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Jan 22, 2017

A Prophet's Patience

A Prophet's Patience

Passage: James 5:7-11

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: James

Keywords: job, models, patience, perseverance, seasons, suffering


We often think of patience in terms of what is needed towards other people. But much of the patience God talks about in his word that we need is needed towards Him. This message looks at that challenge as well as some of the things James says we can do to develop more patience.


A Prophet’s Patience

James 5:7-11

January 22, 2017


OPENING: Today’s text we are going to study starts out with this command:   Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming.  As you might guess, the rest of that paragraph is all about patience.  So, to help us let the Spirit of God begin to speak to us about this divine quality, here’s what I’d like us all to do:  In groups of 2-5, write down your best answers to the following questions.  You’ve got all of 5 minutes! (I know, I’m not very patient!)

  1. Come up with your best definition of “patience”?
  2. What is so attractive about patience?
  3. How does godly/Christ-like patience differ from merely human patience? What it is patient about (good vs. evil; time vs. eternal perspective; character & conduct vs. just conduct; return of Christ),
  4. How is perseverance different from patience?


Does anybody like being around impatient people?  Didn’t think so.

What is so bothersome about impatience?

What is so attractive about patience?  

I’m of the opinion that most people intuitively recognize and are drawn to good qualities in people that mirror God’s character.  Conversely, I think most people are repulsed by godless qualities in others and themselves. But the more godless someone is, the more they may hate godliness…just as the more godly someone is the more they should hate evil. 

So when we come to this quality of patience, godless people may find patience very irritating.  They may actually hate patient people. 

  • Drug lords might hate, even punish, a drug dealer of theirs who is “patient” with his customers who don’t have the money to pay on time.
  • Someone who thinks their immediate pleasure in life is paramount won’t probably appreciate it when their girlfriend/boyfriend values being patient and waiting until marriage for sexual intimacy.
  • Ruthless dictators don’t value police or military who are patient with dissenters. They will reward those who have zero tolerance for dissent and crack down on any with immediate and excessive force. 

But your average person who is a mixture of both good and evil as well as people who are perhaps more good than evil will naturally be drawn to those character qualities that reflect the goodness of God.  Which is WHY patience is one of those divine qualities that we usually enjoy in other people…unless we’re an impatient person. J

            So to the question, “WHY is patience important for we humans…and we Christ-followers in particular… to develop?” we can answer, “Because it makes us more like Christ.  It restores the image of God in us.  It’s what we were originally made to BE…all the time—patient.”     If you want to be Christ-like then you will automatically value growing in patience. 

While patience is pleasant and enjoyable in people we live around, it is safe to say that patience in God is…life-saving for us.  This isn’t the focus of today’s message, but according to Romans 9:22, if it were not for God's patience with rebellious people, humans would be toast.  And earlier, in Romans 2:4, we’re told that it is the riches of God’s patience that leads any of us to repentance.  Paul, chief of sinners, was shown mercy because of God’s “immense patience” (I Tim. 1:16).  And Peter tells us in 2 Peter 3:9 & 15 that it is God’s great patience that has led to all our salvation rather than Jesus returning sooner and bringing all history to a close before now—before we had a chance to be born and be born again in Jesus. 

It is that same topic of the return of Jesus to this earth that is bound inexorably to James’ call to patience in James 5:7-9.  Let’s read it.

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. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

            According to this passage, WHO are we being called to be patient towards?  There are at least 2 clear possibilities here, one more obvious than the other:

  • God himself. Yes, WE are being told to be patient with God.
  • Brothers and sisters, those we are prone to mumble and grumble against for whatever reasons seem legitimate to us in the moment.

So let’s start with the first and most obvious being that calls for our patience:  God.

What about God reveals our impatience? 

  • When He doesn’t act HOW we think He should.
  • When He doesn’t act WHEN we think he should.

If he did those two things—WHAT we want Him to do WHEN we want Him to do it—we wouldn’t grow impatient or frustrated with Him, would we? 

