Finding Joy in Hard Times
James 1:1-8 New Living Translation (NLT)
Greetings from James
1 This letter is from James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I am writing to the “twelve tribes”—Jewish believers scattered abroad.
Faith and Endurance
2 Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
5 If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. 6 But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. 7 Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.
Tonight we begin a new study in the Book of James. Many scholars believe this was the first New Testament book to be written.
Now - if we think about that - it's pretty significant to study this book.
James almost certainly was a half-brother of our Lord Jesus Christ, a child of Joseph and Mary. (Matt. 13:55; Mark 6:3)
55 “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Matt 13:55
3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Mark 6:3
As Jesus was growing up, the Bible tells us that his siblings did not believe in His claim to be the Messiah, the actual Son of God. At that time they thought it was a preposterous claim.
At the time of Jesus' Resurrection we are told He appeared to James (1 Cor. 15:7).
7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, NIV
7 Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. NLT
It could have been around this time that James became a follower of Christ.
I mean after all James, his brother saw Him crucified and died and watched Joseph of Arimathea take him to the tomb to bury him.
It's interesting that Mark and Matthew makes an emphasis here that Jesus appeared to James first.
We can only guess that Jesus appeared to James first because He wanted to prove to James that He was truly who He said He was, "THE SON OF GOD AND THE MESSIAH."
Within a few years, James had emerged as the leader of the church in Jerusalem.
He did not boast about the fact that he was related to Jesus but instead called himself a “servant” or "a slave" of Jesus Christ.
Now, James is going to give us some good advice.
Have you ever had anyone give you good advice? Who was it?
Why did you take their advice, if you did?
** Someone said, “Good advice is what your own kids disregard but save to give to their kids.” Isn’t this the truth? “Now listen, you kids, my daddy always said…” I may not have done what daddy always said, but now I know he was right and I’m going to tell my kids.
** Someone else said, “We could all save ourselves a lot of words if we’d only remember that people rarely take advice unless they have to pay for it.”
All of us need advice at some time or other in life. Sometimes we get it whether we want it or not. You know what I mean by that.
James addressed his letter to “the twelve tribes who had been scattered”.
These were Jews who become followers of Christ and had left Jerusalem because of the Persecution. It's referred to as the Dispersion.
The twelve tribes were the twelve tribes of Israel. So James is addressing Jews. They are his people.
Many of these people left due to the persecution of Christians we read about in Acts 8. If you would go to Acts chapter 8 you would find verse 1 saying, "On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria."
James is a book I think that you will love for its practical teaching.
However, I want to tell you that you will also find it to be an uncomfortable book because of its directness. Don't forget this. I will try to remind you from time to time of this truth.
James calls the people of God to live and walk by faith.
It's proven in this book that James had an unusual love for his people.
It's like a good pastor who has his people deeply rooted in his heart and he had within him a strong calling to reach and exhort them in the Lord.
Sometimes Pastor's who really love their people will preach and teach truths that will make his people uncomfortable and uneasy.
I've had people come to me after a sermon and say, "Preacher, you were preaching right straight at me."
In the first eight verses I think James gives us three directives.
1) Consider – There is a Choice to be Made
The first instruction we are given in verse 2 is that we are to
"Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds," The KJV says "Divers temptations"
The Paraphrase of the Bible called The Message translates this, “Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides.”
Have you ever had that happen and maybe you would like to share it with us as a testimony of how God brought you through?
I recall a time in our life when we pastored in the 1980's. I had it coming from every direction. And believe me I didn't count it as a gift neither did I have joy about it.
I was getting hit from all sides and lost sleep and lost my peace. This was a tough time in our ministry.
The New Living Translation has “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.”
This verse gets my attention because, joy is not the usual response I have to difficult times!
If he had told us to be aggravated, frustrated, teed off, or bitter . . . I could probably have skipped on by these verses.
But Joy? Come on - you and I both know we don't want to agree with James.
But before we come to a conclusion of disagreeing with James, we have to start by understanding what James is not saying.
• James is not saying we should be happy about every situation.
