Hanging In There - James 5:7-12

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When traveling I always groan when I see one of those road signs that says: “Road Construction Ahead – Expect Delays”.  I don’t want to be delayed – I want to get to the destination and the sooner the better. I have a tendency to get impatient and maybe a bit cranky in these situations.

It’s funny though, if they did not fix the roads I would be unhappy about that also.  The rough roads and dangerous potholes usually lead to more complaining about how the State wastes money when they should be making the roads safe.

Obviously, you can’t have it both ways.  If we want good and sufficient roads we must patiently put up with construction projects. This is basically the message James wants us to understand today.  He wants us to understand that we cannot grow and develop in our life as believers unless we are willing to patiently endure some of the pain and frustration that come from trials in life.  You can’t have one without the other. The sooner we realize this fact, the more enjoyable life will be.

7 Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming.

In verse 10 we see that James is referring to the need to be patient in the times of suffering. James is not just saying we develop patience as a character quality, he is specifically urging us to be patient in the difficult times of life. In those times when it feels like God has deserted us, in those times when we feel like panicking, we should patiently trust God.

Think about the opposite of being patient.  Those who lack patience or a quiet trust in God are anxious, upset, and feel a sense of doom and gloom.  Their life is a roller coaster of emotion and they are constantly trying to “fix” things.  They despair when,

A vote on an issue or candidate doesn’t go as they hoped

They are told they need surgery or have a disease that will change their life and plans

Their job doesn’t seem to be working out

Their relationship is ripped apart

Someone dies suddenly before “their time”

James reminds the people to be patient even in the midst of these kinds of trials.  In these times we must be willing to “trust beyond ourselves”.  We must hold on the fact that there is more to life than what we see, taste, and feel. God has a plan and a purpose for what happens. James says we should be hang in there until the Second Coming of Christ.  It is only then that we will see clearly and understand His purpose.

An Illustration from Farming 

James understands the difficulty of trusting when things aren’t going well.  He illustrates his point by our everyday experience and then he illustrates it from Biblical history.

See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. 8 You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near 

We understand this illustration. We may not understand fully the autumn and spring rains of Israel but we do understand the need for patience in farming. Every April and May farmers patiently wait for the ground to dry from the winter moisture and for the temperatures to be right so they can plant.

Once the crop is planted there is more waiting.  The farmer must wait (sometimes more patiently than others) for the rain and for the warm summer sun.  They wait through storms and wind for the crop to reach maturity.  In the fall the farmer sometimes has to wait for the ground to be dry enough to harvest.  The impatient farmer is not going to have a very enjoyable life.

Waiting does not mean inaction. Most farmers spend their time during the “off times” working with livestock or harvesting off season crops.  This is the time they apply fertilizer or pesticides.  They also have equipment that needs service.

James could have used lots of other illustrations because patience is a part of life. Think about the patience needed in: waiting for the arrival of a new baby; of learning a new skill (such as playing the piano); finishing school; hunting for deer; waiting for the visit of someone you love; and recovering from a prolonged illness. Think about how patience is required in teaching,

A teacher had just finished putting the last pair of galoshes on her first-graders—thirty-two pairs in all. The last little girl said, “You know what, teacher? These aren’t my galoshes.”

The teacher removed them from the girl’s feet. Then the little girl continued, “They are my sister’s, and she let me wear them.” The teacher quietly put them back on her pupil.

Now that’s patience! 

Patience is necessary in all of life.  We need patience in our faith as well. Again, patience is not the same thing as inaction or resignation. Patient faithfulness means refusing to be discouraged or defeated by circumstances in the confidence that God is at work.  Practically this means,

We continue to stand up for issues of importance in our country even if the government doesn’t seem responsive.

We continue to work hard at our job even though the business isn’t being run as we think it should be run.

We continue to look for a job if we are laid off

We do the physical therapy and take the treatments when we are not well

We keep praying even if we don’t see answers

We keep sharing our faith even if it seems no one is listening

Being patient in suffering means we keep serving the Lord in spite of the circumstances.  It means we do not draw conclusions until there is a conclusion to be drawn.  Just as you wouldn’t want to draw a conclusion about a person based on one meeting or judge a work of art before it is finished; so we should not draw conclusions about the circumstances of life until we can see them through God’s eyes.  Even the painful times of discipline or separation serve their purpose.

An Illustration from Scripture

James drives home his point with another illustration; he turns to Scripture to show that the great men and women of God showed their greatness in their willingness to patiently trust the Lord.

10 Brothers, 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 consider 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

Look at some of prophets of old,

Noah patiently built the Ark.  He also patiently floated in the Ark for a full year with no idea what the future would hold.

Abraham patiently waited until he was almost 100 before he had the promised heir

Moses patiently endured the complaints of the Israelites time and time again

David patiently waited on God’s timing as Saul chased him around the country and tried to kill him

Elijah had to flee Jezebel when she tried to kill him

Elisha was threatened with death

Zechariah was executed by the King because he continued to confront the people of Judah for disregarding God’s Word.

Jeremiah was called a traitor (he wasn’t) and was put in a muddy cistern to starve.

Daniel was put in the Lion’s den because he continued to pray

Shadrach. Meshach and Abednego were thrown into the fiery furnace because they would not bow before the statue of Nebuchadnezzar.

Paul was beaten and arrested many times.

Most of the disciples died martyr’s deaths.

James particularly spotlights Job.  Job lived an upright life.  He tried to honor the Lord in everything he did yet Satan afflicted him harshly.  Job did not understand why he lost his crops, his animals, his children and even his health.  Throughout it all we are told that Job did not sin against God with his mouth.

Missionary J. O. Fraser observed the example of patience in the life of the Lord himself.

