Active Patience

James 5: 11-12 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.

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Remember a week ago? A computer glitch caused hundreds of Southwest Airlines flights and thousands of passengers to be delayed over the Columbus Day weekend. Stranded passengers who could not check in or check bags were left waiting in long lines for hours trying to find out what to do next. Some hungry and tired passengers took to social media to report their angst. Ever happen to you?

We live in a technologically driven culture that values speed and efficiency. We have come to expect technology to support all our activities. Advancements in technology are wonderful, but have we become so dependent that we do not know how to function without it? When a computer is slow, a network is down, or a smartphone crashed, how do we react? Have our devices turned us into a culture of impatient, privileged tech addicts who have lost the ability to reflect without a hashtag and 140 characters?

Our grandson Joshua recently turned eighteen. Even though he is eighteen he still is in the in-between world of teenagers where they are no longer a child but not yet adults. They are constantly encouraged to be patient and told to wait until they are older. But are we as adults giving them good examples of how to be patient, or of what to do while they wait? Teaching patience requires wisdom, discipline and, yes, patience. While we wait patiently for answers to prayer or direction for our lives, we cannot simply be idle. As Christians we are called to engage with the world by serving the least, the last, and the lost; and we are commanded to maintain our individual spiritual disciplines of prayer, presence, gifts, service, and witness.

Our ancient Christian faith teaches us much about the path to holiness. It is usually countercultural, slow, includes some suffering or persecution, and requires persistence, patience, devotion to God through prayer, and devotion to God’s people through service. Like prayer, patience is a discipline that we learn, practice, and get better at over time.[1]

This week. As we finish the series on the Letter of James, we have found that James is straightforward and direct. The Letter has clarity and is meant to cause every one of us to examine our hearts. James is going to tell us that the faith we have in Jesus Christ is a guarantee that we will be changed. Having faith in the Resurrected Christ is so life-changing that we will be completely different after professing faith in Christ.

Our faith in Jesus’ goodness is a promise that the Spirit will gradually and continually conform our life to look like His. It is not just, “forgive me.”  It is “change me.”  “There is a real, promised hope from God that I am going to grow in trusting Jesus and overcome this sin.  I have a real and lasting hope.”  Getting to that point though is hard.  And not struggling with or abusing people with self-righteousness isn’t easy either, so let’s walk gently, but trust God in great faith. 

Let me think for a moment. It has been a long time since Governor Hogan instituted the “stay-at-home” edict. We also know that we are well into the opening of our state – which means that more of our social contacts and activities can begin – some with masks and “social distancing”. Many of us are yearning for our lives to return to the way they were. We just want to get on with our lives. We are worshiping without masks but with social distancing so we can sing like John Wesley says – Sing lustily with good courage.[2] But we are not used to this, so we struggle with the words and the melody. We are living in a new normal and we are struggling to get used to it. We are being asked to be patient and many of us are resisting the “patience” words as we see people flaunting the requirements.

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—and today James’ word encourages patience. In today’s Scripture, 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 instead of the farmer. There is a lot of parallelisms.

Many of us in the congregation have vegetable and flower gardens, and we all know how much work there is. We just cannot 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 Patience. 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 honest, 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 our 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 honest 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.”[3]

The implications of all of this are that we don’t shut ourselves in our house until the pandemic finally ends and, in the waiting, 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– 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 Job wrestles with his friends, sometimes himself and other times with God. Satan challenges God to bring affliction into Job’s 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! Job makes it through.  And in the end, Job still puts his faith in God. 

Sometimes the highest goal we can muster is to make it through the night.  The storm of life is raging, and our calling is to persevere. James commends Job because he made it through tragedy without doing something stupid.  There are times when 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. 

But in reality, we’re not very good at patience. Patience is hard. What can encourage that our patience is the patience of God—who is not idle, but is actively gracious, forgiving, and empowering seeking again and again to empower us to reflect that patience out in the world. God’s love is patient, and it is kind, it is active, true, and eternal.

Remember that the Jesus the Christ has already come, has already proclaimed forgiveness and release to the oppressed and to the captive. To patiently wait means to not spend our 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.  To be patient well, not only means to not endlessly complain about our situation, but to actively speak the truth of God. Keep being faithful. Keep looking for God things. Keep sharing with others. 

Oops! I must end. Ann just asked me to get some of the garden’s onions and potatoes for dinner tonight. They were planted in March. Patience pays off!

May you be filled with a patience that loves and trusts in God and brings you peace; may you be filled with a good and purposeful patience that actively loves and serves our neighbor enacting a more patient world. Amen.



[2] John Wesley’s Select Hymns, 1761

[3]  Dirk G. Lange, “Commentary: James 5:7-10,” 2nd Reading,,