July 30, 2019
One of the biggest misconceptions about becoming a Christian is that when you do, God will make your life better than it was before. He’ll surround you with great friends, prosper you, bless your family, your work and your life in general. Everything will be easier and life will be good. But the problem with that way of thinking is that as soon as hardship or misfortune comes, you’re tempted to think God is unhappy with you or is punishing you or doesn’t really love you.
The first time I heard this way of thinking was when my father-in-law told me the story of Becky’s brother, Mark. Most of you didn’t even know Becky has a brother. You see, he was born before Becky and lived only six months. So she never knew him. And the reason Mark lived only six months was because he born with a hole in his heart. His death was tragedy enough, but shortly after Mark died, a pastor told him there must have been some sin in Bob’s life, and that’s why God took Mark home. Instead of giving comfort, this man blamed Bob for the death of his child. That was so wrong!
Now that’s not the last time I heard this warped view about misfortune. When I was starting my first pastorate in Langley, BC, one of the leaders in our church believed that when bad things happened to you, it was God’s way of punishing you. Then on April Fools Day that year, both of his turkey barns burned to the ground. He was devastated. Not because he lost his turkey barns, because Insurance covered those losses. No, he was devastated because he believed that fire was God’s way of punishing him.
Have you ever thought about God like that? Have you ever thought bad things happen because you did something wrong? Or have you ever wondered why God doesn’t do more to protect youfrom the adversities of life? If you have, then what we’re going to look at today from God’s Word should give you a whole new way of understanding what God’s up too when bad stuff happens to you. So if you brought your Bible with you this morning, let me encourage you to find James 1:2-8, where God’s Word shows us what to do whenever your faith is tested by the tough stuff of life. So if you’ve found James 1, lets look at how we are top respond whenever our faith is tested by trials:
Whenever Your Faith is Tested Use Your Head Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. James 1:2-3
God calls Christians to think differently when it comes to the trials, hardship and misfortunes of life. We are not to complain about them, feel bad about them, or get angry with them, but find joy in the midst of them. Why? Because God uses them to create perseverance in our lives.
Now, some people think its absurd that God would have us find joy from a trial. That’s why James is teaching us here that we need to use our heads whenever we encounter adversity of any kind. But before we see what that entails, we need to clarify a few things that will help us get our head around this idea of considering trials as pure joy.
First, we need to understand God’s purpose for us in testing: What it means to “be tested” is this: The believer experiences a testing in the sense of a refining process. That is, your faith is being refined, much the same as gold is subjected to the smelter’s fire. As the goldsmith removes impurities that are foreign to the metal, so God purifies your faith from sin.
In other words, God allows our faith to be tested so He can refine our faith by removing impurities. In this case, God allows our faith to be tested by the normal adversities of life so He can produce perseverance in us. What’s perseverance? It’s an active steadfastness in the face of adversity. It’s not a passive resignation, but a fully engaged determination to stay the course through it. It’s a godly endurance in the face of injustice or suffering. And this is something God must grow in us to mature us in Christ. So God allows our faith to be tested by trials, hardships and misfortunes, so He can refine our faith and produce perseverance in you. So the question that leads me to ask is this: What is God trying to purify in us when we encounter adversity? What sinful tendency is God looking to remove from us to build perseverance in us?
Well, the context of James we see a couple of sinful tendencies God wants to remove. First, God wants to purify our tendency towards self-reliance. Whenever we rely on ourselves, we are not living by faith. The worldly way of handling adversity is to either try to fix things on our own or try to insulate our lives from difficulties at all costs. The problem with that way of thinking, is that no one has the ability to fully escape the hardships of life. At some point your abilities will fail you. At some point your finances won’t be able to heal you. At some point you’ll not be able to insulate yourself from the broken lives of others. It’s just not possible. So one of the reasons God allows adversities is to get you to stop relying on yourself and start relying on Him – trust Him. I know that’s hard for us to do. But God allows difficulties so we might turn to Him and trust Him while we are in the midst of them.