            It’s the same with people, isn’t it?  If they would just do WHAT we want them to do WHEN we want them to do it, we wouldn’t need to exercise patience, would we?  It is their failure to do WHAT we want WHEN we want it that drives us crazy, “makes us mad,” “gets under our skin,” etc. 

            But back to God.  There are lots of people who claim to be followers of Jesus who, at some point in their life, get SO frustrated with WHAT God has done or not done, permitted or not permitted to happen, that they walk away from Christ.  The stop listening to the Holy Spirit.  They stop trying to cultivate a daily, close and personal relationship with God…all because they failed to grow into patience

            What would a patient Christ-follower SAY to God when life isn’t working out the way they want it to…and usually in the timeframe they want it to happen? 

  • Worship God.
  • Surrender those expectations over and over.
  • Seek to know Jesus IN the frustrating situation.
  • Wait for God to move.
  • Pray for God-like patience.
  • Keep praying about whatever it is they are desiring.

What would a patient Christ-follower DO under those circumstances? 

  • Pray
  • Seek counsel of older, wiser saints.
  • Wrestle with God
  • Keep walking in righteousness
  • Keep loving God and people

Assuming that all our desires for ourselves and other people were good, holy, loving, righteous…God-like…is it not possible that God might still ask us to WAIT?  Wouldn’t our hearts still long for heaven on earth?  Wouldn’t we still want to see God make things right in our world, establish His kingdom in every nation, city, village, neighborhood and home? 

            What’s that called?  What’s that TIME or period of history called, according to the Bible?  “The reign of Christ.”  “The Millennium.” “The Kingdom of God come to earth.”  “The New Jerusalem.”  There are over 300 verses in the N.T. about Jesus’ return (1 of every 13 verses).  And waiting for it has required a lifetime of patience for every child of God in the church age so far!

            Which is why James says patience in this walk with Jesus is required “until the Lord’s coming” (vs. 7).  Our deepest longings for life and God and perfection will not be realized until Christ reigns.

James then uses a farming metaphor (vs. 7) when he talks about the seasonal nature of farming and how farmers are always patiently waiting for the best crop conditions—fall rains and spring rains. 

ILL:  In our part of the country and world, it’s fall, winter and spring rains that farmers look for. 

  • Fall rains help the winter wheat grow.
  • Winter rain/snow helps the ground store up deep moisture and replenishes the water table.
  • Spring and early summer rains make a good crop great.

Some years are better than others for moisture.  Some crops are better than others.  And God is very clear in His word that He takes responsibility for the very weather a crops we experience. 

Drought is often a sign of His discipline or judgment just as rain is a sign of His blessing and kindness.  (It was nice to hear Franklin Graham remind the world of that at the Inauguration this week when it started raining.  Time will tell whether or not our politicians embrace that truth and honor God’s by the way they govern and legislate.)

ILL:  I’ve always loved growing up and living in an agricultural region of our country.  I love driving through the Palouse in the spring, seeing the various shades of green from forest to wheat or barley or lentils or hay.  I love watching it change in summer to golden brown or see the neat rows of freshly cut alfalfa before it’s bailed.  (In fact, did you know that our Palouse region often produces twice the wheat per acre that the rest of the country gets, 100 vs. 50 bushels/acre national average?) 

            Maybe this is why farmers tend to be more religious than city folk.  They know they can’t make it rain when they want or just how much they want.  They will probably either develop a fatalistic view of life that says, “What will be will be,” OR they will learn to wait patiently…season by season…year after year… for what God will do either out of His mercy and goodness OR out of his justice and judgment.  City folk forget that God sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Mt. 5:45).  They just expect to get what they need at any grocery store they find at any time of day or night.  That really builds godly patience, doesn’t it? J

            But what does a farmer do when the rains don’t come?  Does he go find out and get mad at the dirt?  Does he call up the fertilizer company and shout at them?  Does he go out and take a sledge hammer to his tractor?  No.  He will either rail at God in anger or pray to God in dependence.  And if he knows his Bible, he will also know that droughts and poor crops and even bankruptcy may not be so much a reflection of his relationship to God as it is a reflection of his nation’s relationship to God.  When God is judging a nation for sin, even the righteous are not spared living under that judgment.  Just ask Daniel and his 3 Hebrew friends.  Just ask Nehemiah or Ezra or anyone living in Israel at the time of Christ under Roman rule. 

