“I was in a Woods, thickety in places….It was impossible to hurry there; And I settled myself into Patience….“*
Life is indeed very “thickety in places.” What I forget is to “settled myself into patience.” This poetic reminder from Wendell Berry is keenly wise.
James instructs us in navigating the thickets:
7 Be patient, therefore, brothers, 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. 9 Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.
10 As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast.
You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” James 5:7-11
James’ word to us is to settle into patience as we experience many hardships in this world. Suffering, trials, and adversities are the norm. What is not the norm, is a Jesus-way response to such dark times.
James provides three examples:
Farming is much about waiting. Waiting for the right season; waiting for rain; waiting for the miraculous sprouting of seeds that have died in darkness of the soil; waiting to receive the harvest. Patience and receiptivity are key postures. Every good gift we receive from the Father above (James 1:17; Isaiah 28:23-29).
The prophets are examples of suffering and patience. They spoke the word to audiences that seldom listened. Rather they usually were responded to with murderous intent. Steadfastness – firm, unmoving, resolute; In the end, blessed.
Job is the oft referred example of horrific suffering. Mystery abounds in his story. But this we know: the Lord is good and his end intentions towards us are always merciful and compassionate.
One indicator that we are NOT settled into a proper perspective is when we get grumbling and judgmental of others. How is it that the people of a compassionate and merciful God are oft regarded as critical, standoffish and judgmental? Our expectations are misplaced. In this world you will have hardships (John 16:33). Grumbling is symptomatic of an unestablished heart.
So James gives us a reference point upon which to fix our spiritual GPS. Its out over the horizon of time. “When” is unknown. The end point is not that moment in this life when we finally bust out of the thickety woods into a clear, luscious pasture. No, the fixed point is a “Who.” We don’t watch for relief, we watch for a Person. Jesus.
Then the briar will finally be removed from the flesh of the earth and the soil of our own hearts will be remade. This is Jesus’ work. Ours is to wait upon him, “established in our hearts.” We remain dependent with a fixed gaze upon him.
Please, Don’t Just Try Harder
This is not about “figuring it out” or “trying harder” – two auto-responses of our self-determined ways. No, that will not do. That is NOT the Gospel. We, like the farmer’s fields, receive. Jesus turns us toward himself. He immerses us in his Gospel reality through his Word. The Spirit shapes us as the Father fathers us. We receive as we patiently, steadfastly, with established hearts wait.
Settle into patience, sisters and brothers. Its thickety up ahead.
*Wendell Berry in Jaber Crow, p. 89.