Pastor Craig Carter
My wife Lee is an avid reader. But I long ago gave up buying books for her because I discovered we use radically different approaches in selecting a suitable book to read.
I tend to be drawn to books with catchy titles or fancy artwork on the cover. Yes, I’m a very superficial person! But Lee chooses a book, not based on its cover, but by its initial contents.
She loves the “look inside” feature on Amazon which allows her to read the first few pages of a book she’s considering. She says she knows right away if it’s something she’s going to enjoy reading.
On occasion, I’ve tried her method and discovered it really is quite effective. But more times than not, I’m still enticed by an attractive cover or catchy title, only to soon find out I made an error in judgment.
Last Sunday morning I introduced a new sermon series and church-wide study of a little-known book in the New Testament, the Letter of James. The first verse is essentially the front cover as it gives us the title, author, and intended audience:
[A letter] from James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. To all of God’s people who are scattered everywhere in the world: Greetings. (James 1:1 NCV)
Sounds pretty interesting, huh? Then we continue on to the first page and read, “My brothers and sisters, when you have many kinds of troubles, you should be full of joy…” (James 1:2 NCV)
Nah, I don’t think this is a book I’d enjoy…I think I’ll go watch some TV instead.
I mean, who is joyful when troubles come their way? We don’t embrace trouble, we tend to run from it and avoid it at all costs.
Yet, we can’t dismiss James’ letter quite so easily. Notice that he doesn’t say, “If you have many kinds of troubles,” but, “When…”
We all know and understand that reality, don’t we? To be alive is to face all sorts of trials and tribulations. If we give James a chance, he tells us why difficulties can be cause for joy.
“…because you know that these troubles test your faith, and this will give you patience.” (James 1:3 NCV)
Times of trouble serve a higher purpose in our lives – namely, to give us patience. According to the Bible, patience is a virtue that should be evident in every believer’s life. Time and again, Scripture instructs God’s people to wait patiently upon the Lord.
It also tells us on numerous occasions to “be patient.” The reason is because God is patient and we are to be like Him. As a matter of fact, the Bible says patience is evidence of the Spirit’s work in us. It is one of the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
So, in order to live the Christian life, we have to learn to exercise patience.
As I mentioned last week, James provides a “how to” manual for Christian living. Consequently, he gives us some practical advice on how to live with patience.
Before we look at those particulars, let’s talk a little about patience in general. First of all, patience is not a purely passive enterprise. Some people say they’re being patient, when in fact, they’re just lazy.
Patience is not idleness nor is it procrastination. Instead, patience is an active endeavor that forces us to use the grace God gives us. In that regard, it is both a gift and an activity.
God gives us patience – it’s a fruit of the Spirit – but we have to choose to employ it. We’re commanded to “be patient.”
As we’ll discover throughout James’ letter, the Christian life is to be lived in cooperation with God. We both have a part to play.
So, what exactly is patience?
Synonyms used in the Bible include steadfastness, perseverance, and endurance. The dictionary defines patience as “the state of endurance in times of difficulty, the ability or will to bear trials or troubles calmly or without complaint.”
Notice that patience is associated with times of trouble or difficulty. We don’t need to worry about being patient when all is right with the world.
That leads us to what James has to say about how to live with patience. He addresses the subject in the opening verses of chapter 1 and again in chapter 5.
Let me mention this is a typical pattern that James employs in his letter. He introduces a wide range of subjects in the first chapter and then gives more detailed instruction about each topic in the chapters which follow.
James tells us that two types of patience are needed: in difficult circumstances and with difficult people.
Let’s see what we need to know and understand, first of all, about…
How to Live with Patience in Difficult Circumstances.
My brothers and sisters, when you have many kinds of troubles, you should be full of joy, because you know that these troubles test your faith, and this will give you patience. Let your patience grow, so that it is fully developed. Then you will be perfect and complete and will have everything you need. (James 1:2-4 NCV)
First of all, James points out that we encounter “many kinds of trouble.” Some trouble we face is of our own doing, some is of others’ doing, some is of God’s doing, but most is just because we live in a fallen, imperfect world. Can anyone say “Hurricane Michael,” “COVID-19 pandemic,” or is ‘2020” sufficient?
A catch phrase has come to define 2020 – “We are living in uncertain times…”
Let me ask a simple question, “Has anyone actually lived in certain times?”
Long before 2020, some of us lost a business in a market downturn, others received a phone call in the middle of the night informing us a family member has been tragically killed, still others went to the doctor feeling fine and left with the diagnosis of a life-threatening illness.
The only certainty in life is that life is uncertain and we will face “many kinds of trouble.”
Whatever form those troubles take, James contends these they are cause for joy, because they “test [our] faith.”
Difficult circumstances cause us to question God and force us to choose whether or not we’re going to depend on Him.
When the sailing is smooth, we have little reason to think about God. But when times get tough and we face situations that are bigger than our own ability to control, we realize we need help (of the divine variety).
During these times of testing, we must patiently wait upon the Lord in quiet trust. The Scottish pastor and author, George McDonald was right, “The principle part of faith is patience.”
Or as another Christian writer, Rubel Shelly, puts it, “Patience is the discipline of spirit that allows one to bear with difficult circumstances until God brings His solution and good purpose to light in the situation.”
Patience in difficult circumstances = faith in God.
The more patience we exercise, the more patience we develop. It’s like resistance training in the gym that helps us develop stronger muscles. When we stand firm and resist the troubles that push against us, we grow stronger.
“What doesn’t kill you will make a stronger” isn’t just a slogan, it’s the truth. Do you think it’s accidental that folks born between 1900 and 1930 are called the Greatest Generation? Are they morally superior? No, but they lived through the Great Depression and World Wars I and II and they became strong as a result.
