There’s only so much you can put in a load before it becomes too heavy to carry. Life is like that. We can choose to carry our burdens and the burdens of others, but Jesus reminds us that if we take them to him, he’ll carry it for us.
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.
12 But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.
So, do you like my backpack? [Shows backpack] Yes or no? Yes? No? Well, you should. It’s a great backpack. Grace bought it for me. I needed a backpack, and so Grace found me this old military backpack. It says U.S. on it. It’s kind of faded. Somebody tried to tell me it was a Canadian military backpack. I said, “No, I would only wear an American military backpack.” So, this is an American military backpack, and I want to use it as an illustration for your life, for my life.
We’ve got limitations. There’s only so much that fits in the pack, and similarly, your life has capacity issues. There’s only so much you can do, so much time and energy you have. In addition, there are load limits. There’s only so much weight you can put in this thing, and I can still carry it. At some point, I just don’t have the energy to carry something that is beyond my ability.
Life is like that, and life has a lot of responsibilities. It has loads; we’ll call them “burdens.” And collectively, whatever you put in your pack and take for your life journey, that’s your burden. That’s your load to bear. That’s the life that you have set before you. And what contributes to the burden are good things and bad things. Bad things can be like you or someone you know and love got sick, they got injured, they got hurt, they miscarried a child, they lost a job, they frayed relationship with a friend.
All of a sudden, that weight starts to burden you. It starts to feel heavy to you and weigh you down. It can be good things as well, right? You’re like, “Hey, I got a promotion. I’ve got a better position. Oh, but I’m feeling the weight of responsibility. Now I need to execute, perform, and produce results.” “Hey, we wanted to get pregnant. Oh my gosh, I’m pregnant.” And all of a sudden, it dawns on you, like, “I’m going to be a parent, and I have this additional responsibility financially, practically, emotionally, and physically. What does this mean?”
All of a sudden, you’re like, “Boy, this is a whole new level of responsibility. This is a new load for me to carry.” And collectively, that load is the burden, and every one of us has got a burden to carry. And there invariably reaches a point with all of your burdens collectively weighing you down that you reach a point where you get discouraged, or at least distressed, and wonder, “Can I continue? Like, can I carry this? Can I live like this?”
Counselors will tell you that one of three things happen, and you see if one of these is you: Fight, fright, or flight.
How many of you are fight? You’re like, “Hey, I can carry it. Load me up. I’m tough. I’ll make it happen. I’ll go to work. I’ll grind it out. I can carry the load.” How many of you are like that? How many of you are fright? You reach a certain point, your load’s so heavy, your burden is so much, you’re like, “I’m panicked. I’m paralyzed. I’m scared. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know to take stuff out of my pack, put stuff in my pack, to keep walking, to stop, to go back. I have a hard time getting out of bed. I have a hard time trying to figure out decisions. I don’t know what to do. I’m just sort of overwhelmed.”
How many of you are more fright? You just get panicked.
Then there’s flight, and that is, “That’s it. I’m done. I quit.” Like, it’s literally like, “Hey, we’re getting a divorce, I quit my job, and I threw my phone in the lake. I’m done. I’m done. I give up. I quit. That’s it. Whatever I was called to carry, whatever burdens I was given, whatever load the Lord has handed to me, that’s it. I want it off.”
This is where you quit your job, quit your relationship with God, quit your church, quit your family, quit your marriage, quit your friendships, quit your commitments. Just start off-loading everything just because you feel the weight of burden and responsibility, and you just want to be out from under it.
There’s a fourth way. It’s the way that we’re going to examine today in James 5:7–12 on feeling burdened but being blessed. And it’s not the way of fight, it’s not the way of fright, it’s not the way of flight. It’s the way of faith. What does it mean to take the burden, the load that God has called you to carry for your life, and to, in faith, carry it.
James is a pastor and he’s writing to people who are under a tremendous burden, and he himself is under a tremendous burden. He’s pastoring a very large, very influential church-planting church in Jerusalem. It’s sort of headquarters for Christianity and all that is happening in that day.
There is great opposition, criticism, persecution that’s come against the church. And the religious people are attacking, criticizing, and maligning, and this is having implications for people’s vocations, for their relationships, for their emotional well-being, for their family. These people are paying a high price for being Christians in a hostile cultural context filled with very hostile religious people.
James himself is a pastor who is feeling that burden. He’s feeling that pressure—So much so that invariably, the people who are most religious and opposed to Christianity, they actually devise a plot to murder Pastor James. And they take him to the top of the temple, history records, and they throw him off. They murder the pastor. That’s how bad it’s gotten.
He doesn’t die when he hits the ground, so an angry mob encircles him, as it did his brother Jesus, and as they encircled and beat Jesus, they encircled and beat James until they killed him. So, this church is in a very conflicted, difficult, complicated state, and the pastor is under some serious heavy fire, and that’s where they find themselves.
He’s writing to the church that is scattered throughout their multiple locations, similar to ours, and he’s giving them pastoral counsel. And here’s what I need you to know. James has a big brother. What’s his name? Jesus. And James saw his big brother Jesus shoulder the biggest load in the history of the world. Nobody carried the load that Jesus carried. Nobody had the burdens that Jesus bore. And he watched his big brother Jesus, and he learned from his example and also from his instruction.