APP:  Which is one very good reason why we must be constantly calling our nation to Christ, constantly reminding people of God’s truth, of justice and righteousness and the curse sinful rebellion against God and His truth always brings.

APP:  So, how are you doing with being patient with God? It’s ironic that we should need to learn patience with God, isn’t it?  Who needs patience with someone who is perfect?  WE do… precisely because we aren’t perfect. 

Which leads us right to where James goes next:  our relationships with each other.  

You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

            If living with God requires patience, how much more living with imperfect people?  James knows that our natural, sinful tendency is to “grumble” against each other when we’re frustrated and impatient, right?  Impatience with people almost always manifests itself in words of discontent, right?

            But it is possible that James is even calling for a higher standard than just not grumbling against God’s family openly.  The Greek word used here speaks more often of an internal sighing or groaning

(Mk. 7:34—Jesus “sighed” when he healed the blind man;  Rm. 8:23—the whole creation groans waiting for final redemption; 2 Cor. 5:2, 4—We groan inwardly waiting for the redemption of our bodies; Heb. 13:17—we are to submit to spiritual leaders so that they can lead joyfully, not with groaning.)

APP:  Anyone here today never find themselves impatient with other people?  Anyone here not tempted to “sigh” against or “grumble” or, worse yet, lash out at others when they don’t do WHAT we want them to do WHEN we want them to do it?  We’re all guilty. 

            So what might help us slow down, calm down and exercise a little more patience? 

ILL:  Does your behavior change when you know someone in authority is close by and watching?

  • Do you drive differently when a policeman/woman is there?
  • Did you behave differently when your parents were home verse when they were out?
  • Did you ever act differently in class when the teacher stepped out of the room from when she was in the room?
  • How about when the regional manager or corporate execs are watching verses a normal work day.

Knowing someone in authority is watching, listening and nearby has a tendency to put us on our “best behavior,” doesn’t it?  Even for out of control people, police presence tends to change their behavior. 

APP:  How much more the presence of God?  That is what James calls us to remember:  Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

While there is no condemnation, no judgment, for those who are “in Christ,” that doesn’t mean God will not be our judge in some very important ways. (See Rm. 14:10 & 2 Cor. 5:10) We will still “suffer loss” in some form for words of wood, hay and stubble verses words of gold, silver and precious stones. 

Furthermore, how would our conversation about each other or about “the church” change if we knew Jesus was listening at the door?  Because He is.

  • How would our impatience with each other change if we knew Jesus was going to call us home today? In 30 minutes?  When we’re most exasperated with our wife or husband or teenager or pastor or friend? 

Changing behavior because of that isn’t hypocritical; it’s wise! 

APP:  So let’s let the Holy Spirit work with us right now.

  • WHO are you having the hardest time being patient with these days? What is God asking you to do and become in order to both develop and manifest patience towards this person and others like them?  Will you do that?

Now let’s move into the area of HOW God develops patience in us, His children.  The next two verses are going to give us some help.

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.

  • Embracing godly patience often involves suffering.
  • Growing in godly patience involves perseverance.
  • Maintaining godly patience involves godly examples.

#1.  Embracing godly patience often involves suffering.

            While we long for a world without suffering, imagine a sinful world without any suffering? 

  • Imagine a world where athletes didn’t have to suffer to get better,
  • Where criminals didn’t suffer for their crimes,
  • Where good people didn’t have to suffer against evil
  • Where no one suffered physical illnesses
  • Where no one had to overcome tough obstacles…or become self-sacrificing in order to help other.
  • Where evil people didn’t suffer for their sin—no fatal crashes, no drunk or distracted driving, no pain from adultery, no brokenness from abuse.

What a bizarre world it would be without suffering!  I don’t think it would be a world most of us would want to inhabit…certainly not with our sinful natures.

