Stephen Caswell ©2003
Trees With Deep Roots
Several years ago a man reported his observations of the effects of a hurricane on a southeastern Gulf Coast town. As he walked up and down the ravaged streets, he observed the palm trees had been uprooted and flung about. Once tall and majestic, their root systems were too shallow to withstand the hurricane force winds. But as he proceeded, he came upon a lone oak tree. The leaves had been blown away and some of the smaller branches ripped off, but the roots had gone deep, and the tree held its position. And in due season it would again produce leaves. So it is with us. If we are to endure in times of great stress and difficulty, we must beforehand have put down a depth of character that will sustain the blows of the trial.
Perhaps you have seen the bumper sticker that reads: When life hands you a lemon, make lemonade! It is easier to smile at that statement than to practice it, but the basic philosophy is sound. In fact, it is biblical. Throughout the Bible are people who turned defeat into victory and trial into triumph. Instead of being victims, they became victors. James tells us that we can have this same experience today. If we are going to turn trials into triumphs, we must obey four commands: Rejoice, Recognise, Remain and Request.
James 1:1-2: James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: Greetings. My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials.
a. The Afflicted
In verse 2 James encourages believers to have the right attitude toward trials. James wants us to rejoice. James readers were suffering for their faith. In verse 1 we see that James wrote to the 12 tribes scattered abroad. Acts 8:1b, 3-4: At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word. Because we are God’s scattered people and not God’s sheltered people, we must experience trials. We cannot always expect everything to go our way. Some trials come simply because we are human. Things like sickness, accidents, disappointments, even seeming tragedies. Other trials come because we are Christians.
b. The Attitude
The key word is count h&geomai. It means to think, regard, to look upon. It is a financial term that means to evaluate. Our outlook determines the outcome. As believers we need to recognise that God will allow trials to come our way. James doesn’t say if you fall into trials, but when you fall into trials. Various trials will come our way. And God allows them to. 2 Timothy 3:12 says: All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.
We can’t stop trials coming but we can choose to have the right attitude towards them. In Acts 26:2 Paul says this: I think myself happy, King Agrippa, because today I shall answer for myself before you concerning all the things of which I am accused by the Jews. The word think is the same word translated count in James. Paul wasn’t afraid or disappointed about standing before King Agrippa to be judged. He was happy to. Paul saw it as an opportunity to testify for Jesus Christ. He recognised that God was in control and had arranged his trial. Therefore Paul chose to be happy in his trials. It was this attitude that enabled Paul and Silas to sing praises to God in painful stocks inside a prison. Paul writing to the Philippians says this in Philippians 4:4 says: Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say rejoice. This explains why the dedicated Christian can have joy in the midst of trials: he lives for the things that matter most; He lives for the Lord.
Although Job had lived a godly life he still suffered greatly. He lost his family, wealth, health, friends, and standing in the community. Yet in the midst of his suffering he maintained the right attitude. Job 1:20-21: Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshipped. And he said: Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.
Corrie Ten Boom
Corrie ten Boom in The Hiding Place relates an incident that taught her always to be thankful. She and her sister, Betsy, had just been transferred to the worst German prison camp they had seen yet, Ravensbruck. On entering the barracks, they found them extremely overcrowded and flea-infested. That morning, their Scripture reading in 1 Thessalonians had reminded them to rejoice always, pray constantly, and give thanks in all circumstances. Betsy told Corrie to stop and thank the Lord for every detail of their new living quarters. Corrie at first flatly refused to give thanks for the fleas, but Betsy persisted, and Corrie finally succumbed to her pleadings. During the months spent at that camp, they were surprised to find how openly they could hold Bible study and prayer meetings without guard interference. It was not until several months later that they learned the reason the guards would not enter the barracks was because of the fleas.
Do you rejoice when trials come your way? Or do trials discourage you? Do you think that God has forgotten you? That He isn’t concerned about you? The to rejoice is to recognise in trials that God is in control; like Job did. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away blessed be the name of the Lord. Will you determine to rejoice always? Will you count it all joy when you fall into various trials? God wants us to Rejoice because He’s in control!
James 1:3: Knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.
a. Recognise God has a Plan
James wants us to know something about trials. Believers need to recognise God’s purpose in sending trials our way. God has a plan for us. He wants to conform us to the image of His Son. To do this God uses trials. They test our faith to see if its genuine. So, trials are really working for us, not against us. They are an important part of God’s plan. He allows them for our good. He knows what He’s doing. God loves us and trials are one of His blessings.
