We’re continuing today in our current series Borne Identity, because whose we are transforms who we are and changes what we do. We’ve been looking at the fruit of the Spirit, taking one each week and this morning, we’ve come to the fruit patience.
Let me just say this upfront. I am not the model christian when it comes to patience. I don’t like waiting. I want to: know things, say things, and do things the right way, right away.
I was driving home from work a couple weeks ago and as I was approaching an intersection the traffic light turns red, and instantly—I mean, without any cognitive thought whatsoever—I immediately hit my hand against the steering wheel out of frustration because I had to stop.
I’m a lane changer. If my lane is going slower than the next one, I figure out how to get over. I could blame my Jersey upbringing, or just call it out for what it is: I’m not a naturally patient person.
And lest you think that my impatience is contained within the confines of automotive transportation, let me tell you:
I have at least fifteen, no joke, fifteen tabs open on my browser at all times so I can keep up to date…with everything. Email, Facebook, Twitter, Email, Email, Email, Something on Personality, something else on personality, two bible gateway tabs, an article on leadership development, a couple of blogs, and four google searches.
And while I wait for one tab to load, I open three more and make a sandwich while I’m waiting so I won’t get bored in the meantime. Google Fiber is THE fastest internet available, and it’s still not fast enough for me.
…I realize this is a problem… Admitting is the first step, and all. So let me say it again: I am not—I repeat—I AM NOT a model for you on how to live a life of patience.
But…I will say this: because patience is not natural to me, I’ve had to learn over the years how to cultivate patience by looking at others. I can’t find it in me. It’s not there. It doesn’t exist in here. I have to look to something outside of me to find the capacity for patience.
I came across an incredible article published July 2009 in the New York Times by Laura Munson called “Those aren’t Fighting Words, Dear.” Look it up and read it on your own sometime. “Those aren’t Fighting Words, Dear.”
I’d like to read the opening paragraphs to you now:
LET’S say you have what you believe to be a healthy marriage. You’re still friends and lovers after spending more than half of your lives together. The dreams you set out to achieve in your 20s—gazing into each other’s eyes in candlelit city bistros when you were single and skinny—have for the most part come true.
Two decades later you have the 20 acres of land, the farmhouse, the children, the dogs and horses. You’re the parents you said you would be, full of love and guidance. You’ve done it all: Disneyland, camping, Hawaii, Mexico, city living, stargazing.
Sure, you have your marital issues, but on the whole you feel so self-satisfied about how things have worked out that you would never, in your wildest nightmares, think you would hear these words from your husband one fine summer day: “I don’t love you anymore. I’m not sure I ever did. I’m moving out. The kids will understand. They’ll want me to be happy.”
Pause a moment. What are you feeling right now? Anger? Frustration? Betrayal?
Listen to how she continues:
“But wait. This isn’t the divorce story you think it is. Neither is it a begging-him-to-stay story. It’s a story about hearing your husband say “I don’t love you anymore” and deciding not to believe him. And what can happen as a result.
Sure enough: she never begs. And she doesn’t grumble or gossip despite the number of others who spoke poorly of him to her throughout the many months this went on. As best as possible, she didn’t personalize her husband’s words and actions but instead, patiently walked aside her husband through the entire process.
You’ll have to read it in its entirety on your own to see how it turns out, but what this story demonstrates is the transformative power of patience, which is what I’d like for us to consider with our remaining time today (and your first test of patience is to wait till after the service to search for the story on your phones).
Turn with me to James 5:7-11. For those impatient like me who want to know what the BIG IDEA is for today, here it is:
Patience is waiting… without release… because you trust in God.
That’s what we’ll see here in this passage and we’ll take the next 25 minutes or so to unpack that statement one phrase at a time.
James 5, starting with v7. It says this…
7 Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. 8 You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. 9 Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! 10 Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.
I. Patience is waiting…
James begins with an illustration about a Farmer who must patiently wait for the Autumn and Spring rain. Now, most of us here aren’t farmers. And even for the farmers among us, the midwest provides a very different climate than James’ Mideast climate.
