Without a doubt, the American people and people around the world have gone through some very difficult times these past several months and even more may be on the way. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that over 70,000 new cases of children being
diagnosed with COVID-19 were reported in the first two weeks of this new school year – a 16% increase over those two weeks. And now that cooler weather is just around the corner and more people will be driven to stay inside, the coronavirus pandemic may find new legs.
Another area of concern is the continued social unrest, mass protests, and mob violence that continue to plague many of our nation’s cities. Hatred, looting of businesses, and rampant disrespect for authority and human life in general continues to rage out of control. As a result, many innocent people have had to endure unjust suffering.
Another distressing story I read this week brought new light to the impact that COVID- 19 is having on churches. It’s estimated that as many as one in five churches could permanently close within the next 18 months as a result of shutdowns stemming from the coronavirus pandemic, according to David Kinnaman, president of the prominent Christian research organization Barna Group. He stated that although many churches have reopened as states’ shutdown orders are loosened, their services have had a significant drop in people attending – a large percentage of which will never return to public worship.
Being a Christian does not always exempt us from the stresses of life. Jesus said, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows” (John 16:33, NLT). The value of our material possessions goes down just like everyone else’s does. Our family members go off to war. An earthquake, tornado, flood, derecho, or the like, does not bypass a church building or a Christians property. And our joints stiffen up as we get older just like everybody else.
The Bible reminds us that the “the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike” (Matthew5:45).
And when I look over the audience today, and when I think about friends and family, I’m mindful of people who are without jobs. There may be someone here today who has recently lost a big sum of money. Some who mourn the death of loved ones. Some who have family members who struggle daily with cancer. Some who can’t have children. Some who are suffering from injury or illness. Some whose mate has had an affair with somebody else. Some who are on the verge of declaring bankruptcy. The list of hurting people either here in this room or in our circle of influence could go on and on.
Well James was writing to people who were going through sever anguish and persecution. Remember in the first chapter he talked about the purpose of suffering. He said that God allows us to go through trials to test and develop our faith. And in this chapter, he instructs us about how we are to react to difficulty.
So let’s listen carefully to this important instruction. Because if you’re not going through suffering right now, then there will come a time when you will.
James encourages us to do a very difficult thing in the face of suffering, and that is to wait.
He begins in verse 7 by saying, “Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the
Lord’s return” (NLT).
Now patience is simply the ability to stay steadfast under trial. Somebody said, “Patience is the ability to idle your motor when you feel like stripping your gears.” The Greek word literally means to be “long-spirited.” That’s why the King James sometimes translates it “long suffering.”
Now we have a difficult time being patient in ordinary circumstances. That’s always been a difficult virtue to develop. But it’s particularly difficult today because we live at such a rapid pace. This is the day of smartphones, instant messaging, Instagram, and next day delivery around the world. We don’t want to wait on anything.
Somebody said they saw a sign in a cosmetic shop that read: “Ears pierced while you wait.” Now when you stop and think about it, is there any other way?! You don’t just leave them there and go back and collect them later!
We are a fidgety, impetuous people. And it is very difficult for us to be patient anytime, but it’s particularly difficult under stress. All the pain medicines today promise “fast, fast, fast relief.” And when we’re in emotional pain we want a remedy in a hurry.
But James says, “Be patient.” Endure. Persevere. There are times when there is little you can do except wait.
But it’s so hard to wait. Oftentimes we’re like the little 4-year-old girl who was disciplined by her mother. She put the little girl in the closet and said, “You sit there until you learn to behave.” And she expected to hear sobs and pleas for release, but instead she heard nothing. So she opened the door of the closet and there sat the little girl on the closet floor with a stubborn look on her face. And she said, “What are you doing?” And the little girl said, “I spit on your shoes. I spit on your dress. I spit on the floor. And I’m just sitting here waiting for more spit.”
You know, we want to find some way to release our anger immediately. We don’t like to wait for anything.
Now James says there are two times when you go through suffering when all you can do is wait. Now it’s a little thing to wait to eat when you’re hungry, or for the waiter to come for your order. But he’s saying that in times of severe stress and affliction you wait.
If you’re turning 30 and you’re still single, you be patient. If you’re alone and older and it seems like there’s nobody who cares, you be patient.
If you have a loved one living far away from home, you wait.
