Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Indeed we call blessed those who showed endurance. You have heard of the endurance of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.
Above all, my beloved, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “Yes” be yes and your “No” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.
Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.
My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
Many of us grew up being reminded of the old adage “Patience is a virtue, virtue is a grace”. Patience is one of the 9 fruits of the spirit listed by Paul in his letter to the Galatians. But for me certainly, it’s one of the hardest to attain. Often there is no other way forward than to be patient. We may find ways round this. A young relative of mine recently wrote to me listing several methods of distraction which she has found to fill her time as she waited for her first baby to be born.
So much in life are out of our control. We have to wait in traffic jams, at checkout queues in shops, for buses and trains to arrive.
And we are powerless to shorten the length of waiting.
Some of these situations are to some extent man-made – the car has overtaken the use of public transport, hence the logjams on our roads – although as with all things, it’s appropriate and a blessing when used wisely. Public transport is of course better provided at in some places than others – when it is actually running!
Many situations though fall into the natural rhythms of life, such as the birth of the baby. Times and seasons are the same – much as the winter might seem to drag, there is a purpose for it in allowing plants to rest and regenerate and we cannot hasten the coming of spring. In The same way we can’t change the weather, and James in his letter talks about the farmer being patient as he waits for the rain to fall and nourish his crops. We know only too well that the timing of rains is critical to a crop growing – or with late rains being completely damaged.
Lack of water is only one contributing factor to famines. Sadly of course failures of humankind also contribute to the loss of crops – notably as we hear on the news that conflict, forced movement of farmers and destruction of their crops is contributing to the current famine in Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Nigeria. Natural famines are reported that the time of Joseph in the old Testament story. You may remember that Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams of 7 good cows and 7 lean cows as being 7 years of abundance of crops and 7 years of famine.
Through wise use of Joseph’s discernment by listening to God, the abundance of crops were stored so the nations could be fed throughout the famine. The Farmers had to wait with patience for their crops to flourish again, but despite the threat of adversity of hunger, God in his faithfulness had made provision for them all. So sometimes there is a balance between patience in accepting the inevitable while listening to God for discernment in how to manage those times.
And indeed there are times when we do indeed need to act rather than be patient, to avoid complicity in injustice. The Balance between patience and acting is perhaps what James is referring to as he talks about strengthening our hearts for the coming of the Lord. Right back in the time of the old Testament prophets there was a balance between patience and the urgency of repentance and turning back to God. Isaiah cries out “how long O Lord”
There is a clear longing which might be interpreted as impatience yet demands holy patience of waiting, and this is echoed by James who along with other writers in the new Testament talks about “the coming of the Lord [as being] near.
Over 2000 years later we still await that glorious day.
We are called to be patient as we wait yet at the same time we are called to be active in working with God to bring his kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven. God is compassionate and merciful and wants to give everyone a chance to know him in life as well as through death. Nothing we can do will bring that final day closer. Along with the recipients of James letter, we are called to show endurance. For the Christians at that time, that would have meant marginalisation and persecution, misunderstanding and possibly death. Which indeed it still means for many Christians and Muslims today. And indeed even for us with snubs and rejection from some who may not understand our faith.
So, what are we to do? Do we endeavour to grow in the gifts of the spirit and increase our patience? Much as I struggle with this, I know this is God’s message through James to all of us, myself included. But I think there is more to it than this. Being patient simply to increase a virtue can become inward looking. Being patient to live with God’s rhythms is far more likely to increase our grace.
And through grace we can grow in discernment of when to wait and when to act – which we have seen even in the story of Joseph to often go hand-in-hand. Joseph acted to store the food, which allowed God’s provision during the famine when patience was required in waiting for the next good season. So maybe as we pray for patience, we might also seek to pray for not only endurance, as commended by James, but also discernment and wisdom in how and when to be patient, and when to turn our impatience into constructive action.