We’ve probably all experienced the mind-numbing boredom of waiting in line. Standing or sitting until our turn comes around, until our name is called, or it’s our turn to ride the roller coaster. Those minutes seem like hours as they drag by. We find ways to distract ourselves. Read a magazine, play a game on our phone, or pick on our sibling because we don’t know what else to do. But is that the kind of waiting James has in mind when he says “be patient?”
We framed this study of James with the opening words of his letter. “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” (James 1:2–4, NLT) Along the way, we identified the trouble, the joy, and the endurance in the various topics James wrote about.
Concerning waiting and patience, James wrote, “Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return. Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen. You, too, must be patient. Take courage, for the coming of the Lord is near. Don’t grumble about each other, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. For look—the Judge is standing at the door! For examples of patience in suffering, dear brothers and sisters, look at the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. We give great honor to those who endure under suffering. For instance, you know about Job, a man of great endurance. You can see how the Lord was kind to him at the end, for the Lord is full of tenderness and mercy.” (James 5:7–11, NLT)
We Hate to Wait
The trouble is that we hate to wait yet waiting is a part of the world’s design. Seeds do not instantly bear fruit. It may be a bit cliché but consider the simple act of writing a letter and receiving an answer. It wasn’t so long ago that such an exchange could take weeks or even months depending on the distance. Today I can write an email or text message and it will be delivered within seconds of being sent even if the recipient is half a world away.
Waiting is stressful, especially when the time exceeds our expectation. We get antsy when the restaurant is slow. That’s where the trouble begins and we begin to “take it out” on someone. It’s kind of like being kids on a long road trip. Eventually, we’ve run out of the fun stuff. We’re tired of reading comics or coloring or counting license plates so let’s pick on sis since there’s nothing better to do. James sees that too, “Don’t grumble about each other, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. For look—the Judge is standing at the door!” (Also see James 4:1-4) Why did James stick that warning in the middle of talking about patience and waiting? Could it be that some of our “fights” are simply because we don’t know how to wait?
James identifies the joy of patiently waiting in terms of experiencing God’s kindness, tenderness, and mercy as shown by Job. We won’t unpack Job here. The basics are that Job lost everything, family, finances, health, and friends. Even those friends that did hang around weren’t exactly full of good advice. The question being asked is whether Job would turn his back on God when everything was taken away. He didn’t and God abundantly restored Job (Job 42:10).
The mercy and lovingkindness of God is our joy. We may or may not fully experience it today, which is James’ ultimate point, but let’s eagerly look to that day when we will.
The endurance comes with actively waiting. The primary example is that of waiting for the Lord’s return. Even in James’ day, there was an “any day now” expectation. Patience is not sitting on our hands waiting for something to happen. Faith is not passive. James uses the example of a farmer that plants a seed and waits as it sprouts, grows, flowers, and is ultimately ready for the harvest. Faith is involved in dedicating that seed, patience is involved as the farmer cares for the plant, joy is involved when it is time for the harvest. Since Jesus’ ascension into heaven, His followers have lived in the day of patience, caring for the seed of faith until it is the time of harvest.
Actively waiting is tricky. Our boredom meter is not an indicator of how well we’re doing. Some actions are simply distraction and busy-ness instead of being fruitful. Such action takes our mind off of waiting but does little to encourage faith. But here we must be careful, one church’s rummage sale may be a distraction while another’s is fruitful. The difference is motive, attitude, and obedience. Why are we doing something? Are we doing out of love or duty or guilt or tradition? Did we hear from the Holy Spirit to go this way or are we being driven by something else?
Suffering and Patience
It’s easy in Christian circles to confuse suffering and patience. While God uses everything in our lives, even our suffering, He doesn’t ordain suffering to teach us patience. So, to say “God must be teaching me patience” when the kids are out of control, when the job fails, when the car won’t start, or when we’ve had a fight with our spouse isn’t necessarily true. God could be teaching faith to pray, love no matter what someone does, humility when our pride is wounded, forgiveness even when it seems unfair, and yes, patiently trusting that God is in control.
It’s no accident that James follows his encouragement for patience with a call to pray in all circumstances and moments. We aren’t called to wait it out but to wait on Him. Active patience means trusting God with all things, including the right time for the answers. God isn’t setting up an obstacle course to see if we measure up. He is instead walking with us and asking us to trust Him as we encounter the struggles, challenges, and stresses of life.
“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”