Three Ways to Wait When Hard Times Hit

James 5:7-11

August 28, 2018 | Ray Pritchard

How much time did you spend waiting last year?

I read recently that we spend up to 1/3 of our waking hours waiting. It may be waiting in line or waiting at the doctor’s office or waiting for a phone call or waiting for test results or waiting for an answer from a friend. People living in large cities spend a lot of time on the road. I talked with a friend from Atlanta who said it takes her 45 minutes to travel the nine miles from where she lives to where she works. That’s 45 minutes each way, and that’s on a good day.

Most of us would rather do anything than wait.
Some of us would rather do the wrong thing than wait.

Most of life is waiting

Truth be told, most of life is waiting.

Waiting for an appointment to see the doctor.
Waiting to graduate.
Waiting to be accepted into college.
Waiting for your first job offer.
Waiting for the right time to start a family.
Waiting for your test scores.
Waiting for your loved ones to come to Christ.
Waiting for the Lord to bring the right man or the right woman into your life.
Waiting to find out what God wants you to do.
Waiting for someone to buy your house.
Waiting for your prayers to be answered.
Waiting for your husband to come home from a business trip.
Waiting for your oldest daughter to come back to the Lord.

Waiting is one of the hardest parts of the Christian life. Thousands act who cannot wait. We think waiting is nothing more than passive resig­nation, giving into our circumstances, throwing up our hands in despair and walking off the playing field. We don’t “wait” for the Lord because we think “waiting” means giving up.

Waiting isn’t passive

But that only shows how little we understand the Bible or the Lord. From a biblical perspective, wait­ing isn’t passive; it’s the most proactive thing we can do. To “wait” on the Lord means to get out of the way so he can act. When Jesus stood before his accusers, he did not retaliate. If you think it’s easy to keep silent in the face of false accusations, it’s only because you haven’t tried it lately.

With that as background, we turn to our text where James shows us three ways to wait when hard times hit. Remember that he is writing to believers in the first century who were poor, struggling and scattered across the Roman Empire. They had been abused, lied to, misused, and exploited, especially by wealthy landowners who ripped them off, stole their money, and walked away laughing. They were at the mercy of rich men who got away with murder both figuratively and literally.

And there was nothing they could do about it.

What does the Christian gospel say to those who are cheated?
How do we respond in a godly fashion when we are mistreated?
How do we keep our faith alive when hard times seem to have no end?

Waiting doesn’t come easy

James says we must learn to wait on the Lord. The operative word is “learn.” Waiting doesn’t come easy for most of us. No one wants to wait when your loved ones are suffering, or when you are being cheated. Yet often that is what we must do.

Life isn’t fair.
When that unfairness happens to us, we want to shout, “I didn’t sign up for this.”
What do we do then?

Let’s walk through this passage and see the three ways we are to wait when hard times hit.

Wait Expectantly

“Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near” (vv. 7-8). 

Consider the farmer.

That’s a noble profession. We wouldn’t eat if there weren’t farmers to grow the crops and tend the herds. Farming is hard work, which is why not many people want to do it nowadays. Today’s farmer must be an economist, financier, business executive and computer expert on top of all the things he has to know about growing crops and raising animals. The farmer must have an extra dose of patience because an impatient farmer will lose the shirt off his back. James wants us to think about the farmer who waits for early rain in the fall and the latter rain in the spring. He digs the ground, plants the seed, pulls the weeds, and then he waits. That’s all he can do. He can’t make the rain come any sooner, but he knows if he waits, the rain will eventually come.

Hold on to the word “eventually”

What a word that is.

Eventually means not today and maybe not tomorrow and maybe not next week or next month. Eventually means that sooner or later, the thing we are waiting for must happen.

When James says, “Be patient,” he uses a word that is sometimes translated as “longsuffering.” The only problem is, no one wants to suffer, and we don’t want any part of longsuffering.

Shortsuffering. We’re okay with that.
But longsuffering? That’s for someone else.

Go back to the illustration of the farmer. He endures droughts, attacks of strange bugs, hailstorms, and animals that eat his crops. He may be attacked by robbers who come at night and steal his animals. But the farmer fights through it all because he knows the rain must come eventually. The drought cannot last forever.

We’re all in favor of shortsuffering

He must stand fast (see v. 8) during the drought by reminding himself the latter rains will come at last. The phrase “stand fast” translates a word that means “immovable.” It describes a person who is so certain about the future that he cannot be moved by the troubles of the present.