  • It’s when were falsely accused of doing wrong when we’ve done good that suffering with Christ makes us more like Him. I’m praying right now for a soon-to-graduate college student who has been wrongly accused of cheating, an accusation that may cost her great suffering if she isn’t vindicated.
  • It’s when we are called to cling to Christ when life is terribly painful that Jesus is making us more like Himself in patience and perseverance.

Patience in the midst of suffering is a statement of faith in God—faith in His timing, His process, His provision, His permissive will, His sovereignty, His grace, His love, His entire nature and what He allows us to go through in this sinful world.

            While suffering is not something we’re called to go looking for, it is something we’re called not to run from.  It is something we’re called to embrace because we know that our Savior embraced it time and again because He was so good and living in a sinful world.  Jesus embraced suffering because it brought God closer to people…and people closer to God. 


  • What suffering are you allowing to lie to you that God doesn’t care?
  • What suffering is trying to drive a wedge between you and God rather than become glue that bonds you together?
  • What suffering is God asking you to embrace patiently right now?

Embracing godly patience often involves suffering.

#2.  Growing in godly patience requires perseverance.

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. 

Job’s perseverance.  Just what was that?  What did he persevere in?  Not silence.  Not question-less faith.  Not agreement with the theological assumptions of his “friend comforters.” 

            Life up until God pointed Job out to Satan didn’t require a lot of perseverance.  Job was a man of character, but it wasn’t perfect.  Job 1:8 gives God’s own estimate of Job’s character.  He says there was no one on earth like him… blameless and upright, a man who fear[ed] God and shun[ed] evil.”

            But Job was not perfect.  It was only through suffering, some of the deepest suffering imaginable, that he developed perseverance. 

So in what did Job persevere?  What was Job tempted NOT to keep doing? 

Wasn’t he being told to “curse God and die”?  Wasn’t he tempted to stop engaging with God, stop arguing with God, stop communicating with God and just get bitter and cut off the relationship with God?  But Job kept persevering in his questioning of God and even ultimately questioning God’s goodness.  But that questioning ended when God started speaking. And Job was still open to hearing God speak. 

Suffering over time…suffering that goes on and on…has a way of sifting our inadequate, incomplete and sometimes downright distorted notions of God. If we love our incomplete and insufficient view of God more than we love God, we will probably grow so disillusioned and frustrated with God in our suffering that we will jettison our faith and end the relationship.  But if we are willing to allow God to sift out our incomplete and errant concepts of Him through suffering, we will see what the Lord finally wants to bring about (vs. 11b). 

ILL:  Jerry Sittser’s perseverance in the suffering of losing 3 family members in a drunk-driver accident: his mother, his wife and his daughter.  Plunged into the darkness of deep grief, he is forced to wrestle with his own theological understanding of God, specifically what we call God’s sovereignty.  Whereas prior to the accident he had depended on God’s sovereignty to be something warm and comforting even when life didn’t quite go as he had planned, his new experience with deep suffering and with choosing to persevere in painful dialogue with God sifted his incomplete view of God.  

Jerry admits that he chose to become a professor of theology because he wanted to think about big questions like God and suffering and whether God could really be good and loving by allowing terrible suffering.  But he goes on to say,

“But after the accident I had to think about [those big questions], especially about God’s sovereignty, which forced itself upon me through the crisis of my experience.  For years I had prayed every morning that God would protect my family from harm and danger, and I thanked God every night that these prayer had been answered.  I did not thank God the night of the accident, and I hesitated for many months afterwards to begin praying again for anything.  I was tortured by the question of where God was that night.  I wondered whether I would ever again be able to trust him.”  [Sittser, p. 138, A Grace Disguised.I]

He writes, “I longed to continue believing in God.  It was bad enough to lose three members of my family.  Why make things worse by losing God, too?” 

But his crisis of suffering became a crisis of faith in which he probed the boundaries of belief.  He went down the path of atheism and found it only made pain and suffering more meaningless“The trail of atheism I followed, therefore, led me right back to belief in God.  But I still found myself bewildered by his sovereignty.  It still towered over me like a huge, granite cliff.” (p. 140)

Jerry goes on to talk quite in-depth about how that suffering changed his view of God and particularly God’s sovereignty.  He says it actually enlarged his view of God.  Then he says this at the end of that chapter entitled “The Absence of God.”