If you have someone in your family who has cancer, you be patient.
And James adds this encouragement, you be patient “until the coming of the Lord.”
If we could go back in time and visit Joseph in prison and we would hear Joseph in that Egyptian prison say, “I am really frustrated. Where is God? I’ve been in prison for twenty months. What’s happening to me? I can’t wait any longer!”, we would all say, “Joseph, just wait four more months. Just wait four months, Joseph, because we know the future. God is going to release you and you’re going to be the number two man in Egypt!”
And James says to his reader, “When you’re suffering, you just be patient until the coming of the Lord.”
And he repeats it again in verse 8: “...stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.”
Now the Lord comes to us to comfort us through his Holy Spirit when we hurt. The Lord comes to us when we die. But he is speaking here of the literal second coming of Jesus Christ.
Over three hundred times in the New Testament we are promised that there’s going to come a day in history when Jesus Christ comes back to the earth. And when he comes, he’s going to make all things right. He’s going to wipe away all tears from our eyes. And there will be no more war. And Jesus had taught his followers to be ready for his return at any moment. And since they were under severe stress, they eagerly anticipated his coming eminently.
Now the more severe our pain the more intensely we long for the return of Christ.
I talked with a mother who had lost a child. And she hurt so deeply that she could just barely groan. And she fought back the tears. And I talked with her about the time when Christ was going to return, and we were going to be reunited with loved ones and all things were going to be made right. And do you know what she said? She said, “I wish it were today.”
When life is going smoothly, we are almost disturbed by the thought of the second
coming of Jesus. But when we really hurt that’s a source of comfort and a stimulus to
Notice in this passage, also, two evidences of impatience.
“Here are a couple of signs,” James says, “that indicate that we are chaffing under the
difficulties of life.”
One is grumbling.
Verse 9: “Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged.”
When we’re suffering there’s a natural inclination to grumble against God and to grumble against other people.
“Why didn’t the doctors diagnose this problem sooner?” “Why doesn’t God do something when we pray?” “Why don’t the deacons do something about the dusty parking lot?” “Why are the Elders taking so long to make this or that decision?” “Why isn’t dad more assertive?” “The coach should put in a different quarterback!” “She better lose that weight or he’ll never come back.”
Grumbling, James says, is a telltale sign that we’re not practicing patience.
When the Israelites were going from Egypt to the Promised Land it took a long time. And they began to grumble against Moses and against God. And they particularly complained about the food that they ate. They got tired of manna and they said, “We want meat!” And the Bible says in Numbers 11 that God “became exceedingly angry” at them and some of them were struck dead.
And 1 Corinthians 10:6 says, “Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.” And verse 10 says, “…do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.”
God considers grumbling a very serious offense because it’s an indication that you really
don’t trust him. It’s an indication that you don’t believe that his providence is going to care for
you. Our impatience, you see, is an indication we don’t really think that God loves us and is
going to provide the best for us.
A second indication of impatience is swearing.
Look at verse 12 of James 5: “Above all, my brothers, do not swear—not by heaven or by
earth or by anything else. Let your ‘Yes’ be yes, and your ‘No,’ no, or you will be condemned.”
Have you noticed how frequently in this little letter of James he talks to us about controlling our tongue? There is a direct connection between our heart and our tongue. And if we’re going to behave as God’s people, we must control our speech. Impatience leads to anger, and anger often leads to swearing.
I recently overheard a wife curse at her husband because he was a half hour late to pick her up from work. As he pulled up and opened the door she just spewed out with all kinds of profanity because she was tired of waiting on him.
James encourages us to learn to control our speech even when we’re called upon to wait an unreasonable amount of time.
But he’s not just talking about profanity. He’s also talking about “oath taking.” On the night that Jesus was arrested, Peter tried to garner some insider information about the Lord’s trial. As he hovered around the fire of the enemy, he was accused of being a follower of Jesus. And twice Peter denied it. But when he was accused a third time, Peter lost his patience, and he lost his nerve, and the Bible says he “swore with an oath” that he didn’t know Jesus (Matthew 26:74).
It was common in that day to use the name of God, or the name of God’s creation, to reinforce credibility. We do the same thing today. We say, “I swear to God that I’ll be there first thing in the morning.” Or we say, “By ‘____’ you’d better be there!” Or we say, “Cross my heart and hope to die!” Or we say, “I swear on my mother’s grave that was the first time that I ever did it!” Or, “Honest to God, I was only going 70 miles an hour!” Or, “I swear on a stack of Bible that I’ll never do it again!”