Apply that to our attitude during hard times, especially when we’ve been badly treated. We must remind ourselves that Jesus is coming again. But the text says even more than that. Verse 8 says the Lord’s coming is near. One translation gives the exact meaning of the text: “Be patient like those farmers and don’t give up. The Lord will soon be here!” (CEV).

The story is told of a businessman who, having an errand to run at his office, took his young son along with him. He asked the boy to wait on the steps while he went inside to do his work. Soon he became so engrossed with his business that he forgot about his son waiting outside. Leaving the building by a different door, he went home alone. When the family sat down to dinner, but the son was not present. His mother became anxious and wondered where he might be. Then the father remembered where he’d left his son. Hurrying back to his place of work, he found his son, tired and hungry, waiting as he had been instructed to do. “I knew you would come, Father,” he said. “You said you would.”

Jesus is coming soon!

Two thousand years have passed since Jesus went to heaven, and some of God’s children feel tired and hungry. We wonder why Jesus hasn’t come back yet. Perhaps he has forgotten us. Perhaps He made other plans. If you feel like that little boy, take heart. It’s been a long time from our point of view, but he’s only been gone for two days in heaven’s perspective (see 2 Peter 3:8). He said He would come back–and he will. Fear not, child of God. Keep believing. He hasn’t forgotten you. Soon Christ will return for his own.

How should we wait during hard times? Wait expectantly. Christ is coming back, and when he does, he will set things right.

Wait Graciously

Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!” (v. 9)

Here is a warning we all need to heed. Perhaps we can state it this way:

When you are tired,
When you are scared,
When you are angry,

Watch your

When you feel backed into a corner, when life tumbles in around you, when you are betrayed, attacked, harassed, lied to and lied about, when your world turns upside down,

Watch your mouth!

Watch your mouth!

The word translated “grumble” means to groan or to sigh. It’s what you do when you’ve had just about enough, and you don’t feel like taking it anymore. First, your spirit is vexed. Second, you sigh inwardly. Third, you sigh outwardly. Fourth, you begin to grumble against your brothers and sisters in the Lord.

They have more money.
They are happily married.
They have perfect children.
They don’t treat you right.
They looked at you the wrong way.
They don’t respect you.

On and on it goes. When you are tired, scared and angry, it’s easy to get hypercritical of the people you love the most. Odd how that works, isn’t it? If we walk down the street and someone we don’t know shouts an insult at us, we’re apt to laugh it off and move on. But let your spouse say or do one wrong thing, let your kids get on your “one last nerve,” let your friends at church not respond the way you want them to, well, what happens then?

You blow your top.
You lose your cool.
You say something stupid.

Grumbling can destroy your marriage

James says, “Don’t do it.” Don’t give in to your anger. Your grumbling can destroy your marriage, tear your family apart, and destroy your closest friendships.

Instead, love must cover a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8) because there is a multitude of sins that need covering. Usually it’s not the big stuff that trips us up. It’s the little things, the sand in the shoe, the irritating mannerisms, the joke that wasn’t a joke, the way they looked at you, the perceived slight that stays in your mind.

If you look for reasons to grumble, you’ll find them soon enough. Even the best friends will let us down. Spouses get on each other’s nerves all the time. And the kids? Well, the kids can drive you up the wall.

Notice the reason James gives in verse 9. Do not grumble “or you will be judged.” Ouch! Faultfinders will be found out. Spiritual vultures will be exposed. The critic will be criticized. The judger will be judged.

The Judge is standing at the door!

The judger will be judged!

What judge? He’s talking about the Lord Jesus Christ. We’re all familiar with the image of Christ standing at the door, knocking and waiting for us to open the door (Revelation 3:20). It’s a beautiful picture of the Lord waiting to enter and have fellowship with us. James gives us the flip side of that scene. Christ stands at the door, ready to come in and judge the judger. He will personally expose our critical spirit, our bitter words, and all the inward sighs we thought no one noticed.

Perhaps this is what John means when he warns believers to stay close to Christ so that we will not “shrink back in shame” at his coming (1 John 2:28). We’re apt to look at the Second Coming as our “Blessed Hope” (which it is) and overlook the fact that the coming of Christ leads to a time of examination for every Christian. When we stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ, the worthless things we have done (the wood, hay and stubble) will be burned up (1 Corinthians 3:12-15). That won’t be a pleasant moment for any of us because we all have more “wood, hay and stubble” than we think.

