The dictionary defines patience as “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.” Many of us have learned the value of patience the hard way: by living without it. James uses three examples to explain why we need patience and how to develop it.
Last week we looked at the primary reason we need patience–because much in life happens unexpectedly and is beyond our control. That much we all know. What most of us don’t know is how to build patience into our everyday life. James does not provide us with a step-by-step plan, but his comments about farmers, prophets, and Job give us some clues:
Be patient, brothers and sisters, as you await the coming of the Lord. Consider the farmer who waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the autumn and the spring rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Do not grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be judged. Behold–the Judge is standing at the door! As an example of suffering and patience, brothers and sisters, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Indeed, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.
James uses three examples–farmers, prophets, and an ancient patriarch–to teach us about patience. What can I do to build this quality into my life?
Like the farmer, I can look to the future expectantly.
Like the prophets, I can wait quietly.
Like Job, I can live faithfully.
How do I develop patience? The process begins with God’s Word. I must first become familiar with God’s promises and instruction. To do this, I need to set aside time daily to read and meditate on God’s eternal truths. How does this help me become patient? When I know God’s promises, I will live expectantly. In particular, I will live in expectation of the promise James mentions three times in this passage: the return of Christ. Instead of worrying about the future or bemoaning the past, I will say with the psalmist, “I wait expectantly, trusting God to help, for He has promised” (Psalm 130). And I can live this way because the Lord has assured us, “no one who waits for My help will be disappointed” (Isaiah 49:23).
So the first thing I do to develop patience is immerse myself in God’s promises. Then I must examine my attitude toward the people around me. Many of them think I am foolish for putting my faith in Jesus, and Jesus himself warned me I would be persecuted for following him. So how am I to respond to opponents of Jesus? James tells me to consider how God’s prophets reacted when they were ignored, ridiculed, and even tortured and killed. Jeremiah is the classic example. His attempts to help his neighbors were rewarded with jeers, beatings, and imprisonment, but Jeremiah was willing to undergo persecution to accomplish his ministry, and (here is the takeaway for Jesus-followers) he did so without a hint of bitterness. Jeremiah, like the prophets before and after him, accepted public rejection as part of the job and said, “It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (Lamentations 3:26). Jeremiah read the Scriptures and became confident the Lord would deliver, and this gave him peace of mind. And one aspect of this peace was Jeremiah’s makrothymia (translated “patience” in James), a compound word that literally means “long (i.e., slow) to anger.” Today we would describe someone who is makrothymia as “having a long fuse.” And this isn’t something Jeremiah and the other prophets were born with. James says they developed patience by trusting God’s timing and refusing to grumble when things didn’t go their way.
The third example reinforces the call to fidelity. Job, like the prophets who followed him, learned to live by faith. What does it mean to live by faith? Simply this: God has promised to take care of us, and we have a choice–we can believe Him and live confidently, knowing things will work out for the best, or we can doubt Him. Job, long after he had lost everything, could still say, “as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and He will stand upon the earth at last. And after my body has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God!” (Job 19:25-26).
Can you identify with Job’s declaration? What about this one from Micah, a prophet who lived 700 years before Jesus:
“As for me, I look to the Lord for help. I wait confidently for God to save me, and my God will certainly hear me. Do not gloat over me, my enemies! For though I fall, I will rise again. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light. I will be patient as the Lord punishes me, for I have sinned against Him. But after that, He will take up my case and give me justice for all I have suffered from my enemies. The Lord will bring me into the light, and I will see His righteousness” (Micah 7:7-9).
These passages from Micah and Job get to the heart of how patience is developed, and it’s a slow process. Patience comes gradually as we spend time praying, listening, learning, accepting the Lord’s discipline, and training our soul to trust God even when things are falling apart around us.
Let’s conclude our look at patience with an admonition that is especially relevant for Christians today. The prophet Habakkuk is upset because God promised deliverance and has not provided it. God assures him, “Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled. If it seems slow, do not despair, for these things will surely come to pass. Just be patient! They will not be overdue a single day” (Habakkuk 2:3).
Why the warning against impatience? Because you and I, like Habakkuk, are living in the time between God’s promise to make things right and its fulfillment, and humans are naturally impatient. From childhood we’ve been programmed to demand what we want when we want it, and that is a hard habit to break.
Thankfully, God has made provision for our desire for instant gratification: He makes us wait. In grocery lines, in traffic, in doctor’s offices, and a hundred other places. Our wait-time gives us the opportunity either to learn patience or to experience the physical, emotional, and relational consequences of impatience.
Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act… Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act.