The Perfect Work of Patience


“The Perfect Work of Patience”

By: Daniel Starr


Finally brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1:2-4

This is one of the most difficult passages in God’s word for me, not difficult to understand, but difficult to apply. I struggle immensely to “count it all joy” or find joy in trials. Trials aren’t just problems or common challenges but the things which happen that take us to our limits when we feel like we are near our breaking point. More precisely, they are the occasions in life which test our faith. I don’t expect that James is directing these inspired thoughts toward individuals of perpetually struggling or weak faith, either. He is writing to encourage Christians who have suffered for their faith. They are not weak. They are willing to suffer for their faith, but they are being pushed toward their limits. James is hoping to focus them on the eventual outcome of such trials- a “perfecting” of their faith. He writes to inspire them to look past their own suffering and take joy from the sight of their “future selves,” perfected.

My instinct is to hate trials. My instinct is to isolate myself from them. My instinct is to see them off in the distance and change course. My instincts tempt me to fail in this. There are some things we would categorize as trouble which we should obviously avoid. Proverbs is full of godly wisdom regarding things that wise and faithful people will avoid. Here is one such example-

  • 10 “Hear, my son, and receive my sayings, And the years of your life will be many. 11 I have taught you in the way of wisdom; I have led you in right paths. 12 When you walk, your steps will not be hindered, And when you run, you will not stumble. 13 Take firm hold of instruction, do not let go; Keep her, for she is your life. 14 Do not enter the path of the wicked, And do not walk in the way of evil. 15 Avoid it, do not travel on it; Turn away from it and pass on. 16 For they do not sleep unless they have done evil; And their sleep is taken away unless they make someone fall. 17 For they eat the bread of wickedness, And drink the wine of violence.”  Prov 4:10-17

James is clearly not instructing the faithful to wade blindly into all forms of trouble wherever it is found for the sake of how strong we will be in the aftermath but instead to not give in to things that would suppress the instincts of our faith. When we know what should be done, what is right, what is good, and that path is clear, but we allow ourselves to be “detoured” by some trial we either see or already endure on that path, we prevent the perfect work of patience. Satan loves this tool. He is active in the hearts of people who use violence and fear to steer the faithful away from the work of their faith. The path of the faithful will intersect the path of the wicked at times, but our avoidance of the path of the wicked must take a very particular form- not a fearful yielding to any unpleasant consequence, but an understanding, even an embracing, of the trials that will be unique to those who choose what is right. Inevitably, conflict with this world will be one earthly result of our faith. Be patient in doing what is right, and when it hurts us, look to the ultimate result- our perfection, given by God as we stand faithful before Him in the end. Therein is joy, regardless of what we confront at present. The perfect work of patience.