Patience: why we need it

The importance of patience

James–Part 23

Waiting. We do a lot of that–we wait in traffic and grocery lines and at doctor’s offices and a hundred other places–and most of us hate waiting. Why? Because we have been taught that wait-time is wasted time. If that is your perspective, James urges you to reconsider. The time we spend waiting is a gift from God. It allows us the opportunity to develop patience.

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 5:7-11

James uses three examples–farmers, the prophets, and Job–to explain why patience is essential and how it can be developed. Today we’ll look at the “why,” and next time we’ll focus how to build it into our life.

The primary reason we need patience is simply this:
much in life happens unexpectedly and is beyond our ability to manage.

James uses farmers as an example because people who live off the land are always waiting–they wait for rain; they wait for the land to dry out enough to till and plant; they wait for the crop to mature; they wait for the optimum time to harvest. And none of these factors are under the control of the farmer. But we don’t have to be a farmer to know how many circumstances are beyond our ability to change.

The second illustration shifts the focus from uncontrollable circumstances to unreasonable people. “Consider the prophets,” James says. The duty of a prophet in Israel was to explain God’s will and help people live more faithfully, but the Scriptures are filled with accounts of prophets who were ignored, ridiculed, and even tortured and killed. Jeremiah is a good example. His attempts to help his neighbors were rewarded with jeers, beatings, and imprisonment.

The final illustration James uses is the patriarch, Job. Within a few days, Job lost all his wealth, his children were killed, and he was afflicted with a terrible skin ailment that covered his body with pus-filled sores. Then, just when it seemed things couldn’t get any worse, his wife came to him and basically said, “Job, honey, you are a total mess. Why don’t you just curse God and die?” Job persevered and refused to curse God, but one of the most interesting aspects of the story is how it goes on for 37 chapters before God tells Job what is happening and why. Until then, Job had no idea why things were unfolding the way they were.

There is much in Job’s story that I can’t relate to, but I certainly identify with one of the main themes: life seems to make no sense. Just random good and random bad, strung together with no apparent rhyme or reason. That’s what life looks like to most of us. But one of the central lessons in Job’s story is this: life is not a string of random occurrences. I might not understand why things are working out the way they are, but there is a good reason for that: I can’t be trusted with the information. And I can only speak for me, but here’s the way it is between me and God: I am kept on a “need to know” basis. In other words, the Lord only tells me what I need to know at the time I need to know it. With no explanations. And God does this for my protection. He knows that if He told me everything about everything, I would be either paralyzed with fear or emboldened to do something stupid that would mess things up.

Farmers, prophets, and Job. All three had one thing in common: they knew God is in control. James encourages his readers to “be patient as you await the coming of the Lord” because Jesus’s return in glory is the ultimate proof that God is in charge of things. So even though I will face uncontrollable circumstances, unreasonable people, and unexplainable problems, I can rest in confidence because God is working things out. Granted, this is often happening behind the scenes where I can’t see it. That was certainly the case in Job’s life. In verse 11, James says, “You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about.” I love that last part–“what the Lord finally brought about.” Things did work out for Job, but not overnight. First there was a time of intense soul training. Job loved the Lord, but he had much to learn about God. I can relate.

Two lessons I learned from Job:

  • While I am waiting, God is working.
  • Sometimes God isn’t saying “no” to my prayer request. He’s saying, “not yet.”

There is another benefit to learning patience. Verse 11 says, “we consider those blessed who remained steadfast.” Jesus said it this way in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

James and Jesus say it pays to be patient and persevere when the going gets tough. Blessings are promised. Have you learned the value of patience with your family and friends and co-workers? One of the greatest temptations we face is to repay injustices in kind. How do you tend to respond when someone speaks harshly to you? What about when someone cuts you off in traffic? What if someone were to physically hurt you?

I still remember what happened to me twenty years ago at a dentist’s office. I went in for a simple cleaning, but the hygienist was new and not very experienced, and after 10 minutes of pain I wanted to yell, “Where did you get your training? A butcher shop?” But I didn’t. I just dug my nails into the seat and held on until it was over. When we were saying our goodbyes, I saw a flash of recognition in her eyes. “I’ve been trying to place you, and now I remember who you are!” she said. “You’re that nice pastor who writes the newspaper column every week. I love the way you explain things in a way I can understand.”

Ouch. I thanked her for the kind words and left. Do you think I was glad I hadn’t said anything during the cleaning?

Take some time this week to reflect on your patience-quotient. What are some of the prices you have paid for being impatient? Would you say your patience has grown over the past few years, or diminished? Why?

Next: how to develop patience.

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