Jesus said things—tell me if you’ve heard this before—like this: “Come to me.” It’s an invitation in love. “Come to me, all you who are weary.” You’re like, “I don’t know if I can keep going.” “And heavy-laden or heavily burdened.” “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy-laden. My yoke is easy, my burden is light.” In farming, when there was a load that was too heavy for one animal to carry, they’d yoke two together.
Jesus is saying, “Bring your burdens to me. Bring your load to me. Bring your weariness to me. Bring your frustration to me. You’re going to still need to carry it, but I’m going to put a shoulder under it and I’m going to carry it with you, and we’ll yoke together, that I will make this a lighter load for you. Not that I will lighten the load, but that I will carry a portion of it alongside you.”
Now, James saw this and heard this from the life of his big brother Jesus, and he knows that the people are at that point where they’re feeling literally overwhelmed, burdened, exhausted, and they’re considering their options.
He says, “There’s this way of faith.” And I’m going to pose them to you, these four principles, in the form of a question so you can search your own heart, and then with your friends, family, Community Group, you can explore these together. The first question is this: How’s your heart? How’s your heart?
The big idea here is, you can’t always control what’s happening around you, but you have far more control over what’s happening in you, OK? They can’t get all of the religious opposition to go away, but they can establish their hearts to be right with God.
When we’re talking about the heart, we’re talking about a massive theme in the Bible. It appears roughly nine hundred times. And what we’re talking about is the center of who you are. We’re talking about you at the deepest level. We even use this nomenclature in our day when we say, “You need to get to the heart of the matter,” right? That’s getting to the core; it’s getting to the essence. Well, the core and the essence of who you are, truly, is your heart. It’s your heart.
Pastor James says this: James 5:7–8, “Be”—what? “Patient.” How many of you were hoping he would not start there, right? How many of you are not patient? OK, OK, raise your hand if you’re impatient or alive, OK? If you’re impatient or alive, those are the same people. Alive people are impatient. And some of you are more patient than others, but you’re still impatient.
I am, perhaps, the most impatient of all. I have a friend of mine who not long ago said, “It’s really nice being your friend. I’m the most impatient person I’ve ever known until I met you.” And at first, it sounded like a compliment, and then it dawned on me that it probably wasn’t. I am not patient. I’m not.
He starts with, “Be patient.” Some of you are like my wife. You’re more naturally patient. Some of you are like me, and it’s something we always need to work on by God’s grace. “Be patient therefore, brothers”—talking to Christians. So immediately, if you’re like me, you’re like, “Be patient. OK, for how long?” That’s what us impatient people do. “Lord, how long do I need to be patient for?” He says, “Until the coming of the Lord.” That’s a while. How long has it been? Jesus died on the cross, rose from the dead, went to heaven. OK, you say, “OK, be patient.” How long’s it been? Two thousand years-ish.
True or false, that’s a lot of patience. How many of you, you’re like, “Can I get ice cream?” “You’re going to get ice cream.” “When?” “In 4,000 years.” You’re like, “Really?” “Yeah, be patient.” Well, it’s going to taste so good. Be patient. And what we tend to think of—we tend to think in terms of life span, and God tends to think in terms of millennia. He’s very patient.
Peter addresses this because sometimes we can get frustrated with God and think God’s slow. The Bible says that God is not slow, he’s patient, and he wants us to grow in patience. When’s Jesus coming back? It says, “Until the coming of the Lord.” When’s Jesus coming back? We don’t know.
Now, a few of you, you study something called eschatology. It’s the study of last things. You put together a chart, you figured it all out, you know when he’s coming back, and you’re wrong. Because for two thousand years, people have made those charts and then set them on fire because they’re always wrong, OK? You don’t know. So we live by faith, not by sight. We trust that Jesus is coming back, and we need to persevere until we see him face-to-face, and we have no idea when that’s going to be. It could be today, yay! It could be 2,000 more years. It could be two hundred thousand more years. I don’t know.
“Be patient until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient”—there’s that word again—“about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient.”
Do you see a theme? Any of you are like, “I’m not a good reader, but I see this word a few times. I think we’ve stumbled across a theme.” “Establish your hearts”—there’s the key—“for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”
What he says is that life is like farming. Now, I’ll just admit I haven’t done a lot of farming, but all the research I’ve done talking to farmers and looking at farms indicates that things grow according to their season, and there’s nothing you can do to make them grow out of season. Like, you can’t go to Alaska, plant oranges, and get them in January because you want them. That’s not the time.
The way God created the world is that things grow in a season, but they don’t grow for every season. You are like that, OK? Our church is like a field, and every one of you is like a tree that God wants to bear good fruit. And God is like a patient farmer. He’s working on him, and he’s working on her, and he’s totally working on that guy, and he’s got overtime with this guy, right? He’s got a lot of work to do. And there are seasons where he’s pruning, and there are seasons where he’s nourishing, and there are seasons where he’s feeding, and then there are seasons where we’re growing and we need to be patient.
You can’t rush fruitfulness. You can’t rush fruitfulness in your own life. You can’t say, “I want to be more mature more quickly.” It’s going to be a process. “I want them to grow and change more quickly.” It’s going to be a process for them too. And as the Lord is patient with us, we need to be patient with one another. And so this becomes the great theme. And he’s going to say in verse 7, “Be patient. Being patient.” Verse 8, “Be patient.” Verse 9, “Patience.” Verse 10, “Patience.” Verse 11, “Steadfast.” Verse 11, “Steadfastness.” You’re going to see this theme.
