For Youth Workers Post


Will Penner

“In the Habit” session for devozine meditations for June 2–8, 2014.


“We finished the season of Lent about a month ago, and we’ll be entering the season of Advent in a few months. Both are periods of waiting. Among other things, actively participating in Lent and Advent helps build up our levels of spiritual patience. We also find many daily activities and many people that help us practice this skill. More often than not, we don’t pay attention to how our character or our faith will grow, but we myopically focus on the irritants.” —Will


Will PennerWill Penner has been in ministry with young people for more than two decades in Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian churches, public and private schools, and as a popular speaker at youth retreats, camps, and conferences. He has served as the editor of both leading professional journals of youth ministry and has authored or edited a number of youth ministry curricula and books, the latest of which is It Happens: True Tales from the Trenches of Youth Ministry. But most important, he is the husband of his amazing wife, Christine, and the father of five children ranging in age from five to twenty-two.


  • newsprint
  • markers
  • a copy of Galatians 5:13–26 (King James Version) and a volunteer willing to practice reading it ahead of time (see “Exploring the Word”)
  • Print-Friendly Version of this session



Ask group members to identify people with whom or situations in which they have difficulty practicing patience and to record their responses on newsprint. Ask them to keep their descriptions of people general (teachers) rather than specific (Mrs. Jones). Encourage them to record more than one answer. If they have difficulty with the same people or situations as others in the group, they can put check marks next to those people or descriptions. Bring the group together. Ask them to elaborate a bit on the top two choices, making sure to lead the discussion toward situations or general categories of people. You want to avoid having the group bash a particular person.


Scripture: Galatians 5:13–26

Invite group members to read through Galatians 5:13–26, to reread verses 19–23, and then to read one more time verses 22–26 about the fruit of the Spirit. Different English translations of the Bible render this list a little differently, though most use some variant of the word patience. The Bible in Basic English uses “a quiet mind,” and The Message calls it “serenity.” Older translations, like the King James Version, refer to it as “longsuffering.”

To be sure, patience holds an element of serenity or quietness of mind, for an anxious spirit is anything but patient. One of the most famous prayers is commonly known as the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” Perhaps the prayer resonates with so many people because we have difficulty achieving serenity and realize that we need God to grant it to us. We should include in our desire to exhibit patience the knowledge that we will never become more patient if we do not ask God for patience. That said, we should be aware that God will often help us develop patience by giving us opportunities to practice it, which is when the word longsuffering comes in handy.

Longsuffering doesn’t find its way into many popular prayers as a virtue to cultivate. Most of us are repulsed by the idea of suffering for a long time; why in the world would we choose to ask God for longsuffering? But longsuffering is the other side of patience. Patience isn’t always easy or pleasant; but more often than not, it produces positive spiritual fruit within us.

Patience is not laziness. It does not imply inactivity. Rather, patience is characterized by active reliance upon a Lord and Savior who isn’t always visible and doesn’t always work as quickly as we would hope or in the ways we would prefer. Regardless of circumstance, however, learning to rely on God’s timing, power, goodness, mercy, and justice are the stuff of spiritual legend.

Before the session, provide one of the group members with a copy of Galatians 5:13–26 from the King James Version. Have him or her practice ahead of time actively fumbling over words, getting lost and having to reread sections, and taking ridiculously long pauses to sit and think about the text. Invite this person to read the text aloud badly (as practiced) at this point in the session. [NOTE: If this won’t work for you and your group, consider asking group members to be completely quiet and still for five minutes. Offer them nothing to think about or do. They are to spend the time doing nothing. As another alternative, you could hand out an SAT preparation test, pencils, and a bubble answer sheet, and have them work on it for five minutes. The point is to find something that they can suffer through for a few minutes. Then ask them which word—patience, serenity, or longsuffering—best describes the skill they had to employ during the exercise.]

Suffering for a long time is never pleasant. However, ask group members when longsuffering would actually be good either for their own character or for another person’s benefit. For example, sitting with someone who is sick or dying, comforting a friend who is sad or lonely, tutoring a sibling or a classmate, helping a kid with special needs, being willing to be quiet and listen when others are talking—all may involve suffering but are good to do.

Finally, invite group members to consider the people and situations recorded on the newsprint. How would an active willingness to endure longsuffering lead to improved relationships with the people listed? Would it lead to the achievement of worthy goals or to our character development? Would attention to longsuffering grant at least a measure of serenity in the situations listed—situations that might otherwise drive us crazy? If so, invite group members to offer specific prayers about specific situations, other than those listed on the newsprint, in which they believe God is changing their attitudes.


Encourage each member of the group to choose a person, situation, or experience that they would like to lift up to the Lord in prayer.

Close the session with this prayer:

“God, please grant us the willingness to suffer as long as is needed for us to achieve a holy serenity and for your perfect will to be accomplished in us and those around us. Help us to shed our anxieties and to replace them with your patience. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.”


  • Ask group members to write down a prayer for patience that they will pray each day between now and the next session. Encourage them to actively try to cultivate a spirit of patience.
  • A number of experiments have been replicated based on the original “Marshmallow Experiment” from Stanford University demonstrating the difficulty of delaying gratification. Here is one.
  • Silvia Helena Barcellos discusses the Marshmallow Test and instant gratification in a TED talk. The first half is better than the second half. Honestly, the longer it goes on, the more difficult it will be for many young people to watch because the pace tends to drag; so you could show the whole video and point out how difficult it was to stay focused even though good information is presented all the way through. It is yet another example of how longsuffering pays off.
—from devozine In the Habit (May/June 2014). Copyright © 2014 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.
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