Looking At A Tapestry
Maybe you have visited a shop that sells tapestry’s or floor rugs? When you look at the undersides of the rugs they are not very beautiful: the patterns are obscure and the loose ends of yarn dangle down. But you can’t judge the worker or the work by looking at the wrong side. In the same way, we are looking at the wrong side of life; only the Lord sees the finished pattern. Let’s not judge Him or His work from what we see today. He is not finished with us yet!
Romans 8:28 says: And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18: For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.
b. Recognise God uses Trials
Faith is always tested. When God called Abraham to live by faith, He tested him in order to increase his faith. God always tests us to bring out the best; Satan tempts us to bring out the worst. The testing of our faith proves that we are truly born again. The only way the Lord can develop patience and character in our lives is through trials. 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. 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 the future, then trials will make us bitter, not better. Job recognised God’s purposes in His sufferings. He said this in Job 23:10: But He knows the way that I take; When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.
No goldsmith would deliberately waste the precious ore. Instead He puts it into the smelting furnace just long enough to remove the cheap impurities; After this he pours out the pure molten ore to make a beautiful article of. One of value. It has been said that the Eastern goldsmith kept the metal in the furnace until he could see his face reflected in it. So our Lord keeps us in the furnace of suffering until we reflect the glory and beauty of Jesus Christ. 1 Pet 4:12-13: Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.
God has a plan to conform us to the image His Son, Jesus Christ and this involves suffering. Job, Paul, the Apostles, and Christ Himself suffered. In fact God’s people down through the ages have suffered. Do you know that God is making you stronger through your trials? Do you know that trials are really working for you not against you?
1:4: But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
What does God want to produce in our lives? Patience, endurance, and the ability to keep going when things are tough. In the Bible, patience is not a passive acceptance of circumstances. It is a courageous perseverance in the face of suffering and difficulty. When the going is tough we just want to get away from it. But James commands us to keep going so that the trial will produce it’s perfect work. Even though we may want to quit God wants us to remain in there. Trials produce maturity and character. Trials don’t last forever. In fact, God brings us through them after they accomplish their purpose. 1 Peter 5:10 says this: But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.
Abraham Lincoln Persevered
When he was seven years old, his family was forced out of their home on a legal technicality, and he had to work to help support them. At age nine, his mother died. At 22, he lost his job as a store clerk. He wanted to go to law school, but his education wasn't good enough. At 23, he went into debt to become a partner in a small store. At 26, his business partner died, leaving him a huge debt that took years to repay. At 28, after courting a girl for four years, he asked her to marry him. She said no. At 37, on his third try he was elected to Congress, but two years later, he failed to be reelected. At 41, his four-year-old son died. At 45, he ran for the Senate and lost. At 47, he failed as the vice-presidential candidate. At 49, he ran for the Senate again, and lost. At 51, he was elected president of the United States. His name was Abraham Lincoln, the greatest leader the country ever had. He persevered. He wouldn’t quit.
Patience is only produced if we submit to God’s will. God cannot build our character without our cooperation. If we resist Him, then He chastens us into submission. But if we submit then He can accomplish His work. He is not satisfied with a halfway job. God wants a perfect work.
Trials Make Us Grow Deeper In Christ
An elderly Christian man in Communist-controlled Budapest remarked when asked about the effects of persecution and discrimination on the lives of Christians: It is like the deep, fast-flowing Danube River. The banks of the river were artificially narrowed throughout the city of Budapest. As a result the river’s fast waters dug deeper into the river bottom. Believers under restrictions and persecution have limited freedom, but their narrowed lives have found great depth by going deeper in Christ.
James 1:12: Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. Trials produce patience and strengthen Christian character. The word translated test in verse 3 is the same word translated approved in verse 12. If we pass the test we are approved. James says such believers are rewarded. How are they rewarded? Firstly, by growth in Christian character. This is the most important one. Secondly, He is rewarded by bringing glory to God. Thirdly, by being granted a crown of life when Jesus Christ returns. When believers persevere through trials God gives His approval. Trials are working for us, not against us.
Job was approved by the Lord for his perseverance. James 5:11: Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord — that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful. Job 42:10: And the Lord restored Job’s losses when he prayed for his friends. Indeed the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.