You need to know that we live in, arguably, the most impatient time in the history of the world. We don’t walk, we take airplanes. We don’t walk, we take cars and honk our horn because the other cars are going too slow, right? We don’t have to go out and pick our food. We put it in the microwave and yell at the microwave because it takes too long, OK? We are people who can’t sit down and watch a television show. It has to be live-streamed to us as we want it, and we have to fast forward through the commercials because we don’t have time for that. We are the most impatient people in the history of the world.
Some of you right now, you’re like, “How long’s this sermon going to take?” Longer than you were hoping, OK? Because it’s about patience, OK?
Pastor James’ big idea is, “Establish your heart.” And sometimes the effort is, “I want to hurry up the process in them, or in me, or in us.” And James is like, “Can’t hurry up the process. It’s just going to take a while.” “Well, what can I do?”
“Establish your heart.” Establishing your heart means courage, it means resolve, it means perseverance, it means endurance, it means forbearance. It means, as the Holy Spirit gave Jesus that persevering power, that Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to give us that persevering power. And as you establish your heart, it guards against the anxious heart and the sad heart.
Let me say, from my own experience and time being your pastor, when you’re feeling overwhelmed, when you’re feeling overburdened, when you feel like, “This is a load I cannot bear. It will crush me”—whatever that might be for you. And I want this sermon to be for you, and then I want you to use it to help somebody else as well. The anxious heart is the one that sees the future with no hope.
The Bible often puts three words together in the New Testament: faith, hope, and love. We have faith that God loves us and that gives us hope for our future, OK? What an anxious heart is, is faith without hope or love. I’m not sure the Lord loves me, and I don’t have hope for my future. As a result, I’m anxious. I have a cataclysmic vision of my future. It is foreboding, discouraging, and overwhelming. I know it is coming, and I’m living anxiously in light of it, bracing myself for something that may not even happen.
This turns us into false prophets. We’re predicting a future that might not even come to pass. And what this causes is an anxious heart. It shows up mentally with racing thoughts. This is where people have a hard time sleeping. This is where they’re self-medicating with caffeine and simple carbohydrates. This is where people have a hard time making decisions, getting out of bed, that sort of overwhelmed, anxious, frightful, fearful state.
You ask, “Well, what should I do?” Establish your heart. Establish your heart. In addition to the anxious heart, some who are feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, frustrated, discouraged, despairing, or depressed, have a sad heart. And the sad heart is one that is living in light of a constant funeral. The sad heart doesn’t have weddings; it only has funerals. And everything dies, and everything is dying, and even if it’s alive, I’m sure it will die. In our culture, we call this depression. That’s the clinical diagnosis. What do you think the number one category of prescription medication is in the United States of America? Anti-depressants. We’re a melancholy people filled with sad hearts.
I’m not saying that we always need to be joyful and kind of like that religious—“Put on a happy face and think good thoughts.” Ecclesiastes says that a sad face is good for the heart. There are seasons of mourning. There are things to grieve. God weeps with those who weep, and he rejoices with those who rejoice, and so should we. But if your life is always anxiety or misery, if it’s always governed by fear or a funeral, you fail to establish your heart.
When he’s talking about establishing our heart, it is trusting that God loves us, having faith that he is for us, and walking into the future with some degree of hope because of his affection for us and his presence with us.
Some practical things I want to share with you. And I would say, for those who have a sad heart, when it comes to this issue of depression, clinically and historically, there has been some confusion. You will hear some say that the majority of those who are depressed are women. Actually, now the research indicates that men and women are similarly and equally depressed, but women and men manifest their depression differently. For a woman, the sad heart shows up in grief, weeping, or sadness. For a man, it tends to show up in anger, a temper, and in being curt. Men and women manifest their depression differently.
Do you have an anxious heart? Do you have a sad heart? The answer is to establish your heart.
A couple of practical things I would say can help you with this: I’m just trying to be your pastor and trying to be helpful. I’ll talk about a person, and I’ll talk about thing.
A person, you need a lightning rod. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a big lightning storm. The first time I was in one that I remember, I was a little boy. We went to my grandparents’ farm in North Dakota, and I remember it got dark, and then boom! You could hear the thunder, and you look out the window, and lightning just flashed down and lit up the sky. I mean, it was scary as a little kid.
What I learned was they have lightning rods in places like that because you need to ground out the storm. There’s a lot of energy—a lot of negative energy—that comes with that, and if you don’t ground out the storm, things blow up, and things get set on fire.
Let me say that you’re going to have storms in your life, and lightning is going to strike, and you need a lightning rod. This is somebody to talk to who’s not trying to fix it, they’re just trying to ground out your storm. The person needs to be godly, they need to be humble, they need to be helpful. They need to know that this is you just trying to ground out your storm. They’re not trying to solve it. They need to know that this is their role. Like, “I’m in the middle of it. I’m just going to talk, and you buy more chicken wings, and agree with me, OK? Can we just do that? And don’t quote any verses, because I’m not ready for verses yet, OK?” “Rejoice in the Lord always.” “I will do things, all right, so don’t quote me verses yet. I’m not there.”
The best person to be your lightning rod is the Lord. When Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane, distressed to the point of sweating drops of blood, he went to the Father as his lightning rod, and he was very honest. He was still submissive, but he was honest. Like, you know, “Father, if there’s another way, take this cup”—I believe it’s the cup of suffering—“from me.”
