“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 5:8, ESV).
One often wonders how such virtues as courage and patience are developed. Are they intrinsic to some, but not to others? Can it be that some individuals are simply born brave while others are destined from conception to be timid and fearful? From outward appearances something like this may seem to be true, but there are many examples of such virtue developing over time and experience.
James is discussing such a virtue, and perhaps implying others, as he instructs Christians to prepare themselves for the coming of Christ. First, he exhorts patience. Then he cites a common example – that of the farmer. Any experienced farmer is aware that it requires time for crops to grow and mature for harvest. Early in the spring, no matter how often he may go out to check for plants to sprout, then grow and finally put on their grain or fruit, he will be disappointed. It is simply not the time for that to occur. Over multiple seasons he learns to be patient, tending the fields until the right season to reap the rewards.
This development of patience is a form of self-control. We learn – sometimes we even teach ourselves – that this component of our character is beneficial and even necessary, so we set out to acquire it. That same principle applies to all essential virtues including courage, kindness, love, and many others.
This growth in virtue is what James describes as establishing the heart. It could also be termed developing character. The heart in this usage is simply one’s core being. When we are strong in our core, we are able to withstand difficulties and prepare for whatever might come.
Early in his letter James spoke of those without inner strength. “. . . for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. . . . he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:6, 8). In this case inner weakness is a result of weak faith in God. Many pray, but not everyone is confident that God will hear and answer prayer. Those prayers are of no value or effect.
Strength comes from various sources. Some is provided by companions who pray for us, encourage us, and stand with us during difficult periods. Some strength comes from practice and experience as we learn what we can accomplish and rely upon proven abilities. But much necessary strength is that which is within us, resulting from the establishment of our hearts.
We must learn what is true and right and of value (Philippians 4:8), then commit ourselves to those things regardless of pressure from others. Some say “be true to yourself.” That is good advice, but only when we have aligned ourselves with truth. “Be sure that you are right, then go ahead” is good advice. It lacks however the essential precondition – a reliable standard of what is right. Jesus said it best, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39).