In the biography of our Lord nothing is more noticeable than the quiet, even poise of His life. Never flustered whatever happened, never taken off His guard, however assailed by men or demons in the midst of fickle people, hostile rulers, faithless disciples—always calm, always collected. Christ the hard worker indeed—but doing no more, and no less, than God had appointed Him, and with no restlessness, no hurry, no worry. Was ever such a peaceful life lived, under conditions so perturbing?

True faith understands that God is faithful even though we don’t always understand what He is doing.  Isaiah wrote,

My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.  As the Heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)

The teacher has a reason for making us learn how to spell lists of words.  The coach has a reason for all those redundant drills.  The music teacher has a purpose in making you play scales week after week. We may not understand these reasons at the time but we eventually see the wisdom in the pain. God has a reason for the suffering, discomfort and heartache He allows in our lives.  In time we will see and understand His perfect wisdom.

The Practical Effects of Patient Trust

In verses 9 and 12 I see two practical effects of patience.  The first is in verse 9

 9 Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

James says the person who patiently trusts God will not grumble.  I don’t know about you but I am immediately convicted by this statement.  According to James, grumbling and a judgmental spirit reveal a lack of patience.  In trying times it is easy to get irritated and to snap at each other.  We all know that when we are miserable we tend to make those around us miserable.

When we grumble we are guilty of drawing conclusions without all the information. Our grumbling implies that God is needlessly afflicting us. It implies that we are being treated unfairly.  We must remember that God wastes NOTHING in our lives.  When we grumble we show that we do not believe God’s promise that God works all things for our good.  Malcolm Muggeridge wrote in his book Jesus Rediscovered:

Suppose you eliminated suffering, what a dreadful place the world would be. I would almost rather eliminate happiness. The world would be the most ghastly place because everything that corrects the tendency of this unspeakable little creature, man, to feel over-important and over-pleased with himself would disappear. He’s bad enough now, but he would be absolutely intolerable if he never suffered.

Our finest times as a country have been during times of crisis.  Just recently during the tragedies of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina and the destruction of New Orleans, people pulled together.  During wildfires, tornados, and other tragedies people rise to something greater.  There is purpose in everything that happens.

James warns us that when we make judgments about others we are usurping God’s role. We are implying that we understand motives and rightly know the facts. Sometimes we conclude that people get away with things.  Truth be told we don’t know what will happen in this life – or the next. We must stop drawing conclusions and trust that God will do what is right.

Once on a railway train an elderly man accidentally broke a minor regulation and was unmercifully bawled out by a young train employee. Later a fellow passenger nudged the old gentleman and suggested he give the employee a piece of his mind. But the old man just smiled. “Oh,” he said, “if a man like that can stand himself for all of his life, I surely can stand him for five minutes.”

The patient person doesn’t rush to judgment.  They shrug off circumstances and keep going.

Integrity in Speech is a second indicator of patience.  James says,

Above all, my brothers, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No,” no, or you will be condemned.

It may be that we should be addressing this verse as an entirely different message as a unique command.  However it seems to relate to what has come before. What is the purpose of an oath?  It is to verify that what we are saying is truthful. What does that imply?  It implies that most of the time you can’t be sure whether we are lying or not.  It is almost as if we were saying, “Normally I would lie to you here, but now I am going to really tell you the truth!”

Why do we lie?  We lie to get what we want.  We lie to keep from having to take responsibility or to face the consequence of our actions.  We lie because we are looking for an immediate payoff. You say what you need to say, to get what you want to get.  If you have to lie or swear an oath – so be it.

The patient person on the other hand recognizes that character pays off in the long run.  Speaking the truth and doing what is right is not always the most immediate pay-off but it is the best.  If we are patient in truth-telling there will be a reward.  This command from James is related to what he has just spoken about patience.  If we are walking patiently by faith we will strive to tell the truth in every situation because we know that God’s way (honesty) is always best in the long run.

James is not saying we should never sign a contract or swear to tell the truth in court.  What James IS saying is that oaths should be unnecessary in our lives.  We should tell the truth all the time.  We should resist the urge to

Make ourselves look good through embellishments or exaggeration

Shade the truth to avoid responsibility for our actions

Water down the truth to make the gospel more acceptable

Tell people what they want to hear in order to get them to do something for us

We should tell the truth and honor God no matter what the consequence because we know that God is a God of truth.  We tell the truth because we believe God will honor integrity and honesty; even if the world does not.

These words of James are much needed in our day. In 1968 Richard Nixon spoke about peace efforts around the world.  What he said was quite insightful

As Americans, we have many great strengths, but one of our weaknesses is impatience. The Russians think in terms of decades, the Chinese in terms of centuries. Americans think in terms of years, months, and even days. But if in the quest for a realistic, lasting peace, we expect overnight success—instant gratification—we are bound to be disappointed.

How relevant this is when so many are eager for the government to fix things right now.  We want our problems solved immediately and we do not question whether the immediate solution will create bigger problems in the future.  We need to look beyond “the moment”.  We must entrust ourselves to the bigger picture.

Let’s get personal.  Is there some area where you need to stop fretting, fighting, or grumbling? Do you need to put your faith into action by holding on to Him even when you don’t understand?  Do you need to trust Him enough to really trust Him? If so, dare to look past the trial – focus instead on the One who has perfect wisdom and uncompromising love.

We need spiritual patience. The patient person will be characterized by steadiness, integrity and character.  They are not shaken in hard times.  They refrain from judgment.  They resist complaining.  They do this because they really believe God is at work in their lives.  They see the frustrations and sufferings of life as God’s construction zone.  In such times they trust God is at work cleansing, refining, or training those whom He loves. It may be a pain now – but when He is finished, it will be worth the aggravation.

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