Second, God wants to purify our tendency towards anger. One of the most common responses to when bad things happen is to get angry. Anger manifests itself in a number of ways: One is lack of contentment. The way we see that lived out is through complaining or faultfinding. We’re frustrated, anxious, and feel guilty. That’s why this command, “Consider it pure joy when you encounter trials of many kinds,” rubs us the wrong way. That’s why we think this command is absurd. Our wrong thinking tells us that God is supposed to protect us from bad things. And when bad things do happen, then we think God is punishing us, or God doesn’t care about us, so we loose our peace. The second way anger manifests itself is this: We hold God in contempt. We get angry at God. So we blame God and even walk away from God, because we don’t believe God’s doing His part in loving us. But our thinking is faulty.
That’s why James starts with this command to wrap our head around why God allows the tests of our faith. He tells us to consider them pure joy. Why? Because the testing of your faith is the means God uses to grow in perseverance in you. To help you rise above your circumstances; to help you see past your present troubles; to help you go through those troubles with an eye to victory. God doesn’t want bad things to defeat you, but to build an inner strength in you, so you can endure trials in the same way Jesus did. And when you warp your mind around that, it should give you joy. Now let me say a few things about joy:
Joy is not about being happy. It is not an emotion. It’s not a feeling. Here’s a Biblical definition of joy: Joy may be defined as a settled contentment in every situation or “an unnatural reaction of deep, steady, and unadulterated thankful trust in God.”
Joy is not simply about putting on a happy face and pretending everything is OK. When life comes crashing down on someone, James doesn’t intend for us to say flippantly, “Consider it joy brother.” Think about John 11, when Mary and Martha approached Jesus after their brother Lazarus had died. He didn’t immediately start telling them that God had a purpose in this, although He knew God did. Instead, He comforted them and He wept with them.
I would say it this way: It’s not that the adversity you are facing is to bring you joy – that would be absurd. No, it’s the realization, that God is using the adversity to make you more like Jesus. In other words, consider this; think about this: God loves you too much to leave you the way you are. And one of the ways He changes you is to allow you to go through trials. In fact, there really is no other way to build perseverance in your life. Endurance cannot be attained by reading a book, listening to a sermon, or even praying a prayer. We must go through the difficulties of life, trust God and obey Him. The result will be patience and character. Knowing this, we can face trials joyfully.
So the next time you face something difficult or someone hurtful, remember that God’s Word commands you to use your head, and not really on your feelings: Consider it pure joy, that God is not done with you. Consider it pure joy that He is giving you an opportunity to trust Him in the midst of it, and become more like Jesus.
Okay, that’s just the first thing God calls us to do when we face the adversities of life. Now, here’s the second thing: Whenever Your Faith is Tested Keep the Bigger Picture in Mind: James gives us a second command to obey here. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:4
In other words, God call Christians to let the testing of our faith to run its course. Growing perseverance in you is a process. You don’t grow in perseverance over night. It takes time and it takes trials. So what this command is calling us to: is to see the bigger picture of God’s plan in your life. So what’s the bigger picture?
The bigger picture is to see every hardship or misfortune as God giving you the opportunity to grow in perseverance, so you will become more like Jesus. But the key here is letting perseverance finish its work in you. It means seeing every adversity as an opportunity to grow. It’s all about perspective. No one likes hardship or misfortune. But the reality is, life is hard. There will be good times and bad times. There will be happy times and painful times. There will be clear sailing times and confusing times. But when you see the big picture of how God is uses adversity to form Christ in you, then you’ll begin to understand why God doesn’t always protect you from hard things. God is not a helicopter parent. He’s not interested in growing soft, mamby-pamby Christ-followers. He doesn’t protect you from trials, but allows them in your life so you won’t lack in anything.
And for most of us, that’s hard to understand. And it’s also hard for us to wrap our minds around letting go and trusting God in the midst of our trials. But it’s at this point where God wants to help us. He knows we can’t endure trials on our own. So He wants to give us what we lack in order to let this maturing process do its work.
