Saturday, April 29, 2017

James 1:2-4 - Hanging by a thread

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.

And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Four guys went mountain climbing one weekend.  In the middle of the climb, one of the guys slipped over the edge of a cliff and dropped about 60 feet, landing with a thud on the rocky ledge below.  

The OTHER three, hoping to rescue him, yelled, “JOE!  Are you OK?!?!”  

“I’m alive,” answered Joe, “but I’ve broken both my arms!”

“We’ll toss a rope down to you and pull you up.  Just lie still!”

A couple of minutes after dropping one end of the rope, they started tugging and grunting together, feverishly working to pull their friend to safety.  

When they had him about 3/4ths of the way up, it dawned on them that he had broken BOTH his arms.

“Hey Joe?!?  If you broke both your arms, how in the world are you hanging on to this rope???”  

“With my teeeeeeeeeeeeth…”

Some of you may feel like you are hanging on by your teeth this morning… barely making it… not sure how you will get through this… asking yourself what you “did to deserve this trouble?”

Life is hard.  And the first question we ask in times of trouble is often the last one to be answered – “WHY?”  “If God loves me, WHY am I going through this hardship?”  “Why me?  Why now?”  

The problem is, when we ask WHY we aren’t usually looking for real answers.  Often our questions sound more like accusations - blaming God for allowing this thing to happen.  

Problems make us question the value of faith, because we incorrectly assume that becoming a Christian will safeguard us from this life of trouble.

What we OUGHT to ask during times of difficulty is NOT “Why?” but “What?”  
  • “Lord, what would you have me learn from this?”  
  • What can I do that will help bring about Your purposes, Your will in my life?”  

When you start looking at your problems through the eyes of God, you will see how, far from a curse, your battles might actually be blessings.

James was the half-brother of the Lord Jesus and the Pastor of the church at Jerusalem.  The Christians under his care had suffered unprecedented rejection, hardship, and loss.  They didn’t know giving their hearts to Christ would mean that everyone around them would hate them.  

  • Their neighbors and friends refused to treat them with kindness.  

  • Their families wrote them off as though they had died.  

  • Their faith hung by a thread as they teetered on the brink of starvation.  

To THEM James says, “Count it all joy... when you meet trials of various kinds.

How is that even possible??  Can a person truly be joyful in the midst of suffering???  James will show us how.

So IF you are hanging on by a thread this morning, James offers three reasons God allows His people to be tested.  Notice…

1.  First, how trials MOVE us in v. 2, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.”  Trials have a way of jolting us out of the comfortable ruts we settle into.  They force us to look within… and more importantly, to look up.  The way we respond to trials shows us what kind of spiritual condition we are in – whether we are mature or fleshly – faithful or faithless.  They act as a measuring stick - they show us how desperately we need growth.

We are often TEMPTED during our trials too.  What kinds of temptations will you face when you find yourself in the valley?

First, you will find yourself tempted to withdraw from others… others who care about you.  God has placed you in a church family for support, accountability, and encouragement.  But when hard times come, there is something in us that wants to withdraw from those relationships.  

We incorrectly think we would do better if we were left alone.  When we are discouraged, it may seem more of a hassle than a blessing to have people around us who care.  We feel like we have to make everyone else feel better about our feeling bad.

Satan wants you to make that mistake - because
  • He knows there is strength in the family of God.  
  • He knows that we will learn some things - as we fellowship with others who have gone through similar battles.  
  • He knows that God has a Word for us that will be a lifeline in our distress.  And if we withdraw from our church family, we will likely miss instruction that the Holy Spirit can use to minister to us in our time of need.

When we pull away from those relationships, we drown in self-pity.

Second, you will be tempted to neglect spiritual things – your quiet time, your prayer life and scripture study will suffer because you begin to think that these things don’t really help you. Disillusioned, you will begin to feel that God has somehow failed you.  

And third, during your weaker moments, you will be tempted to turn to sin as the answer for what ails you. It's not when you are STRONG and CLOSE TO GOD that you are most apt to mess up your life, but when you are down, questioning the goodness, the FAIRNESS of the Lord that you are most likely to sin.

James wanted the church to understand – “God, has NOT failed you… but often shows Himself the strongest during our times of greatest weakness.”  

James describes our trials as “many.”  They come in all shapes and sizes… they come to all people in all seasons of life, regardless how mature you are or how faithful you are.  God isn’t picking on you.

James wants us to know that we are NOT unusual – or somehow less spiritual than others because we are walking through a valley.  

You will also notice that James doesn’t say “IF,” but “When.”  Trials are not electives in God’s University– but required courses.  

Sooner or later they will come.  And when they do, God has promised to provide what we need to successfully navigate those challenges.

James’ advice is clear - When you find yourself discouraged, allow it to Move You closer to God, closer to His Word and prayer, closer to your church family.  NOT further away.

2.  But not only do trials MOVE us, they also MELLOW us.  Listen to v. 3 – “for you know that the testing (or that which proves your faith true/real) ... produces steadfastness. (helps you remain under the load.) 

That’s why James tells us to “face our hardships with joy.” They are not mindless, senseless hardships unleashed upon us by cold, impersonal fate.  They are permitted by a wise and loving heavenly Father who is too caring to be unkind and too wise to make mistakes.  

Satan cannot touch you without God’s permission.  And even when God DOES allow it, He desires to work in your life.  He wants to produce something in you that you cannot get any other way.  God is using your trials to produce “steadfastness.”  God is stretching you so that you will remain “under the load.”

When you cross a bridge, you will see signs that tell the load limit of the structure.  Engineers have tested its strength – they know how much weight that bridge can support.  And from time to time they will inspect the structure to make sure it can safely support the load of traffic – because if they don’t, something catastrophic might happen!

