Close up for an hourglass standing on pebbles titled slightly; the hourglass has a dark wooden frame with blue sand flowing through it. Words over the top: Songs of the Spirit: patience. Faith in Grey Places

Songs of the Spirit: patience (a poem)

Once again, I’ve taken out my concordance and found out some surprising facts about the New Testament Greek. 

I like to think of patience as “love waiting”, as something that exists in its own right separate from any sense of sin or fallenness. But it’s still true that most of the uses of “patience” in the Bible are linked to the world not (yet) being as it should be.

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The English word ‘patience’ has its roots in Latin and Old French, in the word meaning ‘to suffer’ (doubtless, the same one that gives us “passion”).

Of course, etymology isn’t the same as meaning, but it gives us an idea of what concepts people thought were behind the word. 

But the etymology of the ancient Greek for patience is very different from the English. 

Actually, again, there are two words. One of them is much more about bearing up under external pressure, about endurance and perseverance, but the other – and this is the fruit in Galatians 5 – is more about self-control. It’s also the word used to describe love in 1 Corinthians 13. 

Here’s how the New Testament uses each of them:

makrothymia / μακροθυμία“patience, forbearance, internal and external control in a difficult circumstance, which control could exhibit itself by delaying an action”hypomone / ὑπομονή“perseverance, endurance, patience”(contrast with the related, but different word: hypomeno / ὑπομένω: “to stay behind; to stand firm, endure, persevere”
Mt 18:26, 18:29 
Lk 18:7Lk 8:15, 21:19
Ac 26:3 
Rom 2:4, 9:22,Rom 2:7, 5:3, 5:4, 8:25, 12:12, 15:4, 15:5
1 Cor 13:4 
2 Cor 6:62 Cor 1:6, 6:4, 12:12
Gal 5:22 
Eph 4:2 
Col 1:11, 3:12Col 1:11
1 Th 5:141 Th 1:3, 1:4, 3:5
1 Tim 1:161 Tim 6:11
2 Tim 3:10, 4:22 Tim 3:10
 Tit 2:2
Heb 6:12, 6:15Heb 10:36, 12:1
Jas 5:7, 5:7, 5:8, 5:9, 5:10Jas 1:3, 1:4, 5:11
1 Pe 3:20 
2 Pe 3:15, 3:92 Pe 1:6, 1:6
 Rev 1:9, 2:2, 2:19, 3:10, 13:10, 14:12

What astonished me as I looked into all this is that makrothymia / μακροθυμία has its root in “makros” meaning “lengthy, long” or “distant, far away” and “thymos” meaning “wrath, fury, anger, rage, a state of intense displeasure”. 

I had never thought of patience in those terms, though of course the Bible often describes God as “slow to anger”. 

For myself, it brought out how patience is a form of self-governance, closely linked to mercy (but not same), and very much something felt in the passage of time. Even when sin isn’t in the mix, we are creatures that often struggle as we develop and feel “growing pains”. It’s part of being time-bound. 

In today’s poem, I wanted to reflect on the fact that God experiences time in solidarity with us. We saw that best in the life of Jesus, though this poem is addressed to the Holy Spirit. 


Songs of the Spirit: patience

You are the God who feels.

You groan with the strain 
Of the incomplete,
The struggle of time. 

You live each moment
The frustration of every growing pain
As it wrestles past
And makes itself known to you.

And yet you reside
In those in-between times.
Unwavering, unworn and unweary.
Resistant and unconsumed.
Persistent and ever outlasting.

Your reward comes.
Even now, your harvest takes shape.

For through this great myriad of moments
You kept space clear
From all the unreward
That could have settled there. 

I thank you 
For being willing to wait,
And I ask for a share
Of your great longevity
That when the present lingers,
And the future seems far away,
You will be known to me,
And I to you.  


Sharing another picture from artist Helen Yousaf that reminded me of the themes of this poem. This one is called “Close to the broken” and the image is on her Instagram profile and Facebook page.

Prints of this image are available for purchase on her website here.

Helen kindly said I was free to share so long as I’m sharing hope. Her instagram is here: Helen Yousaf. Her website shop is here: Helen-Yousaf-Art.

Painting of a man sitting on his haunches, looking down. The backdrop is dark blue and grey. Above him, with its tip leading towards him, is a seam of bright silver. Art by Helen Yousaf.

Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

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