It says he was in anguish, but he brought it to the Father, and he let the Father be his lightning rod. If you want to know what this looks like, go to the book of Psalms and just start reading it, and you’re going to see people bringing their burdens, their hurts, their frustrations, their fears, their anxieties, and their griefs to the Lord. And they’re very emotional, and they’re very honest, and he becomes their lightning rod that grounds out their storm. That helps to establish your heart, OK?
The second thing to help establish your heart is, you need an acceptable and godly release valve. You’ve got, in your house, condo, apartment, dorm, whatever the case may be—somewhere there’s a water heater, right? And if you’re not aware of this, you should go home and check. Your water heater should have a release valve, and it should be functional. What happens if your release valve on your water heater is non-functional? You have a former water heater that is now a bomb. And it explodes. You ever seen a house where either the water heater release valve was not functional or was disabled? Eventually the pressure builds up and the house blows up.
Your life is like that. As burdens come upon you, there’s weight and pressure that wells up within you, and you need to find an acceptable release valve, not an unacceptable one. This is where people self-medicate with food, alcohol, violence, anger, gambling, sex, all kinds of unacceptable release valves. It’s not that you need to carry all the pressure, it’s not that you have an excuse to release it in an ungodly way, but there has to be a godly way of releasing some pressure so you can establish your heart, OK?
For you who work with your minds—you’re teachers, engineers, you’re accountants, whatever the case may be—it’s probably going to be a release valve with your hands, right? Playing a sport, working out, going for a hike, hugging your kids, snuggling with your spouse. I like all of that. I like chopping wood. For some reason, it’s like, I get an axe and swing it, and I feel better. I don’t know why. I like pressure washing. I have no idea why, but I just like that. In addition, I like leaf blowing. Grace bought me a leaf blower, and Grace bought me a pressure washer, and I bought my own axe. But when I put the leaf blower on, I just get to go out and blow things around and, you know, clean things. I like it. I don’t know why, OK? I like to snuggle with my kids, I like to hold my wife’s hand, I like to go for a walk with the kids, I like to play catch with the boys. Those are release valves.
You’re going to need some of those to help establish your heart. What does that look like for you? For some it’s prayer, for some it’s fasting, for some it’s journaling, the spiritual disciplines. You’re going to need that to help establish your heart so that you don’t blow up or find an ungodly release valve.
What he does in each of these is he brings each point back to Jesus, and I love that about James. He says, “For the coming of the Lord is at hand.” Here’s what he says: “Establish your heart and be patient until Jesus comes back, and Jesus is coming back!”
Here’s what I find: we tend not to think about the second coming of Jesus until we’re hurting. Like if today you say, “I lost 20 pounds, I won the lottery, and got engaged.” Miracle, right? Look at all those—miracle day for you. If I came to you and said, “When do you want Jesus to come back?” you’d be like, “Today’s not a good day. Today’s not a good day. I’ve got some plans.” If I came to you and you said, “Man, my fiancée broke up with me, and I got diagnosed with cancer.” “When do you want Jesus to come back?” “Today would be a really good day.”
When we’re hurting, we’re more longing for Jesus’ coming. A friend of mine one time got really dire news about a fatal health condition for a member of his immediate family. He sent me a text and said, you know, “This could be the end.” And then the end of his text, he said, “Come Lord Jesus,” right? That’s the heart’s cry of, like, “Oh my gosh, this is so much burden on me, I don’t know if I can carry it. Lord Jesus, come right now, and make it all go away, and make it all better.”
The New Testament speaks of the second coming of Jesus about three hundred times. That’s about once every 13 verses. It’s a big, massive, megatheme. And he says that the coming of the Lord is at hand. Well, to the Lord, it seems like it’s not been that long. For us a few thousand years into this journey, it feels like it’s been forever.
But hear me in this: Imagine there was no Jesus. Imagine that God did not enter into this world. Imagine that our sin was not forgiven. Imagine that there would be no resurrection of the dead. Imagine that there would be no justice, that there would be no healing, that there would be no kingdom. Imagine.
The only thing worse than whatever we go through is going through it not believing in and belonging to Jesus, and not having any sense that there is a King with a kingdom, and he is coming, and he will wipe every tear from our eye, and he will rise every saint from the dead, and he will right every wrong and reconcile every relationship. If we didn’t believe that, then the load would be too much to bear.
But sometimes, as we are under the burden of the load, we’re looking at our circumstances and ourselves. Here, James is saying, “Look up to your Savior, and look down the horizon, and see that it might be a long time, but all will be made well.” How’s your heart? Have you established your heart?
Number two, how are your relationships? James 5:9, “Do not grumble against one another, brothers”—Christians, members of the church—“so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.”
True or false, when you’re under a lot of pressure, you’re heavily burdened, you’re overwhelmed, you’re feeling weighed down, maybe your heart is anxious or sad, you tend to have less patience with others? Is it just me or—here’s what weird: like, some of you saying, “No, I’m not like that,” but the person you’re with is saying you are. That’s interesting. Just an observation from up here, OK? OK, we’re like that, right?
How many of you find you’re more curt—your words, your tone, your perseverance, your patience? When it says to persevere and to be patient and steadfast, it’s also talking about with one another. Yes, it’s with the Lord and it’s also with one another, being patient with one another.