If Jesus suffered we should also expect to suffer. Hebrews 2:10: For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. The key is to submit to God’s will! Do you struggle to get out of your trials? God wants us to Remain there until they have accomplished their purpose. Will you determine to grow through the trials and struggles of life like Abraham Lincoln did? Will you joyfully submit to God’s will in everything?
James 1:5-8: If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
God wants us to request His help in our trials. When we are going through God-ordained difficulties, what should we pray about? James gives the answer: ask God for wisdom. Someone has said that knowledge is the ability to take things apart, while wisdom is the ability to put them together. Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. Why do we need wisdom when we are going through trials? Why not ask for strength, or grace, or even deliverance? For this reason: we need wisdom so we will not waste the opportunities God is giving us to mature. It helps us understand how to use these circumstances for our good and God’s glory.
Wisdom To Learn From Trials
A gifted church secretary was going through great trials. She had had a stroke, her husband had gone blind, and then he had to be taken to the hospital where he would soon die. Her pastor saw her in church one Sunday and assured her that he was praying for her. What are you asking God to do? she asked, and her question startled the pastor. I’m asking God to help you and strengthen you, he replied. I appreciate that, she said, but pray about one more thing. Pray that I’ll have the wisdom not to waste all of this! She knew the meaning of James 1:5.
However we must also pray the right way, and James tells us how. We must pray in faith.
James 1:6-8: But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
Pray In Faith
James not only explained what to ask for, wisdom, but he also described how to ask. We are to ask in faith. We do not have to be afraid, for God is anxious to answer, and He will never scold us! He giveth more grace. He also gives more and more wisdom. The greatest enemy to answered prayer is unbelief. When Peter started his walk of faith, he kept his eyes on Christ. But when he was distracted by the wind and waves, he ceased to walk by faith; and he began to sink. He was double-minded, and he almost drowned. Many Christians live like corks on the waves: up one minute, down the next; tossed back and forth.
The Scotch Preacher
The story is told of a time when a great Scotch preacher prayed in the morning service for rain. As he went to church in the afternoon his daughter, said, Here is the umbrella, Papa. What do we need it for? he asked. You prayed for rain this morning. Don’t you expect God to send it? his daughter replied. They carried the umbrella, and while they came home they were glad to take shelter under it from the drenching storm. Such should be our faith when we pray, just like that little child’s — with no doubt, and expecting an answer.
Asking God to give us wisdom or grace is not something that we do as a last ditch effort. The I’ve tried everything else, what have I got to lose mentality. Prayer couldn’t hurt I suppose. God wants us to trust Him completely. He wants us to seek His help and only His help. It’s not me plus God’s help, it’s total reliance upon God. God promises to give wisdom to those who ask for it. I remember claiming this promise when I was a new Christian. I told God that I wasn’t smart enough to make the right choices or to face Satan’s temptations without His help. And God has guided me in many decisions over the years.
James 1:9-11: Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, but the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away. For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits.
God uses trials to prepare us for future ministry. God uses the difficulties we endure to make us ready for leadership. Joseph spent 13 years as a slave and a prisoner before God appointed him to be Governor of Egypt. In fact reviewing his suffering before his brothers Joseph said this in Genesis 50:20: But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Moses spent 40 years in the desert before the Lord used him to lead Israel out of Egypt.
David fled from Saul for probably 10 or 12 years before He became the King of Israel. The Psalms tell us a good deal about the trials that he went through. God raises His people up after they have gone through trials and testing. God also brings down the proud and those who trust in riches or might.
When trials come your way do you request God’s help in prayer? The lord wants us to pray and seek His help. Often we pray that God would remove our trials. We should pray for wisdom and grace. God will remove the trial when we have learnt and grown from it. Will you seek God’s wisdom in the trials and struggles of life? God has promised to give it to those who ask.
Tonight we have seen how to turn trials into triumph. Firstly, we should Rejoice that God is in control of them. Life hasn’t been unfair to us. Secondly, we should Recognise that He has a plan to conform us to Christ’s image. Trials are working for us not against us. Thirdly, we should Remain there until God brings us out. We need to let the trials produce their work, spiritual growth, patience. Fourthly, Let us ask God for wisdom in our trials because God wants our trials to make us better not bitter.
Jude 24-25: Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, And to present you faultless Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, To God our Savior, Who alone is wise, Be glory and majesty, Dominion and power, Both now and forever. Amen.