Pastor Chris Tweitmann
Americans spend approximately 37 billion hours each year waiting in line.
Waiting in daily life is an inevitable and often tiresome experience.
We’re wait on hold during phone calls trying to make an appointment.
We stand in line waiting to pay for items in stores.
We place an order for food on Grubhub or buy something on Amazon,
and then we wait for our item to arrive.
We wait for someone to call or text us back.
We wait for test results to come back from our doctor.
We wait for authorization from our insurance company
to have a needed procedure or surgery.
And in the year 2020, our requirement to wait has been taken to new levels.
We’re waiting for herd immunity or a proven vaccine before the threat of COVID-19.
We’re waiting for when regular routines can resume
– being back in a classroom or in the office, going to a concert or a sports event,
singing and interacting next to each other rather than 6 feet apart in worship.
We’re waiting to be fully reunited with our families and friends
– seeing our aging parents, visiting relatives in other states,
or perhaps holding our first grandchild.
We’re waiting to hear back from any of the multitude of inquiries
we’ve made looking for a job.
We’re waiting to discover the outcome of the upcoming election
and how our lives will change depending on who comes into office
and which propositions are passed.
Despite our best efforts and we do try hard to resist,
much of our lives is spend waiting.
It is into this reality that our passage from the letter of James speaks – waiting.
And as we’re about to hear, for James,
waiting is not just a given; waiting is a spiritual imperative.
Waiting is not just an activity in which we much all engage;
how we wait is an expression of our faith.
Let’s hear from James, chapter 5, verses 5 – 11.
Waiting is the theme for today.
And just in case we missed it,
James’ prescription for all our waiting,
particularly our spiritual waiting, is patience.
Patience? Are you kidding me, James?
Last week we talked about money and now we are talking about patience?
These are not the kind of topics that draw a crowd for a sermon
– either online or in person.
I mean, how many of us are fed up, up to here, with having to be patient?
How many of us have ever said, “I am not the most patient person.”
We say it like that’s the way it’s always going to be for us – that we will not be patient.
But James instructs otherwise:
“Be patient, then brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming.”
James acknowledges we find ourselves in waiting mode,
not just in the smaller day-to-day moments,
but in terms of the bigger picture of life.
As Christians, we believe, we know
the work of the Cross and the Resurrection is finished.
Jesus has died for all and forgiven all sins.
Jesus has been raised from the grave and conquered death for all who follow Him.
In one sense, our salvation and the redemption of all creation is already accomplished, but in another sense, its full realization lies in our future.
The work of Pentecost and the call of the Great Commission remain ongoing.
Everyone does not know
– has not heard, has not witnessed the truth of the Gospel of Christ.
We who have heard – who both know and believe
– remain works in progress – reformed sinners who are
by the grace of God becoming saints in Christ.
The Kingdom of God has reclaimed this broken world of ours
but all creation, like all humanity, is the gradual but assured process of its redemption.
Our new life and the world to come is not in a holding pattern.
Both continue to move forward.
But in terms of asking, “Are we there yet?”, the answer is “No.”
And so, even as we and creation’s reclamation progress, we must wait.
In our waiting, James calls us to be patient.
Which begs the question, what does James mean by “patience”?
This word used four times in our passage means “to endure or to be steadfast.”
More specifically, the original Greek word means “to be slow to anger.”
Putting these two ideas together,
a patient person is someone who endures or remains steadfast
under the pressure of unwanted or unpleasant situations
by accepting such situations without acting out in anger.
Being patient is an alternative to the life of grasping and exploitation
that last week James condemns the rich and wealthy for in verses 1 – 6.
The character and the quality of being patient is best taught by illustration
and so, James offers us three specific examples of patience in this passage:
that of a farmer, the biblical prophets, and the biblical figure named Job.
First, James evokes the patience of a farmer.
“See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop,” James writes.
His illustration takes us from the autumn all the way to the summer.
The autumn and spring rain James mentions,
refers to the general weather patterns of the land in Israel
so that the early rain softens the ground
and the later rain creates the lush growth for a rich harvest.
The time frame is at least 8 to 9 months.
Due to nature of how crops grow, the farmer must be patient, waiting, waiting.
The picture of an impatient farmer would be somewhat ridiculous
Because no true farmer would plant his seed one day and expect a harvest the next.
No sincere farmer would angrily call the seed company
and demand his or her money back
because of not getting an immediate harvest.
No real farmer would angrily plow under the first growth of seedlings
because nothing broke through the soil on the first day,
the first week or even the first month.
No, farmers learn to be patient.