• You see - Happiness is an emotion; joy is a state of mind and soul. Can anyone explain that to us????
• The Bible tells us to grieve with those who grieve.
• Jesus talked about his heart being troubled and he wept with the sisters of Lazarus.
• There are losses and situations that rightly bring sorrow to our hearts.
James is not saying we should never be sad.
James is not saying the hard times come FROM God.
God may on occasion send hard times but He does so to wake us up or to turn us from that which is harmful.
I have a personal friend who owns 17 acres out at Pataskala.
On his property he had quite a large pond. You could see it as you crossed over the viaduct on Rt. 16 going into Pataskala.
We had a storm several weeks ago that caused a large tree to fall on his drain and caused almost all of the water to drain out.
One of the problems Randy has right now and he has hard time dealing with this is - to blame God for negative things that happen in his life.
Yesterday when I went out to visit him he again blamed God for all the rain that filled up his pond before he wanted water in it. Of course,
Randy blamed God for the tree falling on his drain pipe.
My response was "No and Maybe God did allow it to happen to get your attention.
And I told him about the lesson I was going to teach tonight.
We have a great friendship, so I just told Randy -"Randy God might be trying to get your attention so that you will get your spiritual life right with Him."
And Randy agreed with me. I'll be helping him tomorrow with the pond, so if you drive over the bridge and see a couple guys working, honk your horn and I'll know it was someone in this class.
How do you feel about Randy's blaming God?
Do you know of others who does this?
I think of it like a parent and a child.
On occasion a parent must temporarily cause pain and discomfort to train their child when they are put in timeout and kept sitting on a chair to think about the wrong thing they did.
It was several weeks ago now since this happened. My daughter Jessica babysat for her neighbors girls over the summer. The oldest girl is gifted and she has some difficult behavior problems. Drusilla and the grandboys were putting together a difficult toy. While we were outside working on the tree fort, Jessica came out and told us that the girl had taken it all apart.
Of course, Jessica put the girl in time out to think about what she had done. And a little later she came out and apologized for what she had done. Now I understood that she didn't know what she had done.
But don't most hurt come from other people?
The book of Job shows us that God sometimes allows people and Satan to afflict His people.
Do you remember Job's friends and how they ridiculed him and put him down?
Have you ever had people do that to you? How? Do you feel free to share it with the class?
Now let's talk about Satan: Satan has one goal: to attack our faith.
He is quite content for us to be happy as long as we are not serving the Lord. He wants to undermine our trust in God. Satan's goal is to destroy, God's purpose is to help us grow. Again, think of the parent who sometimes stays out of a situation in order to help the child learn and mature.
The key word in this sentence is the word “consider”.
Consider means: it is a command.
First, James is telling us that this is something we must DO. It is a deliberate act. It is a decision we make rather than something we feel. In other words we are to choose “joy”. It is like when we stand at a cemetery and choose to focus on the richness of eternal life rather than focusing on the separation and loss.
"Well Lord - I suppose you are trying to teach me a lesson here, so if that is so, then Lord, I'm going to have Joy because I am going to learn."
The Apostle Paul said in one instance that he counted it all Joy to suffer like Jesus did.
This sounds good in principle but some circumstances are pretty desperate. Max Lucado paints a great picture,
God views your life the way you view a movie after you’ve read the book. When something bad happens, you feel the air sucked out of the theater. Everyone else gasps at the crisis on the screen. Not you. Why? You’ve read the book. You know how the good guy gets out of the tight spot. God views your life with the same confidence. He’s not only read your story…he wrote it. His perspective is different, and his purpose is clear.2
(Start here from last class period)
The second thing we need to learn is:
2) Know – What We Need to Remember. v. 3
"Knowing this, that the trying of your faith works/produces patience."
The second command is that need to “know” something.
Have you ever met someone who spoke authoritatively on a subject and yet you knew they didn't have any experience.
Or someone says, "I know how you feel," and they haven't experienced what you are going through!
In this instance James not only has head knowledge, but there is heart knowledge - He's been through it.
