The small child puts her hands on her hips and a look of concern on her face.1 “I’m hungry. When are we going to eat? Can I have a snack now? Aren’t going to eat today? Did I mention I’m hungry?!” Be patient, little child. Things aren’t what they seem to be. You’re not going to starve. Be patient.
An older child throws down his pencil and crumples up the sheet of paper he’d been writing on. “I don’t get this homework! Why do we even need to do this anyway? I’m never going to get it, so I might as well not try. Is this class, is this school year ever going to be done?!” Be patient, child. Things aren’t what they seem to be. You will get what you need to get and finish what you need to finish. Be patient.
A young adult rolls her eyes. She’s fed up. “This is so ridiculous! I don’t really need your rules, and I don’t see what the big deal is that I can’t do what I want. I just want school to be done. I just want to move out of here and get on with my real life.” Be patient, young woman. Things aren’t what they seem to be. You’ll have plenty of time to live your own life. Be patient.
A dad with young kids is starting to pull his hair out. “I don’t see how I can possibly keep up! There’s too much to do at work. I know I need to spend more time with the kids, but where am I supposed to find more time in the day? My wife says she understands, but I know she’s getting frustrated with it all. How am I going to get through this week, this month? How am I going to get through today?” Be patient, young father. Things aren’t what they seem to be. You have the time that you really need for what’s really important. Be patient.
A mom who’s no longer young but not really old yet wipes tears out of her eyes. “I just miss the kids so much. Why don’t they call every day? When is the next time that I’ll get to see the grandkids? — I’ll barely recognize them! Why did everything have to change?” Be patient, mom. Things aren’t what they seem to be. Your kids are still your family. Now God blesses you with other things, in different ways. Be patient.
An old man shuffles through his small room. He sits down with great effort. “I’m just so tired. I survived cancer. I survived losing my wife. And I’m still surviving every day. So why aren’t I happy about it? Every morning I pray. I tell Jesus I’m ready to come home. I’m ready for heaven. But it seems he’s not ready for me.” Be patient, old man. You don’t know the purpose of your life right now. But God knows. Be patient.
Advent reminds us that Jesus is coming. But, friends, we get impatient. Impatience isn’t a problem when you’re a little kid; it’s not something you grow out of in this life. It’s a problem that every child of God has, at every age and season of life. But things are not always what they seem. God is in control. As James says in our text, Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. (Jas. 5:7) Jesus will return. The day will come. So how can we be patient until he does?
James compares it to a farmer being patient with his crops. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. (Jas. 5:7) I’ve never been a farmer, but my grandpa was, and so are some in our congregation. Most of us know what farmers are, but we don’t think of the patience involved in doing it! You plant — and that doesn’t exactly happen quickly — and then you wait. You take the time to fertilize and then you wait. You wait for it to rain. You wait for the rain to stop. You pray you don’t end up with too much or too little.
Now, I’ve never had a farmer come up to me with panic on his face. “Pastor, we finished planting the seeds yesterday, and the fields look like they’re nothing but dirt today! Isn’t anything going to grow? Does God hate me?” No farmer would say that. They get that you have to be patient. They get that things aren’t what they seem to be. After you plant, the field looks like dirt. But the farmer knows that the rains will come, the fertilizer will work, and the plants will grow. He knows he needs patience.
That’s the patience we need, too! As our text says, You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. (James 5:8) It’s a very Advent-themed thought. The Lord’s coming is near. Everything is going to be alright. Jesus will come back and fix everything. We know that. So we’re patient and we stand firm through our trials and troubles because we know that Jesus is coming. We need patience.
One of the areas where we need patience is with our fellow believers. As we wait together, it’s easy to lose patience together.
For example, in High School, I got to go to a WELS choral fest that took place in Phoenix, Arizona. It was a neat experience, and I remember it was really hot there already in April. And one day I was with several other kids from my school and other schools, and a bunch of us piled onto one elevator. I remember we all laughed as more and more people got into that one elevator.
But I’ll tell you what; we weren’t laughing when the elevator got stuck. There we were, extra tight in that elevator with too many people, stuck between floors. Did I mention that it’s hot in Phoenix? It suddenly wasn’t fun. The things that people said that might have made me chuckle before now just irritated me. I didn’t want to be there with them. I didn’t want to talk to any of them. I just wanted to be out of that elevator, right now.
