Patience in Suffering

Sermon by David Felker on Jan 20

James 5:7-12

Please turn with me in your Bible to James chapter 5; James chapter 5. It’s found on page 1013 in the church Bible in front of you. Before we jump in and read, something to consider - I want you to think especially if you are here and you are a child or you are a youth, I want you to think about your favorite stories. I want you to think about especially the stories that you love that remind you how hard it is to wait; how hard it is to wait.

I can think from my childhood of Luke Skywalker who is being trained, he is receiving his Jedi training from Master Yoda on planet Dagobah. And Yoda has to warn Luke not to go to the Cloud City because Boba Fett and Darth Vader have a trap for him. But Luke, because it is so hard to wait, Luke goes anyways.

I can think about Daniel LaRusso, the Karate Kid, wanting to fight Cobra Kai. But his sensei, Mr. Miyagi, wanted him first to learn how to paint a fence. How to wax on and wax off.

I can think about the Iowa farmer, Ray Kinsella, from Field of Dreams who is told, “If you build it, he will come. If you build it, he will come.” And he builds a baseball field in the middle of his farm and most of the rest of the movie is Ray suffering in his waiting because it is so hard to wait.

The point is, it’s hard to wait. One author said, “Waiting is our destiny as creatures who cannot by themselves bring about what they hope for; as creatures who cannot bring about what they hope for, we wait for a flame that we cannot light. We wait for a story, a happy ending, we cannot write. Waiting is the hardest work of hope.”

And so some of you are waiting this morning for things that are hard to wait for. Maybe you are waiting for a child. Maybe you are waiting for a child to be born. Maybe you are waiting for a child to come back like the prodigal, for a child to return home. Maybe you are waiting for a child to profess faith, to receive and rest on Jesus. Maybe you are waiting for a child to forgive you of your failures as a parent. Maybe you are waiting for the end of anxiety, the end of panic attacks, or the end of loneliness. It seems that everyone else has a family and life is passing you by. Or maybe everyone dear to you has gone on to be with Jesus and you are waiting in sadness. Maybe you are waiting for some sense of clarity. The waiting is painful. You’re waiting about work. You are a student; you are trying to discern what kind of work to pursue. You’re trying to find work. You’re without work and you’re trying to find it or you’re waiting to be recognized at work. Or maybe you’re waiting for some sense of clarity about health, about your health, about decisions, about your future. Maybe you’re waiting for the Lord to change something in your life. You’re waiting for Him to restore something, to heal something, to take something away, some addiction or some burden perhaps. And it just seems that God moves so slowly. And you’re here and you know all too well the words of the prophet Joel - “The years, the years that the locusts have eaten.”

And so much of our life comes down to deciding whether or not we believe that God is good in His calendar, in His scheduling, and in His timetable. And so if you are here this morning and you are in the most acute season of waiting, or if you are here this morning and you are brought low by your sadness because of this waiting, and I think especially if you are here this morning and you are in the dark and you are uncertain of what lies ahead and you do not know if you will have what you need when you get there, then this is for you - James chapter 5. And before we consider it, let’s go to the Lord and ask for His help. Let’s pray together.

God of all grace, we pray now that the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts, especially those meditations that are in essence, “How long? How long?” we pray that the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts would be pleasing in Your sight, because You are our strength and our Redeemer. And we pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.

James chapter 5 beginning in verse 7. This is God’s Word:

“Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

But above all, my brothers, 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.”

Amen, and this is God’s Word.

When I was a child my parents used to read me a little book called, Hinds’ Feet on High Places. And it is the story of a little orphaned deer named, Much-Afraid. And Much-Afraid has deformities on her face and on her hands. She feels and she is unloved. And she lives in the Valley of Humiliation while all the other deer are running freely where Much-Afraid longs to be, they're running freely on the mountain heights. And by the end of the story, Much-Afraid is able to go there; she is able to run in the High Places, not because of anything in here, but because she meets her Shepherd. Her Shepherd gave her a new heart, a new face, new feet, and this new hope. And because she learned to love and trust and rejoice in her Shepherd, she could hope in the High Places. She finds her security in her Shepherd even in the midst of a life that made her much afraid.