James says the result of our fully-developed patience makes us “great Christians.” We become perfect (mature), complete, and have everything we need.
How does patience become this end-all, be-all? It’s because life’s uncertainties lead us to the one thing that is certain – God – and cause us to fully depend on Him.
And what we discover is that, no matter what is happening around us and to us, if we have God, we have enough!
When our faith grows to the point that we realize God is enough, we then know how to live with patience in even the most difficult of circumstances.
Some of us are facing some tough situations right now – physical illness, loss of job or income, broken relationship, grief, depression, an out of control teenager, or a combination of many challenging circumstances.
Even in those kinds of trouble and the uncertain times we all face, we can be joyful because we have the opportunity to wait patiently upon the Lord and have our faith in Him grow as a result.
God wants to use the difficult circumstances we face to develop us into the people He wants us to be. We may wish for an easier way, but there isn’t one.
That leads us to a second way James tells us…
How to Live with Patience with Difficult People.
What do we normally do when we encounter difficult people? First, we try to avoid them.
I have a friend that I served in ministry with at my former church in Alabama. He once stated from the pulpit that technology makes it easier to deal with difficult people. He explained that rather than talk to them, you can just text them.
Guess what everyone thought from then on when they got a text from him?
If we can’t avoid difficult people (and we usually can’t), we try to change them. We revel in “telling them off” or giving them “a piece of our mind.” We respond to harsh words with harsher words. We bombard folks with an onslaught of “oughts, shoulds, and have tos.”
Within our own family, could our attitude and behavior toward our spouses, children and parents be labeled as “patient?”
The perfect example of how to live with patience with others is found in Christ Himself. Even though His disciples oftentimes acted like ill-mannered, immature children, Jesus was patient with them. When they messed up, Christ didn’t yell and scream at them or belittle them. Usually He just let them live with the consequences of their actions and learn from it or He found a teachable moment to show them a better way to behave.
In every case, Jesus was patient with His disciples and He taught them to be patient with others. As a result, John (one who was ready to fight anybody and everybody) became the disciple of love and Peter (one who was impulsive and brash) became the calm and compassionate voice of reason in the Early Church.
There’s a popular bumper sticker that reads, “Be patient. God isn’t finished with me yet.” That may sound like an excuse for bad behavior, but it’s a reality. There is a sense in which God is still working on all of us.
But He doesn’t try to “fix” us (like we tend to try and do to other people). Instead, the Lord is patient with us until we come around and see the error of our ways. We’d do well to follow His example in our relationships with others.
So, what does James have to stay about how to live with patience toward difficult people?
Brothers and sisters, be patient until the Lord comes. See how the farmer waits for the land to produce its rich crop. See how patient he is for the fall and spring rains. You too must be patient. You must stand firm. The Lord will soon come back. Brothers and sisters, don’t find fault with one another. If you do, you will be judged. And the Judge is standing at the door! Brothers and sisters, think about the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. They are an example of how to be patient when you suffer. As you know, people who don’t give up are blessed. You have heard that Job was patient. And you have seen what the Lord finally did for him. The Lord is full of tender mercy and loving concern. (James 5:7-11 NIRV)
Just a couple of quick points:
First of all, we can live with patience toward others when we anticipate the Lord’s return. How is that?
We learn from the example of the farmers (vv. 7-8). They plant their seed, then patiently wait for the coming harvest.
Just like a farmer waits for the crop to develop until harvest time, we are to be patient with others until Christ returns and sets everyone and everything right. In the meantime, we are to refrain from complaining about others or fault-finding (v. 9).
In other words, we should keep our mouths shut and our minds open … while being patient.
It’s easier to be patient with others when we realize we need Christ the Judge to be patient with us.
Then, lastly, whether it’s in difficult circumstances or with difficult people, we must realize that living with patience is the pathway to the Lord’s blessings (v. 11)
If we want to be blessed and if we want others to be blessed, we must be patient.
Here’s some good advice from businessman and humorist Arnold Glasow: “The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it.”
Instead of going around and smashing other people, we must acknowledge that the Lord exercises patience with us because He is full of tender mercy and loving concern. We are to go and do likewise.
So James lets us know how to live with patience … in difficult circumstances and with difficult people.
As I mentioned last week, armed with this knowledge, James then asks us, “So what are you going to do about it?”
Before we determine if or how we will respond, he also reminds us of this fact that we’ll repeat every week: “Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.” (James 4:17 NLT)
I must confess that I’ve lived with a great deal of fear and trepidation this week. Knowing that I’m preaching on patience I figured God would test mine. Fortunately, I made it through the week virtually unscathed, but who knows what’s next, it is 2020 after all.
I vividly remember one time previously when I preached on the subject of patience. While writing the sermon, my computer crashed and I had to take it to the shop.
It was still in the shop on Friday evening when Lee and I went to walk the dogs (or they walked us). We had a new puppy and an older dog – both of whom acted like they’d never seen a leash or been on a walk before. As we were dragged down the street, I chronicled all the troubles in my life. In addition to my computer woes, I was a pastor so it’s a given I was also dealing with some difficult people. I had two teenagers at the time … need I say more?
Lee called it complaining but I call it stating the truth about the awful state of affairs. After I finished my litany of troubles (complaints), Lee asked, “What is it you’re preaching on this week?” I sheepishly replied, “Patience,” and she came back with, “So, are you going to preach about it or are you going to do it?”
How to live with patience … are you just going to hear about it or are you going to do it?
“Don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says.” (James 1:22a NLT)
One of life certainties is that we all face “many kinds of troubles.” So the question is: How are we going to respond – in difficult circumstances and with difficult people?
“Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for Him to act.” (Psalm 37:7a NLT)