"Turning Trials Into Triumphs"
TEXT: JAMES 1:1-12
Today we begin a study of the book of James. But before we begin our study I think it would be good for us to do a little background about this great book in God’s Word. Now, one thing that often adds a great deal of insight to the meaning of a book is to know a little about the author, the audience and the reason why it was written.
Do you know who wrote the book of James?
"James a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the 12 tribes scattered among the nations..."
That short sentence tells us a lot about James, for one thing he was humble. Did you notice how James identifies himself; "James a servant of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ..." He doesn’t even mention that he was Jesus brother, "hey I grew up with Jesus, we worked in the carpenters shop together, we went fishing together..."
I wonder what their relationship was like. Can you imagine having Jesus as your older brother, talk about big shoes to follow.
Now we know from John’s gospel that James and Jesus’ other brothers did not believe in Jesus during his earthly ministry. And Mark tells us that as Jesus began His ministry and as the crowds began to gather around Him, that his family traveled from Nazareth to Capernaum to take charge of Jesus because they believed that he was out of His mind.
Do you know where we find James mentioned next in the bible? In Acts 1 verse 14, "They all joined constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus and with his brothers..."
What happened that caused James who didn’t believe in Jesus, who felt that his older brother had flipped his wig to not only believe in him, but to be in the upper room praying with the disciples, waiting for Pentecost? What happened that caused James to make such a drastic change?
Paul gives us the answer in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7...
And as we look thru the rest of the New Testament, we see that James became one of the key leaders in the early church, it was James who took charge of the Jerusalem council in Acts 15, In Acts 21:18 we see him welcoming Paul back from his 3rd missionary journey, Paul refers to James in the book of Galatians, as a pillar of the church. And from 1 Cor 9:5 we see that James was more than likely married.
And from church tradition we are told that he died a martyrs death, he was thrown from the temple for refusing to reject Christ before the Sanhedrin, and then beaten with clubs...
This is the man who wrote the words of the book we are about to study... A changed man, a humble man, a leader, a husband, a man of action who literally gave his life for the gospel.
Who did James write to? "12 tribes scattered among the nations..." Though the book of James is meant for all Christians, more than likely James specific audience were those Christians who had been members of the Jerusalem church with him, BUT who had been forced to scatter throughout Judea and Samaria because of Saul’s persecution (Acts 8:1).
James initial audience were refugees, scattered among the nations; people who had left homes, jobs..etc
What is the reason behind the letter?
James writes to tell Christians (specifically his scattered friends) what it means for them to live as a scattered people, living in the world, yet who owe their allegiance to Christ, James writes to tells us what a mature Christian looks like; how a mature Christian handles trials, deals with temptation, controls his anger, thinks about wealth, controls his tongue...etc James does not sugar coat the issues this is what a Christian does or doesn’t do; and if his language seems strong perhaps it is because he knows those people and acres about them.
(It is also interesting to note that many of the topics in James are found within Jesus Sermon on the Mount; See xtra insert)....
Today we want to study verses 2-12 of the first chapter, where James tells God’s people How to turn their trials into triumphs, how to be victors rather than victims.
Sprite, Kevin and Beck’s ferret was having a pretty good day, running around, playing in a pile clothes, and then things caught bad, real fast. With in a split second’s sprite’s world changed. One minute his jumping around in laundry, the next minute he had become part of the laundry.
For you see, unknown to Becky when she picked up the pile of clothes, Sprite was hidden deep within. He was tossed in the washer, the lid was shut. It was dark and then the washer was turned on.
Can you imagine what went through little Sprites mind as the water started to pour in (I wonder was it hot or cold) then the churning of the washer -- maybe he tried to balance self of the churner (or whatever it is called), then the churning stopped the water drained out, and Sprite jumped down thinking it was over and then the rinse cycle began...
And just when Sprite thought the worse was over --- the spin cycle began...Now that had to be tough..
24 hours later - Becky found the little critter in the washer... I’ve never asked Becky about it, but I wonder if Sprite played in piles of clothes again or if he ever got nervous and shook with fear when the washer was turned on...
Can you relate to Sprite, most of us can.
One minute your standing in familiar territory, you’re happy things are going great, and like Sprite, jumping around, singing a song, think that it just doesn’t get any better than this.