And being patient for a farmer doesn’t mean just waiting and doing nothing.
James highlights the fact that farmers learn to distinguish between
what they can control and what they cannot control.
They can control certain aspects of planting,
such as when and how to plant,
and certain parts of cultivation such as weeding the crops.
But there are other essential parts of a fruitful harvest
over which they have no control, but which are essential,
such as when it will rain and when it will not.
Waiting and being patient for a farmer means to be about his or her business
– to honor God by continuing to work on what he or she as the farmer can control
but at the same time, to trust God with what he or she cannot control
– trusting that in God’s timing the rain will come,
the ground will be watered, the seeds will sprout,
and trusting the value of an abundant harvest will be worth the wait.
Farmers learn how to wait, to be patient thanks to the rhythm of the seasons.
But we have crafted, we have become an instant gratification society.
Fruit is never out of season for us
because we can just have it flown in from somewhere else.
This is, in many ways, reflective of our impatience
– our refusal to wait if we can avoid it.
We pride ourselves on being able to get whatever we want whenever we want it.
And yet despite all our advancements and accelerations,
when it comes to the things we cannot control or manipulate
God still takes His sweet time and continues to work according
to His schedule and not ours.
There are just some things – one might argue – the best things in life
– that we have to wait for, that we need to learn and to practice how to be patient for.
James is encouraging us to learn and to practice being patient like a farmer
– being attentive and diligent in focusing and working on the things we can control,
but trusting and waiting on God’s timing for all the things beyond our control.
Being patient – waiting on the Lord is not sitting around twiddling our thumbs;
it is rather a choice, a posture of faith.
Hence, the second example of patience that James points us to
are the biblical prophets – the prophets of the Old Testament.
The prophets of the Old Testament were chosen
to be God’s voice to the people of Israel and other nations.
Their message from the Lord usually was two-fold:
a warning of judgment and call for repentance AND
a promise for the future and an assurance of God’s fidelity.
James doesn’t tell us which prophets he has in mind
because one thing all these prophets had in common
was how they suffered because of the truth
they proclaimed in speaking God’s word in their generation.
They each could have avoided the hostility and the persecution they endured
if they had been willing to tell the people what they wanted to hear
instead of what God insisted they needed to hear.
Something worth remembering about prophets like
Isaiah or Jeremiah or Amos or Hosea is, in delivering their message,
they had to wait to see the realization of their word from the Lord played out.
The prophet of the Old Testament, rarely, if ever, got to see the end of the story.
James, therefore, provides them as a specific kind of patience
– of perseverance – of waiting by standing firm no matter what the circumstances.
Because we don’t like to wait, we can talk ourselves into all kind of things
– small but significant betrayals of our relationship with God
for the sake of getting things done.
In feeding our growing impatience for things to change,
we will hold our nose and close our eyes
as we support and even endorse leaders and policies
that we contradict what we know to the way of Jesus.
But being patient like a prophet is to be patient both with God and for God.
It is to wait upon the Lord obediently
and not to compromise for sake of expediency.
It is to wait for God obediently
and to remain immovable no matter what changes in your world.
It is even to suffer in patiently waiting
in the name of what is right, of what is just
instead of convincing ourselves that
saying and doing what is right and what is just has to wait until later.
However, waiting on the Lord is not remaining silent in despair while we suffer;
it is speaking up and speaking out confidently
– continuing to place our hope in the Lord.
This leads us to James’ third and final example of
what it means to be patient, the example of Job.
If we recall his story, Job may seem at first glance to be a questionable example.
After losing all his property, his children and his health,
Job lamented the day of his birth,
complained that he deserved none of this
and demanded that God explain Himself.
So, why exactly is Job a good example of patience?
Why do we have that expression, “He or she has the patience of Job”?
It comes down to this.
Job is a good example of waiting on the Lord
for the simple reason that Job keeps going and doesn’t give up.
Despite all that happened to him,
despite all his friends basically telling him it was all his fault,
despite Job’s own wife questioning him,
saying, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die”…
Job didn’t give up. He continues to wait upon the Lord.
He doesn’t remain silent as he waits.
He keeps speaking up and speaking out.
Job doesn’t curse or blame God.
For 42 long chapters – Job continues to hope
in God’s purpose – that His Redeemer lives.
Job didn’t know how long he might wait,
but he firmly and patiently believed God Himself would show up.
And James points out what we should learn from Job’s steadfastness:
“You have seen what the Lord finally brought about.
The Lord is compassionate and merciful.”
At the end of the story, Job’s life and prosperity are restored.