How many of you find that your patience decreases as your burden increases? You notice that? I have. And the result is, as pressure comes upon the church and as pressure comes upon people in the church, the brothers and sisters in Christ start grumbling against one another.
You may think this is like the grumbling in Exodus. Exodus is sort of the great biblical narrative of grumbling. It’s actually different, but in Exodus they were grumbling against the Lord, right? They were like, “Why in the world did you give us Moses? He murders people and stutters, you know? Why bread for breakfast? We hate bread, bread, bread. I’m allergic to gluten, why? I have a gluten allergy. Bread, bread, bread. It seems like we’ve been walking in a circle. Yes, it’s a circle. Why do I need to walk with them? They’re terrible people. Lord, when is it over?”
They’re grumbling against the Lord. This is a different grumbling; this is grumbling against one another. “God, why haven’t you given me better friends? Why haven’t you given me a better spouse? Why do you give these people that annoy me? Why do you give me these people who take from me? Why do you give me these people who are inconsiderate of me? Why do you give me these people who are critical of me? Why, why, why, Lord?”
What can happen is suffering people become selfish people, and they feel very vindicated in it. And all of a sudden, you see all the relationships in your life as a circle and you sit in the center. “You all need to pay attention to me. You need to be available for me. You need to orbit around me. You need to serve me. You need to help me. You need to be sympathetic with me. You need to be patient with me.”
God is saying, “Why do you get to sit in the center of the circle? Maybe they’re struggling. Maybe they’re suffering. Maybe you should be patient with them as you want them to be patient with you.”
What this does is change a culture among a people. It’s talking about culture formation here, that everybody’s got a burden, and a load, and a weight that they’re carrying. And we’re all walking with Jesus going to the same kingdom, and we’re not there yet. And along the way, we need to be patient with one another because God’s still working out some new fruit in them, and he’s working new fruit in them, he’s working new fruit in them, he’s working new fruit in them. We need to be patient because he’s not done yet. He’s not done with us; he’s not done with them.
The remedy for grumbling is persevering in your relationships. And there’s a book I was reading that says that some people reach a point in their life where it’s like a relational migraine. For those of you that have had migraines, you know any sound is overwhelming, any light is devastating. You’re so sensitive.
As the burdens of life come upon us, there will be seasons where, for us, we feel like we’ve got a relational migraine. It’s like what you said is not a big deal, what you did is not a big deal, but—OK moms, we say these phrases: “I’m at the end of my rope” and “This is the last straw,” right? We have language that indicates, “I’ve got a relational migraine.”
What we need to do in those moments is, we need to tell the people around us, “Look, I’m in a difficult place right now, so if I’m grumpy, if I’m grumpier, if I’m grumpiest—wherever I’m at in the scale—I need you to know it’s probably not you. When you see me getting like that—impatient, curt, harsh—I need you to, in love, say, ‘Hey, come on. You’re not going to a good place here.’” Then we need to be slow to speak. James has got that very phrase here in the book somewhere else. “Slow to speak”—like, “I’m not going to say anything right now because I’ve not established my heart, and I’m going to grumble out of my heart, and that’s going to hurt my relationship.”
When we say or do something that is harmful and not helpful, it’s apologizing. “I’m sorry. Actually, what you said or did, the response you got was not commensurate, and it’s not an excuse, but it’s an explanation. Here’s where I’m at, and I’m sorry.” And that invites people into your life, and it creates safety in the relationship so that they can invite you into their life. And you stop grumbling at one another and you start persevering and enduring with one another.
The worst thing is when, you know, the burdens of life have got you so weighed down that you respond in such a way that creates conflict, and then the other relationships start to be additional burdens that weigh you down even more.
James loves you. He’s a good pastor. He loves me. He’s trying to teach us all. And he says, “Jesus is”—so he goes to the picture of Jesus—“Jesus is the judge.” Not every wrong is going to be righted. Not every injustice is going to be corrected. Not every apology will be granted. Not every lie will be thwarted in this life.
But again, how do you establish your heart and stop grumbling in your relationships? Trust that Jesus is coming, and when he comes again, he’s coming to judge. He’s going to figure it all out. And I know in the moment you’re thinking, “But I want it now.” It’s patience, steadfastness. You’ve got to wait, but it’s coming. That allows us to have perseverance, endurance, and forbearance, even in the face of injustice. Not that it is OK or it causes us to be entirely passive, but we entrust ourselves to the judge who will make all things right at the right time. How are your relationships?
Number three, how’s your steadfastness? This is really the heart of his exhortation. James 5:10–11, “As an example of suffering and patience.” True or false, it’s hard to bring those together? Usually it’s suffering or patience. He’s bringing suffering and patience together. It’s not hard to be patient with something that’s awesome. I have an 18-inch neck. When Grace rubs my neck, if she takes a long time, patience is not hard for me because I like it, OK? Suffering and patience are hard to bring together. Pleasure and patience are not hard to bring together. Suffering and patience are hard to bring together.
This can take the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. As an example, because immediately you’re like, “Well, who does this? Who has suffering and perseverance?” We’re going to go to the Bible, and he’s going to pull out the example of the prophets and the example of Job. “Brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained”—what? “Steadfast.” They persevered. They endured. “You have heard of the steadfastness of Job”—second example—“you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” That’s what he says.