The all of the sudden, out of no where your world become a place of spinning darkness. Your boss hands you a pink slip and tells you that you’re laid off, your spouse tells you, "I don’t love you anymore," A policeman comes to your door and say’s he has your child downtown, the phone rings and you hear the words "there’s been an accident," you go to the doctors and he tells you that it’s terminal and they can nothing for you, your mother calls long distance and tells you that your dad just had a heat attack...
You didn’t even see it coming, but in a blink of the eye, you find yourself being sucked into the dark caverns of despair, you face is being hit with the icy cold harsh waters of reality, things are getting dark and your world begins to spin hopelessly out of control.
If you have ever had the experienced of hurling downwards towards the ground, after having life’s rug pulled out from under you, than this message from James/God is for you..
James wrote to Christian in the St. century who were not all the different from you & I, they lived in a real world and the faced real pressures. Many of the ones who first this read as we have already mentioned were scattered form their homes because of persecution...
1) The First Thing We Must Do Is To Decide To Have
A Joyful Attitude (2)
Trials Will Come
God tells us in verse 2 that we should expect trials. Notice that he did not say, "If you happen to face trials, but rather when you face trials." Trials, hardships & difficulties are an unfortunate part of life.
The Christian who thinks that his life is going to be NOTHING BUT CALM WATERS and SMOOTH SAILING is in for quite a shock. Jesus warned his disciples shortly before his arrest, "in the world you will have trouble" (Jn 16:33) and Paul in Acts 14:22 said, "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God."
True, we are God’s children, and true, God will take care of us, but God never promised to shelter us from all the troubles and trials of this life. We can not expect for everything to always go our way, the road at times will get bumpy, the sea will get rough..
Some trials that we face happen simply because we are human and because we live in a fallen world full of sin, sickness, accidents and disappointments. Other trials come our way because we are Christians: Peter emphasizes this in his first letter, (1 Pe 4:12-16).
Note that Peter said if we suffer "as a Christian" that it is a reason for praise & rejoicing, but if we suffer because our sin has caused us to suffer, that is not, a cause for rejoicing, that is a self inflicted necessary trial.
We need to realize that trials will come and we therefore should not be surprised by them. (When you know when something is coming at you, you can be ready for it, when you know that strong waves are headed your way -- you can plant your feet and stand firm. Trials will come AND
Trials Are Varied
James tells us that not all trials are the same, they come in many different shapes, sizes, intensities and durations.
James in verses 9-11 gives an example of 2 trials that can be very difficult.
Read James 1:9-11
Both of these examples involve the changing of ones economic status. We see a rich man becoming poor AND a poor man becoming rich. The faithful Christian will not allow his relationship with God to be effected by financial fluctuations. Yet, both of these situations provide a serious trial and test of ones faith.
In 1929 when the stock market crashed many people lost their entire fortunes in mere hours and with their fortunes went their hopes, many jumped from buildings in new York City to their death. To lose all you have is a serious test of ones faith.
But of the two (poor to rich/rich to poor), perhaps the greater test of ones faith is prosperity. Someone has said, "Adversity is hard on a man, but for every man who can stand prosperity there are a hundred who can stand adversity."
The bible is full of examples of people who did all right when times were tough, but then crumbled spiritually when they were living in prosperity. King Saul was so humble when he first was anointed King of Israel that he went back home to the farm, but after reigning for awhile he became so arrogant that he offered up his own sacrifice, instead of waiting for Samuel to do it. King David was so pure that God called him a man after his own heart, but after David had been king for awhile he committed murder and adultery.
Everyone of us could make a list of people who handle adversity but not prosperity; Elvis Presley, John Belushi, Marilyn Monroe...
Last week someone mentioned during wed night that they listened to a talk show during the week and listeners were asked to call in if they had won the lottery and it had made their life better.....only people who called were stories how it ruined their life.
You see, prosperity seems to bring a subtle seduction that erodes character and value. J. Oswald Chambers said, "not every man can handle a full cup..." (Maybe, if you are not rich God has done you a favor and is in reality blessing you.
Trials are of various kinds - James in this chapter uses the example of economic trials, but we can experience personal trials, health trials, relationship trials...and so on.
Trials will come... they come in various shapes and sizes, but no matter what the trial;
God Has Given Us A Command
In verse two, James says that regardless of they type of trial we are experiencing God commands us to consider it, to regard it, as a cause for rejoicing.
The first thing we need to do in order to turn our trials into triumphs is to make a conscience decision to put our trust in God and in his provision and to have a joyful attitude....Granted this is not our natural response.
Outlook often determines outcome; and for us to end with joy we must start with joy.
