“Lord, Give Me Patience”
Advent 3, December 15, 2013
Lord, Give Me Patience
Text: James 5:7–11
“Lord, grant me patience, and please hurry!” I’m sure many of you have heard that one-liner of a prayer. It’s funny because it’s true. We are by nature impatient people. Our impatience shows up in a wide variety of situations. Our impatience can lead us into a wide variety of sin. James says to us in our text, “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord.” In this Epistle, we will also see that James tells us where to turn to find patience. The Lord Himself Provides What We Need to Obey His Call for Patience as We Wait for His Return.
If we have a mischievous child bouncing around the house, if we have one who’s snooping around for clues about what their getting for Christmas, we might tell them “patience is a virtue.” Now have you ever thought what the other side to that coin is? If patience is a virtue, then we must also consider the idea that our impatience is a sin. Now I am guessing that I am not the only person here who can lack patience. But are we ready to admit that?
One of the reasons I am bringing all this up is that there is always a lot of talk and Facebook postings and greeting card that talk about “peace” and “loving neighbors” this time of year. Some may remark about how nostalgia and warmth in this joyous holiday season bring out the best in humanity. But don’t we also notice how the stress of these hectic days brings out the worst in human nature? People embarrass themselves and the rest of us by drinking to excess at holiday parties. They push and shove through the stores. These days it is not just pushing and shoving, but it’s also tasering and shooting!
But I have to ask, Do you get impatient with others? Do you have a hard time waiting in line? Waiting period? Ever drive down the road and get mad at someone who is in front of you who is going too slow and you can’t get around them? James says this about such seemingly minor indiscretions: “Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; . . . ” (v 9).
This time of year we also are in line behind folks making purchases in stores. And when you get behind these people in the checkout line, they take forever, don’t they? Fumbling with their wallets, talking with the cashier about things unrelated to the business at hand, completely unconcerned about the rest of us who are held up behind them. Sound familiar?
Now, at each point we must stop and examine ourselves. Which is the bigger problem? The annoying behavior of those people or our impatience with them and our grumbling about them? Furthermore, which problem can you, which problem should you, do something about? We really can’t do anything about holiday lines, but we can do something about how we react to them.
Throughout James’s Epistle, he urges Christians to live out their faith by doing good works of caring for others. Here, in this passage today, he continues that lesson. We are to do good works particularly by having an attitude of forgiveness, and patience, with those whom God has given us and that He has put around us.
Patience ought to be our way of life. God has made us great promises. Trust them. He has promised the resurrection of the body. Jesus says, “I will raise [you] up on the last day” (Jn 6:40). He has promised you heaven—life in the face-to-face presence of God Almighty, our loving Father. That’s our hope, it is sure and certainly coming.
But it is not yet here, so you must hear and trust in these promises, while patiently waiting “until the coming of the Lord.”
Jesus has not left you on your own to come up with all the virtues He requires. You don’t have to try to dig down deep somewhere inside yourself to come up with the strength and composure needed to live a life of patience. In fact, when you do dig down deep, you’ll likely find more troubles, more annoyances, more grievances, and more cause to be impatient.
Patience comes from the Holy Spirit. You who have been baptized have had the Spirit of God given to dwell within you. He gives you gifts. You who have been brought into God’s eternal kingdom of grace have been given grace and forgiveness to spare, enough to spread around to others.
James encourages us this way: “As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord” (v 10). Events in the lives of the believers of old are recorded carefully in Scripture that we might learn from them. They had much that they could have been stressed out about; they had much that they could have grumbled about. They were rejected, chased out, beaten, and killed. They remained patient and steadfast. Moses, after he was driven out of Egypt, spent forty years tending sheep in Sinai before being called to his life’s work. He was patient. Abraham and Sarah wanted a child together. They had to wait…until Abraham was 100 and Sarah was ninety. Noah was stuck on a loud, smelly boat for more than a year. But God eventually got Noah and his family out of that mess. Elijah thought he was the last believer, God told him otherwise.
Hearing stories like these gives us a better perspective on the little things that try our patience, such as waiting in a slow checkout line. Job, as another example, trusted God, even when everything in his life fell apart. His riches, his livelihood, and his children were all lost. Yet he remained patient, steadfast, and unshaken. So listen to what James says: “You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (v 8).
Beyond being something for us to mimic, God has a higher purpose for these examples of the Old Testament believers. In James 5:11, we read, “You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”
By pointing us to these good examples, God is not like a grumpy old school teacher scolding you, saying, “Why can’t you straighten up and be more like Job here?”
We have been given the careful record of the lives of these people of faith so that we can see the Lord. All along, He is there, with His people. In His mercy He makes sure we are not alone in any suffering. In His compassion He provides complete salvation. And it’s all by the plan, laid out and carried out so patiently over thousands of years, to come into our world and patiently take our place.
Jesus was patient for us. Patient with our faithless questions. Patient with the ridiculous false accusations against Him. Patiently carrying His cross to the hill, where He suffered for hours before He died. Now our impatience is forgiven—and you have something worth waiting for, however long it takes.
The Lord’s purpose in all this, in all that He’s been doing, is to get you to know His compassion and mercy. His purpose is that you would look to Him constantly, that you would tear your gaze away from all those annoyances, all those grievances you have, all that taxes your patience, and look to His cross, where His mercy forgives you and His compassion saves you for eternity in heaven.
Jesus used a parable to teach us that God is a father who patiently waits for His child to return home. He looks down the road to the horizon and waits. The prodigal son finds himself wallowing in the mud of a pigsty, longing for a return to his father’s home. His patient father is ready for that. Your patient Father waits for you, longs for you, and desires nothing more than that you leave the wallowing of your impatience and come into His welcoming, peaceful embrace.
So be patient. And hurry up! Amen.