James tells us why we can choose to rejoice when the trials come.
The word he uses in the Greek language is an active participle which means this is something we should “be continually knowing”.
Continually Knowing means we should be always in the Word learning what God has for us, what He is trying to teach us.
Continually knowing that trials and temptations will come at us and if we handle them God's way, we will have joy and we will develop patience.
1) We must know that trials and temptations work patience. v. 3
The testing of your faith develops perseverance.
Trials and Temptations are not to discourage us, but rather to make us stronger and more pure and righteous.
It's like exercise. At first it's discouraging and then later you get stronger as you keep up with it.
"Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (3-4)"
Again, the message translates this,
"You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way."
James says we must remember that faith is developed by having to exercise that faith.
Think about a child learning to ride a bicycle. It is a difficult process. Usually there are tumbles as they try to find their balance, learn how to pedal and learn how to apply the brakes. If a parent never lets go of the bicycle, the child may never fall, but they will also never find their balance, they would never enjoy riding with their friends, and they will never know that wonderful sense of freedom. A person can view learning to ride a bicycle as “too dangerous” or they can recognize that scraped knees are the price of joy and freedom.
In our last home we had neighbors who had a son by the name of Dylan who was a special needs boy.
I remember his father Gary trying to teach him how to ride a bike. He even recruited neighborhood boys to come and try to teach him. Dylan fell many times. It was discouraging to him and to his parents.
It took a long while but finally Dylan was able to stay up and began to ride. It was quite a feat for Dylan and for his parents.
There was celebration.
It’s the same way with faith.
For our faith to grow, we need to face situations that have the potential to bruise us and skin our knees and elbows. If we are going to become soldiers of the cross and become more mature Christian believers, We will need to face times when we are forced to learn how to trust God.
Have you got some area in your life where this happened to you that you might want to share with the class as a testimony?
In education, the only way you can begin to determine whether the student has learned the necessary information is to give them an exam.
We often call this a “test”. Years ago when I taught the Book of James at Circleville Bible College, now called Ohio Christian University, I gave tests to the students. It proved to themselves and to me that they were learning.
The test puts pressure on the student (even to the point where some will actually study).
Without this pressure many students would go through school without learning anything. A student can view the test as a torturous exercise inflicted by their teachers or they can view it as an opportunity to measure what they have learned.
Please understand that the tests that come our way may be severe tests related to our health, finances, or employment.
But the tests may also be more subtle.
Let me ask you a few questions and let's talk about them: These are questions from J. Oswald Sanders book:
How will you manage the time demands on your life? Will you put God first or put Him off to the side and make Him second?
Will you be patient and wait for God or will you push ahead without any thought of His will?
Will you use that extra income to pamper yourself or help someone else?
Will you speak up and defend the faith or will you make excuses for remaining silent?
Will you show compassion or will you pretend that you don't see the need?
Will you tell the truth or will you “spin” it for your purposes?
Will you forgive the person who hurt you or will you nurse your anger?
These are all trials designed to provoke the application of faith to our lives.
These things show us where we are in our Christian faith and hopefully spur us on in our spiritual growth.
God brings/allows crisis points into our lives so that we can exercise and grow strong in our faith.
James says the goal of our testing is plain.
First, God seeks to develop perseverance.
The word is also translated steadfastness.
It denotes, “a quality of character which does not allow one to surrender to circumstances or succumb under trial”
In other words, God is trying to make us strong so that we can remain faithful through the struggles of life.
Perhaps you have met people who have this quality.
These people have almost always gone through (or are going through) great times of trial.
They are not bitter.
They are not living lives of resignation.
They do not feel like martyrs.
They trust God one day at a time and have a joy and peace about them that defies description.
They have a strength that we all covet.
James says this strength comes as a result of learning to live faithfully in the time of trial.
James says the goal of perseverance is that we become mature and well rounded.
The Opposite of this is Shallow Christianity. It's the parable to the seeds.
The seeds that don't take root. The birds come and eat them before they take root.
An immature person is characterized by inconsistency, impulsiveness and self-absorption.
