Trusting God in the Moments of Time
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. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. 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 ESV)
There’s a scene in one of the Addams’ Family movies which goes something like this. The family is at the table having dinner and Wednesday tells Pugsley to pass the peas or something. It is an order; a command. Morticia then gently reminds Wednesday to speak nicely and to add that one little word that makes communication so pleasant. Wednesday looks back at her mother with a scowl and, after a moment, she turns to Pugsley and asks him in a nicer voice, “Pugsley, pass the peas” and then there’s that micro-second pause and everyone knows that one little nice word is coming and she glares at him and says “now!”.
Now! I want it now! I wonder whether we are becoming more impatient through the generations? Is there a correlation between our labour saving devices and our desire to get more done and an increasing sense of frustration when we have to wait, stand in a queue, be patient? We smile at the prayer, “Lord, give me patience … and give it to me right now!” because we can relate to it. Wanting our needs met, our wishes fulfilled, and our jobs completed all according to our ways and timing is a good way to live. Of course as we mature we discover that we won’t die if our needs are not met right now, our life does not end if we don’t get things our way, and often we have to work with others to get our tasks completed. ‘Now’ can fade and be less intense over time as we assess what is truly important. After all, it is claimed that no one ever went to their grave wishing that they had spent more time at work.
So when James tells Christians to be patient is he really only telling us to grow up? Patience is, after all, a sign of maturity.
I think James would say, ‘Sure, learning and practising patience about anything is a good lifestyle. Patience is not weakness but a restraint that comes from strength.’ However James wasn’t a lifestyle guru dispensing handy tips for happiness but, from best research, the brother of Jesus. James was the accepted leader of the Christians in Jerusalem. And he is writing his entire letter into a context where Christians are trying to work out what it means to be disciples of Jesus – so he talks about:
– dealing with struggles and temptations,
– that anyone can talk but genuine faith in Jesus is both words and deeds,
– that it is difficult to control our tongue,
– and that Christians particularly should get on with each other because of their unity and bond in Jesus.
Anyone who thinks that the early church was some sort of paradisal hippy commune of love and peace and sharing in which everyone got on sweetly with each other has major historical delusions.
Like any community, they experienced tensions from within and from without – from people who were selfish and played politics and all that other stuff of human dynamics and from the outside world of the Roman Empire who increasingly saw the early Christians as traitors, nuisances, and good for persecuting. So when you get it in the neck while you’re trying to do the right thing, whom do you blame?
Ultimately the buck stops with God. He can make the pain go away. He can stop the persecution. He can lift the oppression. He can vindicate the wrong. We know he can. He knows he can. So why doesn’t he?!
Shooting arrows at God only goes so far. People want targets they can hit and so they turn their attention to the people who have caused their problems. And then I suppose, the arrows might fly, but I think it’s the knives that come out as we verbally cut and hack at those who have wronged us in some way.
I have no solid research to back this up – just my hunches and anecdotal evidence – but why is that people who have falling outs in churches drop away from the church? Why is that people who are employed by a church organisation – like a school, nursing home, publishing house – and who have difficulties with their employment find it difficult to remain in the church or even worship? Why is it that people are shocked to discover that church organisations and church politics can be just as messy – and oppressive – as anywhere else?
It’s because we expect better … from God and from the church and its members. We all know there are times of disappointment, disagreement, and dispute when things are not going our way in the world and we learn patience. We also discover that there are times of trial in the church which can destabilise us more so. God, what are you doing?!
James reminds Christians that God isn’t far away and he is not sitting on his hands or, to mix metaphors, idly twiddling his thumbs. He is active, accomplishing his will, and right at the door – which can refer to both his presence now and his imminent entrance back onto the world stage. Patience is not just dumb waiting like a stunned mullet or sulking or our twiddling of thumbs but rather an active recognition of who God is – in particular, who he is ‘for me’.
Luther often talked about the powerful little words ‘for you’. It is the gospel on God’s lips. Listen to it. I died for you. I rose again for you. My forgiveness, eternal life and salvation is for you. This water, this adoption in baptism, this new birth is for you. Take and eat, take and drink, body and blood given and shed for you.
And so Christians live with Jesus as their centre, their focus; in a relationship around which everything revolves. The future is secure – it is in God’s hands – and as those hands have been pierced for us – we also discover that one of the marks of Christian living is suffering – and we rebel in the core of our beings at that notion and whisper or speak out loud “Please, no” . But the man with the pierced hands stands with us and says, “I will be with you always” – which means this moment of living is also for you. And we learn to say ‘Your will be done’.
Patience is trust in God over time. It is not weakness or insipidness but the moments in which the relationship with Jesus is further forged and strengthened – for our own benefit and for the benefit of those around us. Evil is still evil in all its forms – it must be responded to as befitting the circumstances – but such moments will not destroy God’s people who learn patience – who use the time at hand to grow in Christ and to love those around them. And when you do that, you find that you have more than enough to do.
Let nothing disturb you, Let nothing make you afraid, All things are passing, God never changes. Patience obtains all things. Nothing is lacking to the one who has God – God alone is enough. (Teresa of Avila)
- James 5:7 - 11