Read James 1
Stuff happens! People don’t always use the word stuff; they say things happen. They do and they are not always fun or enjoyable. Sometimes what happens to us seems barely tolerable.
So just who is this nutcase who says consider it joy when you face all sorts of trials.
The microwave died. The convenience store was out of coffee. Who runs out of coffee? Isn’t there some sort of law? I need gas but two of the pumps don’t work. I’m running 15 minutes behind to get to work and now I’ve got to go to the bathroom. I don’t know if I can make it.
But through all of this, I’m singing: Rejoice in the Lord Always. Again, I say rejoice.
Are you kidding me? What was James smoking? It sure wasn’t medicinal.
James begins his letter, after the salutation to what he called the diaspora, with this challenge. Oh, by the way, this is just the first of many challenges.
Consider it joy, is that what James said? No. He said consider it pure joy when you have to face all sorts of trials. Pure joy? Not some joy and some cynicism, but pure joy—is that what he said?
Right away James tells us to do something that goes against our nature. Some of us get angry when things go awry. Some are stoic, thinking they can ride everything out on their own. Some become cynical and even depressed.
So, what James is telling us to do goes against our very nature—at least against our basic human nature. This brings us to living and existing.
If we are just existing, then things that go wrong or don’t fit into our plan for the day, or are just annoying or are messing with our status quo: They ruffle our comfort zone. We don’t like them.
But if we are living with purpose—to please God and live fully for him—it a different story.
Who in their right mind would go through their day looking around and thinking, That looks heavy, I think I’ll pick it up?
But the person intent on getting stronger goes into a weight room and starts lifting and pressing and curling heavy things. That person knows that to get stronger, he needs to work at overcoming resistance.
James tells us that the testing of our faith produces perseverance and that produces maturity.
Think to what the Apostle Paul said in the fifth chapter of Romans.
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
So as provocative as James sounds, he is not the Lone Ranger. Think to the proverbs.
A friend loves at all times,
and a brother is born for a time of adversity.
Not only am I going to be joyful in my trials, I am going to bring this attitude to my friends and family plan. I am going to help you remain joyful in your trials. It’s not that I am running short of my own trials. It’s that I am my brother’s keeper, at least as far as dealing with adversity goes.
Adversity is part of life. Some run and hide and some move to the sound of the gunfire. Some will be your friends in times of adversity. You may be someone’s friend and an example to many as to how you handle adversity.
Will you consider it part of your lifelong training to become more like your Lord and Savior or will it just mess up your day?
OK, Ok, Ok… I will give it my best shot, but I don’t expect much. I understand some Bible. God’s ways and his thoughts are not the same as mine. His ways are higher and I’m just poor, poor pitiful me. What can he expect me to do?
Ask for help. That’s right, ask for help. In this case, ask for God’s wisdom. It’s not found on the shelf in the local market, but it is available to you just for the asking.
God will not judge you when you ask. He’s not going to say you don’t deserve it even when you don’t. He wants you to have and use his wisdom. He wants to give it to you and give it generously.
So, I just ask and I will receive?
Your part is to ask and not doubt that God is good to his word. It’s not, OK God, I’ll ask. It’s not going to help but I will jump through your hoops because you said so. I guess it’s better than spitting in the wind.
That person should expect nothing. James uses the example of a wave tossed about the sea. This is not the wave approaching the shore that you enjoy when you are lounging on the beach. Those waves you can pick up in the distance and track them to the shore.
At sea, one wave quickly disappears into another or is absorbed in a swell. It has no existence. It is swallowed up in its surroundings.
When you ask and doubt, you are content in your surroundings. You say that you are not but by not trusting in God for answers, you are trusting in the very situation that you say that you can’t stand. You act like a victim. You are saying: There’s really nothing that you can do for me God.
If that’s your attitude, then you should expect nothing.
This is also called double-mindedness. Being of two minds is what the medical world would diagnose as a form of schizophrenia. We understand that we don’t want to be schizophrenic, but we routinely ask God for something and are sure he’s not going to do it.
So, how do we ask and believe without doubting? Train your heart and your mind to ask God for the things that he wants to give you. Seek first God and his kingdom and his righteousness and then expect God to deliver.
God loves to give us good gifts.
James next gives his version of storing up treasure in heaven. If you don’t have much in this world, it’s easier to put your hope in the next life. If you have a whole bunch in this life, you might find that you are not thinking about your eternal life.
There is nothing wrong with money. There is nothing wrong with riches. The question is: Does your money and wealth work for you or do you serve your money? Who serves whom?
No matter how good you have it here, one day this will all be gone.
So as we look at what we have—money, stuff, and other forms of wealth—is it treasure or is it fuel. Is it potential energy or kinetic energy? Do we bury it in the ground or put it to work?
If you don’t have a lot, be thankful. If you do, be purposeful with what you have or what you have is all you will ever have. Both can be a blessing. It’s easier to negotiate this world owning fewer things—maybe having fewer things that own you.
Let’s go back to trials again. Are trials and temptations the same thing? Being tempted can be a trial, but the temptation to do evil is not from God. Being asked to sacrifice your own son—a son that God promised would produce many heirs—is a trial. God tested Abraham.
Being tempted to shoot up a school, sell drugs, spit in the grits, or live a lackluster life does not come from God. God doesn’t do evil and he doesn’t do lukewarm. Most of our temptation comes from our sinful human nature. This is a nature that we were to have left behind when we received Jesus as Lord and Savior.
The old creation-new creation is mostly Paul’s discourse, but James reminds us of how sin has not given up on us. Sin may not be able to overcome the gift of God which is eternal life, but it can sure kill our abundant life.
But for the person who perseveres, there is more than just eternal life, there is the crown of life. There is victory in seeking God first, seeking his kingdom first, and in trusting him and living his way.
We are the first fruits of God’s creation. That’s cool beans. That’s amen and hallelujah stuff. So:
Let’s face our trials with joy.
Let’s ask God and expect the good things he has in store for us.
Know that what we have or do not have can be a blessing. Does it help us focus on eternity or is it given to us to put to work at once?
Know that nothing evil comes to us from God.
Know that God made us to be a sort of firstfruits of his creation. That’s some cool stuff.
Amen and Hallelujah!