I would ask you a similar question? How many of you really respect, appreciate, and admire the prophets in the Bible? Their steadfastness, their truthfulness, their perseverance in the face of adversity and persecution? How many of you really admire the prophets? OK, raise your hand. How many of you still don’t want to be a prophet? Why? You’re like, “Well, they’re amazing. I don’t want to be one.” Why? “It’s going to hurt.” It’s going to hurt.
Here’s what Hebrews 11:35–38 says about the prophets. “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy”—there’s a great line—“wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”
See, we consider them heroes, but in their day, they were villains. We need to be careful when we are under a heavy burden and we’re suffering that we don’t immediately read all the godly people in the Bible who suffered and think we’re one of them: “Well, they’re treating me like they treated Jesus.”
Maybe not. You’re not exactly like Jesus. Everything that Jesus got was undeserved. You, at least some percentage on the scale, you could have deserved it, OK? Me too, OK? But here, he does give the example that the prophets, they suffered because they were obeying the Lord. There will be times and seasons where you are suffering because you’re obeying. You’re marching in the direction that God has for you, and that’s why opposition has come against you.
Second example he uses is the example of Job. Some of you may or may not be familiar with Job. You can go home and read the book of Job for yourself. It’ll take you a while. It’s a pretty long book. Job is one of those amazing characters in the Bible that I would encourage you not to turn into a superhero. Just let him be a man. Job is a guy that we read about. He was godly, very godly. OK, early in the book, he says, “My kids threw a party. Maybe they sinned in their heart. I’m not sure. I’m going to offer a sacrifice and confess their sins to the Lord.”
How many of you did not recently confess the potential heart sins of your children to the Lord, right? Like, there’s a guy who is really godly. I mean, he’s a very godly man. He loves the Lord, he serves the Lord, he knows the Lord. He’s also a healthy man. He’s in good shape, no injury, no illness. He’s also a very wealthy man, large estate, huge portfolio, great company, very successful.
Then something happens, and it’s something that Job doesn’t know, but for those of us who read the story of Job, we know because the Bible allows us to peer behind the curtain to see what’s going on offstage. On the stage, Job is going to see his life get destroyed and devastated, and he doesn’t know why. He doesn’t know why. He’s got a beautiful family—seven sons, three daughters, ten kids. Satan comes to God and says, “You know, the only reason that Job loves you is because you bless him.” I’m summarizing. “I bet you if you stop blessing him, he’d stop loving you.”
God removes his hand of protection, and he allows Satan’s affliction. There’s a great mystery there. Job’s ten children die, OK? Parents, emotionally just go there for a minute. It’s not just that you lost a child, which is devastating. You lost all your children. Your funeral had ten coffins and ten holes in the ground. He was bankrupted; he lost everything financially. His reputation would have been gone. Everybody’s saying horrible things about Job. He lost his health. Boils broke out on his body. It says that he sat on the dust of the earth, and he would literally scratch his itchy skin with shards of broken pottery.
The two things he didn’t lose was his wife and his, quote-unquote “friends.” That was not a real gift. His wife was not a real encourager. She said, “Why don’t you just cuss God out and have him kill you?” “Thank you, Sweetheart. As we sketch out our options, I will add that to the list. Cuss at God and explode—that’s a possibility. We can always circle back around to that. Thank you, Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement. That was tremendously helpful.”
Then his friends come around. His friends are guys in Bible college, who have not yet had any ministry experience, and so they want to have a theological argument with him because they’re religious guys who think in terms of karma. “Good things happen to good people; bad things happen to bad people. Very bad things have happened to you, Job. You must be a very bad person. Where’s your sin? What did you do?”
You got any friend like that? You get hit by a car; you’re lying in the road. They come by, they’re like, “What did you do?” “I got hit by a car.” “No, what’d you to deserve it?” “Thanks. Thanks. Thanks for the prayers, the encouragement.” “Did you sin? What sin? I know you sinned. You must have sinned to get hit by the car.” “Or I got hit by the car, and you’re not really a comforter.” Job’s friends are like that.
So, the only people he gets are people who aren’t even comforting, encouraging. They’re not helpful, they’re not loving, they’re not affectionate. Now, be careful when you study the story of Job you don’t do as some do and they say, “But then later, God blessed him,” because Job struggled with God, but he didn’t deny God.
I need you to know there’s a difference between struggling with God and denying God. There are points that are painful in the story of Job as you read Job that he’s coming to the—he’s struggling. He’s got faith seeking understanding. He’s trying to figure out what is going on. “Why is it like this, God? Why am I in the season that I’m in?” There are moments of painful anguish, but they’re not moments of unbelief. They’re moments of struggling.
Life with God is like that. I mean, Jesus had moments, as I said, like the Garden of Gethsemane where he was wrestling with the load he was called to carry. There’ll be seasons that you and I will feel like the psalmist, and we’ll be wrestling and struggling with the load that God has called us to carry, and things that we don’t understand, don’t seem right, don’t make sense, and, “Where are you, and what is happening?”
Job had those moments, and he’s still a righteous man. He didn’t turn his back on the Lord, he brought his concerns to the Lord. That’s faith. And some will say, “And God made it all better, and he got it all back.” Well, he did get his health back, he did get his wealth back, but he didn’t get his kids back, not until the resurrection of the dead.