For a Palestinian farmer, there were really only two rains that had to come. You couldn’t plant till the autumn rain hit. After this long, very, very hot summer, it was the autumn rain that provided enough moisture in the soil so they could even plant. They had to wait. Of course there was always the danger of being impatient and saying, “I have to plant. I have to plant. Where’s the autumn rain? I have to plant!” If you went ahead and planted, nothing would come up at all.
But there was another temptation, and this one was far more subtle. It’s one thing to say at the end of summer, “I know the ground looks like dust and nothing will take root here, but I’m gonna plant anyway”—no, you can pretty easily resist that temptation… but…if you have already planted and everything has come up but the spring rains haven’t shown up yet, and you begin to fear that they’ll never come, it’s much more difficult to wait patiently then.
If you harvested before the spring rains, your harvest would be almost nothing. The spring rains made the grain swell up and fill out. The great temptation was to say, “These rains are never going to come! We could lose everything if we don’t go out there and at least gather what we have,” but if you prematurely harvest what you had before the rains came, you’d have just a fraction of what you would’ve ended up with had you waited.
Where in your life have you been impatiently harvesting before the Spring Rains have come?
Are you speeding on the highway because you don’t want to wait any longer to get home? Are you cheating on your exams because you don’t want to wait to graduate the hard way? Are you having sex with your boyfriend because you don’t want to wait for marriage? Are you making sketchy business deals because you don’t want to wait for success? Are you looking at pornography because you’re tired of waiting for your spouse to put out?
These are just a few examples. Rather than waiting for things to happen at the right time, out of impatience, have you tried to harvest too quickly?
Really take time this week to consider that question: in what areas and in what ways are you prematurely harvesting before the Spring Rains come? The crazy thing: we often don’t realize we’ve settled for less until much, much later in life.
Patience is waiting. But it’s more than that.
II. Patience is waiting without release
James uses a particular greek word here for patience: makrothumos. It’s a compound word made up of two words: makros, meaning long (which is where we get our english prefix macro) and thumos, meaning the kind of anger that flares up like a flash in the pan. The King James bible translates that word this way: “long-suffering.” Meaning, it takes a lot for a patient person to react in anger.
Because at the heart of patience is someone who’s learned to deal with their anger, so if you want to grow in patience, you have to understand how to handle your anger first.
Turn with me to Ephesians 4:26-29, but keep a thumb in James because we’ll be back. If you’re looking to understand how to handle anger, Ephesians 4 is a huge help. We’ll start with verse 26 which says… 26 In your anger do not sin…
Anger is very a serious thing, and though anger may not necessarily be a sin in and of itself, we have to realize that if not dealt with properly, anger will lead to sin. I’ll say it this way: anger is not sin…yet.
I love how writer and theologian Frederick Buechner put it when he said to be angry is “to lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back—in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.”
Journalist Maggie Scarf describes getting angry as “leaping into a wonderfully responsive sports car, gunning the motor, taking off at high speed and then discovering the brakes are out of order.”
Like Pringles: “Once you pop, the fun don’t stop.” Once you indulge anger, it don’t stop.
That’s why Paul continues v26 and 27 to say “…Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold.”
When improperly dealt with, anger becomes a foothold for destruction. Anger is not sin…yet. That’s why Paul urges us to learn to deal with anger while it is still today. He says, “Don’t sit on it. If you’re upset, don’t bottle it up, because what’s inside always finds a way out.”
Verses 28-29 name two ways that built-up anger is released into destructive behavior: Cutting Corners through stealing and Cutting others down through speaking. Both are acts of impatience, fueled by anger.
We’ll start with v28…28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
If you’re angry about how long something is taking, you may try taking matters into your own hands. Rather than dealing with your anger rightly, it’s now released into cutting corners to get what you want in your own power and in your own time.
I confess, I picked up a fitbit recently. I jumped on the 10k steps a day
bandwagon. And it can be frustrating sometimes, because there are days where I thought I’d been pretty active, only to realize later I ended up with 3300 steps for the day and it’s like, “What?! Seriously?! How am I going to justify that fifth scoop of ice cream now?!”
(If you’re regularly having five scoops of ice cream, you’ve got bigger problems than hitting your daily 10k. And if you’re calling your fitbit 10K the same thing as a real 10K, you’ve got even bigger problems. You got 99 problems and a fitbit ain’t one.)
