By Pastor Glenn Pease
Marcus Bach in his book The Power of Perception tells of how great worth is found in waste. An old lead and zinc mine had been abandoned for years. It appeared a worthless worn out pit with all its value exhausted. But when man developed a new need, a need for Tungsten, the waste deposits from this old mine were re-assayed and discovered to be full of Tungsten. The ghost mine sprang back into life, and a thriving community grew up because waste could produce worth. In other words, it was not waste at all, but valuable stuff. Bach says, no mine is ever totally exhausted, and all waste just waits for man to discover a new use for it. As men develop the power of perception, they see new values in what they formerly threw away. Numerous are the examples of how what were once waste products are now valued products.
Nothing is more practical than the art of turning waste into worth and James the brother of our Lord was an expert. He has the power to perceive the worth in what everyone else tends to call worthless-the trials of life. What can be a greater waste in life than to suffer trials and tribulation? We count it all joy when we can escape these worthless types of waste. But James, with an advanced perception, says you are throwing away your own treasure . There is great value to be gotten from tough times. In fact, it is one of life's most precious values-the virtue of patience.
Less you think that patience is a very simple thing, let me point out how it covers a multitude of complex feelings and attitudes.
1. It means a calm waiting in hope. This is the patience of the gardener or farmer who plants his seed and then must wait to see the fruit.
2. It means endurance of trial; a putting up with what is not pleasant, such as a nine year old boy who is convinced he can learn to be the world's greatest drummer.
3. It means self-control. When too many things happen at once, you can still keep your cool and not go to pieces, but persevere through them all. There are many different degrees of this virtue.
James says to Christians who are struggling with life's adversities-don't waste anything in life-not even your negative experiences, for they contain great potential. They can be used to produce the costly value of patience. If you lack the wisdom to see this, ask God for it, says James, for none are so wise as those who have the power of perception that can explore the waste deposits of human burdens, and see how they can be turned into human blessings. May God grant us wisdom as we try to see what James reveals concerning the value and the vision of patience.
I. THE VALUE OF PATIENCE.
Patience is a hard to win virtue. It does not come from reading books and hearing sermons. You cannot teach patience, because it is not taught, it is caught, and it is only caught by getting into the stream of life's trials. Patience is like a purple heart. The only way you can get it is by getting wounded in battle. The great Henry Ward Beecher said, "There is no such thing as preaching patience into people unless the sermon is so long that they have to practice it while they hear. No man can learn patience except by going out into the hurly-burly world, and taking life just as it blows....and riding out the gale." We cannot learn patience by this message, but we can learn to appreciate its value.
You have to be thoroughly convinced of the value of patience if you are going to pay the price to obtain it. Men fight for their country, and for their family, and for the honor of their faith, but whoever heard of fighting against adversity, and all the while counting it a joy because they are thereby gaining the virtue of patience. We all know it is a wonderful thing to have, but is it that precious? James clearly implies that it is. It is so valuable to possess it that those who see its value can even suffer in joy when they know that their suffering is leading them to more patience. Only a deep grasp of this value will enable any Christian to practice what James tells them to do. Men can only enjoy suffering that pays high dividends.
Men can suffer long fearful journeys, and hunger and thirst and pain of every description, if the end result is gold. Men have suffered everything for gold, and just the hope of possessing it drove them to endure agonies beyond our comprehension. A value less tangible, but just as real as gold, is glory, and again, there is no end to the suffering men and women will joyfully endure for glory. The world of sports alone is ample evidence of this. Millions of muscles shriek out in painful agony, yet there is no let up and relief, for the price must be paid for glory. The point is, people count it all joy to suffer for any goal they are convinced is of high worth. We fail to be motivated to suffer for the sake of patience, because we have undervalued it, and do not consider it as one of life's precious possessions for the personality.
There is no doubt about it, Paul saw eye to eye with James on the value of patience, for Paul says it is one of the fruits of the Spirit, and in the great love chapter of I Cor. 13, the first positive characteristic of ideal love is patience. In Rom. 5:3, Paul uses the word in the same way as James does when he says that tribulation worketh patience. Jesus used this same word when He described the good soil in the parable of the sower as that which holds fast the seed of the word, and brings forth fruit with patience. There are other texts we could look at, but these are sufficient to convince us that patience is a virtue which is a key
to the fruitful Christian life.
As soon as James opens his letter with a greeting, he launches into the praises of this virtue that is so precious that it ought to make us enjoy our trials. If we cannot see the value in patience, we will not see the value in the trials that help produce it. In 1934 the huge Jonker diamond was discovered in South Africa. It was given to Lazare Kaplan, the patriarch of diamond cutters. The owner also sent a plan for cutting it, but Kaplan said, had he followed that plan it would have been destroyed. He spent one year just studying that stone, and planning how to turn it into 12 smaller stones. Only after great patience in planning did he go to work, and his patience paid off, for he turned that egg size crystal into a dozen immortal gems. Only recognition of great value could motivate such patience. Nobody could exercise such patience to produce a ring of little value. It takes great value to motivate patience.
