Reflections: 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.

Let me think for a moment. It has been about 125 days since Governor Hogan instituted the “stay-at-home” edict. We also know that we are now into phase two of the opening of our state – which means that more of our social contacts and activities can begin – still 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 want to worship without masks and social distancing so we can sing like John Wesley says – Sing lustily with good courage.[1] But we all know that it’s not going to happen. We are becoming impatient! COVID-19 will not just disappear one magical day and the past will be but a difficult memory. We are living in a new normal and we are struggling to get use 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 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 instead of the farmer. There is a lot of parallelisms.

Fortunately for me, these pandemic restrictions have come 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 virtuous, 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 virtuous 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.”[2]

The implications of all of this are that we don’t shut ourselves in our house until the pandemic 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 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 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 onions and potatoes that are still in the garden – ready to harvest. They were planted in March before the pandemic set in. Patience pays off!

May you be filled with a virtuous 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.


[1] John Wesley’s Select Hymns, 1761

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