Active Patience

James 5: 10-11  – 10 Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

We are ending up a review of the Epistle of James. For several weeks we have been looking at what the various messages are to the emerging Christians. Such thoughts as perseverance, or divided loyalty. The list is critical to our journey as we walk with Jesus.

Tradition says that this letter was written by the brother of Jesus and James was one of the new Christian leaders in the church at Jerusalem. Paul’s letters are to various early churches in the Middle East. The purpose of the Letter of James is to teach Christians how to live Christ-like lives. James gives very practical advice on things like anger and quarreling, showing favoritism, controlling the tongue, boasting, patience and prayer[i]

Today we will address a difficult scenario — to being patient and also to be active in waiting. Waiting patiently is a common theme in the Bible. In the book of James, we find that the author is writing to an audience who is waiting patiently for the second coming of Jesus. So, this word from James comes to us as we are in a similar place as his audience—looking to and waiting for the end to our new normal that was expressed in the pandemic—and today James’ word encourages patience.

We have had to be very patient during the Covid pandemic. Waiting, masking, one variant after another. It has been more than two years and we still struggle with the Covid while facing new issues – especially inflation and the diving of our retirement plans. How long, Lord, can we wait? In the reading, James draws us a picture of what that patience looks like. He gives us an image of the farmer. I like the image of the gardener in addition to the farmer. There is a lot of parallelisms.

Fortunately for me, the pandemic restrictions came in the spring of 2020 when it was the beginning of gardening time. Many of you in the congregation have vegetable and flower gardens, and we all know how much work there is. We just can’t till the garden, drop the seeds in and expect the plants to grow without any attention. Somehow weeds out race the plants and we can end up with a mess in the garden that has yielded no fruit. As gardeners, we develop patience to wait for the bountiful results, but we all know that while we are waiting, we must carefully work to remove the weeds and keep the soil moist. Hence — we are Active Patient. We must be actively involved in the garden as we patiently wait for the fruit of our labors to become mature.

Therefore, according to James, the scriptural version of patience is getting to work. And this makes sense, because if patience is to be honorable, it must be a purposeful and active patience which gets to work in service to God and the neighbor.

The patience to which Scripture calls us is active. It is not the ‘cultural patience’ which is to sit back and wait. And this should be noted: what precedes this whole discussion of patience in James, not in your reading today, is James offering words of caution against destructive behavior: “God opposes the proud” (4:6); “Do not speak evil against one another” (4:11); and “Do not grumble against one another” (5:9). This, to James, is what honorable patience looks like—it is active and loving.

The patience to which we are called is not a call to sit idle, but a call to peace, humility, and reconciliation with one another. As one scholar notes: “It would seem that a characteristic of this patience is precisely a deep compassion and love towards the other for “the good for the neighbor.” The implications of all of this are that we didn’t shut ourselves in our house until the pandemic ended or did, we build a bunker and isolate ourselves from the rest of the world. Rather, in our holy patience as we wait for promises to be fulfilled, we are called to activity and love.

I like this phrase is in James 5:11– 11 As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. perseveres….I am so glad this phrase is in James: we count as blessed those who have persevered. 

Job is one of the Old Testament books of the Bible: the 42 chapters are one story of the man Job as he wrestles with an out-of-control life. Sometimes he wrestles with his friends, sometimes himself and other times with God.  Satan challenges God to bring affliction into Jobs life because Satan is sure Job is only faithful because life is so easy and abundant. God allows Satan to inflict tragedy upon tragedy, loss of family, disease and sickness, and Job is commended because he PERSEVERES.  He makes it through.  And in the end, he still puts his faith in God.  Sometimes the highest goal you can muster is to make it through the night.  The storm of life is raging, and your calling is to persevere. 

James commends Job because he made it through tragedy without doing something stupid.  There are times Job is ready to snap, he’s faced the death of family and personal life changing illness, but he never snaps.  It sounds good to say being patient means perfect peace when facing extreme situations, but I think there are times patience means barely holding on.  Somehow that mustard seed size faith keeps you from doing something nutty…PERSEVERANCE.