They see the world as revolving around them.
The immature person often makes foolish and short-sighted choices.
They are led by emotion rather than wisdom.
The mature person, on the other hand, he sees the big picture.
One lexicon says the word means “undivided”.
The mature person isn't running in a million directions at once.
You've heard of the person who is ADHD The person who can't stay focused. I think I'm guilty of that when I work in my shop at home. I start working on a project and see something that takes my attention off of my project and before you know I've done so many things different that I can't recall what I started on as a project. Do you ever do that?
They may be very busy . . . but all these things are moving toward one goal. They are focused. What is that goal?
They see beyond themselves and they have perspective on the events and frustrations of life.
It's my friend, Randy who continually blames God for his pond filling up with water before he can get it done. The last time I talked to him he was frustrated with God, blaming God for the rain.
The mature Christians recognize that we must deny ourselves some “good” things in order to gain “better” things. They are balanced.
Maturity isn't about your age, it's about your perspective. I had a fellow friend who told me once that it didn't matter what was the truth necessarily, but people's perspective of you. I don't know if I ever agreed with that.
I understood what he was trying to say, but that didn't make it the truth.
It isn't about what you know but about what you do with what you know.
The mature believer is consistent in their walk, focused on honoring Christ, and as a result they bear much spiritual fruit. I really wonder at times if I am as focused as I should be. If I was focused more, then I believe I would bear more fruit for Christ. Does that make sense to you?
So the trials are our training ground, we should rejoice in them.
3) Ask – Where to Turn for Help
Third we are to ask for Wisdom.
It all sounds easy but the truth is that sometimes things happen which we just don’t understand.
Sometimes life hurts.
Sometimes we feel like the truck of hardship has backed up and dumped its entire load on us.
James gives us one more practical instruction.
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.
When the unexpected trials of life land on our doorstep, How are we to respond?
How are we to pray –– what should we ask God for? James gives the answer, Prayer for WISDOM>
Wisdom is more than knowledge.
Someone has said that knowledge is the ability to take things apart, while wisdom is the ability to put them together.
Wisdom is using knowledge rightly. Why do we need wisdom when we are going through our trials?
It is popular in charismatic circles to want to pray for more power or strength or deliverance. We need wisdom so we will not waste the opportunities God is giving us to mature.
Wisdom helps us to use these circumstances for our good and God’s glory.
Ills –– One day a farmer’s donkey fell down into a well. The animal cried piteously for hours as the farmer tried to figure out what to do. Finally he decided the animal was old and the well needed to be covered up anyway, it just wasn’t worth it to retrieve the donkey So he invited all his neighbors to come over and help him. They all grabbed a shovel and began to shovel dirt into the well. At first, the donkey realized what was happening and cried horribly. Then, to everyone’s amazement, he quieted down. A few shovel loads later, the farmer finally looked down the well and was astonished at what he saw. With every shovel of dirt that hit his back, the donkey was doing something amazing. He would shake it off the dirt and take a step up. As the farmer’s neighbors continued to shovel dirt on top of the animal, he would shake it off and take a step up. Pretty soon, everyone was amazed, as the donkey stepped up over the edge of the well and trotted off!
Moral: Life is going to shovel dirt on you, all kinds of dirt.
The trick to getting out of the well is to shake it off and take a step up. Each of our troubles is a stepping stone.
We can get out of the deepest wells just by not stopping, never giving up! Shake it off and take a step up! Don’t waste the opportunities God gives you to prove Himself.
James tells us what to pray for –– wisdom
He also tells us how to pray ––
• and unwaveringly in faith.
When we do God promises to answer
• To all
• Without finding fault.
No need for fear –– God is anxious to answer. No need to doubt –– God is faithful to His promises
ILL.- Marshall Hayden, a preacher from Columbus, Ohio, wrote an article several years ago entitled, "Would every non-hurting member please stand up?" He went on to point out that people who come to church may put on their best clothes and their best smiles, BUT MANY OF THEM ARE STILL HURTING PEOPLE.
He wrote, "Think your way around where the saints gather on the Lord’s Day.