Listen to what Jesus said in Matthew 5: “Do not swear at all: either by heaven (I guess that means we really shouldn’t say, “For heaven’s sake!”), for it is God’s throne; or by earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black” (vv. 34-36).
Now who ever swears by their hair? Well, remember the story of the three little pigs? “Not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin.”
And Jesus said, “Don’t do that.” “Simply let your ‘Yes’ by ‘Yes’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37).
In other words, just be so credible in your speech. Even when you’re under stress, even when you’re growing impatient, don’t grumble and don’t swear. Control your tongue. That’s evidence that you’re learning to trust God.
Now in this passage, James sites three positive examples of endurance. And there are three principles from these examples that I want us to apply.
I. THE EXAMPLE OF THE FAITHFUL FARMER.
The first is the example of the faithful farmer.
Look at verse 7: “See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains.”
I remember the first time my father gave me a little corner of the garden and said I could plant some seed in that garden spot. I think I planted corn. I waited and waited, at least three of four days, and nothing happened. So I went out a dug it up to see how the seed was doing. I think it was about that time that my father began to pray that I would seek an occupation other than farming.
If a man is impatient, he should not become a farmer, because a farmer has to be “long suffering” for the weather and for the seed. Jewish farmers would plant the grain in the autumn months and the early rain would soften the soil and germinate the seed. The later rain would come in the early spring in order to mature the harvest. The farmer had to wait for months for the seed to produce a crop. But he waited because the harvest was valuable, and there was nothing he could do about the weather.
Now the sufferer, like the farmer, sometimes has to wait. There are some circumstances that are beyond your control and there’s nothing you can do about them. And once you’ve done your part there’s no use churning. There’s no use grumbling. There’s no use swearing. There’s no use making life miserable for everybody around you. All you can do is wait and trust in God.
Now the farmer plants the seed, and he does what he can, as he waits for the harvest. He doesn’t sit around and do nothing. He pulls the weeds, he frightens off the crows, he repairs the grain bin. He’s constantly working doing what he can while he waits for the harvest.
But here’s the principle I would like for us to apply from the farmer: Some suffering is beyond your control, so just trust God and do what you can.
Don’t sit back and do nothing. That increases your anxiety. You do what you can. You go to the doctor. You take your medicine. You read the Bible. You pray. You prepare. You write letters. You do your part.
But if they are circumstances beyond your control, turn the matter over to God and let him take care of it.
Psalm 27:14 says, “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”
In one of his books, the late Dr. Robert Schuller told about a time that he spoke to 3500 people involved in the agriculture industry. It was during a time of drought and people were really having trouble. He said, “I was met backstage by two somber looking gentlemen. And one of them said, ‘Dr. Schuller, these people are going through rough times. They don’t want to hear your funny stories. They don’t want to see you grinning like you do all the time on television either. They don’t want a pat on the back and to hear hollow promises that everything’s going to be okay.’ ‘That’s right,’ the other man said. ‘These people are going through some hard times. They’re losing their farms. Some are going bankrupt. And the pressure is destroying some of their families. They need help and they need hope.’”
And just then Schuller said, “I heard the MC introduce me and I walked on stage. I had three funny stories to open up with and I just put them in my pocket. They didn’t seem appropriate.” He said, “I looked at that audience, not knowing what to say. So I said, ‘They tell me you’re going through some tough times. Is that right?’” And he said, “I could tell immediately I had their attention. And I paced the floor trying to come up with an impromptu speech, not knowing what I was going to say. And I decided to tell them about my father.”
Schuller said, “My father purchased 160 acres of farmland in South Dakota years ago, back in the 20’s. And when I was three, the great depression hit, and we had to go out and collect corncobs for fuel because we couldn’t afford coal. Those were tough times.
“When we got through that, then came the years of the great drought. We planted the seed and we prayed for God to give the rain. Two weeks. Three weeks. Four weeks and there was no rain. My father would pray for it at every meal. He and some other farmers gathered at the church and prayed for rain. And they went home and waited. But for a whole year the Lord was silent.