And I don’t know about you, so much of my life though I feel like Much-Afraid. And I think we’ll see James do something similar to that story with us this morning for those of us who are much afraid. Even as he exhorts us here in this text - “Be patient, establish your hearts, pursue steadfastness, be steadfast” - he directs our gaze to our Shepherd who is full of compassion and who will one day take us to the high places. James is, throughout this book, he’s showing us what an attractive life looks like. What does the life look like of the man or woman who has come to know the deep, deep love of Jesus? And it’s a life, he says in chapter 1, cares for the orphan and the widow. It’s the life, in chapter 2, that is God’s workmanship; that lives the life that has the fruit that comes when you meet the grace of God. It’s the life, that looks like in chapter 3, taming the tongue.

Steadfastness

I want you to notice here in chapter 5 James now brackets this letter. Look at this. He brackets this letter by returning to a theme he introduced at the very beginning. So we just read in verse 7 chapter 5, “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord.” Look at verse 11. “We consider those blessed who remain steadfast.” And then turn a page back to James chapter 1. James chapter 1 verse 2; this is a familiar verse - “Count it all joy, brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces” - what? “Produces steadfastness.” And so James is coming back, he’s coming back. He’s bringing many things to conclusion at the end of this letter and he is writing to people who are waiting.

But he’s not calling us to pursue a passive patience. I want you to look at verse 8. Look at the language. He tells us to establish our hearts, to strengthen our hearts. He’s calling for steadfastness, which involves an active determination - this drive to stick to it no matter what happens or what comes. And so I think James is helping us this morning to embrace what we might call the long road home. The Christian faith is different than sight, Hebrews tells us. The Christian faith is different than sight. Faith is believing in that which is yet to be seen, not that which doesn’t exist but that which is yet to be seen. And so true faith is like this long journey. And so this waiting is what happens to God’s friends. God knows you, He knows your life, He knows your waiting, He knows the darkness you are in. This is par for the course. You are traveling down a well-worn path.

Waiting

And so where do you look when you are waiting? I want you to think about this image. You are in the darkness. You are waiting. You are in the darkness. You do not know the way forward. You do not know where to go. What do you do? What do you do when you are in the darkness in some area of your life? You are in the darkness. You can’t see the way forward. How do you keep living? How do you keep laboring? How do you keep loving and maybe even limping this long road home in the darkness? And I think what James provides for us is he provides these lights that we can hold up in the darkness, against the darkness, to push back the darkness. And that’s what we’re going to look at this morning. So we’ll see first, I think he first points us to the examples of patience and then the exercise of patience.

The Examples of Patience

And so first, the examples of patience. James points us to the examples. He tells us the stories. For when you are suffering, you must surround yourself with the stories of the faithful. “Therefore since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us run with endurance the race before us.” This biblical theme that you cannot run with endurance, you cannot run with endurance until you surround yourself with the stories, the end, the finish of those who have gone before you. And so James points to these three examples of the farmer and the prophets and Job.

A Farmer

And so first look at verse 7. He first uses the example of the farmer. Be patient. "See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient." And so there's something that the farmer pursues and longs for. I want you to notice this language. Look at the adjective. This "precious fruit" - it has great value to the farmer, great worth to the farmer. It is the farmer's livelihood. And so because of that, the farmer pours blood, sweat, and tears into the farm. The farmer uses skill and vision and hard work and determination by plowing, by setting the seed, by spraying, by irrigating. But the farmer knows, James is saying, at the end of the day the most important things he has no control over. He has no control over the rain. He cannot hurry up the rain. And so the farmer can understand the horizons, the farmer can understand the seasons, but all the farmer can do is pray that God will bring the right rain at the right time. And James is saying that is like God's work in our lives. So this is helping us to define patience. Patience is a waiting; it's a hard waiting because there is something precious that you do not have. For the farmer, it's the fruit. For you and for me it could be a thousand different things. But what is it for you this morning? What is the waiting in your life that has crossed the threshold of being a suffering because of how precious it is to you, because of the precious area that it's in? That's the farmer.