Now because God is God, He could have just left it there, "Rejoice During Trials" and not written verses 3-12. But God knew that this would be hard for us to understand.
In verse 2, God is telling us what to do AND in the next 10 verse He is going to tell us how to do it, how to accomplish this seemingly impossible task (rejoicing under trial).
2) We Must Develop An Understanding Mind (3,4)
James uses the present tense of the word "know" when he says, "because you know", the word means to know or understand through personal observation & experience.
To overcome trials/to turn them into triumphs; we must know/we must understand something. AND this knowledge comes about by observation & experience.
I’d like to share 3 things that we need to understand if we are ever going to turn our trials into triumphs....
FIRST; We Need To Understand That Faith Is Always Tested
The word translated testing can also be translated "approval" Peter uses the same word when he wrote in 1 Pe 1:7 about undergoing trials,
"These have come so that your faith of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire, may be proved genuine."
Gold must pass through a fiery furnace in order for the metal to be separated from the dross, and thereby be identified as genuine Gold.
James is teaching here that the trials of this life are the fiery furnace that our faith must pass through to determine that our faith is genuine.
My faith is not pure gold, your faith is not pure gold, and our trials are a furnace where we can leave behind some dross (impurities)
Remember what Peter said in 1 Pe 4:12-16, we read it earlier, basically he said, "hey guys why are you getting so bent out of shape acting like these trials you are suffering were unexpected...don’t you know that faith is always tested."
Just a cursory look through the bible bears this out: Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Joshua, Gideon, Jeremiah, Jonah, Isaiah, Peter & Paul’s faith were tested.
AND this is the first thing we need to understand.
SECOND; We Need To Understand That The Testing Is Not Against Us But For Us There is a scripture in the book of Romans that is a favorite of many, it is Romans 8:28, "And we know that God causes ALL things to work together for good ..."
We can know that even while we are walking through the darkest valley, even though it looks as if a glimmer of light will never appear, we can know that God is with us AND that He will work it out for good.
Earlier I mentioned Joseph as an example of one whose faith had been tested. Joseph understood the truth of Romans 8:28, nearly 2,000 years before the apostle Paul wrote those words. Joseph was thrown into a pit by his brothers, left for dead, sold into slavery, cast in a dungeon for several years because he had refused to sin against God and have sex with Potiphars wife. Yet, through it all Joseph never lost faith in the God.
When talking to his brothers after they add come to Egypt, He said to them as they wept of their sin of selling him as a slave, "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done..."
Trials in life are going to happen (no way around it) AND both God & satan want to use them (they do not necessarily cause them - but they want to use them); one to destroy THE OTHER to build...
Now one way that satan ensures that our trials destroy, is by getting us to turn to other things rather than God in the midst of our trial, by getting us to use anger, bitterness, immorality, pleasure..etc to deal with a trial.
We need to understand that our faith will be tested and we also need to understand that this testing is not against us.
In every trial that you and I face we have a decision to make - will this trial make me or break me... The choice is ours...
We Must Understand The Goal Or End Result Of Our Testing
There is a purpose, there is a goal connected with each trial we face.
The end result of our testing is for us to become, "mature, complete not lacking in anything..."
Wouldn’t it be a tragedy if our children remained as babies physically, (picture dad having to feed, bathe, clothe and take care of the needs of a 200 lb baby - one who had no physical disability).
Parents enjoy watching their children grow & mature (they keep scrap books, and take photos to record the progress) , they do this and look forward to their child growth even though maturity brings dangers as well as delights.
God’s goal for our lives, is spiritual maturity. AND God accomplishes this through the testing of our faith which leads to perseverance/patience. Spiritually immature people are always impatient and they easily quit. Spiritually mature people on the other hand, are patient and persistent. They have a stick-to-it-ness that weathers the storms of adversity and disappointment.
Understand, the only way the Lord can develop patience & character in our lives is through trials. Endurance can not be attained by reading a book, attending a class, listening to a sermon or even by praying.
We must go through the difficulties of life, trust God and obey Him.
And as we do, our faith will be strengthened, for you see, each time we trust God during a difficult time our faith grows and we learn to have patience, we learn not to demand from, but to wait on, the Lord.
"Those who wait upon the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." Is
To handle the trials of life God tells us to choose to have a joyful attitude, he tells us that our suffering has a higher purpose, we are not suffering in vain, AND He wants us to develop an understanding mind, we must understand that our faith will be tested and that the end result of our trials, is for us to become spiritually mature people who wait on the Lord.