How many of you respect Job, admire Job, appreciate Job? What he’s saying is his life is not one just to be admired but imitated. By the grace of God, this is what patience looks like. And be honest and say if we take the load that God has called us to carry and we compare it to the prophets, you’re like, “It’s not that heavy.” Take the load that God has called us to carry, look at the life of Job, and say, “It’s not that heavy.” It’s heavy, but it’s not heavy.
Let me tell you something that’s really important, and because I’m your pastor and I love you. I praise God I get to tell you this: Almost everybody quits too soon. Almost everybody quits too soon. They quit on God, they quit on their spouse, they quit on their friends, they quit on their church, they quit on their life. They quit because they’re not patient.
God is patient, and oftentimes, if we just wait, God compels us to become the person that the others wanted us to be, and they become the person that we wanted them to be. And if we’re patient with one another, we get to see the harvest of righteousness.
That’s exactly what he’s intimating. “Then you’ll have seen the purpose of the Lord.” You see that? Steadfast, steadfastness. Only if you persevere, only if you hang in there, only if you endure, only if you don’t quit, then down the road, you’ll see the purpose of the Lord. Oh, that’s what he was doing. That’s what he was doing in them, that’s what he’s doing in me, that’s what he’s doing in us.
One of the most painful conversations I have had in the history of my ministry was a guy who quit on his wife too fast. He’s like, “She’s not the way I want her to be. She’s not the way she should be. I’ve hung in there. I’m sick of it, I’m tired, I quit, I’m out.” Hit the eject button, got a divorce, moved on with his life. And the Lord was more patient with that woman than the husband was, and the Lord was like a patient farmer, right? Pruning, watering, nourishing, and then there’s fruit.
She began to change, grow, and become quite a remarkable woman. And then her former husband looked back, and he saw the purpose of the Lord, and he realized that he had quit too fast. I met with that guy and he said, “The biggest mistake I ever made was giving up too soon. The Lord wasn’t done; I don’t know why I was.”
I’m not saying that there’s never a season for change or perhaps biblical grounds for divorce, but let’s just say that we live in a world that is absolutely hard-wired for quitting. For quitting. And those who quit don’t see the purpose of the Lord. And those who don’t quit and know that one day they will see the purpose of the Lord, they experience Jesus in this way—compassionate and merciful. The Lord’s compassion and mercy is for those who are steadfast, not quitters.
It is beautiful that the Lord Jesus is compassionate and merciful. Hebrews 4 says it this way, I think it’s in verses 15 and 16. “We do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with us in our weakness.” When we run to the Lord Jesus, he’s not a God who says, “I live up here; you live down there. I don’t relate. I live in a world of perfection; you live in a world of sin. I don’t understand. My relationships have never been complicated. Nobody’s ever betrayed me. My reputation’s never been destroyed. I’ve never suffered physical injury or pain. I’ve never had a day where I was struggling to pay my bills. I’m not a God who entered in. I don’t relate; I don’t understand. Bring me your cares and concerns, but frankly, I have no experience by which to sympathize with you.”
Jesus says, “I understand. Everything you’re experiencing, I’ve experienced. The place you are is the place I’ve been. And I was there for you, and I’ll be there with you. I’m compassionate, I understand, and I’m merciful, I’m here to help.”
Jesus is wonderful. He’s patient, and he’s steadfast. Isn’t it great that Jesus isn’t impatient with us? How many of you are really glad that Jesus is steadfast with you, right? Tomorrow, Jesus isn’t filing for divorce. He’s not going to quit. He’s not going to give up on you. He’s not going to say, “I tried. They’re not changing. I quit.” He’s like a farmer who just keeps pulling weeds, working his field, and waiting for a harvest.
You need to know this friend: he does it with a smile on his face. It’s not begrudging; it’s not because he has to, but because he’s good and he loves you. He’s compassionate. He’s merciful. The question is, are you steadfast? That’s the question. How’s your steadfastness?
Lastly, number four, how’s your mouth? OK, now, I know you don’t struggle with this, but I know a guy who does, OK, and so I want that guy named Mark to listen to James 5:12. How many of you, when you’re frustrated, you’re burdened, you’re overwhelmed, you’re exhausted, you say things you wouldn’t otherwise say or you say them in a way that you wouldn’t otherwise say it, OK? “But above all, my brothers, do not swear”—and this is oaths—“either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.” He’s quoting Jesus in Matthew 5:34–37. James has learned from Jesus, and he’s always echoing Jesus. May we be the same by God’s grace.
Jesus says, “Let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no.” So what he’s saying is once you’ve made a commitment, be steadfast in it. Therefore, be careful in the commitments you make. And when you’re under stress and duress, the burden is heavy, the pack feels overwhelming, you can quit on things you’ve committed to or you can commit yourself to things you should have not committed yourself to.
Some of our worst decisions with far-reaching, long-standing implications are made in stressful moments where we lost sight of the long view and we were restricted by the short view. If you made a vow to your spouse, let your “yes” be yes. If you made a vow to the Lord and you’re going to be a Christian, let your “yes” be yes. If you’ve made a vow to other people in your life, let your “yes” be yes.
God is not a God who says “yes” and then says “no.” We’re really glad about that, amen? Jesus doesn’t say, “I love you. I forgive you. I’ll help you. I’ll serve you. I’ve got a kingdom for you. I’ll never leave you. I’ll never forsake you— You did what? I quit!” “Jesus, you said, ‘Yes.’” “Well, now I’m saying no.”
