“Don’t pray for patience,” you’ve probably heard someone say. “God just might take you up on it!” Behind our wry smiles and awkward chuckles is an uncomfortable truth: there is no easy way to learn patience.
James also affirms that, for believers, trials are the school of patience. “Count it all joy, my brothers,” he writes, “when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2–3).
Under God’s sovereign hand, the testing of our faith is a carefully-chosen curriculum, designed by him to produce steadfastness in our hearts. Although we might endure difficulties hoping our circumstances will change, James reveals that the greatest change happens in us, even while we wait.
Various Kinds of Testing
The Lord produces this steadfastness through trials of “various kinds,” with each person’s circumstances uniquely intended for her good.
A recurring battle with sin is often his means of training us to renounce ungodliness (cf. Titus 2:11–13). Affliction allows us to learn his power made perfect in weakness (cf. 2 Cor. 12:9). Unmet desires may be his way of redirecting our desires toward himself (cf. Ps. 73:25–26).
In hundreds of ways, the Lord teaches us patience through suffering.
For the Righteous, Trials Produce Righteousness
However, trials don’t produce patience in everyone. Only the “brothers” benefit from testing. Job’s wife responded to hardship (the death of her children, the loss of her livelihood, the crushing of her husband) with impatience. “Curse God and die,” she told Job (Job 2:9). Get out of your troubles as quickly as possible, no matter the cost to your soul.
By contrast, Job submitted to the lessons of God’s school—“the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21)—and he emerged steadfast (James 5:11). For the wicked, trials are simply an occasion for greater sin. For the righteous, trials produce righteousness.
Learning Patience Takes a Lifetime
In God’s classroom, the course of study lasts for a lifetime. We draw on what we’ve learned in the past in order to endure present trials, and enduring today’s trials teaches us further lessons in patience, equipping us for the future.
In the school of patience, not a single minute of learning is a waste. The line at the drive-thru prepares us for the wait in the cancer center. The five-minute delay with a toddler prepares us to suffer long with a teen.
Every day, we grow in endurance even as we must exercise greater endurance. Steadfastness has “its full effect” in our hearts, making us “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:4).
For this reason, we can count the testing of our faith as a reason for joy. Although the trials themselves are difficult, God has good purposes in them. In fact, we can arrive at patience in no other way.
Editor’s Note: Patience: Waiting with Hope by Megan Hill (P&R, October 2021) is a 31-day devotional designed to help Christians seeking to grow in the grace of patience. This article is adapted from the book. Used by permission.
About the Author:
Megan Hill is the author of five books, most recently: Patience: Waiting with Hope (P&R, 2021). An editor for The Gospel Coalition, Megan lives in Massachusetts with her husband and four children where they belong to West Springfield Covenant Community Church (PCA).