So a few weeks ago, I was tempted to cut corners. It was late at night, I’m about to go to sleep and I realized I’m only 250 steps away. But I’m already in bed. Now what? I can “cheat” the test and instead of getting up and finishing my steps, I can get to 10000 in the comfort of my bed and just shake it like a Polaroid until it tricks the fitbit to give me my steps.
…I won’t tell you which I did.
Silly example, perhaps, but that’s the essence of it. What are you angry about not having yet that you’re willing to cut corners in order to get it?
That’s the one. Here’s the other: if you’re angry at someone, you may use your words to cut them down. Maybe it’s because I’m a pastor but I get asked all the time if it’s okay to cuss. “Which words are allowed and which aren’t.” But listen to this, v29 says: Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
Don’t ask what words you should or shouldn’t say. The better question is this: are my words building people up? Because Paul says here any word spoken that isn’t helpful in that way, don’t even bother letting those words exit your mouth at all.
Have you attempted to—or been tempted to—cut corners or cut people down? If so, it’s likely there’s some anger rooted beneath the surface.
Actually, can we all just own up to the fact that sometimes we get angry? That’s okay. It’s okay to feel anger. But what you do with it makes all the difference in the world.
What’s so interesting to me is seeing how different people try to manage it, but it never works out. Typically, there are two responses to anger. Dish it out or swallow it up.
Those who dish it out attack with anger. Mikro-Thumos, if you will. It takes very little for them to explode with anger. You know them. They’re usually expressive with their hands and their words. We’d call them impatient. Or maybe just Italian.
Then there are those who swallow it up. You might think they’re patient, they may even think they’re patient because they have such a long-fuse, but if that long-fuse is attached to something so explosive that it’s reserved for only the rarest of occasions, I’m telling you, they’ve been swallowing anger, not really dealing with it properly.
It’s no secret, I make some funny noises…especially from my nose. I’m discovering more and more that it’s actually a sort of release of nervous energy. It’s an outward evidence of anxiety and frustration that’s built up inside of me and I’ve only begun to realize how bad it is.
Some of you are like, “uhhh you only just started noticing it?” Ha, no, don’t worry. I’ve known about this for a long time…I’ve been dealing with it since I was a kid, but here’s what I’ve started to realize more and more: when I feel afraid about what’s coming up ahead, those noises get noticeably worse.
Whether it was an exam, or a presentation, or a new social situation, I would experience such intense anxiety…but I didn’t want people to know, so I suppressed it. I wasn’t dealing with my fear, I was stuffing it away deep inside but it still built up. And like that little spinning top on the pressure cooker, those noises became a release of energy. Some people get ulcers that annoy them, I make noises that annoy people.
Just because you can swallow it up for a while doesn’t mean you’ve learned how to deal with your anger. A long-fuse is still attached to a bomb.
Patience is waiting without release. Whether you’re dishing anger out and swallowing it up, neither way actually deals with anger.
What Paul calls cutting corners, James calls premature harvesting.
What Paul calls cutting people down, James calls grumbling against others.
Which brings us back to James 5:9 which says “Don’t grumble against others.” Why? Because it’s a release of anger. You can’t harvest prematurely AND be patient, you can’t grumble AND be patient, because those behaviors overflow from an anger with the present situation. Impatience is a symptom of anger in your heart, but if you learn to deal with your anger rightly, you’ll find patience growing in its place.
So, how do we deal with our anger problem? How do we learn to wait patiently, without release?
James 5 gives us examples to model our lives after if we desire to grow in patience: the prophets of old, and Job. Amazing stories for us that I encourage you to read, especially the story of Job: a man called blameless, who remains entirely blameless when he lost everything he had and even his friends were telling him he must’ve done something wrong to deserve this, and his wife told him to just curse God and die).
But Job, and the prophets, remained patient. How? They trusted in God.
III. Patience is waiting without release because you trust in God
They were patient because they knew the character of God. They didn’t have Romans 8:28, but they trusted the God who “works all things together for the good of those who love him.” They didn’t have James 1:16, but they trusted the God who gives “every good and perfect gift.” They didn’t have 2 Corinthians 1:20, but they trusted the God whose promises are all “yes and Amen in Christ.” They could patiently wait without release because they trusted in God.