See, we love the steadfastness of the Lord. We cling to it as an anchor for the soul, and we then need to carefully make our vows, give our pledges, give our word, give our life. And as we have given it to the Lord and to others, along with commitments, we need to walk in them with steadfastness. That’s what he’s saying.
If you quit too early, you’ll grieve deeply. And what causes people to quit too early and later forces them to grieve deeply is that they feel that the load is too heavy, it is going to overwhelm them, it is going to crush them, it is going to destroy them. And again, just like James has done, we need to continually go back to the Lord Jesus.
Friends, the Lord Jesus carried a heavy burden. On his barren, devastated, wounded, bleeding back, he literally carried what? A Roman cross. Hewn, heavy timber on his broken, bloodied body, and that was his burden to carry. And he’s not just carrying a physical cross. Spiritually, he’s carrying the sin of the world. There is no burden that is even comparable to the burden that the Lord Jesus placed on his back, carrying his cross to atone for the sin of the world, yours and mine. And he didn’t quit. He was steadfast. Yes, in the Garden of Gethsemane, he had an earnest, honest, heartfelt conversation with the Father, but he ended it with this, “Not my will, but your will be done.”
Then he took his cross, and he took it for us, and he took our sin with him, and he bore that heavy burden and load, and he went to the cross, and he was steadfast, persevering, and enduring. And God died in our place for our sins. And he made a promise before the foundation of the world that he would seek and save you.
Jesus was steadfast, Jesus was enduring, Jesus did not quit. And he went to the cross, and he ran his race, he kept his faith, he finished his mission. And he said something for you and me, that we should pick up our—what did he say? Our cross, not nearly as big as his. “Pick up your cross and”—what? “Follow me.” Follow me. Friends, that’s the Christian life. That’s the Christian life. It’s following in the footsteps of the life of Christ.
Jesus says, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light. I’m really good at carrying crosses. You walk with me. I’ll put my shoulder under the other side. You put your shoulder under your side. And here’s the deal, friend: we’ll carry this together to the kingdom, and it’s all going to be better forever.”
The only thing worse than this life is this life without Jesus. Do you know Jesus? Do you love Jesus? Do you belong to Jesus? Have you confessed your sin to Jesus? Have you brought your burdens to Jesus? I would beg you to do that. He is compassionate and merciful, and once he says yes to you, he says yes forever.
We’re going to respond by giving our tithes and offerings as an act of worship to the Lord, partaking of Communion as we remember the broken body and shed blood of Jesus in our place for our sins, that he was steadfast to the end. And one thing I want to do is invite you not only to Christ but to community. He’s talked a lot in this text about brothers and sisters, and we do what we call “Community Groups.” This is where people get together to do life together around Jesus in the Scriptures.
This week in Community Group, here’s what I want you to ask: The four questions that I asked in the sermon, I want you to discuss: How’s your heart? How are your relationships? How’s your steadfastness? How’s your mouth? And here’s what I’m thinking: Do you remember—OK, stick with me. Do you remember when Jesus was carrying his cross, there were occasions when it became so heavy? What happened to him? He fell and was crushed under the weight of the cross.
Then, what happened was a friend came along and helped him. We need friends to help us carry our cross. I’m not saying that our cross is like Jesus’—it’s that heavy or atoning—but it’s the burden that we have to bear until we finish our race. And part of the motive, goal, and hope of Community Group is that people would have those kinds of friends to help carry that kind of load together. And if you’re not in a Community Group, I would ask you to get in one, I’d beg you to get in one. Go try one. Check it out. We’ll find one near you. And when you go, don’t go with this attitude, “I’m here to find a friend to help carry my cross.” Instead, you go saying, “I’m here to be a friend and help someone carry their cross.” And if everyone has that attitude, then you will be a steadfast people together by the grace of God.
In addition, lastly, Jesus died, Jesus rose, he was steadfast, and we celebrate this on Good Friday, remembering the death of Jesus in our place for our sins. It’s a funeral. And then Easter Sunday, the day of Jesus’ resurrection feels like a wedding and we throw a big party.
If you’ve been around a while at Mars Hill, we like Easter, amen? It’s a thing for us, and so we are inviting you to join us for Good Friday and for Easter Sunday. And if you’ve not been baptized, sign up to be baptized. It shows the life, death, burial, resurrection, and steadfastness of the Lord Jesus, that as water cleanses us from filth, Jesus cleanses us from sin, that he was steadfast to us, and we seek to be steadfast toward him together. And if you have family, friends, neighbors, coworkers who don’t know Jesus, invite them, invite them, invite them. We always see a lot of people meet Jesus on Easter Sunday.
I want to share a little bit of what’s coming with you.
♪ As I went down in the river to pray ♪ ♪ Studying about that good old way ♪ ♪ And who shall wear the robe and crown ♪ ♪ Good Lord, show me the way ♪ ♪ O sinners, let’s go down ♪ ♪ Let’s go down, come on down ♪ ♪ O sinners, let’s go down ♪ ♪ Down in the river to pray ♪ ♪ O sinners, let’s go down ♪ ♪ Let’s go down, come on down ♪ ♪ O sinners, let’s go down ♪ ♪ Down in the river to pray ♪♪
Note: This sermon transcript has been edited for readability.