As Christians stuck in a sinful, unbelieving world, it’s not surprising that we get irritated and lose our patience with each other. James reminds us that our impatience isn’t something harmless: it’s a sin that leaves us open for God’s judgment. Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! (Jas. 5:9)
Yes, when you get irritable with fellow believers, that’s not just a personality-trait you have. It’s a sin you have. It’s a problem that Jesus himself will one day come to judge. So don’t grumble! Be patient!
But as you know, that’s hard to do. Because often what we have to be patient about isn’t just a minor annoyance. Sometimes it’s a serious pain. It can be pain in our heart as a relationship that we are in is crumbling, or is over. That pain can come from depression and disappointment. It can be pain in our body as sickness or disease or an accident leaves us hurting. And this pain might not be something that clears up after a couple of days or weeks. It can last years. This pain could be a life sentence. It’s a bit tougher to be patient then.
James gives us encouragement, though. Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. (Jas. 5:10) The Old Testament is full of these examples. The prophets there were usually not celebrated by the people. “Oh, thank you for telling us what God says!” No, they were hated. They were imprisoned. Sometimes, they were killed. They knew pain. God gave us their example for our own patience.
Job is another example. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. (Jas. 5:11) James is referring to how Job lost everything. He lost his wealth and pretty much all he owned. He lost all his children to a horrible accident. His wife and friends turned against him, and his health took a nosedive as he was covered in sores and found himself in constant pain. But he persevered. And by the end of Job we even see that God blessed him with even more than he’d lost to begin with.
So, yes, God can give us back what we lose in this world. He can make our pain go away if he chooses. But, let’s face it. It’s still difficult. When you hurt every day, whatever that hurt may be, it’s hard. Day after day, year after year. It’s tempting to give up. It’s tempting to get angry — at others, at yourself. Even at God. The pain starts to feel like a punishment. How can anyone be patient with that.
Be patient, child of God! Be patient! Did you know that pain — in fact, every trouble we face — is really a gift from God? Yes, God uses pain and trouble to bless us.
You might’ve heard of the disease of leprosy. This is the disease that causes people to lose fingers and toes, and even arms and legs. It leaves people mutilated and miserable. I recently heard, though, how the disease of leprosy works, and it’s astounding.
Leprosy in itself doesn’t make someone’s hand or arm fall off. Leprosy leaves your finger or hand or feet numb. It takes away the pain. Sounds great, right, to have your pain go away? But with that pain away, the people with leprosy can’t feel when they’re damaging their finger or hand or feet. They can’t even feel if they break their bones. Pain, for most of us, would remind us to move our hand off of the hot stove. But it wouldn’t remind someone with leprosy.
I heard the story2 that the doctor who discovered this traveled to Calcutta, India, to study people with leprosy. There, in the cramped and dirty streets where some of these people lived, he watched them, even at night. In one case, he observed rats biting the hands and feet of the people with leprosy while they slept. If a rat bit you at night, you’d wake up screaming and push them away. But the people with leprosy had no pain. They didn’t feel it until it was too late. Because they didn’t have pain, they lost the use of parts of their body. Pain can be a blessing from God.
God could be using your pain to make you realize that you really can’t do it all yourself. You need someone else — someone much more powerful than you are. God could be using your pain to drive you to your knees in prayer. He can bring you to the point where you look to him alone for help. God can use the pain of your sins to drive you to realize that you really do need a Savior.
So be patient, child of God! In this sinful world, God will allow pain into your life. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you. Listen to one of my favorite verses in the Bible, from John chapter 16. There Jesus says, I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)
Jesus had just told them some bad news: he was going away, and they, the disciples, were going to suffer and be filled with grief. But even though he was going away physically, he would still be with them, even as he’s promised to be with us. And look at the two main things that Jesus said his disciples and we also have. In me you…have peace. And, In this world you will have trouble.
As long as we’re in this world, we will have trouble. It’s not a maybe. It’s definite. We will have trouble. We will have pain. It’s definite. But remember what else is definite. In Jesus we have peace. We have the peace of knowing we’re forgiven, that our lack of trust and patience is exactly what Jesus suffered and died and rose to take away forever. We have the peace of knowing that heaven is our home forever through his undeserved love for us.
Again, in this world we have trouble, but in Jesus we have peace. And when Jesus returns? Well, then this world and its trouble goes away, and we’re left with only Jesus’ peace forever. Be patient, child of God! Your pain and trouble will end. Jesus’ peace and love will never end. Be patient, child of God! May our prayer always be for Jesus to come again, and come quickly! And may he give us the patience to wait until he does!