“And that fall,” he said, “my father harvested barely a half wagon full of corn. That was about exactly the amount he had planted. And I’ll never forget my father’s prayer at dinnertime that night. He prayed, ‘Dear Lord, I thank you that I have lost nothing this year. You have given me back my seed. Thank you.’”
His father then went to the bank and persuaded the bank to loan him money to refinance the farm. And Schuller said, “I went with my dad and I noticed the slogan on the calendar there in the bank. It said, ‘Determination.’” And he said, “That was my dad. He hung in there. And slowly the fields began to produce. And slowly he began to climb out of debt.”
“But then there came that horrible June afternoon when we saw that tornado coming directly at us.” He said, “We jumped in the car as a family and we drove two miles to get away from it. But when we came back a half hour later, where there had been nine freshly painted buildings there was now nothing except foundations.”
He said, “My dad was past sixty and he’d worked for twenty-six years to develop this farm. And suddenly he lost it.” He said, “I remember seeing his calloused hands pounding on the steering wheel and him crying and saying, ‘It’s all gone, Jenny! Jenny, it’s all gone! Twenty-six years it took for me to build this place and now in ten minutes it’s gone.’”
Schuller said, “I’ll never forget my dad, shoulders drooping as he walked with his cane around that vacuum swept barnyard.” He said, “We later found our house had been dropped in one smashed piece a half mile out in the pasture. My dad sifted through the rubble and he found a plaque, a motto that we always had hanging in our kitchen. And he picked it up out of the rubble and brought that motto over to the car. And it read, “Keep looking to Jesus.”
“And that was God’s message to my father. Keep looking. Don’t quit now. Don’t sell out. Dig in. Hold on. And he did. He had that special ingredient of faith-holding power.”
And then Schuller said to those farmers, “Within five years he had the mortgage paid off and my dad died a successful farmer.” Then he said, “I looked at the audience and they were absolutely still. And I said, ‘Let me tell you about tough times.’” He said, “I didn’t know what I was going to say, but it came out as though it was a message from God: ‘Tough times never last, but tough people do!’”
He said, “The audience burst into applause. And many people who had lost hope caught a new vision and began to dream again.”
And James says, “See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains.”
The farmer knows there are some circumstances beyond his control. He does what he can and he just waits for God to supply. Tough times never last, but tough people do!
II. THE EXAMPLE OF THE OLD TESTAMENT PROPHETS.
Another example of patience that James cites are the Old Testament prophets.
James writes in verse 10, “Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.”
Now the prophets were God’s spokesmen, but they were not exempt from hurting. In fact, they were most often right in the middle of it. Ezekiel’s wife died on the very day before he was to deliver an important message. Daniel was deported and lived for years in a foreign country as a hostage. Hosea, a great prophet of God, had a wife who cheated on him repeatedly. Elijah suffered rejection and severe depression. Jeremiah was called “the weeping prophet” because his own people beat him and put him in prison. They one day threw him into a cistern where there was no water and he sank in the mud up to his knees and he had to wait for God to deliver him.
And so many times when things go wrong, we ask God, “Why? Why are you punishing me like this? What have I done wrong?” But these prophets were walking in the will of God and they still suffered.
So, here’s the second principle I want you to learn: Most suffering is not a punishment for sin, so trust God and bloom where you are planted.
Most suffering is not a punishment for sin, you just have to trust God and wait, and bloom where you’re planted.
Listen to what Jeremiah said to the people who were taken exile in Babylon. He was writing to Jewish people who were taken to a foreign country and held hostage. “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters…. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper’” (Jeremiah 29:4-7).
God said to those people who were living in exile, “I know that’s not where you want to be. I know you want to be back in Jerusalem, you want to be free. But you’re going to stay there for a while, so bloom where you’re planted. You plant crops and harvest them. You get married. And you pray for the peace of the land where you are.”
Now maybe you’re not living where you want to live. Maybe you don’t have the job that you want to have. Maybe your situation isn’t ideal, but you can’t change it. And you just have to trust God and bloom where you’re planted.
Carlyle Marney has a book has a book entitled Life in the Meantime. What do you do in the meantime? Between the time you’re exiled and the time you’re released? What do you do in the meantime? Between the time when your child gets sent off to war and the time they return? What do you do in the meantime? Between the time you lose your job and you get your next one? What do you do in the meantime, when your daughter announces she’s going to marry the guy you don’t like and the time she gives birth to the grandchild who’s better than anybodies?
