I'm not sure about that.
I am not a patient person. Ask anyone who loves me. I've never been good at waiting. I always want to give people their presents before Christmas - why wait to make someone happy? I get impatient too quickly in traffic. As a swimmer, I sometimes had to wait hours and hours to swim for a minute and a half - or less. In order to wait that long, I'd have to turn the music up in my headphones and mentally go somewhere else entirely. I had to distract myself - to make myself busy doing something else. I don't like waiting. I also don't like to be kept waiting - which is why I'm so totally OCD about being early for everything. And whenever I have to wait, you'll find me keeping busy - answering emails, listening to voicemails, distracting myself in any way possible. Because it's easier to wait - when you're also accomplishing something else. But still, patience is not something I'm good at. Not in any meaningful way.
I'm even less patient when I think someone I love is suffering. When I think my neighbor is experiencing some kind of injustice. When my friend has been offended. When people are hungry, cold, sick, lonely, or afraid. In the face of things like these, I'm far from patient. And I can't buy into the "Oh, with God all will be well, deary" attitude. That point when all things will be well could be a long time from now - and in the meantime, folks are still suffering. I refuse to be patient in that.
Which is why this gem of a text, which we'll hear in worship this coming Sunday, caught my eye:
Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. [James 5:7-10]
Be patient. Be patient. Don't grumble and be patient. Like the prophets? Okay. Now, I know that's not true. The prophets are certainly an example of faith in suffering - but they are far from an example of patience. And they grumbled all the time. More than grumbled. They hollered. They railed against the people of Israel because of their lifestyle, their choices, their false gods. The prophets were tough, strong, harsh (in most cases) folks - who cried at the top of their lungs for faithfulness and justice. And they suffered for their witness. They suffered because they spoke out, because they spoke the truth, because they tried to call the people back to God.
When I think of the prophets, I imagine that they sometimes felt tired of waiting. Which is why I've never seen them as an example of patience. I imagine that they, like Moses, wanted to see God's promises fulfilled; that they wanted to see the promised land and know the peace of the kingdom of God. I imagine that they hungered and thirsted for it - not patient emotions. So, I have to believe that the patience we're hearing about in this passage is different. We're not talking about being patient with the world around us - about settling for injustice - or being patient with flawed systems and corrupt institutions.
Waiting patiently for the Lord is different. If we look at the text, the passage directs us to be patient as we wait for God. Not to be patient with the world - but to patiently wait for God. For the Lord to come. The metaphor of farming might help: we are somewhere between the early rain and the late rain. The fruit of our faithfulness, the fruit of God's love within us, is still in the ground. So we must be patient as we wait for that late rain - which will cause the harvest to finish its growth. That will happen when God says that time is complete - not when we would like it to happen. In the meantime, as we hunger and thirst for the kingdom, as we cry out for justice like the prophets, we're encouraged to draw strength from the truth that the Lord is near to us. That Jesus came to earth to be with us, gave us the gift of faith, and sent us the Spirit to lead us on. And in the meantime, get on with the work. Together.
Don't grumble against one another. Find ways to stay in relationship. Find ways to offer each other kindness instead of grumbling. The world could use that now, I think. Continue the work of the saints and the prophets before you - knowing that it comes at a cost - knowing that the prophets suffered first. But do not confuse our patiently waiting on the Lord, our willingness to submit to God's will, as patience with the injustice around us. Do not confuse our patient and eager waiting for God's justice with a lack of commitment to work for equality now. Both of these things are at the heart of our faith. Submission to God and God's will - and a deeply held desire to build the kingdom now - here, on earth - with God's help, as much as ever we can. It's a both/and.
The early Christians who received this letter believed that Jesus was coming tomorrow - and they were eager for the end of time to arrive. So this letter urges them to be patient - and to wait on God's time, on God's will. And the rest of the letter urges them, while they wait, to be just as eager about doing the work of God: welcoming the stranger, feeding the poor, caring for the orphan and widow, freeing the captive, caring for the oppressed and marginalized. And so, too, the letter calls to us. Be patient as you wait for the Lord and for the Lord's direction - for we are only servants of the Master - and know that the waiting will be easier for you if you are busy about the Lord's work.