Is there anything harder for sinful humans to do well than wait? Especially this time of year, and especially for children, waiting is a challenge. And, when you look around, it’s hard to blame them. Christmas trees, lights, and yard decorations have been up for weeks already. The dull regularity of a mail box filled with bills and junk mail has been replaced with exciting Christmas cards and mysterious packages. Christmas carols fill the air and Christmas movies fill the TV. It’s no wonder kids get so impatient – they are surrounded by the signs of what is to come and they want it to be here now. But it’s not just kids, is it? Maybe as adults we’re not waiting for Christmas presents, but we’re waiting nonetheless. We’re always waiting for something. We wait for test results. We wait for the end of the work week. We hate waiting for car repairs and oil changes, and fast food is never fast enough. We’re waiting for the treatment to work, waiting for a raise, waiting for our children to grow up and mature. Waiting is difficult in a whole host of situations – but this morning James helps us find patience in the most important waiting game: waiting for our Savior’s coming. James teaches us Good Things Come to Those Who Wait with the rare combination of perspective, patience, and perseverance.
Why, do you think, it seems to get easier to wait for Christmas the older you get? Is it because instead of fun toys we get to open up socks? Is it because we’re too busy to think about it? Is it because after a few years you realize Christmas can never live up to the hype surrounding it? Or, is it because when you have some years under your belt you have a better perspective on what Christmas means in the larger scope of life? Having the proper perspective and expectations makes a big difference in how we wait.
That’s James’ point: be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. Take the long view, James is saying. We’re anticipating the day we meet our Lord…so let’s fast forward and see what that day will look like. When you look to the end of life – yours or anyone else’s – and you see a dead, lifeless corpse. Previously that corpse had a soul living in it – either the soul of a child of God saved through faith in Christ or the soul of a filthy, unrepentant unbeliever which will be tossed into the darkness to suffer forever in hell. In that moment, the list of what really matters grows very short. In that moment, when a soul stands before its Judge only one thing matters: the presence or absence of saving faith in Jesus Christ. All the things that consume our time and attention now: wealth, possessions, prestige, power, pleasure, presents are put in their proper place – they either aided our faith or detracted from it. That is the end we all are looking forward to, a conclusion to life that no one will be able to avoid. Viewing all of life in light of that serious and significant moment will help us keep the present in its proper perspective.
James uses an everyday scenario to illustrate his point: see how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. There are no shortcuts in farming. A farmer can’t do much to speed the growth of his crops. In ancient Palestine, the farmer counted on rain around the end of October to soften up the land so he could begin his plowing and planting. Then in March or April, when the crops were blooming, the farmer watched for the spring rains to come, to provide the moisture that would fill the heads with fruit. If either rain failed to fall, both crop and farmer were doomed. Therefore, the farmer learned patience. He learned to recognize that the timing was out of his control. He worked hard, but when he was done working he put it in the Lord’s hands. He knew that worry and questioning God’s care and control wouldn’t squeeze even one drop out of the sky – so, in view of the valuable crop that was coming, he was patient and waited for the Lord.
Likewise, James writes you, too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. We know that the Lord is coming. We know it because he has promised it. We know he will keep this promise because he has kept all of his other promises. We know he’s coming and we anticipate it more than any Christmas party or present. But worrying about it or questioning God’s wisdom and love will not make it come any faster. We need to have the proper perspective. We need to take a page out of this farmer’s almanac and leave the timing up to God. We need to see life now from the perspective of our Lord’s coming – because we know, like the farmer, that good things come to those who wait.
Waiting often leads to other problems, doesn’t it? When people are stuck waiting in line at customer service, their tempers get short and they get annoyed at little things. When children are idly waiting for Christmas Day they start to pick on each other and whine and complain. Is it any different as we Christians wait for the second coming of Jesus? Not in James’ experience, and, if we’re honest, not in our experience either. We know the Lord is coming. We don’t know when. We know we should be busy carrying out his work. We don’t always agree on how that should be done. We each face our own unique pressure that comes from anticipating something that most of the world regards as a ridiculous myth. And what happens? We grow impatient and frustrated. All day long at work we restrain ourselves only let loose on our families when we get home. We expect and demand patience and understanding when we sin but we hold our fellow believers to an impossible standard. Instead of building one another up and encouraging one another when they face trouble in life, we tear each other down or (like Job’s friends) wonder what dark sin they must have committed to deserve punishment.
Knowing human nature, James writes: don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! James warns us against even the grumbling and complaining that we might consider minor. (How could they do that, not do that; how could they say that to me, how could they not talk to me?) Grumbling and groaning is the opposite of joyful and eager waiting. In fact, when we grumble against other believers, we are effectively pushing Jesus out of his place as Judge – which is what we are supposed to be waiting for together. When we are casting a critical eye towards others, do you know what we’re not focused on? Christ. To put James’ warning in a positive light, he’s saying: “Hey guys, Jesus is coming back very soon and he’s bringing amazing gifts. When he does, do you think he wants to see his children fighting with each other when they’re supposed to be building one another up as members of his body, His Church? He’s almost here. Be patient – especially with one another.”