In the meantime, you just trust God and bloom where you’re planted. There comes a time when you just have to go on with life because there’s nothing more that you can do. You don’t make life miserable for everybody around you. You make the best of the situation.
Wayne Smith, who was one of my favorite preachers, had a sermon that he used to preach once every year. The sermon is entitled “Playing Hurt!” Good athletes learn to suck it up and play hurt. The Old Testament prophets remained faithful even though they were persecuted. And James calls upon us to do the same.
III. THE EXAMPLE OF JOB.
One other example of patience that James cites is Job.
Verse 11: “You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”
I don’t care how much you’re hurting today, none of you hurt the way Job did. Job’s cattle alone were estimated to be worth six million dollars and in one day he lost it all. And then a worse blow came. Job had ten children and they were all killed at once. They were all feasting in the home of his eldest son. And windstorm, probably a tornado, hit the home and they all died. We grieve for those parents who lose a child through tragedy, but Job lost ten children!
And then he was under such stress that his health broke. He was afflicted with boils from the crown of his head to the souls of his feet. And Job’s wife came to him and said, “Why don’t you just curse God and die?!” She was hurting too!
Now Job did not lose his faith. He was persevering. He asked serious questions about why bad things happen to good people. But Job said, “Even though God slay me, I’m still going to trust him” (Job 13:15). “The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).
And James says that in the end God blessed Job. In fact, if you read the story of Job, in the end God blessed him with twice as much as he had in the beginning, because he was merciful and compassionate.
Job had 7,000 sheep to begin with and he lost them all. At the end of his life God have him 14,000. Job had 3,000 camels at the beginning and lost them all. At the end God have him 6,000. Job had 500 yoke of oxen and lost them all. God eventually gave him 1,000. Job had 10 children and lost them all. You know what God did at the end of his life? He gave him 10 more. And do you know why he didn’t give him 20? Because God is full of compassion and mercy! That wouldn’t have been a blessing. No, he hadn’t really lost the other ten. He was going to be reunited with them in heaven someday. And even though Job went through such suffering he persevered, and God rewarded him.
So, here’s the final principle: All suffering is temporary; all you can do is trust God and eagerly anticipate the reward.
“You’ve seen what the Lord finally brought about in Job’s life. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy,” James said (5:11).
Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). “Blessed are those who are persecuted for my sake. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:11-12).
So, hold on! God is going to make it right someday if you persevere.
Glen Wheeler was a beloved preacher in our brotherhood of churches. A couple of years before his death at the age of 88, Glen was interviewed for an article that was published in The Outlook magazine. Like Jeremiah, Glen had lost his wife several years prior. He said, “Do you know what I miss about her? I miss her a lot, but it’s not the big things. It’s often the little things that you miss when somebody dies.”
“For example,” he said, “after church, when everybody had gone, we would lock up the church building and walk to the car and my wife would often slip her arm in mine and say, ‘You’re a good man, Glen.’” He said, “I know I’m not the greatest preacher in the world, but when I walk to the car alone after church now, I sure would like to hear her say again, ‘You’re a good man, Glen.”
“Do you know what else I miss?” he said. “I miss her cooking.” And you could look at Glen and know that he had eaten some good cooking in his day. And he said, “She could really cook. And what I really miss is that after the meal she would often come around to pick up the plates and she would say, ‘Keep your fork, Glen. Keep your fork.’” He said, “Oh, I loved to hear her say, ‘Keep your fork,’ because I knew what that meant. There was dessert coming, and boy could she cook dessert!” And now when I’m out in a restaurant eating, I just really wish I could hear her say, ‘Keep your fork, Glen.’”
“But you know,” he said, “sometimes when I’m in bed at night and so lonesome, it’s as though I can hear the voice of God saying, ‘Keep your fork, Glen. Don’t quit, Glen. Be patient. Endure. The best is yet to be!’”
God promises that he will reward those who persevere through pain. That’s not my promise, that’s his. “Don’t grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time you will reap a harvest if you don’t give up” (Galatians 6:9).
If you’re growing impatient today may I urge you to keep your fork. Keep hanging in there. God is still full of compassion and mercy and the best is yet to be.