“Is Easter lunch ready?” a question asked by many of us yesterday following joining our church service online. “Are we there yet?” as asked by so many of us in the middle of a road trip. “Why do I have to go through this?” This last question, if we’re honest, we often consider in the midst of trials. And yes, many of us are asking that very question in response to COVID-19. Why? Why is this happening? And yet, it’s the same question asked around Easter lunch (or any meal for that matter) and the same question asked on road trips – do we have to keep waiting? What’s the purpose? When will this end?
And for these questions, James gives us an answer in James 5:7-12. Namely, James cuts to the chase with one command starting in verse 7, “Be patient” (James 5:7). This thread of patience litters this passage. Go ahead and read James 5:7-12 if you haven’t already done so. See it? Patience is mentioned twice in verse 7 and once in verses 8 and 10. And to help color the patience James calls his readers to, he compliments his exhortation with the theme of steadfastness in verse 11. Just as you told your kids to be patient in the car yesterday on the way to grandma’s or to be patient while the Easter pie finished baking, James calls us to be patient while we wait.
And yes, waiting is hard. Do any of us like to wait? Our culture continues to attempt to form us into a self-consuming, instant gratification type of people. Technology, social media, and even now with “curbside grocery pick-ups” serve as means that eliminate our need of waiting. We don’t wait for the 10 pm news or Sunday paper, but rather, we scroll through any number of apps on our phone to get the inside scoop as soon as and whenever we want it.
Now with that said, James writes to those suffering (much like us today in this COVID-19 season) and what does he say? Wait, be patient, be steadfast, endure, persevere. James helps us understand how to wait by giving us a couple of illustrations and examples. Look again at verse 7. James tells us to be patient like the farmer who “…waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it…” (James 5:7). Any farmers reading this post? For those of you who know me, I am certainly not a farmer with no hint of a green thumb in my body. But I do think of my dad raising cattle, and past summers with a long drought. My dad needed rain for his ranch, for his cows, and yet, there was nothing he could do to make it rain. He had to wait for the rain. And he also had to work hard while he waited for the rain.
So what does this look like for us? James 5:8 encourages us to “…establish your hearts…” (James 5:8). We reorient our perspective as the Spirit redeems our pursuits. We seek to honor Christ with the work of our hands while we wait on the Lord to bear the fruit. He calls us to be faithful as he bears the fruit from our faithfulness. And to the truth that “…the coming of the Lord is at hand…” (James 5:8), the waiting is worth the wait.
James then continues his exhortation to be patient with calling us to patience like that of “…the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord” (James 5:10). In the midst of suffering, of hard days, God calls his people to speak truth, to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). We are commanded to use our words to herald the beauty of the gospel, the redemptive story, the hope we have because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
It is this exhortation to proclaim the excellencies of God that James reminds us of Job’s example in James 5:11. James says, “You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (James 5:11). Job’s confession, repentance, and restoration didn’t happen until chapter 42. Just a reminder for anyone who hasn’t read Job lately. After forty-two chapters of suffering, of waiting, the purpose of the pain was revealed. And it is this example, that we remember.
The Lord shows compassion and mercy to us in the midst of hard days, hard weeks, hard months. There’s purpose in our pain. He isn’t wasting this season of COVID-19. As we wait for the stay-at-home order to be lifted, as we wait in the midst of other suffering, we remember. We remember his compassion, his mercy, his providence, his purpose. And as the Spirit establishes our hearts in what is true, may we wait well – in whatever “waiting room” we might be sitting in today.