Digging in Deeper: James 5:7

“Therefore, brothers and sisters, be patient until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth and is patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains.” (CSB – Read the chapter)

Do you like waiting? I can honestly say that I don’t mind at all waiting for things…if I can be entertained while I’m waiting. But to simply sit with nothing to do but twiddle my thumbs until it’s time for whatever it is? Yeah…I don’t do very well with that. Are you with me? Given our culture, I suspect you are. Patience is a virtue in which we tend to be sorely lacking.

Why is that? Well, we’ve never been particularly good at waiting as a people. The longer the time lag on the waiting is going to be, the worse we are. We want to see things happen. But, we live in an instant culture. We’re used to being able to get what we want with the push of a button or the swipe of our thumb. If we can’t, that must mean something is broken. And if something is broken, that’s when the monster comes out.

We watch this happen with frustration in our kids, but the truth is we’re not much different. They drive us crazy at restaurants, for instance, demanding a phone to keep them occupied for the few minutes we have to sit there between ordering the food and it’s arrival, but they only do that because we’ve shown them to do it by our own behavior. We recently stayed on the top floor of a four-story hotel. I would regularly pull out my phone to occupy my mind on the ride up and down. And it wasn’t a slow elevator.

In light of all this James’ words here are hard. If we struggle with a four-story elevator ride, something like the return of Christ is a killer. And yet as Jesus followers that’s the thing for which we are to spend our lives waiting. Patiently no less, James tells us here. How are we suppose to manage this?

Well, we start by weaning ourselves back off our need for constantly being entertained. We learn once again how to be content with stillness and a little bit of downtime. Rather than piddling away our lives with meaningless and mindless entertainment, we let ourselves experience a little more of the rich creative potential that a little bit of boredom can unlock. But that’s not all.

The rest of what James says here points us helpfully further in the right direction. The word James uses here that is translated “patient” is makrothumesate. Try that one five times fast (hint: the last e is not silent and sounds like a long a, and the last a sounds like avocado). This is not just your garden-variety patience. It does not indicate that we are to simply sit on our hands and be bored while we wait for Jesus’ soon-coming return.

And on that, can we acknowledge we need to rework our definition of “soon”? Soon in reference to the second coming of Christ throughout the New Testament doesn’t mean it is for sure happening in the next few minutes or even the next few weeks. It means we don’t have any idea when it could be and so we need to live with the sense of anticipation that it could be tomorrow.

That’s a hard sense to develop, though, isn’t it. Understanding better what James says here will make it a bit easier. He said that we should be patient like a farmer. Once a farmer has planted his crops, what comes next. Sitting on his hands until they grow and yield their fruit? Hardly. What comes next is work. Lots of work. Lots of hard work.

Farmers do have slow seasons (namely when their spot on the globe tilts away from the sun), but even then they are never idle. They work all the time. Farming means long days and lots of hours. There’s no such thing as overtime. There’s just time. When you run a farm there is always something to be done. Always. If you’re the child of a farmer, you know that boredom is the surest way to a healing load of extra work. So you make sure you aren’t. Ever.

James is saying that we need to live our lives waiting for Jesus’ return like a farmer lives his life waiting for crops to grow. There is always something to be done. There are times to rest and be still, for sure, but there’s never time to be bored. There is Scripture to be studied, prayers to be prayed, spiritual disciplines to be pursued, people to be loved, persecutions to be endured, temptations to be overcome, and the list goes on.

And all of these things are done with an eye toward the horizon, looking for the clouds to be rolled back as a scroll and the Lord to descend with a cry of victory. To rather clunkily adapt a common phrase: If we have time to lean, we have time to be pursuing righteousness while we wait for our hope to be made sight.

So, are you bored? If you’re a follower of Jesus and you are, you’re not doing it right. Let’s get to the work of waiting with patience for our Lord to return. There’s much to be done.

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