James is telling his readers to “keep walking” in the faith. Don’t give up hope even though times get tough.
When encouraging the believers to be patient and endure against persecution, James doesn’t use Jesus as his example. Instead he uses the prophets of old. Maybe they didn’t feel they could live up to Jesus’ example but a regular man’s example might give them more hope.
Some of the prophets that come to mind when I read James’ encouragement are, of course, Job but also Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Daniel. These men had to endure a LOT of opposition. Any one of them could have given up, but they didn’t. They weren’t perfect either.
My favorite story of a struggling prophet is the one about Elijah telling God that he’s tired and is the only one left working for Him. “Take my life; I’m no better than my ancestors” (1 Kings 19:4b). Elijah was on the run from Jezebel after an amazing victory on the mountain top. Instead of Jezebel bowing down and recognizing God as the one and only God, she got mad and was determined to kill Elijah just as he had done to the prophets of Baal.
The best part about this story is that God met Elijah right where he was at. He didn’t drop him because he complained. He didn’t strike him dead for talking that way to God. Instead, He fortified him and gave him a personal encounter unlike any other. Then He gave him rest, in the form of training his replacement.
God didn’t let Elijah off the hook but He strengthened him instead. Daniel in the lion’s den, Job with his friends, Jeremiah is the dungeon; ALL these are where God helped His man hold on even in the darkest times. Some of these men faced external darkness while others faced internal darkness. The external darkness was in the form of persecution, including not so veiled plots to kill God’s prophets. The internal darkness was the discouragement, as in Elijah’s and Job’s circumstances. A lot of the internal darkness was a result of external darkness.
God didn’t leave ANY of them in those vulnerable places. Instead He reached right into their lives and spoke to the very thing that was troubling them. AND He gave them the patience to endure a while longer. He strengthened their hearts and hands. They “kept walking” with the Lord, mistakes and all, until God finally called them home.
It’s ok to tell God that the road you are walking is hard. It is ok to ask for an easier way. But it is not ok to simply abandon following Him because it is too difficult. That would mean that your original commitment didn’t mean anything. You would be the soil sample that quickly springs up a crop just to have it die at the first sign of adversity. God doesn’t always say “yes” to letting you have an easier road. What you can be certain He will do is pull you in closer to Him and let you lean heavier on Him during the struggle.
I wish we could all have an “Elijah mountain top experience” to hear God’s audible voice, but even without that experience, we can be SURE He sees our struggle and cares for us in it. Just remember, the same man that told God to kill him, is the same one who never died here on earth. If He can use someone that despondent He can certainly use the rest of us, in spite of our discouragements and struggles.
James ended this section of our reading by admonishing us to “Let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no” (verse 12b). I’m not certain how this ties into our persistence and patience in our walk. Maybe it is more with the persistence portion. When we say we will do, or not do, something we need to hold to it. Not because we made some elaborate promise but because of our character. Jesus told us NOT to swear oaths but to let our words demonstrate our character.
In agreeing to do and not do things, I believe Jesus wants us to honestly look at the task being requested and the commitments you have already taken on. He says we can say ‘no.’ He will not condemn us for not doing something if we say no. Where we get in trouble is committing to something then changing our minds mid-way through. Yes, we ALL encounter those situations where we over commit and fall short. But bring them back to the person who you committed to and ask for help and forgiveness instead of simply not following through on your words. I have also found that bringing the person an alternative solution also goes a LONG way in maintaining the integrity of your word.
I think maybe the main reason Jesus told us not to swear by anything but to let our ‘yes’ be yes or ‘no’ be no is that WE don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring. We do our best with the information we have and leave the rest in God’s hands.
Father God, You know one of the areas where I struggle the most is in patience. I’m pretty good with endurance though. I will trudge through about anything I have to. That’s not always a good thing though. When it comes to our relationship though, I am sticking to You like glue! I don’t want to be like Peter and swear to give my life before letting Jesus die. We all know how that ended. But I want to put my life in Your hands with every up and down that comes. I need Your help in making ALL my yes’ and no’s hold fast; especially the ones I say to You.
Thank You that You already know where I’m going to struggle and fall short. Thank You that You have already planned for those and Jesus has already paid for my forgiveness. Thank You that You have taught me how to relax some in my rigid expectations too. I have come a LONG way from the fear of missing a single day or “deadline” in this blog to simply enjoying the time together and making it a priority but not a “life or death” commitment. Thank You for meeting me here every time! It amazes me still to see where You to take me, and those along on this journey with me, each day. That’s my “Elijah mountain top experience.”