Summary: How long, Lord?
A CALL TO PATIENCE
‘Patience is a virtue,’ suggests the old adage. Yet when we pray for more patience what do we get? We get more affliction!
This subject was mooted early in James’ epistle, when he somewhat surprisingly suggested that we ‘should count it all joy’ when we fall into various trials (James 1:2). Whatever does he mean? Well, he says, the trying of our faith gives birth to patience – and if it is a virtue (I suggest) then to do without it would leave us sadly lacking: whereas (according to James), to possess it leaves us lacking nothing (James 1:3-4).
Now, as James draws towards the end of his epistle, he returns to this subject, anticipating the coming of the Lord (James 5:7). The writer speaks of a steadfastness which sets us up for the long haul (James 5:8). We learn from this that patience is not passive, but active.
I remember an anecdote concerning Mr. Spurgeon, who addressed certain enthusiasts who were expecting the soon return of Jesus (as we all must) with the words of the angels to the disciples: ‘Why stand ye gazing into heaven?’ (cf. Acts 1:11). I well remember a certain 14-year-old brother writing something to the effect of, ‘he who is always looking into the sky bumps into things!’ There needs to be a practicality in our patience, that does not neglect everyday duty.
Of course, we want the promise ‘as soon as possible’ (as we say). We long for the expected end (cf. James 5:11) - at our earliest convenience, rather than God’s! We are like children in a car, ever asking, ‘Are we there yet?’
As we wait for the Lord, we sympathise - empathise even - with the suffering of the church in every age. ‘How long Lord?’ they asked (Psalm 13:1-2; Habakkuk 1:2; Revelation 6:10). In doing so we are entering with them into the sufferings not only of David and the prophets and martyrs, but also of Christ (cf. Psalm 35:17). When Martin Luther King asked the question, ‘How long?’ in his speeches, there was a man standing nearby to prompt him: ‘Not long preacher, not long!’
If the Lord seems to be delaying it is because He is merciful, not slack (cf. 2 Peter 3:9). Our frustration at God so easily spills over to disrupt the fellowship, and we forget that “the judge is at the doors” (James 5:9). It is no wonder that James speaks of the need to guard our tongues with bit and bridle (James 3:2-3)!
Jeremiah was hunted down by the men of his own home-town (Jeremiah 11:21). Ezekiel suffered bereavement (Ezekiel 24:15-18). Daniel and his three friends were deported (Daniel 1:3-6). Hosea’s marriage breakdown was inevitable and unavoidable (Hosea 1:2-3).