By: Howard Cole
Have you ever wondered why a sick person is called a patient? Patience is the quality of being able to bear adversities with calm endurance when you’re dealt the unasked-for card of misfortune. Maybe the doctor hopes that by calling you a patient, you’ll calmly undergo the needle sticks, invasive questions and that crinkly white paper you sit on while he finds and fixes your ache.
When I get sick I’m rarely patient about the stages of my suffering. Are any of us? Where did we dig up the word patient? Patience is rooted in the French word pacience which means permission and the Latin word patientia which means submission.
Uggh. The last thing I want to do when I have pain and suffering is permit and submit to the distress and disease. But the other day when I was scanning a section of Scripture from the book of James, my distaste for patience shifted in a submissive kind of way. Here’s what it said:
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. 8 You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. James 5:7-8
This passage invites our imagination to watch a farmer waiting patiently for his precious fruit. From soil to seed to sunshine to showers the farmer waits and waits and waits. He spends no time on magic solutions or immediate gain.
Can you see him going out at the beginning of the season and tilling the hard clods of dirt and clearing rocks from dawn to dusk? Can you see him plowing row after parallel row, the long ditches that will receive the seeds he tosses into their valleys? Can you see the seeds buried and still and silent in the dark, cold earth as they mysteriously die and then resurrect sending down roots? Can you see the seeds struggle to shoot stems up through the soil seeking for sunshine and showers of rain?
James summons us to see how the farmer waits patiently for the payoff. Oranges and apples and peaches and plums are right around the corner and yet he must wait until God gives two things.
Until. The word both halts my hurry and hastens my hope. The farmer must wait for a specified time when water falls freely from the heavens. The early rains in Palestine begin in October but the latter rains don’t arrive until March or April.
The vulnerable farmer has no lever to pull or button to push. He must simply wait. Some of the showers will come early in the way of waiting. But many showers will wait longer and arrive much later. When the fruit-seeking farmer permits and submits his heart to God’s time frame, he is framed as God’s portrait of patience. His hope of the harvest more than compensates for the pain of the past.
I once heard a farmer say “I’d rather fail at what matters than succeed at what doesn’t.” I sense that this farmer has been seasoned by mixed spans of failure and success but what mattered most was the golden fruit.
What if we waited like a farmer for the Lord to come into our season of suffering and accepted not only the immediate, early showers but the later ones too? What if the next time we are wounded by a hurtful word or whacked hard by a disappointment, we waited for the will and wisdom of God to bear fruit? Can you see and taste the life-giving fruit promised only to the patient?