Faith Works: A Study in James

Devotional

How does faith work when you are suffering? 


As a pastor, you get the honor of having a front row seat to the most sacred days in people’s lives. On one of these days, I went to the hospital to visit an elderly saint who had lived a very painful life. She was engaged, but her fiancée ran off with her friend leaving her to never marry. Not long after being abandoned, she developed some debilitating health problems that had her in a wheelchair or hospital bed at unexpected times throughout her life. She served as the secretary at a Bible-based church until the denomination went apostate, took the building, and dismantled the church she had given her life to serving. Later in life, she and some widows built a close-knit group of friends she fondly referred to as the “Golden Girls”. Eventually, she buried every one of those friends and was left very much alone.


To me, she was a spiritual giant. She loved the Lord Jesus and never much complained about the hand life dealt her. Her life was hard, but her heart was soft. Her life was traumatic, but her faith was steadfast.


Before entering her hospital room, the nurse informed me she was near death and that there had not been other visitors. Though I loved her much, I did not know her well, but I was honored to be at her side before she made the final journey to Jesus’ side.


As a very young new pastor, I was unsure what to say, so I pulled up a chair so that I could look at her face, which was on the edge of the hospital bed. I will never forget the look on her face. She beamed with a radiant smile and started chuckling. She winked, looked at me, and said, “Pastor this is the best day of my life. My suffering is over, and my Savior is coming for me!” I was crying, and she was laughing. We were quite a sight.


I was a preacher, but this woman’s life was a sermon about being “patient” and making sure to “not grumble” or “judge” while “suffering” with “steadfastness”. She lived her life proving that “the Lord is at hand” and “how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” to get us through life and safely home.


Life on planet earth is so brutal that no one makes it out alive.


One of the first things most people wish as soon as God saves them is that Jesus would return – soon! Some folks get so frustrated waiting for Jesus that they get caught up in end times Bible study and trying to figure out how long they’ve got to hang on to the knot they’ve tied at the end of their rope. God is not slow, but He is patient and asks us to also be patient. He’s still got people to save and work to do before the end comes, and until then, how we live determines the harvest of rewards we have in the Kingdom.


In our Bible study, it’s often helpful to think in familial terms. The Apostle James is a concerned, loving, fatherly pastor. If we fail to see the book of James in this light, the kind of life James calls us to will seem like a burdensome obligation. Theologically, these distinctions help us understand the difference between the “indicative” and “imperative.”


The New Testament writers often use indicative statements to reveal a fact. Things like what God has done for his people, such as saving them from their sins in Jesus, or the things He will do for them in the future like give them eternal life. The New Testament also uses imperative statements as a way of commanding an appropriate response. Indicatives of Scripture (what God has done) make it possible for hearers to obey imperatives of Scripture (what they should do). When we misunderstand these distinctions, the believer’s obligation to obey can become a cold, dutiful checklist of do’s and don’ts.


James’ words are saturated with the indicatives of what God has done and what God is going to do in the future. He will return, and patience comes from living a life that looks toward this reality. James gives three examples of patient endurance—the farmer (v. 7), the prophets (v. 10), and Job (v. 11).


The humble servants of God will remain patient when worldly people indulge themselves or cause trouble, because our Lord is coming. We have seen His compassion and mercy. We know His faithfulness, and He will bless us if we remain steadfast. But this is not a return to self-reliance, as if God is calling us to faithfulness in our own strength. Jesus, the unbreakable “anchor of the soul,” has been cast into our boat to hold us steady (see Heb. 6:19). When we feel doubt or fear pulling us away from God, remember that He who holds us will not let us go.


 


What circumstances tend to reveal your lack of patience? What actions or attitudes in response to difficult circumstances communicate your lack of trust in God? What lies about God do you need to confess? What Scriptures will you memorize about God’s character to help you persevere in difficulties?