What does God want to give you to help you grow in perseverance? Wisdom. His Wisdom. And all He asks of us is to ask Him for His Wisdom. And that’s the final thing God calls us to do whenever our faith is tested:
Whenever Your Faith is Tested Ask for Wisdom to Help You Endure If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. James 1:5
Here’s the deal: When we rely on our own wisdom, that’s not faith. In fact, when we do that, we actually short-change ourselves. Our wisdom is limited. Listen to how David Platt describes this phenomenon: In relation to the wisdom of God, our own wisdom grows through three different factors: knowledge, perspective and experience. Our limitations in all three of these areas lead to limited wisdom. When we walk through trials, we realize we don’t know all that is going on (we lack knowledge); we don’t see our situation from every angle (we lack perspective); we oftentimes lack experience in what to do (we lack experience). God, on the other had, possesses all knowledge, He has eternal perspective, and in Christ He has experienced every kind of test and has prevailed. – David Platt
Here is where we see God’s grace to us in the midst of our trials. God is willing to give generously to all without finding fault. God gives wisdom generously, abundantly, liberally. He pours it out to all without discrimination, without question, and without hesitation. Anyone who calls on God can receive His grace. This is the God of the universe saying, “I will impart my wisdom to you.” “I will help you navigate your trial.” But this gift of His wisdom is not automatic. You must ask for it. And God does not give us the easy answer. When we face a trial, we often just want our circumstances fixed. “Remove this burden. Take this stress away. Make this person stop pressuring me, hurting me, making life miserable for me.” But God says, “Draw near to Me, and ask Me to help you understand why this is happening and to give you perspective on what you are going through and to walk alongside you as the One who possesses all knowledge, eternal perspective and perfect experience.”
This is not the way we’ve been taught to deal with adversity. We’ve been taught to fix it ourselves, or escape it in any way we can. So we have a hard time calling on God to help us endure adversity with His wisdom. So here’s the catch: God doesn’t want you to doubt His ability to give you His wisdom. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. James 1:6-8 This is not a verdict against the doubts we have from time to time. We all have doubts. And those doubts are good, because they move us to seek God, to learn His ways, to understand His will. No, this warning about our doubt is specific: We are not to doubt the character of God as a gracious giver of wisdom.
This is often where our faith stumbles. We say we believe He is gracious and is willing to help us. But doubt creeps in. How? We focus too much on the circumstance and not enough on Him. We focus on our feelings that are hurt or our frustrations that make us angry, rather than focusing on Him. And when this happens we end up refusing to believe He can help us, and believe the only one who can help us get through this trial is us. So rather than trust God to help us, we quickly go back to relying on our own wisdom – we are quick to take matters into our own hands rather than wait on God to help. That describes double-minded man. That’s the person who oscillates between faith and skepticism, and refuses to trust God to help him. So God lets him go it alone.
And the sad reality is this: we all do this. We all have a hard time waiting on God. We have a hard time believing that He will graciously give us the wisdom we need to weather our trial. So we doubt God by refusing to trust in His promise and taking matters into our own hands. But do you know how to cure our doubting problem? The next time you face adversity, ask God to give you His wisdom and then wait on Him to help you; refrain from trying to fix things on your own; and trust Him to do what He says He will do. Trust Him to give you His knowledge to see the purpose of your trial. Trust Him to give you His perspective to see the bigger picture in the midst of that trial. And trust Him to give you insight into handling your trial the way Jesus would. And then thank him for the opportunity God is giving you to grow and become more like Jesus.
God wants you to think differently about adversity. He doesn’t want you to think the way the world does. He doesn’t want you to try to fix it, escape it, shelter yourself from it, complain about it, get angry over it – or even think that somehow He is punishing you through it. No, God wants you to use your head. God wants you to know that He’s allows the inconveniences, sufferings, and misfortunes of this life to refine your faith, so you’ll become more like Jesus. And when you use your head, you’ll ask for God’s wisdom. And God will not just give you wisdom, He’ll give you joy to endure the worst the world can throw at you, just as Jesus did. Let’s pray.