One of the most memorable times that I had with our son Dave, was when we went on an overnight camping trip on the Appalachian Trail with our golden retriever, Andy. It began to get cold and raining. We quickly set up the tent, ponchos underneath us and sleeping bags warm (With Andy in the tent also). A memorable time where perseverance was important because it was too dark to walk back to the car.

“As you know,” James says, “we count as blessed those who have persevered.”  Some days, some seasons of life, what a great accomplishment just to survive.  Nothing great.  Nothing noble.  But you are alive. 

I love the way the Bible describes the perseverance of Job: “You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about.”  If you are barely holding on, the day will finally come when you will find peace.

James gives the reason why we can persevere with faith.  The last phrase: “The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”  This is a bedrock truth that has given many people of faith comfort in the middle of a raging storm.  The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.  God cares (compassion).  The temptation is to convince yourself he doesn’t care. And God will do something about it (mercy).  We may not understand the storm, but patience allows us to persevere, make it through, because the bedrock unchangeable truth that goes beyond the storm is that God is compassionate and merciful. 

Let’s go up to a greater form of patience, an active patience.  First something to not do then something to do: READ James 5:9 Don’t grumble against one another, brothers, and sisters, or you will be judged.  When disappointments happen, when your plans are thwarted, how common to grumble against the world, complain.  Complaining is like yeast: start complaining it grows to more complaints. No habitual complainer grows in their faith. 

The old joke is worth repeating A man wanted to become a monk so he went to the monastery and talked to the abbot. The abbot said, “You must take a vow of silence and can only say two words every three years.” The man agreed. After 3 years, the abbot said, “What are your two words?” “Food cold!” the man replied. 3 more years went by, the abbot said, “What are your two words?” “Robe dirty!” the man exclaimed.  3 more years went by, and the abbot said, “What are your two words?” “I quit!” said the man. “Well,” the abbot replied, “I am not surprised. You have done nothing but complain ever since you got here!”

To patiently wait means to not spend your time complaining, not looking for everything that is wrong, to not pile up negative thinking… grumbling so easily becomes a way of life and crushes our spirit.

Often our lives are filled with things we would not choose.  James is speaking of the Old Testament prophets that God sent to people who rejected them…. To be patient well, not only means to NOT endlessly complain about your situation, but to actively speak the truth of God.  Keep being faithful.  Keep looking for God things.  Keep sharing with others.  Actively wait. Perseverance is good and right, as you barely hold on.  But actively serving God is even better.  Patience helps you to see, live and speak God in the midst of the storm. 

I also love the illustration of the farmer.  The farmer patiently waits for the Autumn and Spring rains.  In Israel, the Autumn rain was necessary to soften the ground to plant the crops, to begin the growth…then comes the later rains to swell the heads of grain and yield an abundance.  The farmer cannot hasten or ignore the patterns to gain the greatest harvest.  And while he patiently waits, he is busy with other chores.  The farmer watches.  The farmer waits.  As surely as the rain will fall at the appointed time, it is just patience. 

This is noble patience as we face tragedy, death, loss, changed plans, and out of control world.  When we get lost in the details of life and get overwhelmed because we don’t know how everything will turn out, how good it is to step back and see the big picture knowing that God has a plan.  God is good and faithful.  As certain as the early and later rains come and go.

Where are you?  Is your world overwhelming right now.  God does not want you to be overwhelmed with depression.  God does not want you to be lost and sucked into apathy without hope.  The answer is patience.  The answer is godly thriving supernatural Holy Spirit given patience.  Patience means the answer to your prayer may be wait. 

The best kind of patience is to keep that healthy perspective alive that God has a plan, this world is temporary, and everything will be changed because Jesus is coming again.   Is that kind of patience too much for us to grasp right now? then try this: as you face the loss and emptiness, don’t complain pulling yourself into a death spiral of negativity and instead speak the truth of God.  Testify of God’s character.  Is that still too hard?  Then try this, like Job, Hold On.  Persevere. God cares about each of us, and God’s plan will unfold.  Hold On.  Persevere. 

When you lose control, God has given us the capacity to be patient.  This is not a gift for a few, but a God given tool for everyone.  When your world seem empty, patience is needed in order to thrive and grow as a Christian.  Amen


[i] From the NIV introduction to James