The Prophets

Second, he points us to the stories of the prophets. Look at verse 10. "As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord." And then in verse 11, he takes us to the story of Job. "You have heard of the steadfastness of Job." There's no way we can talk about all of the prophets and Job this morning but let's just take a few. Tradition tells us that Isaiah was sawn into two. Jonah, we know from scripture, he was swallowed by a whale. Jeremiah was abandoned by his family and friends. He was thrown into a cistern left to die. Job loses ten children. And yes, they remained steadfast, but I think we need to note not as stoics. They remained steadfast as honest strugglers, because if you read their stories, the prophets and Job, they bring every part of themselves. They bring every part of themselves to God. The most desperate prayers and questions, the most desolate places, they bring to God. They do not give up on God. They move towards God even in their sadness saying, "Do not let me go."

And look at verse 10. James writes, “As you know, we consider those blessed.” So sawn into two, swallowed by a whale, losing ten children - “We consider those blessed who remained steadfast.” And why? Why can James say that? Because in the waiting, they became people of faith. On the long road home, in the darkness, they became people of faith. They were stripped of all the things that were precious to them. And as one minister said, “Here is what waiting is testing - Will you love God when the only reward is God?” Will you love Him when He is the only reward, when the only reward is the Shepherd on the mountain heights, on the High Places? You see, they weren’t passive; they weren’t always polite. Just read Job chapter 1. He doesn’t understand what the Lord is doing. They bring to Him their cries and complaints and questions, their expressions of grief and doubt and pain and loss that do not ever get resolved. But they hold on. And so they remained steadfast. As Job says, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.”

When this kind of lament is foreign to us, it means that we are avoiding the long way home. And so how do you get to the point where you embody this - where our lives, where our waiting looks like the prophets and looks like the farmer and looks like Job? I think the answer is not only must we know, like the farmer, that the most important things in our lives, the most important things, the things that are precious to us we have no control over, and not only must we like the prophets and Job learn to lament and learn to pray, “How long, O Lord?” yet remain steadfast, but we must also turn, I think, from following our own heart in our waiting. We must turn from following our own heart to following after the heart of God. And I think that’s what James shows us here. We have to seek after His heart in these two ways. This is the exercise of patience - by anticipating His coming and then by acknowledging His character. And so these lights to hold up. The examples of patience, the examples, and now the exercise.

The Exercise of Patience

And so first we have to anticipate the Lord’s coming. Look at verse 7 again. James says, “Be patient, brothers, until the coming of the Lord.” Verse 8, “You also be patient, establish your hearts for” - for what? “For the coming of the Lord.” And then in verse 9, “Behold, the Judge is standing at the door.” And I think James is pastoring his readers here by giving them a horizon. When you’re stuck, when you’re waiting, when you’re in the darkness, in your sadness, in your sorrow, you need a horizon. James is pointing them to the horizon for their sadness and their suffering.

Some of you have heard me tell this story - I think it’s worth telling again - that we have, for the last four or five summers vacations to the same lake house out of state with our kids. And the days and the hours and really even the minutes leading up to vacation we always replay the tape. And so we look back, we replay the tape from the previous year’s vacation. And so we talk about the time that we had. We talk about the joy and the laughter and the food. We talk about the tubing. When I’ve told this story before, I told you that we have a vacation song that we sing with our kids - a vacation song that I’ll not be singing in the pulpit this morning! But I have the most indelible picture in my mind and in my heart those last few minutes on the drive to vacation of looking at my kids in the backseat with the windows down and the wind in their face as they are heading towards a place of joy. They’re heading towards a place of joy.

Establish our Hearts

And the picture that you get here in James, the picture that you get throughout the New Testament is that the saints of God have their head out the window, as it were, as they are longing for a better place, this longing for a better country, a place of joy. Because this longing is something that helps us, James says, "establish our hearts" now. Because what do you do with your tears? What do you do when you bump into disease and death and darkness and futility and calamity and sickness and sorrow? What do you do when the sickness returns? What do you do when the evil wins, when the sadness tarries in your life? James is telling you while it is still dark there is this horizon. He's saying that the story is not over. For the saints of God, it may be a long and dark night. No one knows how long the night will be but you're heading towards a better place, a better country, to the mountain tops, to the High Places where you will be made new, a place of joy - no more disease, no more death. You will be at rest as your Shepherd takes you to streams of living water and wipes every tear from your eyes.

Anticipate His Coming

And so James says the way to establish your heart, establish your heart in patience is knowing that the Lord is going to return to bring His justice, to set things right, to deal with evil, to keep out all the sadness. And so James is saying to establish your heart by clinging to that day that is coming. This is why the cry of the church at the end of Revelation - what is the cry of the church? “Come, come Lord Jesus. Come.” And so we can embrace and we can embody this hope, this hope that can look in the face of all of the sickness and all of the sadness and all of the sorrow and look in the face even of death itself and say, “You will not have the last word.”