- Over there is a family with an income of $550 and an outgo of $1000. (that might be stretching it a bit, but you get the idea)
- There are two children in one family who, according to their parents, are failures.
- The lady in the back pew just tested positive for cancer.
- Sam and Jane just had a nasty fight. In fact, the straw that broke the camel’s back. Each one is thinking seriously about divorce.
- Last Monday Jim learned that he is going to be laid off from work at the end of the week.
- Sarah has tried to her best to cover the bruises her drunken husband inflicted when he came home last Friday night.
- The Smith’s little girl has a hole in her heart and needs surgery."
Brother Hayden went on to write, "there are the lonely, the dying, the bankrupt, the exhausted, and others who are at the mercy of forces beyond their control.
They’re all there. And there are those of us with lesser hurts, but they don’t seem like small hurts to us: tired from being overweight and run to death, an income that barely covers the essentials, an indifferent and un-alert spouse, a boring job, poor grades, a friend who is not much of a friend anymore, parents who don’t understand and don’t seem to care."
Brother Hayden wrote, "You can travel down every pew in every church and find some hurting people." Isn’t that the truth?
It sounds simple enough but notice a few things. First, we are to ask God. I know some of you hear this and say, “Duh!” However, don't miss this. When times are tough we have a tendency to turn to our friends, our co-workers, and our family members. Most of the time they simply tell us what we want to hear. We read books and take the advice of pop psychologists on television and are surprised when these things seem to only superficially address our problem. We almost never turn FIRST to the Lord. We often wait until we are desperate.
James’ counsel is profound . . . if you lack wisdom, turn to the source of wisdom.
James doesn't tell us to ask to be removed from trials, he says we should ask for wisdom as to how best to respond to those trials.
Warren Wiersbe shares a personal experience.
An associate of mine, a gifted secretary, was going through great trials. She had had a stroke, her husband had gone blind, and then he had to be taken to the hospital where (we were sure) he would die. I saw her in church one Sunday and assured her that I was praying for her.
“What are you asking God to do?” she asked, and her question startled me.
“I’m asking God to help you and strengthen you,” I replied.
“I appreciate that,” she said, “but pray about one more thing. Pray that I’ll have the wisdom not to waste all of this!”4
This woman understood what James was trying to say.
She looked for the growth opportunity in the trial rather than focusing on the pain.
Third, we must believe and not doubt. James tells us that we can be sure that God will give wisdom to those who ask. He gives generously and freely.
Some people misread this passage. They say if we want answers to our prayers we need to picture what we want and convince ourselves that God will give it to us. That's not what James is saying. The word “doubt” means “a divided mind”. James is saying that we must be confident that God can be trusted. We must not doubt God's character or His willingness to help us.
James says we should turn to God, confident of His willingness to help and then ask Him for the wisdom that He is all too happy to give to us.
The book of James is pretty easy to understand. That is what makes it a hard book. We understand, but understanding makes us uncomfortable.
James challenges us to walk by faith.
The underlying assumption in the text is that God is committed to our growth as children of God. He sends and allows struggles and difficulties in our lives because He is not content for us to be stagnant in faith. His goal is to make us like Christ (Romans 8:29). To that end He is going to keep working and chipping away at our character like a master sculptor until our faith becomes real, our trust becomes unwavering and our relationship with Him becomes deep.
We can fight the process.
We can whine and complain about the blows of the Sculptor. But this is only going to make us miserable, siphon our enjoyment of life and it's going to suck the life out of those around us. Such an attitude will retard our growth and may also mean we will have to take the class again!
The other alternative (the one proposed by James) is to recognize that our trials, struggles and irritations are not obstacles but opportunities; opportunities to grow and develop in our relationship with God.
When we see the trials as the hammer and chisel of the God who is committed to our growth, we can then learn to find joy even in the trials and hopefully we will be able to say with Job, “But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” (Job 23:10).
© July 27, 2008 Bruce Goettsche SERIES: Walking by Faith (James)
Ralph Juthman Nationside Pentecostal Church