My memories of Sunday School reach back to the old musty basement of our centuries-old church building. I can yet feel how the cold of the metal folding chairs we sat on seeped through my thin Sunday dresses. Yet the memories are sweet, mostly because of the teachers who opened up God’s Word to me. One such teacher was Ann. I recall her bright golden-brown eyes and wide, warm smile welcoming me into the partitioned-off area we called our classroom.
More recent memories of Ann are different. I still see Ann’s bright golden-brown eyes and her wide, warm smile, but they are housed in a body crippled by the stroke that caused suffering for over twenty years. I see her husband, Woody, leaning over her from behind, his hands gripping the handles of the wheelchair as he steers her into the church for Sunday worship.
Eventually, Woody walked into the church, wheelchair and its occupant absent. His dear partner’s deteriorating health left her increasingly unable to get out of the house. I remember his smiling and shaking his head, saying he just couldn’t interest her in getting out.
Then one Sunday he walked into the building, knowing he’d never convince her to come out with him again because she’d traded that crippled body in a wheelchair for a new body in glory!
For years Woody, like the everyday saint that he is, tenderly cared for his wife, Ann, day in and day out until she could hardly do anything for herself, until her weak heart gave up and the fight ceased forever. Woody and Ann are real-life examples to me of saints who suffer long with patience.
They exemplify the fact that those who are patient amidst the pain, looking for Jesus to come, are blessed.
Woody will never write a book. He will never be world famous. But in God’s book, his name will be at the top. Why? Because he was patient every day through a difficult circumstance, committed to God and to his wife whom he loved fully and faithfully.
Examples of patience like this are hard to find nowadays. In our world of “instant everything” at the tap of a screen, we are conditioned for impatience. Yet God lists it as a fruit that each of us should exhibit in our lives as His followers (see Galatians 5:22-23).
We see another picture of patience in our theme verse for this new blog year. James 5:7-8 says, “Be patient, therefore, brothers [and sisters], until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”
James opens the book by admonishing his readers to consider it all joy when they face trials. As he closes the book, he encourages them again to persevere in trials and suffering by doing two things: 1) offering the example of the farmer, and 2) giving them a reason to persevere: the coming of the Lord.
Let’s look first at the example of the farmer. I have a friend who works in a local family-run grocery store that sells only organic produce and meat raised without hormones. With the popularity of that kind of eating recently and the fear many people have had in shopping at big box stores during the pandemic, my friend’s store has been extremely busy for the last year.
The store also sells seeds. Many more people, due to the fear of supply chains being interrupted, have decided to plant their own gardens. It’s evident that many of these well-meaning people have little awareness of what it means to plant, grow, harvest, and preserve their own food.
Further, in their panic, they are anxious to get going with planting seeds as soon as the first warm day hits. When that takes place in March in Canada, my friend has found that she has to hold her customers off, reminding them that we can sometimes get snowstorms in May where we live!
James illustrates here that the farmer knows these things take time. He tells us that the farmer waits for the rains to come so his crop will grow. Though he doesn’t mention it here, we know that the farmer also waits to plant the seed until the ground is soft and warm and the danger of frost is past.
All of this requires patience.
So…how can we endure faithfully through difficult and painful circumstances?
1) We can learn through the example of the farmer that the waiting will be rewarded, and 2) we can be strengthened in that waiting by remembering that the coming of the Lord is near.
Just like the prophets and Job who were blessed as they exhibited patience in their pain, we can know that regardless of what happens to us here, we will be blessed with knowing His compassion and mercy. If we are patient in our sufferings, waiting like a farmer waits for the rain to water his crop, God will bless us. We will be like Him who endured more pain for our sake than any of us could have imagined.
I love how Ann Voskamp expresses this connection between love, patience, and Christ’s passion on our behalf in her book The Broken Way. She says:
“Love, before it is anything, to be love at all, it is first patient. And I’d experienced enough to know that patience is nothing but a willingness to suffer. Patience, and the word ‘passion,’ they both come from the same root word, ‘pation,’ to suffer” (p. 137).
Later in the book she clarifies the meaning of the word “passion”:
“’Passion’—its broadest meaning is ‘to endure,’ ‘to undergo.’ That’s the point, the sharp point. Passion is literally about being willing to ‘undergo’, to go under your cross and carry it for love” (p. 151).
My sisters, Woody and Ann knew something about that kind of love. They knew what it is to go under their cross and carry it for love—love for each other, love for their Saviour. They daily endured their cross of painful sickness and sorrow and despised its shame as Jesus did (see Hebrews 12:3).
Ann is now with her Saviour in the heavenly places. Her Saviour is at His Father’s right hand, waiting for the one word that will send Him down again to all those who diligently seek Him and to reward them with His presence here on Earth again (see Hebrews 11:6).
No matter what He calls us to endure here: persecutions, caring for the physically or mentally ill, looking after orphans or widows, bearing reproach and criticism from people who call themselves God’s children, personal illness, heartbreak, infertility, broken relationships, addictions, a world pandemic…in ALL those things we can suffer long through His power and strength.
And the reward? Well, it truly is out of this world. Amen. Come soon, Lord Jesus!
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