The famous marshmallow tests were first conducted in the 1970s at Stanford University. Researchers presented preschool-aged children with a marshmallow and a choice: eat one marshmallow right away or wait until the researcher returned to the room and get two marshmallows. Follow-up studies on the children showed that the ability to delay gratification—to be patient enough to receive a second marshmallow—was linked to higher competence and SAT scores in adolescence.
Later studies and analyses challenged this conclusion. What if the marshmallow test was not just testing a child’s ability to wait, but also whether the child trusted that the researcher would, in fact, return with more treats? It was possible that the children who waited didn’t just have more patience, but also had more trust that adults would keep their promises.
How Long, O Lord?
In Galatians, Paul lists patience as one of the fruits of the Spirit.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22–23)
Some translations use the more old-fashioned words forbearance or longsuffering here, which bring with them a stronger connotation of patience during suffering or hard times. They point to a greater meaning of patience than waiting in line at the supermarket or holding out for that second marshmallow. Patience in the Bible is often about experiencing suffering and still trusting in the Lord.
Several psalms reflect this duality, expressing the writer’s suffering while calling on God to act. The first verses of Psalm 13 start with the same seemingly impatient words: “How long?”
How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? (Psalm 13:1–2)
This isn’t a kid in the back seat asking parents “how long till we get there?” The questions here are anguished. The psalmist expresses fear that the Lord has forgotten him or is deliberately ignoring him. His enemy is winning. He feels defeated and abandoned by God. The questions seem anything but patient.
But the movement from questioning God to trusting in God is swift. Just a few verses later, the psalmist expresses his trust that God will, indeed, help him.
But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD,
because he has dealt bountifully with me. (Psalm 13:5–6)
Despite the plaintive cries of “how long?” the psalmist ends in trust. Nothing in his circumstance has changed, but still he trusts that the God who loved and saved him in the past will continue to love and save him in the future. He can be
patient because he believes that God is trustworthy.
Scripture comes back again and again to the importance of waiting on the Lord and believing that God keeps His promises. From Noah waiting for the flood to subside, to Abraham waiting for his promised son, to the Israelites waiting for their promised Messiah, to the three days between Jesus’ death and resurrection, and all the way through to Revelation and the faithful saints waiting for Jesus’ return, patience is a key part of living as a Christian in a fallen world.
Pursue patience with Sharla Fritz's Bible study on patience, hope, and trust.
As with all the fruits of the Spirit, patience is an attribute of God. Peter encouraged persecuted Christians to persevere in the faith by speaking of God’s patience.
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:8–9)
Here we see that the very slowness of Jesus’ return, which was the target of scoffers even as far back as Peter’s time, is evidence of God’s patience toward us. God delays because He wants all of us to come to repentance.
Ironically, the very patience of God that gives us the chance to repent and follow Jesus can also be a factor in our own impatience. When things go wrong, when we feel fearful or sad, we long for Jesus to return and put an end to the suffering and sin of life in this world. Both Peter and the psalmists remind us to turn to God in our impatience and despair. Over the centuries, Christians going through suffering and persecution have echoed the psalmists of old, crying out, “How long, O Lord?” or “Come, Lord Jesus!” These are words of faith. Instead of turning away from God in hard times, we cry out our longing for God to act. We trust God’s timing, even as we implore Him to intervene. Patience trusts that God keeps his promises and that He will help us endure to the end.
Each session in Golden Fruit focuses on one fruit of the Spirit and considers how the life and story of one of nine biblical women convey that characteristic.