3) We Must Ask God For Wisdom (5-8)
In these verses James appears to be answering a question that he anticipated would be asked by his readers.
"But James we are not spiritually mature yet, how are we supposed to deal with these trials in the mean time, even though what you are saying makes sense in our minds, how can we possibly put it into practice & see our difficulties as a blessing. It’s one thing to know what to do and quite another to be able to do it. Surely the ability to view our trials as a cause for rejoicing must require a wisdom greater than we posses. So what are we to do James.
JAMES GIVES THEM AND US THE SOLUTION IN 2 STEPS....
FIRST; ASK GOD
James responds, "you are right you do need a wisdom greater than you own in order to see trials as a reason for rejoicing ask God.."
It is significant to note what James didn’t say, he didn’t say, "If you lack wisdom to handle your trials go study philosophy, go pick up the latest self-help book, go mediate, or go seek the advise from someone who you think is wise."
James did not say any of this because the wisdom that we need, the wisdom that we must have to turn our trials into triumphs is available only from God. (Note this wisdom in context is specific not general wisdom).
Who are we to ask? We are to ask God... The Greek actually says that we are to ask "the giving God..." What a description of our God, the giving God. If anyone lacks wisdom (and we all do) he should ask the giving God, who give generously to all (he will give this wisdom to you as well) and who does not find fault (God does not say when we make a request of him, `why can’t you handle this’) and it will be given to Him.
But We Need To Ask In Faith
There is a condition connected to God giving us wisdom to handle trials, we have to ask believing and not doubting. The one who asks doubting James says is like the wave of the sea up one moment and down the next... Believing then doubting.
When we ask doubting, we will find ourselves sinking beneath the waves of despair and hopelessness...as we face life’s trials... (Like Peter who took his eyes off Jesus, "you of little faith why did you doubt).
What an INCREDIBLE promise God has given us, he promises to give us the wisdom we need to see our trials as a cause for rejoicing... That’s how Paul was able to endure his trails of various kinds.. Hunger, nakedness, prison..etc
Now you may be wondering, "why do we need wisdom when we are going through a trial, why can’t we just ask for deliverance? For this reason so we will not waste the opportunity that God is giving us to mature...
4) We Must Direct Our Focus To The Prize
What Is The Prize
"Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him."
Well there are really 2 prizes that James mentions in vs 12; one is a prize we will receive while still on earth. James says we will be blessed (same word Jesus used in the beatitudes and it means a sate of inner peace or joy). It is a joy that is real independent of the external circumstances of life.
True lasting unmovable contentment - which is what everyone wants.
The second prize is an eternal prize, it is the crown of life. It is the wreathe of victory that God will place on the head of his children. It is eternal life with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in our heavenly home.
How Do We Receive The Prize?
By enduring, by persevering, by passing the test.
"Do not fear what you are about to suffer, behold the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation 10 days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life." Rev 2:10
Circle 10 days; (not meant to be literal - a comparison that when we consider, our crown of life and all it represents, it makes our tribulation seem like only 10 days. Now that is a prize worth running for.
There once was an ant (Bernie) who felt imposed upon, overburdened and overworked. You see Bernie was instructed to carry a piece of straw across a long expanse of concrete. The straw was so long and heavy that he staggered beneath it’s weight, and Bernie felt like he would not survive.
The stress of his burden began to overwhelm him, he began to wonder if life itself was worth it, AND as Bernie was reflecting on this he was brought to a halt by a large crack in his path. There was no way of getting around the deep divide. So Bernie stood there sad and discouraged, then suddenly an idea struck him, carefully laying the straw across the concrete, he made a bridge and walked safely to the other side. Berni’s heavy load had become a helpful bridge. The burden he carried was also a blessing.
The question is not will we face trials of various kinds in our life - we already have and will again.
The question is how will we handle the trials that come our way?
If we value comfort more than character, then trials well upset us.
If we value the material more than the spiritual, we will not be able to consider it joy.
If we live only for the present and disregard the future, then trails will make us bitter and not better.
Decide to have a joyful attitude
Develop and understanding mind (faith I always tested; for our good to bring about maturity).
Ask for wisdom to handle trials and see it as a cause for rejoicing
Direct our focus to the our unsurpassed prize of joy now and a crown of life to come.
Let’s turn our burdens into bridges/trails into triumphs...
"I consider that our present suffering are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us...." Rm 8:18