You have a load-limit too.  God knows what hardships are coming your way and whether or not you can bear that load.  God strengthens you because He loves you and because He knows there are people around you who have heard you speak of your faith in the Lord.  He knows that some of those people are watching to see if your faith really does make a difference in life’s storms.

All of us have to learn this – even great men of the faith like Paul.  In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul referred to a problem he had as his “thorn in the flesh.” He shared how he had prayed three different times for God to take the problem away.  But what did God say??  “NO… My grace is sufficient for you: for my strength is made perfect in your weakness.”  And when Paul came to terms with God’s answer, he said, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me... for when I am weak, then am I strong.”

James knew that his church was suffering terrible hardship… that they were paying a high price for their faith.  He also knew that the only way they would make it was by developing “steadfastness.”  God lovingly allowed them to suffer hardship so that later, as life presented its challenges, they would be strong enough to hold up under the load.

And the same thing is true for you.

Don’t believe for one moment that God is punishing you by allowing you to go through hard times.  

Think about it like this:  As a parent, you hate to see your children suffer.  You wish you could shield them from every heartache, that you could soothe every hurt, or spare them every difficulty.  But you realize they have to grow up.  You realize you can’t always be there.  And you realize that a lot of lessons are learned through failure – that by over-protecting, you might actually be hurting them - stunting them.  

You know, part of growing up is developing the ability to make good, WISE, decisions. And to do get to that place, you have to allow them to make decisions. Sometimes they choose well. Sometimes, not so much.

So, in love, you allow them to fall and teach them how to pick themselves up, because the day is coming when you won’t be there.  

Do you love them less because you don’t bail them out every time?  To the contrary, it is love that motivates you to let them develop steadfastness, They've got to take ownership of their faith. If they don't, they'll never make it to heaven.

3.  But not only do trials MOVE us and MELLOW us... They also MATURE us. Listen to verse 4, “And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”  

Maturity is a process.  Just as it takes years for a baby to reach adulthood, it will take time for you to grow up in Christ.  You won’t always respond well to the lessons God teaches.  So He must teach them again and again, so that He can make you like Christ – or as James puts it “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing..”

The idea behind the word “perfect” is not sinlessness – but maturity. A faith that can’t be TESTED, is a faith that can’t be TRUSTED.  But as your faith is proven true - as your resolve to cling to God is seen - then your faith takes on a compelling completeness that not even your adversaries can deny.

Paul used this same word when he spoke to the immature believers in Corinth and reprimanded them for not being more advanced in their faith, but were instead still in need of being taught elementary truths - the things they should have gotten back in children’s church, they needed to be taught again.

James challenged the Jewish Christians to allow God to complete what He had started in them.  “Don’t give up before the work is finished!  Be Patient!”

“Patience” is a farmer’s word.  The farmer plows and plants his field, but then he has to wait for harvest.

“Patience” is nature’s word.  Each fruit has a ripening process.  If you pull it too soon, it will be hard or bitter.  Impatience spoils the fruit.

And “Patience” is God’s word.  He’s never in a hurry.  It takes time for a child to become a man… for a Christian to become like Christ.

Impatience ruins the process.  And trust me when I say this - God is ALL ABOUT the PROCESS.

In this day of fast-food, quick entertainment, and instant messaging, we want everything NOW.  But when we carry this attitude into our spiritual lives, we get frustrated that growth seems to take so long.  We want maturity NOW – but God says “Wait!”  He delights in the process.

Warren Wiersbe writes, "Our values determine our evaluations. If we value comfort more than character, then trials will upset us. If we value the material and physical more than the spiritual, we will not be able to count it all joy! If we live only for the present and forget about the future, the trials will make us bitter, not better."


How can suffering make us better?  I can think of several ways according to scripture:


First, Suffering produces intimacy with God (Job 42:5).  God will never be more real in your life than when you are up against it.  If we allow our trials to force us into God's presence, our lives will be better as a result of the trial.  

Job, who endured unspeakable suffering, said, "My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you."  Reminding us that Intimacy with God is often borne in the furnace of affliction.

Suffering equips us to comfort others (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).  Suffering gives us compassion for others who are hurting, enabling us to minister more effectively.  We are able to share how WE got through OUR pain… how God was faithful in OUR time of need, and through that, others are encouraged.  Those who have suffered make the most effective comforters.

Suffering refines us.  It purges the junk out of our lives.  We read in Isaiah 48:10 that "…I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction."  Pain and suffering have a way of bringing our strengths and weaknesses to the surface. God is working through our circumstances to purify us.

And according to our text, Suffering produces growth and maturity (James 1:2-4).  If we turn to God in our pain, He can use our suffering for growth. The early church provides a perfect illustration of this. After hearing their testimonies, few would deny that suffering had made them more like Jesus.

So you see?  There are some things we can only learn through hardship.  And those things are very valuable to God.  

So back to you.  Are you going through some things you don’t understand??  Maybe you’ve been asking the wrong question.  You’ve been wanting to know WHY – when the better question is WHAT… “Lord, WHAT would you have me learn through this?”  

You’ve got to remember how God loves you more than you can possibly understand… and that He has a plan for you – a plan to involves making you more like Jesus.

With that said, maybe you ought to come to this place of prayer and ask God to use your pain for His glory.  

Maybe you need to pray that God would strengthen you and help you hang on.  That your testimony would be seen by friends and family as they watch your dependence upon God deepen through this hardship.

I’ve seen my fair share of struggles, hardship, and pain.  And while problems come in a variety of forms, they all have ONE thing in common…they eventually end.
Maybe you need the strength to hang on till this thing comes to an end.  Will you pray about it?