The early church James is writing to is feeling the impatient itch.
You know the itch: the feeling that makes your toes wiggle, your feet tap impatiently on the ground, your hand reaches for your cell phone, your eyes dart leaving your focus paralyzed. And it doesn’t help that almost 100% of our daily practices are instant gratification practices. Amazon Prime, Netflix, high-speed internet. But the problem of impatience isn’t only a 21st-century problem for tech-addicts and spoiled millennials, it was an early church problem.
Sure, the early church is itching for different reasons. Unlike us, they are being exploited by the rich: “Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you” (James 5:4). They are comforted by the condemnation of their exploiters: “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you” (James 5:1). But the imperative James commands to the early church still stands for the church today regardless of our differing circumstances: “Be patient.”
But here’s the crux: the second coming of Christ isn’t running on fiber optics, free two-day shipping, or even a tracking number. And here’s our crux: almost nothing in Christianity runs on high-speed internet. Do you guys remember internet in the 90s? When screens loaded slowly, pixel-by-pixel, inch-by-inch, and you had to strategize about what internet site you wanted to visit because clicking on an internet site was a legitimate time commitment? Almost all of Christianity feels like a slow-loading screen.
“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… 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” (James 5:7-11).
Would it not make sense that if the enemy wants to destroy your faith, he’s going to try to destroy your patience?
Maybe, just maybe, this is where the war for faith is often fought– little moments in lines, little moments in traffic, little moments when you want to be somewhere else. The computer virus that crashes our relationships with others isn’t always gossip, arguments, or infidelity, but impatience. “Why didn’t you text me back? Why haven’t you pursued me?” Likewise, the computer virus that crashes our relationship with the Lord isn’t always personal loss, college philosophy class, religious debates, but impatience.
“God, if you were real, I wouldn’t struggle so much with lust still.”
“God, if you were real, being like Christ wouldn’t be so hard.”
“God if you were real, Jesus would have returned already!”
Have any of those sentences ever been yours in prayer? An article from the LA Times says this: “Anything that provides immediate results facilitates a sense of control.” Is your impatience evidence that you view Christ as a commodity to be purchased and shipped at your demand?
And this precious text reveals the gracious, loving, and correcting heart of God the Father. God makes it clear that he loves us too much to give us over to our impatient, high-speed, instant gratification lives. Imagine the farmer: He doesn’t get a paycheck two weeks after his grueling labor. The fruit of his labor comes sometimes seasons after his work. Imagine the prophets: Think about the grueling work of listening to the Lord, speaking the revelation of the Lord, and being hated by the people of the Lord. For the prophets, the fruit of the work, the revelation of God coming to fruition, often vindicated them long after they died. Imagine Job: He suffered the loss of his family: his children were killed in a tornado and his wife cursed him. He suffered the loss of his fortune: his farm hands were killed and his animals were stolen; his sheep and shepherds were fried to a crisp. He suffered the loss of his health: he developed scabs and oozing sores. And after enduring his early days, his latter days were far more blessed.
And yes, imagine the farmer, the prophets, and Job, but for goodness sake, imagine Christ! When you experience the impatient itch, imagine the slow-moving pace of redemptive history! Feel how slowly the screen loads: God promises Jesus in Genesis, “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” God promises Jesus in the Psalms: “They have pierced my hands and feet–I can count all my bones— they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” God promises Jesus in Isaiah: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows… he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities.”
So much of Christianity is summed up in that one word James uses in this text: patience. God is most glorified in us when we are so satisfied in him that even waiting for Jesus gives us instant gratification.
And dear readers, the gospel is not the good news that you can become patient. The gospel is that good news that God is already patient with you. So patient is he, that he planned your salvation before there was a history. And then he waited for history. So patient is he, that he died for you two-thousand years before you were born. So patient is he with you, that he loved you even when you rejected him for the ten or fifty years before becoming a Christian. If God were an instant gratification junkie, there would be no salvation.
So let us cultivate small practices of patience in everyday situations trusting that God is creating in us an indomitably patient imagination in preparation of a long lifetime of waiting for Christ to return. And until then, the screen only seems like it’s loading slowly: “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is (actually being) patient toward you.”
Hear the sermon Cole Preached based on these truths: