When Life Gets Really Hard (II)
We are currently in the book of James, chapter 1. James begins this book with the subject of trials. Is anybody in a trial at this time in your life? Has anybody here walked thru a few valleys during your Christian journey?
What is the one thing you need more than anything else when you’re in a trial? If you’re in a financial trial you might answer-money? If your trial is loneliness you might answer a relationship. But that’s not the right answer according to James. James gives us the answer to that question in our text today. Follow with me as we read James 1:1-12 (Read). From that text we find four reasons we can “count it all joy” when we fall into various trials.
Last time we found the first one in verses 2-4. There we learned that
I. trials can produce something in us that is very valuable: a character quality called “hupomone” in the Greek. It is variously translated endurance, patience, perseverance. It is a depth of character, a Christ-like quality of reliability and fortitude. We see it in Jesus as he prays in the Garden of Gethsemane—able and willing to endurance of the cross to fulfill the Father’s good pleasure. You might think of it as staying power or steadfastness. When we cooperate with God during the hard times of life, God works this quality into our eternal being. That—not the pain and tragedy itself is cause for rejoicing.
In verse 5 we come to a second reason for rejoicing during trials—a wonderful promise in that verse that
II. Wisdom will be given to deal with the trial successfully. We don’t have to be defeated by the circumstances of life. We can be more than conquerors in Christ no matter what is going on externally.
Verse 5 “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God....” After introducing the subject of trials, why does James start talking about wisdom? What is the obvious question when we’re in a trial? I’m talking about after we finish the emotional response of “Why me?” The real question is, “What am I going to do about this problem? How in the world am I going to get through this? What should I do now?
Let me give you a picture of a person asking for wisdom in the midst of a trial. In 1 Sam. 30, David and his men have been away from their home base (Ziklag) where the women and children were. When they returned to Ziklag the found the city burned and their wives and children carried away captive. The grief was so severe that David’s own men turned against and talked about stoning him. David is in a trial. What does he do? 1 Sam 30:8 says, “So David inquired of the LORD, saying, "Shall I pursue this troop? Shall I overtake them?" In other words, David asked God for wisdom in the midst of his trial. If there ever was a time for an emotional response to trouble that would have been it. What would you do if somebody had just kidnapped you wife and kids and burned your house to the ground? I would immediately start solving the problem the best way I knew how. The first thing I would do is call the police and then I would go after the kidnappers. There were no police for David to call. Why did he stop and ask God what to do? He had learned something about how to deal with trials. Ask for wisdom first; then do what God tells you to do. Don’t waste time complaining. Don’t waste time feeling sorry for yourself. Go to God in prayer.
Trials provide a valuable service for us. They expose our need for wisdom. They make us aware of our need for God and for His help. If a difficulty-a problem-a hardship doesn’t drive us to God for help, then there’s something wrong with our response. Maybe a little more pressure, a little more trouble will help us realize our need for God.
Here we are between the proverbial rock and hard place. We can do one of two things:
We can lean upon our own understanding and try to fix the mess ourselves. Or we can take James’ advice and do what? Ask God for wisdom. One way to stay stuck in a trial is to keep trying to fix it yourself. One old country preacher put it this way, “If ya fix the fix that God has fixed to fix ya, He’ll fix a bigger fix to fix ya.”
So what is the one thing we need when we’re in a trial? It’s not more money; it’s not more people helping us; it’s wisdom from God so that we know what to do next.
James 1:5 “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God....” What is the context of that statement? Trials. What is another word for asking God? Pray. Later in James 5:13 he gives this instruction to anybody that’s in trouble. “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray.” Even before his asks others to pray, he needs to pray himself. Trouble is always, always a call to prayer. James 4:2 he says, “You do not have because you do not ask.” Now we come to the encouraging part.
What’s going to happen when we ask for wisdom? James says, “God’s going to give it to you.” In 1:5 he says some things about God that are so important to remember when we’re in a trial. Not only does he say that God will answer the prayer and give the needed wisdom; but he says that God will do it in a way that will be very encouraging for you. He won’t reproach you. He won’t humiliate you in the process of meeting your need. The gift won’t come with a long lecture of how disappointed He is that you got yourself in this. Like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, He will open His arms to you and kiss you rather than scold you. He will generously put the robe on your shoulders and ring on your finger. Do you see the basis of assurance that God will answer your prayer? It’s not your performance. It’s not your remorse. It’s not your resolutions. It’s the character of God and His love for you as His child. The word translated liberally (haplos) could be translated “without hesitation.” We are coming to a loving, willing Father and asking for this wisdom. Remember what Jesus said in Luke 11:9-13?
"So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. 11 If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? 13 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!"
So with all this assurance of the Father’s willingness to give what we need, James puts this one stipulation on the asking in verse 6. “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting...”
James paints the picture of the way the waves in the sea are tossed back and forth by the wind. One day the winds blow the waves one direction; the next day they may blow it another direction. But there is no real progress for the waves. They are just being tossed about by external circumstances. He says that’s the way a double-minded man is. One day he decides to trust the Lord and serve Him. The next day he gets with the wrong crowd and decides to do his own thing. Then he fells bad about that and decides maybe he will trust and obey after all. But James says, that kind of two-souled activity will get you nowhere. Most of the people I have heard say, “This Christianity just doesn’t work” were doing exactly what James describes here. They would pray and trust God for a little while; but pretty soon they’re running their own life and doing their own thing. That goes on back and forth and finally they’re saying it doesn’t work. Well, it was never designed to work that way. Get in or get out. Decide to follow Jesus and trust Him whatever the direction of the wind. Elijah put it to the Israelites this way, “How long halt ye between two opinions. If the Lord be God, then follow Him. If Baal be God, then follow him.”
But when we make an undivided commitment to trust God all the way through the trial, then there is full assurance that our heavenly Father will get us through the whole process. Why doesn’t He just make all the problems go away; He is big enough to do that. Yes, but He loves us too much to do that. There is too much to be gained by the process to discard it prematurely. Instead God will give wisdom about how to handle it. And when we follow that we will get the most out of it.
So we can rejoice in the midst of our trials because our heavenly Father will give us everything we need to walk through it successfully.
We can also rejoice because in the process
III. We will gain a right Perspective on life.
The world values all the wrong things. They pursue and cling to fools’ gold. There are paradoxes in the Kingdom of God that the world will never understand. In verses 9-11 James gives a perspective on things that lead to joy—not as the world gives—but as the Lord gives.
First he address the “lowly brother” in verse 9—the person who is unimportant in a social sense. Everybody knows who Bill Gates is; but who knows the names of the janitors in his building? As I mentioned in previous messages, most of the first century Christians were quite poor and many had lost social position because of their conversion to Christ. James’ instruction to them is to rejoice. He tells them to glory in the exaltation of being a child of God. It’s like Jesus words to the church in Smyrna in Rev. 2:9 “I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich)....” The lowly Christians James is addressing may have lost their worldly possession or may have never had any in the first place. And that does work certain hardships. But they can consider it all joy because they have something far more valuable—a relationship with God as their heavenly father. They have been exalted to an eternal status as sons and daughters of the living God. James 1:9 “Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation....” What exaltation? Not an exaltation in the world but an exaltation in God.
James then turns his attention to the rich in verse 10, “...but the rich in his humiliation....” There were not a lot of wealthy Christians in the early church but there were some. James says to them, “Here is your reason for rejoicing.” The reason is not that you’re a good Christian so therefore you have a lot of money. If you listen to Christian TV that might be what you would expect James to say. But, no, James says, “You glory in humiliation; you rejoice in the opportunity to humble yourself and be associated with lowly brothers and bear the reproach of Christ.” Why is that a reason to rejoice? Because it keeps everything in perspective. The riches are just a temporal blessing. One day you will die and it won’t matter a bit how much money you had. You can’t take it with you. So thank God that He came into your life and showed you what really matters. Thank God your life is not consumed with empty pursuits like money and power. You humbled yourself and found eternal treasure.
If we are going to consider trials pure joy, we’re going to have to stop thinking like the world-stop buying into the world’s value system. And see life from God’s perspective.
Look at the difference in attitude perspective makes in this clip.
Play “Perspective” from SermonSpice.
When our perspective gets right, life feels a lot different. It really matters how you answer the old question, “Is the glass half empty or is it half full?” We can either cultivate a thankful heart or a grumbling heart. Israel found themselves in a hot, scorching dessert. They had good reason to thank God for delivering them out of a life of hopeless bondage in Egypt. For a short time they did rejoice. When we look at Exodus 15 immediately following the Red Sea experience they were a real happy group of people. They were counting it all joy just to be free from the oppression of Pharaoh. But that only lasted a few days. Then they were gripping about a need for water. And they complained about the manna. “We’re tired of manna; we want meat.” If it wasn’t one thing it was another. They were a double-minded group of people who wanted free from Pharaoh but didn’t really want to serve God either. They are the classic example of people who refused the process God had for them. Hebrews tells us they drew back from God and failed to enter into the teleios God had for them. Abraham stands in contrast to that. He had his struggles. He had his trials and temptations. But through it all he kept trusting God. Listen to what Rom 4:19-22 says about Abraham in the light of what we’ve heard from James. “And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. 20 He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. 22 And therefore "it was accounted to him for righteousness."
Hebrew 11 tells us Abraham obeyed God; he lived like a stranger in a foreign country—living in tents. But he had his priorities right. His goals in life were eternal goals. He sacrificed some temporal blessing for eternal riches. Heb 11:10 gives us important insight on his perspective. That verse says, “...for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” He was living for eternity, not just temporal pleasure and comfort.
We can count it all joy when we fall into various trials because (I) a valuable change is taking place in our own character (II) God is giving the wisdom we need to successfully deal with the trial (III) we are gaining an eternal perspective on life and finally--
IV. Victory will ultimately be experienced and rewarded. James 1:12 “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”– Blessed is the man who does what under trial? Endures – hupomeno—remember that word in verse 3? We talked about it being a character quality of hopeful staying power. We talked about it being something produced by the trial. But here we also see that it is something that gets us through the trial. Steadfast faith in God that stands and does not run—a settled confidence in God that is not ruffled by negative events—that is something that gets us through the trial but it is also its own reward. Because when we choose that course, the great Giver—our heavenly Father gives that to us and works it into who we become. And allowing Him to do that brings us successfully through the fire. Hupmeno is its own reward because it becomes a part of who we are—and “being” is the most important thing of all. It’s not so much an issue of where you wind up as it is who you become!
Persevering leads to a kind of approval that is honored by God. “...for when he has been approved (NIV says stood the test). The word used in verse 12 carries the idea of approved because it has stood the test. When I worked at Bell Helicopter we had a department called Quality Control.” Their job was to test the helicopter part that had gone through the manufacturing process to make sure it had all the qualities it was supposed to have in the end. It had to pass certain stress tests to be approved. When it passed those trials it was certified by the Quality Control Department. When you got born again you became fully accepted as a child of God. But there is an honor that God reserves for those who pass the test.
2 Tim 2:19-21 “Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: "The Lord knows those who are His," and, "Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity." 20 But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. 21 Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work.”
James is looking at the end of the matter. Solomon told us in Eccl. 7:8 that the end of the matter is better than the beginning. So in verse 12 of our text James takes us to the end of the matter—at the Judgment Seat of Christ. He says to these Christians, “You hang in there because when it’s all said and done you’re going to receive something incredibly valuable—a stephonos –a crown of life. In those days an Olympics winner did not receive a gold medal. He received a stephonos (a wreath-type crown placed on his head) in recognition of his success.
There is a lot more to Christianity than just getting born again and missing Hell. That is incredibly important. If you haven’t made the choice to open your heart to God and let him put His life in you, do that today. Don’t delay another minute. Do it now. Say to God, “I want to spend eternity with you so come into my heart and take over.” But being born again is the beginning of a process which is supposed to end like James describes in verse 12.
