Summary: Life’s difficulties are often the Father’s appointed paths to spiritual maturity. The positive way forward in difficult and painful circumstances is the way of prayer.
An airliner was bound for New York City. The flight was routine until the pilot began the descent. Then he realizes that the landing gear would not engage. Working the controls back and forth, he tried again and again to lock the gear into place. No success. He circled the landing field, getting instructions from the control tower. Airport personnel sprayed the runway with foam as fire trucks and other emergency vehicles moved into position. Disaster was only minutes away.
The passengers were told of each maneuver in that calm, cheery voice pilots manage to use at times like this. Flight attendants moved about the cabin with cool reserve. Passengers were told to place their heads between their knees and grab their ankles just before impact. It was one of those “I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening-to-me experiences.” There were tears, no doubt, and a few screams of despair. With the landing only seconds away the pilot announced over the intercom:
We are beginning our final descent. At this moment, in accordance with International Aviation Codes established at Geneva, it is my obligation to inform you that if you believe in God you should commence prayer.
The belly landing was pulled off without a single injury. In fact, when a relative of one of the passengers called the airline the next day to ask about the prayer rule, the airline was back to cool reserve, and responded, “No comment.”
Chuck Swindoll tells this story and then says, “Amazing. The only thing that brought out into the open a deep-down “secret rule” was crisis. Pushed to the brink, back to the wall, right up to the wire, all escape routes closed ... only then does our society crack open a hint of recognition that God just might be there and— “if you believe...you should commence to pray” [Charles R. Swindoll, Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life (Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1983), 273].
Webster defines crisis as a “a turning point for better or worse... a decisive moment....” Crisis results in either a change for the better, a change for the worse, or a return to the status quo. The Chinese term for crisis is made up of two symbols: one for despair, the other for opportunity.
I learned early that “man’s extremities are God’s opportunities.” Our despair often creates God’s opportunity. Crises make us aware of our need for Him. It is only in the crisis hour that some of us will seriously pray. Crises crush, but they are often God’s gifts to refine and purify our lives. They soften and penetrate our hard hearts. Alexander Solzhenitsyn admitted:
It was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirring of good. Gradually, it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes, not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through all human hearts. So bless you prison, for having been in my life [Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago quoted in Charles R. Swindoll, op. cit., 274].
Life’s difficulties are often the Father’s appointed paths to spiritual maturity. The positive way forward in difficult and painful circumstances is the way of prayer. So James appropriately concludes his practical lesson on handling life’s difficulties with a powerful call to prayer.
In verses 7-12 James repeatedly called for patience, and perseverance. He showed by the examples of the prophets and Job that God’s choicest servants have not been exempt from mistreatment. Now in verse 13 James warns that trouble comes your way too, and you need to know how to deal with it.
I. PRAYER IS APPROPRIATE IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES ... v. 13
Prayer is appropriate in all of life’s circumstances.” Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise” (v. 13). The whole gamut of life’s experiences is represented in the two words, “trouble” and “happy.” Whether your situation is dreadful or delightful, the advice is the same: “Talk to God about it!”
Spiritual attack may come from either extreme. Some rebel and become bitter when trouble comes. Others cannot handle happiness without becoming complacent.
Acknowledge God through prayer and praise whether troubled or happy. Prayer discovers God’s refuge when surrounded by distress. Praise expresses confidence in God even when the situation seems hopeless. Our life should be turned toward God in all situations. He is a sovereign God and we recognize His presence in every event. Francois Fenelon penned these helpful words in the seventeenth century:
Tell God all that is in your heart, as one unloads one’s heart, its pleasures and its pains, to a dear friend. Tell him your troubles, that he may comfort you; tell him your joys, that He may sober them; tell Him your longings, that He may purify them; tell Him your dislikes, that He may help you to conquer them; talk to Him of your temptations, that He may shield you from them; show Him the wounds of your heart that He may heal them; lay bare your indifference to good, your depraved tastes for evil, your instability. Tell Him how self-love makes you unjust to others, how vanity tempts you to be insincere, how pride disguises you to yourself and others [quoted in Gary Vanderet, Cultivating a Faith that Endures,” A sermon preached at Peninsula Bible Church, Palo Alto, CA].