Grumblers will answer to the Lord, and he’s not accepting any excuses. So here’s a question to ponder: Can I maintain a gentle spirit when hard times hit? Can I smile when they throw me into the fiery furnace? And if I can’t smile, can I at least refrain from snapping at my loved ones?

Grumbling splits churches!

Nothing destroys Christian unity quicker than a grumbling spirit. How many churches have been split, how many good ministries ruined, how many servants of the Lord have been injured because of the thoughtless grumbling of other believers.

Brothers and sisters, think on these things!

When hard times hit, we must first wait expectantly and then graciously. But James has one more challenge to set before us.

Wait Patiently

“Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider 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” (vv. 10-11).

Sometimes victory looks like survival, and survival looks like victory.

Sometimes the only thing we can do is hunker down and hang on. That’s why God blesses those who persevere. The Lord honors those who keep believing when it would be much easier to walk away.

Consider the prophets, James says. They spoke in the name of the Lord. What happened to them? As a group, they were maligned, attacked, and criticized. They are the ones the writer of Hebrews was thinking about when he spoke about the high cost of faithfulness to God:

“Other people were tortured, not accepting release, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Others experienced mockings and scourgings, as well as bonds and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawed in two, they died by the sword, they wandered about in sheepskins, in goatskins, destitute, afflicted, and mistreated.  The world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and on mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground” (Hebrews 11:35-38).

Who are these “others”? They are the men and women who would not bow the knee to Baal. They are the ones who marched with Joshua around Jericho. They are Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who would not kneel before the golden image in Daniel 3. These “others” are all the saints of all the ages who regarded faith in God as worth more than life itself. They are the believers in Nigeria, India and China who at this moment are being harassed, beaten and sometimes killed because of their faith in Christ.

Job never gave up!

Then James asks us to consider Job, a righteous man whose soul was put to the test through the waves of hardship that hit him one after the other. Though he was cast down and discouraged, he never gave up his faith. When his wife urged him to curse God and die, he instead chose to bless the name of the Lord.

How did the prophets survive?
How did Job survive?
How will we survive?

They survived because they knew who God was. Everything in life comes down to one question: What do you believe about God? What sort of God is he? How has he revealed himself in the Bible? You may learn your theology in the sunshine, but you discover your theology at midnight.

Your discover your theology at midnight

Job and the prophets understood that “the Lord is full of compassion and mercy” (v. 11). That phrase “full of compassion” translates a Greek word used only here in the New Testament. You could translate it as “exceedingly compassionate” or “full of tenderness.” Job ended up with more than he started with, but he had to go through a terrible trial to receive it. The prophets also suffered in the name of the Lord. Sometimes they received their reward in this life, but more often it came in the next life when they saw the Lord face to face.

Survival Looks a Lot Like Victory

How will we survive when hard times hit? It all depends on our view of God. Is your God full of tenderness and overflowing with mercy? Is that your God? If so, you may be knocked down by circumstances, but you won’t stay down forever because the Lord will pick you up.

Sometimes victory looks a lot like survival, and survival looks a lot like victory. I find it encouraging that James doesn’t offer his readers an easy way out of their troubles. He doesn’t say, “Pray this prayer, and your problems will vanish.” He’s too honest for that.

Life isn’t fair.
Sometimes we can’t do anything about that.
But we can control how we respond.

Life isn’t fair

If we believe God is in control of our lives, and if we believe our enemies couldn’t trouble us without his permission, and if we believe the Lord is full of compassion and mercy, and if we believe Jesus is coming back soon,

If we believe all that,

We will find a way to hang on,
We won’t grumble, and
We will stand firm by the grace of God.

You may be waiting on God right now. What should you do? Here is my counsel:

Don’t fret against the Lord.
Don’t panic.
Don’t take matters into your own hands.
Do your duty each day as God shows it to you.
Surrender your life to the Lord—”Thy will be done.”

The issue is God

When you wait on the Lord, you are saying, “I know God is going to resolve this situation. I don’t know how, and I don’t know when, but I know he’s going to do it. I’m not giving up. I’m waiting on him.”

May God make us strong and give us grace to endure.
May our faith grow as we wait on the Lord.

The issue is not your problems. The issue is God. If God is who he says he is, then you’ve got every reason to keep believing when hard times hit.

Take heart, child of God. When the Lord’s purposes are finally made clear, you’ll be glad you didn’t cut and run.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?