Question: "What does it mean to "establish your hearts" (James 5:8)?"
Answer: Success in the Christian life requires keeping the mindset not of a short-distance sprinter but of a marathon runner, especially in challenging times. Strength, stamina, and patient endurance are needed to go the distance as a follower of Jesus Christ. James is focused on this topic when he encourages fellow believers to “establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:8, ESV).
The word for “establish” in the original language means “to strengthen, to confirm, to make more marked by firm determination or resolution.” An established heart is ready for anything in the face of suffering. “Stand firm. Let nothing move you,” declares the apostle Paul to the Corinthians, “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58). Enduring until the end is the Christian’s goal because the precious prize of salvation and eternity with the Lord awaits us (Matthew 10:22; Acts 20:24; Hebrews 10:36; 2 Timothy 2:12). In the meantime, we must endure hardship and heartache with patient endurance, standing firm until Jesus Christ returns (Acts 14:22; Romans 15:4; 1 Timothy 4:16).
“Establish your hearts” is James’ way of saying, “Determine with your whole heart to pursue a lifestyle of persistent devotion as you serve the Lord.” One motivation James offers for showing such firmness of purpose is the closeness of Christ’s return. Paul gives a similar incentive to the believers in Thessalonica: “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints” (1 Thessalonians 3:12–13, ESV). We are to live with eager expectation of Christ’s second coming, knowing He could return at any minute (1 Corinthians 1:7; Philippians 3:20).
James illustrates what it means to establish your hearts by presenting the example of farmers “who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen” (James 5:7, NLT). A farmer must remain patient for a healthy crop to arrive. As he waits, he has no control over the weather. Instead, he must entrust his valuable crop into the Lord’s hands. In the same way, we establish our hearts by determining not to “become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).
Like the good soil in the parable of the sower, we establish our hearts when we “hear God’s word, cling to it, and patiently produce a huge harvest” (Luke 8:15, NLT). The farmer works hard, year-round, waiting to reap the harvest (Luke 12:43). It doesn’t happen overnight but takes months of nurturing. Our spiritual harvest is the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s slow and steady work in our lives (Galatians 5:22–23). Earlier, James urged his brothers and sisters in Christ, “When troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing” (James 1:2–4, NLT).
We establish our hearts by keeping our eyes on the prize no matter what we face in life (Luke 9:62; Philippians 3:13–14; 1 Corinthians 9:24; 1 Timothy 6:11). We stay put and stand fast, even when we want to run. Like the psalmist, we say, “I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken” (Psalm 16:8).
James’ appeal to “establish your hearts” resonates in Paul’s letter to the Romans: “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love” (Romans 5:3–5, NLT). An established heart is filled with a strength of character and confident hope in God’s steadfast, ever-present love. It is “rooted and grounded in love” (Ephesians 3:17, ESV). It is a heart convinced that nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (see Romans 8:38–39, NLT). No matter what we must endure, God’s love will establish our hearts and carry us home to heaven.