But that’s the point of the story: Good things come to those who wait…
No, Job’s patience, his waiting upon the Lord,
leads to Job coming to know, drawing closer to
the person and the character of God in a deeper sense.
Job’s example teaches us that patience is needed
especially when life is hard and when the whole world seems to be against us.
Job’s example reveals that these are times
when waiting on the Lord and not giving up
is not only the most critical, but also
the most formative in our relationship with God
– as like Job, we will come to know and trust the Lord more deeply.
Being patient means waiting on the Lord.
As we learn from James’ three examples,
waiting on the Lord is not a “wait and see” attitude;
it is working on what the Lord has given us to do
and trusting the Lord to take care of the rest.
Waiting on the Lord is not taking matters
into our own hands in the name of God;
it is faithfully relying on and repeating back
the word God has given to us
– honoring and not selling short
the promises the Lord has made.
Waiting on the Lord is not mere human optimism
– believing in ourselves when the going gets tough
but otherwise cursing and blaming God:
it is speaking up and speaking out
not in defiance but in hope
– being unrelenting in waiting for the Lord to show up.
This is what James means when he calls us to be patient.
And as a further clarification,
James provides two things we must avoid in all our waiting.
The first disposition we must avoid in the politics of patience is grumbling.
Waiting on and trusting in the Lord are evidenced through appropriate speech.
Therefore, James tells us in all our waiting not to “grumble against one another.”
What is grumbling?
Grumbling is a form of impatience.
Grumbling is taking the groans of our waiting – of our pain and our yearning in this life – and to focus, to turn them on each other.
Grumbling is complaining, zinging people, griping and always finding fault.
Grumbling is a seed borne of our impatience that is terrible and toxic.
When we are being impatient, it sours our whole attitude,
and such a soured attitude inevitably gets directed to all our surrounding relationships.
Impatience with our circumstances leads to impatience with God.
A hasty, impatient spirit is not of the Spirit.
It is a form of pride – human arrogance that imagines we know better than God.
Impatience leads to sin/trouble as we take matters into our own hands
and complain and speak evil against each other over what we can’t control.
Our impatience with God inevitably turns to an object
– somewhere we can dump our fears, frustrations, and bitterness.
In other words, impatience with God leads to impatience with God’s people.
And so, we grumble about our neighbor, our boss, our coworker,
our spouse, our kids, our parents, our pastor, our elected officials,
anyone in our direct line of sight.
Grumbling doesn’t help. Grumbling doesn’t advance our lives.
No, our impatience expressed through grumbling destroys community.
Just ask the Israelites who wandered in the wilderness.
Grumbling has shatter many a team, a marriage,
a family, a neighborhood, and a church.
In the age of COVID-19,
all our grumbling borne of our impatience
threatens to irrevocably fracture both our country and our world.
We are quickly becoming a nation of whiners
– a people refusing to be patient any longer,
refusing to stand in solidarity in our shared suffering
and unwilling to wait for each other in safely facing and overcoming this virus.
Notice, James doesn’t say try to avoid grumbling.
He says, “Don’t grumble against one another … or you will be judged.
This is serious. God is watching. God is listening
as in our impatience, our refusal to wait any longer,
we demand our rights but take no responsibility for our behaviors.
Grumbling can become addictive – our default. How can we ever stop?
If we want curb our grumbling, if we want to learn how to be patient,
then we need to remember and to reflect on how patient God is with us.
God is patient with us – even though we are not patient with Him,
even though we are not patient with ourselves or with others.
Going back to the legacy of the prophets, over and over,
the Lord sent messengers when we, as His people turned our backs on Him.
God came down personally in Jesus Christ not to condemn us
but to patiently lead us back home to Him.
The Lord has extended to us and given us His own Spirit
and He patiently waits as we take two steps forward
and then three steps back in being His Body
– in representing and sharing His Gospel and His grace with others.
How many times have you turned your back on God?
How many times has God grumbled against you?
If anyone has the right to grumble, complain or find fault in me, in us,
you and I have given the Lord plenty of opportunities.
James is challenging us to be patient – to be slow to anger with others
like the Lord is patient, slow to anger with us.
Beloved, we grumble when we lose perspective.
Notice that James mentions the coming of the Lord
twice in this passage as he calls us to be patient.
Specifically, in verse 8, he encourages us to
“be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.”
For James, waiting on the Lord is possible because we know the end of the story,
that the Lord is soon returning, that Jesus is coming back to finish what He started.
We are to be patient until Christ returns,
after which we will no longer have need of patience
because all things will be made new.