“In the end, however, I do not think that I will ever be able to comprehend God’s sovereignty.  The very idea transcends the mind’s capacity to fathom it.  Still, I have come to a partial resolution.  I have made peace with his sovereignty and have found comfort in it.  It is no longer odious to me.” (p. 144) 

He goes on to talk about a waking dream he had one night he could not sleep in which he saw the accident from the perspective of standing in the field at the corner of the highway where it all happened.  The light forced him to see it in greater detail than ever before. “But it also enabled us to see the presence of God in that place.  I knew in that moment that God was there at the accident.  God was there to welcome our loved ones into heaven.  God was there to comfort us.  God was there to sent those of us who survived in a new direction.” 

“This waking dream did not give me an answer to the questions of why the accident happened in the first place, nor did it convince me that it was good.  It did not erase my grief or make me happy.  But it did give me a measure of peace.  From that point on I began, in small ways at least, to believe that God’s sovereignty was a blessing and not a curse.  The cliff still towers above me, but now it gives me security and fills me with awe.” (p. 145)

Do you see how growth in the deepest of ways requires perseverance.  We don’t need perseverance for a shallow faith.  But we do need it if we hope to swim in the deep end of life!

Which leads me to the last way James points out that may help us develop godly patience: take a look at the examples of suffering saints God has given us in His Word and in church history. 

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. 

#3.  Maintaining godly patience involves godly examples.

We don’t have time this morning to look at any of those prophets.  But if you want a prime example, read the book of Jeremiah.  Read the book of Job.  And read the stories of suffering saints like Jerry Sittser of our generation and city…or saints of previous centuries like John Bunyan, Adoniram Judson, William Carey, Amy Carmichael, William Wilberforce, Nate & Rachel Saint, Jim & Elizabeth Elliot, Betty and John Stam (China martyrs) or Betty Olsen (Vietnam martyr). 

            If you are suffering, read the life stories of other suffering saints. 

I’ll leave you with a couple of very condensed versions of two of my favorite enduring saints, John Bunyan and Adoniram Judson. 

John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress, spent 12 years in jail because he preached without the required license from the religious authorities. If he had promised to stop preaching, they would have let him out of jail. He had a wife and children, including a blind daughter. He said that when they would leave after visiting him in jail, it was like tearing his flesh from his bones to see them go. But, he refused to promise to stop preaching in order to secure his release.

            Adoniram Judson was America’s first foreign missionary.  He graduated from Brown University at age 19 as valedictorian of his class. He was appointed to work in India by America’s first mission society.  But lack of funds forced him to travel all the way to England (by boat in the early 1800s) to look for support, money that never came from there but later from an estate left to the American missionary society. 

            He returned to the U.S., married Nancy Hasseltine in February of 1812, and 13 days latter, they left together for India.  After pressure from the British East India Company, they were forced to leave India and took a ship bound for Burma.  During that voyage, their first child was stillborn.  They arrived to find the only other missionaries in Burma leaving, Felix Carey (William Carey’s son).  They dove into study of the Burmese language, 12 hours a day.  They moved several times and then, after 6 years of work, 10 faithful believers were baptized.  During those years they were harassed by government officials and suffered frequent bouts of life-threatening fever.  Their second child, Roger, died at 7 months of age. 

            In 1822, Nancy was forced to take medical leave first in England then in America.  Adoniram stayed on in Burma to work on the Bible translation. 

            Then in 1824, Nancy returned just as war broke out between the English and Burma.  All foreigners were suspected of being spies.  Adoniram was arrested and confined in a death prison, awaiting execution. It was a filthy, vermin-infested, dark, dank prison with fetters binding prisoners’ ankles.  At night the prison guards, whose faces and chests had been branded for being one-time criminals themselves, hoisted the ankle fetters to a pole suspended from the ceiling until only prisoner’s heads and shoulders rested on the ground.  Each day executions were carried out. 