How does the athlete win the crown? He is disciplined. How does the Christian end up standing before God with the kind of commendation and honor James is talking about in verse 12? Discipline. Don’t shortchange yourself in this life by drawing back from the process God has designed for you. You won’t get there by your own strength. Only the supply of God’s grace gets us there. But we open our hearts to that grace and we allow the process—rather than rebelling against the process.
We live in an Epicurean society that seeks one thing passionately: my own pleasure. “What do I want to do? I don’t like suffering, so I’ll avoid that at every turn. I like to play more than serve, so I’ll arrange my life accordingly. That’s the mentality we can expect from the world that does not know God. It’s not the mentality of James or Paul or Jesus or Peter.
1 Peter 5:10 is a good summary of what James is telling us in these first 12 verses. “But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.” Look with me at four points from that verse.
First, our God is the “God of all grace....” He is the one who supplies what we need for the issues we face in life. In the end, we will cast all crowns at His feet because He is the one that empowered us through the process.
Second, we are called to “His eternal glory.” All of this is going somewhere. The events of your life are not just a random “luck of the draw.” God is working all things together for our good. God is conforming us to the image of Christ. Why, so that in the end we can share in His glory. The ultimate calling of Christians is glory, not suffering. However, suffering is not excluded from the process of getting there. Paul wrote in Rom 8:17 “...if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.” There seems to be a direct relationship between our willingness to “suffer with Him” and the degree of glory we enjoy in eternity. There is no difference between the quality of glory Christians will experience in heaven. There is a difference between the degree of glory manifested through one Christian and another. There is a difference between the authority ultimately entrusted to one believer and another. That depends upon our availability to God for the process in the here and now. “...If indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.”
Third, Peter describes the end result with four Greek words: (1) katartizo (kat-ar-tid’-zo)—translated “perfect” in NKJV means to mend, prepare, or restore. (2) sterizo (stay-rid’-zo) translated “stablish” means to steadfastly set or to strengthen (3) sthenoo (sthen-o’-o) translated “strengthen” has in its root the concept of confirming in spiritual knowledge and power (4) themelioo (them-el-ee-o’-o) translated “settle” means to ground something. Peter uses these four synonyms to communicate a wonderful change of character that God produces during the trials we go through.
Fourth, notice Peter confirms the process James is telling us about. Peter says “after you have suffered awhile.” It doesn’t just come automatically because you said the sinner’s prayer. It comes as a result of God’s grace working in your life through a process.
So James and Peter recognize that the process is not always pleasant to our flesh. But because of the end result that can come out of it we can “count it all joy when we fall into various trials.” We can rejoice when life gets hard because:
1. God is developing our character by the process
2. Wisdom is given for the process
3. Perspective is gained in the process
4. Reward is waiting at the end of the process
Maybe life is pressing in on you at this time in your life. The trial you’re facing may seem unbearable. The problems may seem insurmountable. But God says, “If you ask Me, I’ll give you the wisdom needed to handle it successfully. I’ll give wisdom liberally and without reproach. I’ll walk through the trial with you and bring you out the other side victorious. Just ask Me for the help. Just ask Me for guidance. Ask Me for wisdom in this situation and I will give it.” Some of us here today need to do that. Maybe you’ve been praying. But has your prayer been, “God remove all these problems” or has it been “God, I come to you for wisdom. What are You doing? How can I cooperate with what You’re doing? What do I need to do?”
If you want to pray that prayer with me, would you raise you hand right now as a public recognition that you need God’s wisdom for what you’re dealing with right now? Is it financial? Is it physical? Is it relational? Are you ready to ask God for His wisdom in your circumstances?
Scripture Text Read: James 1:1-13
“James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: Greetings. 2 My 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. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. 9 Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, 10 but the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away. 11 For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits. 12 Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” NKJV
For Footnotes/Sources go to www.crossroadsnixa.org
Gateway Foursquare Church