Summary: When we face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy? Really, James? Find out how how that's possible.
One of my favorite songs or mantras that I often repeated when I was a young man was: “Why me?” “Why does this always happen to me?” Every time there was a problem … any time something threw off my day or my plans … I would launch into an endless chorus of “Why Me?” One day I was singing the “Why Me?” blues pretty hard when a friend of mine cut me off, looked me square in the eyes, and demanded: “Why NOT you?” Why not me, indeed?
Last week we looked at the Biblical perspective on trials and hardship. This week we’re going to delved into the question of “why” we have to undergo hardships and trials. Next week we’ll look at how we should respond to hardship and trials … and we’ll finish up this series by examining God’s purposes for hardship and trials.
The “why” question hits the hardest, hurts the most, and lingers the longest. Before we jump into this, we need to ask ourselves a question: Am I willing not only to hear God’s answers to the question ‘Why me,’ but embrace them? Take a moment to pray. Tell God that nothing is off limits … that anything He wants to show you from His Word is fine with you … no matter how difficult it is to hear. If you are not willing, tell Him that too. You might want to say, “God, it’s too hard and I’m not sure I want to hear what you have to say … but I can’t go on like I have been, LORD, so I’m willing for you to make me willing. If you choose not to change my circumstances, please change me.” [Pause.]
Please take out your “Owner’s Manual” and turn to James 1. The Book of James was addressed to a people and a church who were experiencing a great deal of pain and persecution. James’ letter deals with the practical aspects of living out the Christian life. If we have a faith that works, it will be seen in how we face our trials (chapter 1), how we treat people (chapter 2), how we talk (chapter 3), how we deal with sin in our lives (chapter 4), and how we pray (chapter 5). It is interesting to note that the very first topic that James tackles in his letter is the question of trials.
I think that we can nominate James 1:2 as one of the most outrageous statements in the entire Bible. “My brother and sister, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy” … [slowly] “whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy.” Out of 54 commands in the Book of James, there must be a reason why the author starts out his letter with this one. Let’s find out why, shall we?
As you no doubt remember from last week’s sermon, the word “trial” means to test something by putting pressure on it. The word that James uses for “consider” in verse 2 of today’s scripture reading literally means “to press your mind down on something.” It means that you put pressure on your options as well as your problems to “test” which ones will stand and which ones will fall. The tense of the Greek word that James uses conveys a sense of urgency. We weigh our worries … we calculate our trials … we test them … we put pressure on them … we evaluate them … so that we can put our trials and our problems into perspective. Small trials and weak problems crumble easily and quickly under the pressure of our scrutiny. We don’t need to worry about them as much as the ones that refuse to crack and crumble under the pressure of our scrutiny and “consideration.” Those are the ones that nag us and frighten us, and keep us awake at night, amen?
“Our values determine our evaluations,” says pastor and author Warren Wiersbe. If we place a high value on “comfort,” for example, and the pressures of life start to crush our sense of comfort, we worry … we get upset … we scramble around and we try to figure out ways to reduce or eliminate the pressure that’s crushing our comfort or our security. “If we value the material and physical more than the spiritual,” says Wiersbe, “we will not be able to ‘count it all joy!’ If we live for the present and forget about the future, [our] trials will make us bitter, not better.”
“If we live for the present and forget about the future, [our] trials make us bitter, not better.” What does Wiersbe mean by that? What does James mean when he says that we should “count it all joy” when we find ourselves in the midst of trials and tribulation? What does the Apostle Peter mean when he says that we should rejoice when we “participate in the sufferings of Christ” (1st Peter 4:13). We rejoice and we count it all joy because we know that in the midst of our trials and tribulations that God will carry us through to the other side. We have joy in anticipation of the joy that we will once again experience as a result of trusting God when it feels like the whole world is coming down around our shoulders.