            The only way Nancy could see her husband was to bribe prison officials.  Seven months after he was imprisoned, Nancy gave birth to another child, Maria.  Three months later, with British forces approaching, the prisoners were forced on a death march further north.  After a year and a half of imprisonment, Adoniram was finally released to help interpret peace negotiations with the British.  For the first time in 2 years, they were actually able to enjoy a little time together as family.  But they were separated a few weeks later as Adoniram was forced back to the peace negotiations.  Weeks of separation turned into months.  Then the news came by letter:  Nancy had died of fever.  Within a few months, baby Maria also died. 

            Adoniram, age 38, drowned his sorrows in work.  But the depression only grew.  He stopped social contact with others, even other missionaries.  Two years after Nancy and Maria’s deaths, he moved into the jungle, built himself a hut and lived as a recluse.  He went so far as to dig a grave where he kept vigil for days on end, filling his mind with morbid thoughts of death.  Spiritual desolation engulfed him.  He wrote, “God is to me the Great Unknown.  I believe in him, but I find him not.”  He was in a full-blown mental breakdown. 

            It was through the tremendous outpouring of love and prayer by colleagues and native converts that slowly brought him back.  He began traveling around Burma, helping other missionaries.  But knowing that his greatest contribution would be translating the Bible into Burmese, he set aside two years for the task. 

At age 46 he married Sarah Boardman, a 30 year old widow.  During the first 10 years of their marriage, Sara gave birth to 8 children.  But in 1845, the year after her last child was born, while en route to the United States on medical leave, Sarah died.  Judson and the 3 of 8 children who accompanied them to the U.S., arrived after being away from America for 33 years. 

Adoniram was immediately hailed as a celebrity and drafted for a circuit of speaking engagements.  During his travels, he met and married his 3rd wife, Emily Chubbock.  They would return to Burma, leaving Judson’s 3 children in the care of 2 different families.  They would never see their father again. 

Upon arriving in Burma, Adoniram found that only two of the five children he had left there were still living.  Adoniram and Emily served 3 years in Burma where Emily deliverd a baby girl, also named Emily.  In the spring of 1850, with Adoniram’s wife soon expecting another child, Adoniram, who was seriously ill, left on a sea voyage, hoping to recover.  Less than a week later, he died and was buried at sea.  Ten days later Emily underwent a stillbirth but she didn’t hear of her husband’s death until August.  She returned to the U.S. the next January along with little Emily.  But her own health had been broken in Burma and she died 3 years later at 36 years of age.  [Taken from the book From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya by Ruth A. Tucker, pp. 121-131.]

Listen to James:  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.

APP:  What in your life is calling for perseverance in your faith?  You’re not alone.  To greater or lesser degrees, all of us will be required to endure suffering that can lead us to perseverance.  Take heart.  You are not alone…and you will shine brightly through all eternity. 

For further Study and Discussion:

  1. Look further at some references that deal with God’s patience towards us (see Romans 2:4; 9:22; I Tim. 1:16; 2 Pt. 3:9, 15). In what ways does God exercise patience towards human beings?  How is that different from the patience we are asked to exercise with each other?
  2. Read the following passages. With who or what are we called to exercise patience?  1:11; Romans 12:12; Heb. 6:12; I Thess. 5:14; Eph 4:2; Rev. 1:9.
  3. Give some thought to HOW we can all develop both the attitude and action of patience. What principles for doing this were outlined in this message?  What other things might you suggest someone could do to develop patience?
  4. Patience and perseverance are often connected in Scripture. Study the following passages and talk about just how those two qualities are connected as well as when and where they are most needed. See Rom. 5:3, 2 Thess 1;4; 3:5; James 1:3-4.
  5. Share an experience, time or period in your life when God was obviously trying to grow your patience with Him. What helped you learn to be patient with God and His timing?
  6. Talk about practical things that you have found help you be more patient with the people around you. In what situations do you find yourself most impatient?  Why is that?  What do you think putting on the love and patience of Jesus in those situations/with those people might look like?