If you do not see the great value in patience, you will not see the worth of any kind of suffering. Only a value system which places a high worth on patience can give you the power to perceive value in tribulation. If you lack such a value system, you will consider all forms of suffering as worthless, and so you will waste a good chunk of your life's experiences. James says you don't have to waste any experience of life, but can rejoice in its value if you see it develops patience. What could be more practical than asking God to give you the wisdom to be able to turn all waste into worth. Those who think like James are incurable optimists. If even life's rough roads are increasing your supply of patience, then you can rejoice while you groan and moan. You don't have to like the suffering, but you can't help but like the fringe benefits, if you are building up your patience. Someone wrote, "Patience is like the pearl among the gems. By its quiet radiance it brightens every human grace, and adorns every Christian excellence."
In the history of Christian missions, it has been the virtue of patience that made the difference. William Carey, the father of modern missions, labored 7 years before he won his first convert. This has been true for many, and you just can't write the history of Christian missions without people of patience. The second thing we want to consider is-
II. THE VISION OF PATIENCE.
The person who possesses patience perceives life with a particular perspective. He sees life from the point of view of the whole and not just the part. He sees the long run of things, and not just the now of them. He has a vision that penetrates the cloudy now, and sees into the sunny yet to be. James has a vision, not just of the present suffering of trials, but of the long range effects of what they can produce in us through patient endurance. He sees the outcome of it all leading to Christians being made complete, and lacking in nothing. If the only way to the castle is by means of a rough road, than rejoice that you are on that rough road, for better to be struggling up toward and ideal than walking in ease down a road to no where.
James does not portray the Christian life in a superficial manner. It is a false hope to tell people the Christian life is the answer to all their problems. The Gospel is not, come to Jesus and live happily ever after. The Christian life is often a struggle and a battle, and an uphill climb over many obstacles, but it is worth it all because the end result is a happy ever after with a great sense of satisfaction, because we have come through the trials of life more like our Lord, who made it possible for us to fight the good fight by His grace. The point is, if this year is going to be a good year of Christian growth, it will not be all blue skies and barbecues. There will be some struggle and hard decisions that force us to move up or down on the scale of Christ likeness. James says, don't waste these times, but catch a vision of the value to be gotten out of them.
The patient Christian sees life as a process in which God works out His plan by stages and degrees. This is a perspective based on wisdom. God made reality this way, and it is folly to try to make it any other way. God could have made it so babies were born a week after conception, but He chose to make it 9 months so life would begin with a process of waiting and expecting. God could have made man so he would be like some animals, and be very soon independent after birth, but instead He made it so they need a long process of care and training. This provides a school of patience for both parents and child. Family life is a process of growth in learning patience. Life is made to develop by degrees. Jesus entered this process and grew in wisdom, and in stature and in favor with God and man. At 12 He already felt the need to be about His Fathers business, but God made it so He had to go home with Mary and Joseph and live in patient growth for 18 more years.
Jesus spent most of His life learning to develop patience. Without this long process His humanity could not have endured the injustice of His arrest, trial, and crucifixion. Jesus needed time to develop this virtue, and so do we. There is no such thing as instant maturity. The fruit of the Spirit, like the fruit of the soil, takes time to develop to maturity. Nobody is fully loving, joyful, peaceful, or patient upon conversion. These and all other Christian truth grow by degrees.
The virtue of patience is essential to every aspect of the Christian life. You cannot become anything God wants you to be without patience. Patience gives you the ability to see life in its wholeness and the long run. It enables you to see how the trials of life can be part of the process you need to develop in specific areas you would neglect without them. Shakespeare said, "How poor are they who have not patience! What wound did ever heal but by degrees." Healing, growing, becoming Christlike-they are all achieved by degrees, and, therefore, patience is a necessity.
The vision of patience enables us to be ever moving toward the goal of being complete, lacking nothing. Impatient Christians always stop short of this goal. The impatient Christian gets a glimpse of a Biblical truth, and immediately begins to proclaim he has found the key to the Scriptures. He tends to blow it out of all proportions, and many will not go along with his enthusiasm, and so he starts his own church, or cult, and becomes an extremist, fighting the rest of the body. The patient Christian takes time to see how new light and insight fits into the whole picture, and how to incorporate all aspects of truth into the whole. The result is, he brings greater unity rather than division to the body.
Inpatient Christians have looked at Paul's emphasis on faith and the emphasis of James on works, and have concluded there is conflict, and so they choose up sides. Patient Christians look deeper, and see both Paul and James in agreement, for the two must be part of the whole for there to be any authentic Christianity. Patience builds, but impatience destroys. If you want to be the best possible Christian, James says nothing is more practical than the development of patience. Try and imagine any other Christian virtue being complete without patience. Imagine an impatient love. I'll love you if you snap it up. Sure I love my neighbor for a while, but when I asked him to come to church, and he said no, I gave up on him. Impatient love is not Biblical love.
