Good Things Come to Those Who Wait…Patiently

Today we will look at James 5:7-11. Humans, children and adults alike, want instant gratification. We don't like waiting. Patience is a virtue. Patience makes life more peaceful. Patience gives us greater appreciation. Most importantly, though, patience is God-pleasing. Good Things Come to Those Who Wait…Patiently. December 16, 2007.

            How much longer are you willing to wait?  I know you’re waiting for something right now.  We’re always waiting for something.  At this time of year perhaps in particular, we are waiting for some time to come, or perhaps more accurately, something to be done.  Maybe you’re tired of waiting to open those presents under the Christmas tree—they’re not doing any good just sitting there.  Maybe you’re waiting for your papers, and projects, and exam week to finally be done so that you can get a moment to breathe and sleep.  Maybe you’re waiting to finally get a couple of days off from work for the holidays and blow that Christmas bonus.  Maybe you’re waiting and working to get a better job, one that offers a Christmas bonus.  What are you waiting for?  Maybe the better question to ask tonight is how are you waiting? 

            Do you remember how people told you to wait when you were little?  They told you to wait…….patiently.  The child brain really has trouble comprehending that waiting period.

  • You mean to tell me all of those boxes under that tree have toys, for me, but I can’t open them for another month?  What, are you trying to kill me? 
  • Wait, those cookies which I love so much and can smell from all the way upstairs are going to sit there?  I have to finish all of my vegetables at dinner before I get one?  What is the connection between the vegetables and the cookie?
  • Or what about this, have you ever seen kids try to form a line before they go out for recess?  They jockey for position to try to get as far up in the line as possible.  Sometimes they even hold their hands out to make sure another kid doesn’t get in front of them. And none of them comprehend that the difference in amount of time between the first kid in line getting outside and the last kid in line getting outside is like 0.8 seconds. 

            Humans, children and adults alike, want instant gratification.  We don’t like waiting.  You have to teach children to be patient.  And sometimes, as adults, we need to be reminded that patience is a virtue.  Patience makes life more peaceful.  Patience gives us greater appreciation.  Most importantly, though, patience is God-pleasing.   Today we learn that Good Things Come to Those Who Wait…Patiently.

            All three of our lessons this evening dealt with healthy Christian patience.  Specifically tonight we’ll take a look at the lesson from James 5:7-11.  Earlier on in this chapter James had given a stern warning to wealthy people who may be oppressing the poor.  Evidently many of those whom James was writing to were being cheated by their rich bosses.  To put it in Christmas terms, they were kind of like Bob Crachet serving under the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge – not getting fair wages for their work.  James was concerned that facing mistreatment would cause them to grow impatient and seek revenge.   So he says, “Be patient.”  And he says it again, and again, and again.  There are two words that show up in this lesson a noticeable amount of times: “patience” and “brother.”  And it makes sense that they appear together.  What happens when people go through rough times together?  They get frustrated.  They start blaming one another for their problems.  They start saying hurtful things.  James reminds these Christians that they are brothers in faith, brothers in their Savior Jesus Christ.  They weren’t supposed to make each others lives harder, but they were to support one another and build each other up in the face of adversity, showing patience for one another.  James says, “Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!”  In other words, “Hey guys, Jesus is coming back very soon.  When he does, do you think he wants to see his children fighting with each other when their supposed to be building one another up as members of his body, his Church?  He’s almost here.  Just be patient.”  By the way they write, it’s pretty obvious that many of the New Testament authors felt that Jesus’ return on Judgment Day would likely come during their lifetimes.  We see that in James’ words.  They definitely have a sense of urgency, yet encourage an attitude of patience in waiting for Christ’s return. 

            James provides his listeners with two illustrations so that they can better understand the benefits of having patience.  The first one he gives is:

            1)      The farmer: 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.”  There are no shortcuts with crops.  A farmer can’t do a whole lot to hurry them up.  In ancient Palestine, the farmer counted on the fall rains around the end of October to soften up the land so he could begin his plowing and planting.  Then in March or April, when the plants began to ripen, the massive spring rains would come, assuring a successful harvest.  In this process, the farmer had to wait….patiently.  Panicking wouldn’t help.  Crying wouldn’t help.  Yelling at friends and family wouldn’t make it come quicker.  Questioning God’s love along the way couldn’t even squeeze one drop out of the sky.  All the farmer could do was wait, pray, and trust – i.e. be patient.  Knowing that the rain will come, the farmer realizes that he may as well wait for it joyfully, with a smile on his face.  This is how James wants his fellow believers to wait for Christ’s return, which they understood would bring about their freedom from persecution and oppression. 

