. But now here were these new-fangled pieces of plastic which enabled you to get things without paying for them.

My father did quite a dramatic thing. He got hold of a pair of scissors, cut the card into pieces, put it in another envelope, and sent it straight back to the bank with a strong letter. He had never asked for credit in his life! And he didn't want it now, thank you very much! How dare they assume he would want such a card? He was genuinely offended. 

Well, I haven't followed my father's example, even though I couldn't help sort of admiring it. I have found my credit card very useful. But I am grateful for the lesson I learned that day.

The advertising slogan for credit cards was "taking the waiting out of wanting". Quite clever, that. Short, snappy - and, in its way, accurate. But also very misleading. Because, of course, you do have to pay for what you are buying - it's just that the paying bit, the not-so-pleasant bit, is hidden away. What the credit card adverts didn't tell you was that - don't you worry! - that bill would come back to bite you in due course. 

And so we have evolved a society where debt is part and parcel of most people's lives, and where millions of people, even those with high-flying jobs and big pay packets, are enslaved to the kind of debt that keeps them awake at night and threatens nervous breakdowns, marital disputes and possibly ruined lives.

Paul writes "Be patient ". Elsewhere he tells us that "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience..." (Galatians 5). He tells his friends in Colosse to "clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, gentleness, humility and patience..." (Colossians 3). To be strict about it, he isn't in fact talking mainly about money, but about how we relate to people we find difficult and annoying. But never mind: the need for patience covers many areas of life. Another good example is sex. The Bible principle is that sex is God's beautiful gift to those who have committed themselves to one another in marriage. But who these days wants to wait? You must be joking!

There's an old saying that "the best things in life are free". There's truth in that. But it's also true to say that the best things in life are worth waiting for. You can't study for a worthwhile qualification in a fortnight. You can't learn to play a musical instrument in a couple of lessons. You can't master a foreign language by listening to a few CDs. No: quiet, disciplined, patient application is what's needed.

Building relationships requires patience. So does the vital matter of prayer. Any fruitful area of Christian ministry - youth work, children's work, overseas mission, you name it - is a long-term prospect. "Growing" a church needs patience. In our I-want-it-and-I-want-it-now world, we who seek to follow Jesus have an important witness to make about the way to fulfilment, peace and true, lasting achievement. May God give us the grace to buck the trend and to nurture the virtue of patience.

Are you a patient person?

Dear Lord and Father, you have been infinitely patient with me, my shortcomings and frailties. Thank you! Help me in this life to be satisfied to build patiently only those things that will last. Amen.

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