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The beginning and the end of patience

James begins the final portion of his letter by addressing those who have been exploited and oppressed by the wealthy landowners (5:1-6). He challenges them to be patient in the face of their suffering (v. 10), promising them that the Lord is coming soon (v. 8-9). Manifestly, this is not the bodily return of Jesus at the end of time (Acts 1), but a coming in judgment upon the landowners. This type of language is quite common to the prophets (Isaiah 19:1ff; Micah 1:1-4; Zephaniah 1:4,14). James had earlier dipped into a prophetic mode in calling them to repentance (4:8-10), and now resumes such speech in assuring them of deliverance as The Lord is full of compassion and mercy (v. 10).

All of this should cause us to think of patience in more substantial terms than simply something we are in need of when we are waiting in line at the store or in the doctor’s office. It is an important component of a disciple’s faith. Patience seeks to understand how to respond to God’s calling, while impatience calls on God to respond to our understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6). When Paul talks about the characteristics of love the first item on his list is . . . patience (1 Corinthians 13:4).

Patience is the stuff of farmers and prophets (v. 7,10), and he calls them to a Job-like perseverance (v. 11). When James implores his readers to practice patience in the face of suffering, there’s nothing easy or faith lite about it! He’s telling them to trust in God and His purposes even though appearances might seem to suggest they have been forgotten. Those receiving this counsel would be tempted to protest that they needed justice and all James gave them were words (something he had been critical of them for doing). They needed to know their patience would lead to blessing (v. 10).
 
Patience is closely connected to prayer. Both involve waiting on God. James’ transition from patience to prayer then (v. 13), is a natural one and the letter that began by encouraging its readers to pray (1:5), ends in a similar fashion (5:13-18).  Prayer at the beginning and end is a great way to cultivate patience in our lives!
 
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