The Problem of Patience
Read James 5:7-11
7 Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord's coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. 8 You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near. 9 Don't grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!
10 Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. (TNIV)
I get so impatient about my lack of patience. I impatiently pray for patience on a regular basis! In a world where we are urged to upgrade computers to save a nanosecond or two, patience is an old-fashioned virtue. Getting somewhere fast, getting what we want now, getting immediate answers or information are the common currency of everyday life. As against this, James in this passage has us look at the farmer who having sown a crop can’t reap it immediately. Waiting is the name of the game, and waiting is never easy. Faith at times is simply about waiting. God will be true to his promises, but when? And how? The old-time prophets knew this waiting game well. So did Job.
God can sometimes act with stunning speed. Other times he takes his time. He knows character can’t be produced instantly, he knows he is working with stubborn and resistant material as he works out his good purposes. He doesn’t tend to take shortcuts either. If we insist God speeds things up, we will get frustrated and James suggests we will start complaining. A grumbling spirit arises out of frustration that things aren’t the way we want them to be.
And yet patience is not passive. The farmer has to sow the crop, the Old Testament prophets had to proclaim God’s word. Job wrestled and prayed. A favourite writer Henri Nouwen reminds me that patience will have us enter fully into the present moment, tasting the here and now rather than fearfully and impatiently craning our heads to see what is going to happen next. We figure the treasure we look for is around the corner, and we are badgering God to make it happen now if not sooner. Nouwen reminds me that the treasure we so often look for is so often hidden in the ground on which we now stand.
Patience allows us to discern God in the present moment rather than missing out on him because we are wondering what the future will bring and when it will come. God is to be found not in our anxious, impatient insistence for a change of circumstances, but rather in the present circumstances. Waiting for God to act in some way in the future must never blind us to his acting in some way in the present. Patience is not inactivity, but is a willingness to wait and embrace the activity of God in the present even as we have our hopes and dreams for the future.