All our waiting will be over.
Everything will be reconciled once and for all.
Every wrong will be made right. Every tear will be wiped away.
There will be no more crying, or pain or death.
However, between now and then, as we face minor inconveniences,
sometimes major setbacks, and possibly even occasional, significant evils,
we need to be patient by waiting upon the Lord.
But how can we keep and not lose this perspective
and not grow impatient in our waiting?
First and foremost, we need to recognize and understand,
the kind of patience James is inviting us to have is not humanly possible on our own.
We are in the mess that we are in because of our impatience
– our refusal to wait upon the Lord.
Spiritual patience is not our default
– broken and self-divorced as we are from God.
On our own, in our sin, our default tendency
before intolerable situations, repeated mistreatment,
and/or the occasional misunderstanding is
to take matters into our own hands
– to try and seize control of the situation –
often through manipulation,
sometimes through retaliation,
and again, if unsuccessful,
always ending up bitterly grumbling.
The patience James is calling us to embrace here is beyond us;
it is a holy attitude, a supernatural gift of the Spirit.
True patience is a gift of the Holy Spirit,
equipping us to navigate this old world by waiting upon the Lord
is one the key aspects of the Spirit’s work in our lives.
We cannot achieve patience on our own.
It is part of the fruit of the Spirit.
The “fruit of the Spirit” is a collective noun,
and this fruit – including the cultivation of patience
is what happens when the Spirit controls a person’s life.
Abiding in the Word and the Spirit is how we begin to learn,
to acquire the ability to be patient – to wait upon the Lord.
We abide in this way, in the Word and the Spirit,
by remembering that God keeps His promises.
Patience, waiting upon the Lord, is rooted in God’s covenant faithfulness.
Knowing God keeps His promises helps us to be patient – to wait upon Him.
Both the Word and the Spirit will prompt us,
but we must remember and celebrate whenever we catch glimpses
– both big and small – of the Lord’s faithfulness in our lives.
This is why we regularly participate in worship
– so as not to lose this perspective.
To lay all our grumbling down before the foot of the Cross
and the promise of the Resurrection.
To take a moment to stop all our griping and to count our blessings
– to taste and see the grace of God at work in our lives and in this world.
Learning to be patient is a time of growing as we wait,
not some state of being where we just try
to grin it and bear it in order to make it through.
We grow as we wait upon the Lord by not holding back
but bringing our doubts and our questions to God – daring to wrestle with Him because we believe, we know, we trust, the Lord is the only One who can help.
We grow as we wait upon the Lord
as we gain the capacity to suspend judgment,
to live with unresolved problems and relationships,
to stop trying to impose quick fixes on messy situations;
and instead draw our strength and resolve from living
in the light of God’s wisdom, judgment and salvation.
We grow as we wait upon the Lord as we gradually learn
that we don’t have to force events into a situation favorable to us,
or to manipulate relationships in order to get what we think we want.
but instead recognize that everything that God wills does come to pass,
that the Lord provides, not necessarily and thankfully what we want,
but always what we need.
Biblically, waiting is not just waiting for God to do something
—it is waiting for God Himself.
In other words, our hope is founded upon the character of God.
This kind of hope is not tentative but guaranteed.
Waiting might not be easy, but scripture promises again and again,
that God is present even in our waiting and He will strengthen us to hope and to trust.
The beautiful words of Isaiah come to mind:
“Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint” (Isa. 40:31).
Being patient, waiting is not our instinctive or even preferred disposition.
When patience is forced upon us and then later when all is said and done,
the question that often gets asked is “Was it worth the wait?”
My brothers and sisters, when it comes to what the Lord has for us,
what God is working out in our lives and in all creation,
James wants us to understand that it is worth waiting for.
When life is overwhelming, when the world seems out of control,
it is easy to lose perspective.
Uncertainty can push us to wait impatiently, or hopelessly,
or perhaps with an angry or complaining spirit
– piling on, overthinking things, feeling sorry for ourselves
and looking for someone to blame.
But grumbling doesn’t help. It divides us. It ultimately conquers us.
The Word and the Spirit of God offer us a different possibility and posture
– of gaining patience as we learn to wait upon the Lord.
Let us stand firm in the Lord, beloved – recognizing Jesus is the author of our story and He already has delivered the ending we want – an ending that is an eternal beginning.
Let us look forward with hope, beloved
– resting in the absolute certainty
that our Father always keeps His promises
that nothing on earth or in heaven or hell can prevent Him from doing so
and that all the Lord has in store for us will be fully worth the wait. Amen.