But patience – especially with other sinners – is hard, isn’t it? We like to imagine that we’re patient people, and maybe to those who don’t know us well, we can put on a patient mask. But just ask those who know us best – our parents, spouses and children – they may paint a very different picture. If patience is such a rare virtue, what’s the secret to getting it? 1) First, think back to our proper perspective: we will all stand before the Judge, he will right all wrongs; he will pay back evil for evil and will reward the righteous with justice. Patience begins with unwavering trust and healthy fear of the Judge. 2) It continues with recognizing that patience is product of God’s grace, not a talent we are born with. Paul puts it in his list of the fruits only the Spirit can create. (Galatians 5:22-23) In other words, if you desire the gift of patience, you must be filled with the Gospel. You must be in regular contact with the Word where you discover just how patient God has been – not only with this world of sinners, but with you, a sinner. In the Word you are reminded that the LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love…he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities…as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:8-12) If our holy God, faced with the enormity of our sin, is patient with us, putting up with our failures and graciously waiting to forgive us when we repent (2 Peter 3:9), then who are we to grow impatient with the weaknesses of others? Jesus has not come yet, not because he’s testing our patience, but because he is exercising extreme patience with us. As we wait for him, let us be patient with one another, building one another up, not tearing one another down – for good things come to those who wait…patiently.
Finally, waiting in a sinful world demands perseverance. James has help for us here, too: brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. When you think about the OT prophet’s, it’s pretty hard to think of one who didn’t face suffering or persecution and yet, with God’s strength, persevered through it. Elijah, even after the Lord had defeated the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, was hunted by Jezebel and Ahab. (1 Kings 19) Jeremiah was thrown into a cistern for warning the people of Jerusalem to surrender to the Babylonians or die under siege. (Jeremiah 38) Daniel was thrown to the lions for daring to worship the Lord instead of the King. (Daniel 6) But the example James focuses on is Job. Job, the most righteous man on earth at his time, persevered in faith even as Satan unleashed all his fury. Satan robbed Job of his property, his health, and his family. His suffering was made worse as his friends and his wife advised him to curse God and die. (Job 2:9) And yet, even in the midst of almost unimaginable suffering, Job trusted God’s wisdom and love and handed his troubles over to God: the LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised. (Job 1:21)
The difficulty for us is defining the suffering we as Christians living in 21st century America actually face. We can freely worship our Lord and Savior without fear. We can talk about Jesus with our family and friends and they probably won’t chase us out of town. Being open about our faith won’t lead to a prison sentence. We can’t really imagine life in the early church where Christians had to be careful about who they worshipped with for fear that they might be a government spy who would hand them over to be tortured and murdered. We aren’t black-listed from employment or refused service because we believe that Jesus is coming again to take us home.
But Job’s confession still serves as a pretty good summary of the struggles we face today: the Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Sometimes the Lord gives us challenges to face. He gives us an immoral boss or back-stabbing coworkers, a rebellious child or financial struggle. Other times he allows comforts to be taken away. He takes away our dreams, our jobs, our loved ones. He takes away our hearing or sight or wealth. And, we face a trial that believers in the OT and early NT didn’t: it’s been 2000 years since Jesus promised that he was coming back soon! Soon? 2000 years? This world of instant gratification teaches us to think that patient, perseverant waiting is for suckers. To silently suffer pain and persecution, trusting that Jesus is coming soon to take us out of this world, sounds to most like utter foolishness. Satan pelts us with doubt; leading us to wonder if Jesus is ever going to return. In the face of it all, by God’s grace, we persevere. Not because we have super-human faith. Not because we completely understand God’s hidden hand in our world or our lives. We wait and we persevere because we know the good things Lord has brought about in the lives of the saints in the past – and we believe he has only good things in store for us too. We wait and we anticipate the Lord’s coming and until that happens we rest in his grace, because we know the Lord is full of compassion and mercy. We persevere because of who God is. He gives us perspective. He sows patience in our hearts and gives us the strength to persevere.
Whether you’re 7 or 70, waiting isn’t easy. James reminds us that good things come to those who wait. It starts with perspective. View everything in life in light of the end – for then you will be able to see what is truly important. It continues with patience. Be patient with each other because God, our merciful Father, has been patient with you. And, right to the end, persevere. Trust that God has never left his children hanging and he won’t start now. May Jesus give us this rare combination of perspective, patience, and perseverance so that he finds us eagerly anticipating the good things he will bring when he returns. Amen.