David A. Okken
“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. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:7–8).
The call to follow Christ is a call to a life of waiting. We see it in these words of James and in so many other places in Scripture.
These past months, in my times of devotional reading, I have been reminded of how much the theme of waiting pervades the Psalms. I have often run into words like these words of David: “Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!” (Ps. 27:14).
This has encouraged me, particularly as our team in Karamoja has been and continues to be in something of a waiting phase. Last year ended with us having to bid farewell to much-loved friends and teammates. After that, we waited for our new pastor, along with his family. David Robbins and his family arrived in the middle of February! And now we continue to wait upon the Lord to provide a new missionary doctor to take up labors at the Clinic.
In many ways, our ministries are ministries of waiting. Often they do not bear the fruit we hope to see in the time in which we hope to see it. We preach. We teach. We scatter the seed of the word in evangelism. We wait for the Lord to bless.
We work to disciple men who we hope will one day be elders and pastors in the church. As Paul instructed Timothy, we seek to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2). Progress and spiritual growth can go slowly. Indeed, sometimes it feels like it has halted completely.
James describes the farmer who waits patiently for the precious fruit of his labors. Living in a land full of subsistence farmers, whose crops rarely last until the next harvest, we understand the longing for that precious fruit. Similarly, as ministers of the gospel, we long to see fruit from our labors. In Karamoja, we often wonder if not we, but the next generation(s), will at last get to see a firmly established Reformed church that is self-supporting, self-propagating, and self-governing. What precious fruit that will be! So we wait. Indeed, we are called to ministries and lives of waiting for the Lord.
It is appropriate that we use the farming metaphor to speak of the Spirit blessing our ministries with conversions, sanctification, numerical growth in our churches, the planting of new ones, and so forth. Indeed, our Lord’s parable of the sower would have us praying for the seed of the word to fall upon good soil and produce good fruit in the lives of those to whom we minister (Matt. 13:23).
But, returning to James’s words, when he employs the farming metaphor and calls us to wait for the Lord, he is directing our thoughts to something beyond the fruit of our labors, whether that fruit is born in our lifetime or even in subsequent generations. The harvest that James has in mind is that world-ending event of “the coming of the Lord.” Of course, Jesus also speaks of the end of the age as “the harvest” (Matt. 13:39).
Jesus is coming again! It was that promise which James offered for the encouragement of a suffering church that was facing “trials of various kinds” (James 1:2). Yes, the saints were to be encouraged by knowing that such trials would bring sanctification in this life (1:3–4). But greater still was the hope that their Lord would soon appear and that the trials of this life would be no more. “Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:8). For the believer, waiting for the Lord is always ultimately “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
We always need to remind ourselves of his coming. We must remember that it is near. It is near to us as those who are living in the last days (James 5:3). It is also near in the sense that it is at the center of Christian faith. So we must always keep it near, at the center of our faith. Peter instructed the believers, “Set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13).
We must meditate often on the hope of Christ appearing in glory and the fact that “when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). Then will be revealed to us that glory of which “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing” (Rom. 8:18).
For those who received James’s letter, this was to be the great source of encouragement amidst trials of all kinds! It was true for the righteous who were being oppressed by those who were wealthy and corrupt (James 5:4–6). And it is surely true when we are called to minister in difficult circumstances where progress is slow.
We may go out to the village to share God’s Word and find people interested only in their gambling card games and in sipping bags of gin. We must still deliver that word, even if only a few are willing to come and listen. We proclaim it, knowing that one day, maybe this day, we shall proclaim it for the last time. “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory” (Mark 13:26).
Will belief in our Lord’s imminent return encourage laziness? Shall we sit on our hands and wait for Jesus to come? Of course, there will always be those who distort and misapply precious biblical truths. In Thessalonica, there were those who were probably using the Lord’s return to excuse their refusal to work. Paul had to warn that neither should they eat (2 Thess. 3:10).
Understood and applied properly, however, the expectation of Christ’s return will have the opposite effect. Paul commended that same church for their reputation as those who had “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven” (1 Thess. 1:9–10). The Christian life is a life of waiting, while fervently serving the Lord. It is as we are “waiting for our blessed hope” that we live as people “who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:13–14). For Peter, fixing your hope fully upon Christ’s return means “preparing your minds for action” (1 Peter 1:13).
Being without a missionary doctor has provided our Mission with a great opportunity to serve the Lord while waiting for his provision. Only the Lord knows if and when a new doctor will come. In the meantime, we are not sitting and waiting. It has been wonderful to see our teammates step up as needed. Missionary associate Christopher Verdick is doing a great job as our temporary Clinic administrator, with missionary associate Hannah Van Gorkom assisting him. Of course, it helps that Dr. Jim Knox did such good work training our staff during his years with us. So quality medical care continues to be delivered. The gospel is preached. The work goes on while we await the Lord’s provision of a new doctor.
Waiting upon the Lord involves meditating upon our Savior’s return and all of the glories that will then be ours. It is to live by faith. It is to look, with Abraham, “to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10). Only as we do that can we find the strength we need, even the powers of the age to come at work in us, enabling us to serve the Lord each day. God promised through Isaiah that “they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Isa. 40:31).
Longing for Christ’s return should never lead to a defeatist attitude in our gospel ministries. It might seem contradictory to live in expectation of Christ’s return while laboring with a long-term perspective. If our Lord may return in our generation, why bother sowing seeds for the coming ones? Admittedly, it is a paradox. Yet, it is a paradox from our Lord.
Even if it is difficult for me to wrap my mind around that mystery, I still find it edifying to meditate on it. Paul wrote to Timothy the somewhat strange words, “It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.” And then he wrote, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Tim. 2:6–7).
The Lord calls us to long for the great harvest at the end of the world while longing for harvests in our ministries today and in the ministries of those who come after us. We trust that some of the many seeds faithfully sown by Pastor Al Tricarico in Karamoja will now be watered by the ministry of Pastor David Robbins.
What was true in the Samaritan village in Jesus’ day continues to be true today. That is, we live in the day of the great harvest (John 4:36, 39). For every day, every year, and indeed every generation that the kingdom of glory tarries, Christ builds his kingdom in this world. As we preach the word, in season and out of season, the cry “Come, Lord Jesus!” should also be a prayer for Christ to come by the Spirit and bless our proclamation, so that his kingdom may grow. “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!” (Ps. 90:17).
So let us wait upon the Lord together. Please pray with us that our God would bless our labors in Karamoja. Pray, believing that he will do great things. Pray that the young children hearing the gospel every day at Karamoja Education Outreach (KEO), our preschool, would grow up to be strong Christians who will lead the next generation in walking in the ways of the Lord. As we preach and teach in the church, out in the villages, at the Clinic, or wherever we may be, pray for a great harvest of souls. Pray that Christian men will mature and grow strong spiritually, so that one day, perhaps soon, they will be able to serve as elders and pastors.
And pray for us, that we might “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58). To that end, pray that our hearts might be established as we remember that the coming of the Lord is at hand. Indeed, so may it be for us all. As was David, so may we be strong and our hearts encouraged as we wait for the Lord (Ps. 27:14). Wherever King Jesus has placed us, let us faithfully serve him, ever looking up to heaven, believing that from there he shall soon return.
The author is an OP missionary in Nakaale, Karamoja, Uganda. New Horizons, May 2016.