The second illustration that James provides to explain patience was:  

            2)      The prophets: James says, “Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.”  These Jewish Christians to whom James was writing would have known their Old Testaments quite well.   And it’s pretty hard to think of an Old Testament prophet who was not a model of patience in the face of suffering.  At some point in time they all faced some rejection and persecution because they brought a message from God that the people didn’t necessarily want to hear.  The New Testament martyr Stephen pointed this out as he was about to be stoned by the Jewish leaders; he said, “Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute?” (Acts 7:52).  And think about all of the other believers in the Bible whom God asked to exercise great patience?  God made the patriarch Abraham wait 100 years and his wife Sarah 90 before they would receive what was their promised child.  Patience.  His great-grandson, Joseph, at one point got sold into slavery and then thrown into prison for something he didn’t do.  Then he waited over two years there because the pharaoh of Egypt’s cupbearer forgot about how Joseph had interpreted his dreams.  Patience.  God’s chosen nation of Israel wandered around in the wilderness for 40 years when they were making a journey out of Egypt to a destination that they realistically could have probably reached in just a couple weeks.  Patience.  Job, the most righteous man on the earth at his time, had to remain patient as the Lord allowed blessing after blessing in his life to be taken away.  Patience.  Apparently learning to be patient is an important part of a believer’s life.  Apparently God sees value in letting his children think about their situation in life, evaluate what’s truly important, develop an appreciation for God’s patience with us, and anticipate joyfully what God has in store for us.

            We too, as 21st century Christians struggle to be patient with God at times.  Granted, we don’t necessarily have to face the persecution that those James was originally writing to did.  However, we have the unique difficulty of knowing how long it’s been since Christ promised he would come back.  Nearly 2000 years have passed!  That’s a long time to take to keep a promise.  Doesn’t it sometimes feel like the odds are if he hasn’t come yet, he’s not coming back during my lifetime, so I may as well hunker down in this world of great sin and occasionally great pain and at least try to make myself a little more comfortable?  How much of our lives aren’t spent trying to make things better for us here?  We want our bed to have the exact sleep number of support so that we can fall asleep instantly and get the perfect night’s sleep.  We want a cable internet connection because it’s several tenths of a second faster than DSL which is far superior to dial-up.  We want an iPod that can locate 50,000 songs at any given time within several pushes of a button because it was taking too long to take a CD out and put a new CD in and change to the right track.  None of these things is wrong, in fact they and countless others are luxuries from God that we can be thankful for.  But the point is that we as a society have become trained to think that patience is for suckers.  Consequently, for a world to wait around for Jesus who’s been physically gone for several millennia sounds crazy.  For us to depend on him and wait for him to take us away from the pains of a sinful world sounds foolish.  In Advent we give special attention to our Savior’s first coming while all the time keeping in the back of our minds the fact that he’s coming again.  How much longer do we have to wait to be in paradise – the place that we know we are destined for as redeemed children of God?

            Again the question, though, isn’t how much longer must we wait?  The question is how should we wait?  The answer: patiently.  Because God says that Good Things Come to Those Who Wait…Patiently.  There are several important things to keep in mind to find motivation to live life patiently in a world often filled with trouble. 

            1)         Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God.”  Trust that the Lord who works all things out for your good will guide your life along the path it’s supposed to go, yes, but also at the pace it’s supposed to go.  How often in our prayers don’t we ask God to take away whatever discomfort or inconvenience we are going through, not understanding that whatever we’re experiencing could be there for good reason?  Shouldn’t we rather pray that God take it away if it is his will, and if not, ask that we learn from it and ask for him to grant us the patience and strength to deal with it? 

            2)         Patience can actually be fun, too, believe it or not.  One of my favorite restaurants does this thing when they get really busy – they have contests where those waiting to be seated can answer quiz questions to win free food.  And I’ll tell you what, there isn’t a question that I don’t know the answer to when there is a free appetizer on the line.  And getting that free appetizer heightens the anticipation all the more for the meal.  As you wait and get more and more hungry, and smell the food, you get this certain sense of joy in knowing how great it’s going to be once it arrives.  That’s what its like for the Christian anticipating heaven, hearing how great it’s going to be at worship and in Bible study.  That anticipation gives us joy in patience.      

            3)         Another thing we can keep in mind to help us wait patiently is to focus on how God always keeps his promises in his Word.  Remember how he told Abraham that he was going to turn him into a great nation through that son he was promising – God delivered.  Remember how he told the Israelites through the prophet Isaiah that they would come back from captivity due to a Persian king named Cyrus, who hadn’t even been born yet – well, God delivered.  Remember how throughout the Old Testament God reaffirmed to his people that he was sending his Son as Savior of the world – he delivered.  God always keeps his promises.  And he has promised that he is coming back soon to deliver us from a sinful world.  Our lesson says, “he is at the door.”

            4)          The last thing to help us stay patient, particularly at this time of year, is to remember Christ’s 1st coming.  It’s one thing to go around saying, “Jesus is the Reason for the Season,” but it’s an entirely different thing to live that.  If you don’t get the present you wanted for Christmas; if your flight back home gets cancelled because of the weather; if this is likely the last Christmas you will spend with a family member or this is the first Christmas you will spend without a family member – it will still be joyous.  Why?  Because above all else we, as Christians, realize that we are celebrating the fact that our Savior has arrived and washed away all of our sins, including those that were brought about because of our impatience.  To thank him for showing such love, we humbly, confidently, patiently wait for him to come again and remind others that he is coming soon.

            Advent requires an attitude of patience.  Life requires an attitude of patience.  As Christians we don’t want to live so much in anticipation of things from this world, which can be very nice, but can also be very disappointing and are very temporary.  We want to live in anticipation of the life to come, which is coming near, and will be at the door sooner than we know.  May we be patient, and wait for our Lord.  Good things come to those who wait…patiently.  Amen.

Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI (www.gracedowntown.org) on December 16, 2007

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