Acknowledging His Character

And so James is calling us to establish our hearts by anticipating His coming, but also by acknowledging His character. And so where do we see this? Verse 11, “You have seen the purpose of the Lord” - look at his language - “how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” And so James not only pastors us by pointing us to the horizon - the better place, the better home, the better country we are heading towards - but he also pastors us by reminding us of the God who will not let us go; this wonderful echo throughout the Scriptures that the Lord is compassionate and merciful. He is compassionate and merciful. And so the Lord knows you. He knows your life. He knows your waiting. He knows your darkness. And His posture towards you is not to condemn you, not to abandon you, but to run, embrace, and kiss you. He sees you and has compassion.

A few weeks ago we took our kids to see the new movie, Mary Poppins Returns. And I won’t spoil it for you but the basic plot is it’s the 1930s, it’s in London, and the Banks children from the original Mary Poppins have now grown up and Michael Banks has a family of his own. He has three children, and they are in danger; they're in danger of losing their beloved home on Cherry Tree Lane. And that's when Mary Poppins shows up. And Michael Banks who, again, hasn't seen Mary Poppins in years and years, when he sees her he asks, "Why did you come back?" And Mary Poppins says, in just kind of the matter of fact way that only Mary Poppins can say it, she says, "To look after the Banks children, of course." "To look after the Banks children, of course."

Experience God

And Christian, that is your story. That is our good news. It’s not a mystery to the Lord that you are tired in your waiting. It’s not a mystery to Him that you are tired in your darkness and in your struggle with sin. But He is with you. He is keeping you and looking after you. He is compassionate and merciful. And when you are waiting, I think when you are traveling the long road home and you hear that the Lord is compassionate and merciful sometimes it doesn’t break through. Sometimes it doesn’t get from your head down into your heart. You hear the Lord is compassionate and merciful, but it doesn’t break through the skin. And so James is saying that for you to experience this, for you to experience that the Lord is compassionate and merciful, that He is compassionate and merciful towards you, for you to know that, like Job, you must go through the waiting. You must go through the waiting. The purpose of the Lord is that through this experience of waiting, and only through this experience of waiting, could Job come to see God for who He is - that He is a God who is compassionate and merciful.

And so, this may be a period of waiting for you. And maybe even in the waiting, you have lost things. You have lost things that are precious to you. You know, God restored Job's fortunes, He restored Job's health and his wealth; He even gave him a new family. But you read that story and you think, "Yes, but what happened to the first one? What about the first one?" Job lost things. And maybe you too have lost things. You know the years the locusts have eaten. But like Job, you must see that the purpose of the waiting is that you might come to know Him more fully, that the Lord might become beautiful to you and believable to you.

But in the meantime, James says, “establish your hearts.” You know this word, “establish,” it’s used one other time in the New Testament - Luke 9 verse 51. It’s the turning point of the gospel of Luke. It reads that “When that time had come, Jesus set His face towards Jerusalem.” He fixes His entire being, He established, He set His face towards Jerusalem and towards the cross for you. And so look to Jesus. Look to Him, who for the joy set before Him, He endured, He endured the cross. And so follow in His steps that you might not grow weary or lose heart.

Let me close with this. Many of you heard that a few months ago pastor and author, Eugene Peterson, died at the age of eighty-five. And at his funeral, his son said that for all of his sermons that he spoke and for all of his books that he wrote, that for all of the words he essentially had one sermon. He had one sermon. And his son said that it was a sermon that his dad whispered in his heart for fifty years. It was words that he had snuck into his room to say over him as he slept as a child. And his sermon to his son was this - “God loves you. God is coming after you. God is relentless and He will not let you go.” And friends, that is our story. And so establish your heart, that you might hope in the High Places, that your security might be in Him, that even in the midst of a life that makes you much afraid, you will know in your waiting, “God loves me. God is on my side. He is coming after me, and He will not let me go.”

Amen. Let’s pray together.

God of all grace, we are grateful that You have pointed us this morning to the end of the story. We pray that until then You would help us to live by faith in our waiting by going where You call us to go. And we pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.

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