Patience is not Passive
“Be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” James 5:8 ESV
What does it mean to be patient in the midst of suffering and injustice? Does James, the brother of Jesus, intend for us to take mistreatment and abuse as a Christian virtue? Let’s take a closer look at what the word “patience” means.
The Greek word for patience means to show self-restraint when you are provoked; to show mercy and long suffering; to refrain from retaliating.
According to author Jerry Bridges, patience is the “ability to suffer . . . under the mistreatment of others without growing resentful or bitter.”
This goes against the grain of human nature—to restrain from retaliating and hurting the person who has hurt you. But this restraint is the nature of Jesus who is our example. Peter writes about this in 1 Peter 2:21: “For to this you have been called because Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example so that you might follow in his steps.”
Perhaps as a battered woman you are wondering how Jesus could understand what it feels like to be the object of someone’s angry words, suffocating control, and open handed or closed fist attacks? Actually, Jesus experienced many of the same abuses you may have suffered. He was betrayed by a friend, falsely accused, misunderstood by family and friends, stalked, set up by those who wanted to trap him, faced threats to his life, unprotected by the religious and legal system, spat upon, and suffered verbal and physical abuse. Yet, even though he had the power to do so, he did not retaliate by trash talking or threatening to get even to those who mistreated him.
What did Jesus do? “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:23) Dr. David Jeremiah counsels, “Until Jesus comes and he rights all wrongs, the believer is to leave vengeance in the hands of God.”
"Trusting ourselves to the Father's hands doesn't mean we will not fall into other hands along the way. What it means is that behind all of those hands are His hands. It will be His hands that will one day bring those other hands to justice. That is what Jesus believed. And that is what gave him the strength, while being reviled on the cross, not to revile in return."¹
Entrusting yourself to God does not mean you should remain in an unsafe situation and meekly submit to verbal or physical abuse. God has given us great wisdom in the book of Proverbs that tells us how to respond to someone who is angry and abusive, or who misuses alcohol. Over and over again we are warned to flee the presence of those who seek to destroy us. Read the entire book and make a list of abusive characteristics until you have constructed the profile of a “fool” who believes he is always right, resists counsel, and acts as his own god. Sound familiar?
I recommend an excellent book based on the book of Proverbs called Foolproofing Your Life by Jan Silvious. It contains practical wisdom for those who are involved with a “fool.”
Remaining in an abusive situation is like hugging whirling fan blades—you will be destroyed. Instead of remaining a victim, you can exhibit godly patience by resisting any form of retaliation and allowing God to help you in two ways:
1. He has surrounded you with people who can help—if you will seek and accept their help. This includes secular agencies and the legal system as well as faith-based organizations and some churches. Contrary to what some women are told by their misguided church leaders, it is not a betrayal (or retaliation) to the abusive partner to get a restraining order and press charges for battery. Holding the abuser accountable is often the most loving thing you can do because it causes him to experience the consequences of his actions and gives an opportunity for him to seek help.
2. He will eventually make all things right when he comes (Revelation 22:12), so for now leave all vengeance and retaliation to him.
Patience is not passive. It may be considered actively waiting—waiting for God to work in the heart of an abuser while you seek safety, and in some cases permanent separation. The apostle James was right—we should be patient and entrust our hearts to God in the midst of suffering and injustice. Seeking revenge and allowing bitterness to take root in your heart will only destroy you. Entrusting your heart to God allows him to accomplish forgiveness and peace in your heart and life. Forgiveness may or may not bring reconciliation, but it will produce freedom in your own heart—freedom to love without bitterness and resentment, even if it has to be from a distance.
There’s hope in this message from James: “the coming of the Lord is at hand.” Let this hope give you patience and courage in the midst of suffering—courage to act and take a stand against evil, and courage to surrender your need to retaliate.
¹ Gire, Ken "The Work of His Hands"
Copyright © 2009 Brenda Branson http://www.brokenpeople.org