Joy that is impatient will not last in a trial. If all goes smoothly impatient joy can function, but patient joy can function even when the way gets rough, for it knows God can use even this to make us more Christlike. Go though the list of Christian virtues, and see how all of them lose their value if not combined with patience. The problem with everyone of us is that our Christian virtues tend to all have a breaking point. We will be kind and gentle when all is normal, but lose our cool and become like an unenlightened pagan when the waters get rough. We have not arrived at the point where we lack nothing, for we clearly do not have the patience to be complete in the exercise of our virtues.
Patience is both active and passive. It can press on or hold on, which ever is needed. The active patience is called perseverance or persistence. It is a never giving up spirit that plugs away even when progress seems hopeless. A father was scolding his son for his lack of ambition. "Why when I was your age I worked ten hours a day and five hours a night washing dishes." The son said, "I'm proud of you dad. If it hadn't been for your pluck and perseverance, I might have to do something like that myself." Wise are the parents who make their children do what they don't have to do, just to learn to be patient. Even in our day of greater leisure, every person needs to be prepared to plod. Shakespeare said, "Though patience is a tired mare, yet she will plod."
If God did not have patience, the world would long ago be gone. Love is patient says Paul, and God is love says John, and so God is patient. The only way we can live the Christian life is by developing patience. You cannot love yourself or your neighbor without patience. Impatience is the key sign of immaturity. The Christian who wants instant success in himself, or in others, will be a neurotic Christian. They will never be happy, for they spend their entire life fighting the reality of life. All of their energy will be spent in seeking shortcuts to holiness, and despising those who will not join them in their futile search. Impatience mars every gift and perverts every grace so that even what is good becomes a waste.
The whole point of Satan's attack on Christ in the wilderness was to entice Him into impatience. Don't wait for food, turn the stones into bread now. Don't wait for popularity, jump off the temple and get the crowds now. Don't wait for power, bow to me and have your kingdom now. Satan's greatest trick is to get us to be impatient. D. L. Moody said, "Paul when writing to Titus, second chapter first verse, tells him to be sound in faith, in love and in patience. Now in this age ever since I can remember, the church has been very jealous about men being unsound in the faith.....They draw their ecclesiastical sword and cut at him, but he may be ever so unsound in love and they don't say anything. He may be ever so defective in patience-he may be irritable and fretful all the time, but they never deal with him....I believe God cannot use many of His servants because they are full of irritability and impatience." Moody, like James, is saying, let's get practical. What earthly good is a Christian who believes in the Trinity, but who is so impatient he turns everybody off?
The passive patience is endurance. It stands fast and takes a pounding, but does not yield. It patiently holds on waiting in expectation for a victory. If mud splatters on your clothing, you tend to want to wipe it off now, but if you wait until it dries it will not smear, and come off much easier. The unknown poet writes,
O wait, impatient heart!
As winter waits, her song-birds fled,
And every nestling blossom dead.
Beyond the purple seas they sing!
Beneath soft snows they sleep!
They only sleep. Sweet patience keep,
And wait, as winter waits the spring.
We must confess that it is one of hardest things to do, for so many things in life put pressure on us. Jesus, even in His perfection, still felt the tremendous pull of impatience. How long must I endure this generation, He moaned as He came to the edge of His own breaking point. The folly of man; their blindness and pettiness, and weakness puts even divine patience to the test. Trials put all of us against the wall at some point. What do we do? We hang on. Many rescues take place because victims are able to hang on just a little longer than what seems possible.
Jesus had to endure the weakness of those who loved Him as well as the wickedness of those who loathed Him.
O who like thee, so calm, so bright,
Thou Son of man, Thou Light of light!
O who like thee did ever go
So patient through a world of woe!
Those who are not willing to endure trials will just not become what God intends for them to be. If the Son of God needed to learn obedience by what He suffered, how much more must we endure to learn. It is just a part of God's universal plan for all life to grow by degrees, and by struggle.
I wish I were big the acorn said,
Like the great, green oak tree, over head-
Cool shadows it throws for all who pass-
But I am so useless and small--alas!
Only be patient, a kind voice spoke,
I was not always a mighty Oak;
For my beginning was humble, too;
Once I was an acorn--just like you!
Emerson said, "Adopt the pace of nature, her secret is patience." Study of one of the great Sequoias in California indicate it was a sapling in 271 B.C. 516 years later it was damaged by fire. For over a century it repaired that damage, and grew layer after layer over the scar. God built patience into that mighty tree, and it survived. You and I have the potential for patience as well, but we must choose to develop it, and only testing can help us do that. Nothing can be more practical than for us to ask God for the wisdom to see the value in testing, so that we do not waste anything.