James tells us to pattern our lives after theirs at the end of v11, because we “have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”
And Hebrews 12:1-3 adds to this when it says, 1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance [also translated PATIENCE] the race marked out for us, [HOW?] 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
We have something that even the prophets of old and Job himself didn’t have. We can look straight to Jesus. And as you look at Jesus, you will start to look like Jesus.
Watch Jesus run, and you’ll learn to run. Watch Jesus endure the cross, and you’ll endure whatever cross is weighing you down now. You’ll stop harboring anger, you’ll stop dishing it out and swallowing it up. You’ll learn to do what Ephesians 4:31-32 says to do: to “31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice [and you’ll] 32 be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
That’s the key. The only way to stop dishing out and swallowing up anger is to get rid of it entirely, which can only be done by seeing God get rid of it all for you. If someone had the right to remain angry, it was God. We were his creation yet we rebelled against him and have raped and pillaged the world he’s created for us to steward. He had every right to harbor anger and wipe us out, but instead he chose to forgive us.
It was God’s will that Jesus would come to us, emptied of all but love, to extend to us a grace so far beyond our comprehension that we will spend the rest of eternity plumbing its depths. Jesus is the ultimate example of patience who waited, without release, because he trusted in God.
As you look at Jesus, you’ll start to look like Jesus…and you’ll learn to look for Jesus. Which really brings us back to the main point of our passage in James 5, found in v8. It says: “Be patient…because the Lord’s coming is near.”
Feeding a Toddler can be a troubling thing at times. I remember this one night, Annie didn’t want her spaghetti dinner, until she realized what was for dessert. Anyone can take pasta when you know strawberries and cream’s coming up next.
As you look at Jesus, you’ll start to look like Jesus, and learn to look for Jesus. You’ll patiently endure whatever you find yourself in because you know what’s coming. Whatever difficulty you find yourself in, you know you can endure it because Christ is coming again and that changes everything.
You might remember: over a year ago, christians were lined up on the shore to be killed by ISIS. They were young, as young as 20 and no older than 25. And leading up to this horrific scene on the beach, these 21 captives patiently endured—tortured and tormented for the God they believed in. They refused to give in to every attempt ISIS made to persuade them to deny their faith in Jesus and in return be set free to live.
They would not budge. They remained, as James put it, “established in their hearts.” They each died that day, martyred for their faith, with nothing on their lips but songs of praise to their Savior.
These 21 did not die as mere victims, for they are “more than conquerors” as Romans 8:37 declares, and their sacrifice is a powerfully transformative testimony of such a vibrant faith in Christ.
To close our service, we’re going to sing a song called “Even Unto Death,” which was written by Audrey Assad in response to watching this scene unfold and asking the question: “What would I pray, if it were me kneeling on that beach?”
What would you pray—what would I pray—if it were us kneeling on that beach?
Would we sing: “Jesus, the very thought of You, it fills my heart with love…”
Lover of my soul, even unto death, with my every breath, I will love you.”
Every day, we kneel on the beaches of our workplaces and neighborhoods, our friendships and our marriages, our families and church planting, our hobbies and parenting. And we release what’s inside. Is your heart filled with integrity and love or have you been harboring something far more destructive in nature? What’s inside must come out.
But patience is waiting without release because you trust in God. It’s saying, in every moment, “Jesus, the very thought of you fills my heart with love. Even unto death, I will love you.”
If you want to live a life of patience, it all starts by fixing your eyes on Jesus, because as you look at Jesus, you’ll start to look like Jesus, and you’ll learn to look for Jesus in every situation, awaiting his return because he is coming again.
Which is what we celebrate each week in communion. As you take a piece of the bread representing Christ’s body broken for us and dip it into the cup representing Christ’s blood shed for us, together, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Use this time to reflect, to repent where you’ve dished it out and where you’ve swallowed it up. But don’t wallow there forever. Confess it. Grieve over it, then leave it. For every look at your sin, take 10 looks at your Savior. Look at him. Stare at Jesus. See him for who he is and trust in Him, and you’ll learn to wait patiently without release. Let’s pray.