"Dealing with the Struggles of Life" - James 1:1-8
March 4, 2007 - Byron H. Hand
Charlie Brown builds a beautiful sandcastle, works on it for hours. Finally he stands back, looks at it. It’s wonderful. Just as he’s admiring it, a storm comes up and blows over all of his sandcastle. Now, he’s standing where his beautiful masterpiece was, on level sand, saying to himself, "I know there’s a lesson in this, but I’m not sure what it is."
One thing everyone here has in common is that we have had storms come and wipe out our sandcastles.
WE have all faced trials and have wrestled through the struggles of life.
Some our struggles are extremely tragic … some, by comparison, are less traumatic. But they are all real … the Bible refers to these struggles as trials.
Introduction: The term trials used in this verse means a “test,” and it is often translated “temptation” in other contexts. The trials in this case are the tests of faith that come from low-grade persecution from outside the church and from conflict within it.
Trials = struggles; adversity; affliction; sorrow.
Reactions to Struggles: Throw up hands and give up; anger; bitterness; turn to something to ease the pain; hostility.
3 Questions in Dealing with Struggles:
- How should I view my struggles? (1:2)
3 Observations on trials –
a) They are inevitable – “Whenever” not if - Scott Peck's book The
Road Less Traveled ... the first sentence is "Life is difficult." It is. It is inevitable that you will have
problems in life.
1 Peter 4:12 “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”
b) They are unpredictable – “Face trials” – Face = Literally to fall into unexpectedly – Trials are not planned. We seldom can anticipate the problems we're going to experience in life. That's probably good because if we could anticipate them we'd run the other way and we wouldn't get the benefit from them. We don't plan to have a flat tire, or a crisis. They are unplanned and unpredictable -- when we least expect them. That's what makes a problem a problem. Often it's inconvenient when you fall into it suddenly.
c) They are not all the same – “Many kinds” – Idea of multi-colored trials – They come in all shapes and sizes.
Some are minor inconveniences. Some are major crises. We have all kinds and shapes of
problems. They come in more than 31 flavors. Some problems are custom made and you know it.
Sign I saw this week: "Into every life some rain must fall, but this is ridiculous." Lots of varieties of
problems in our life.
Message: Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides.
Net Bible: My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials,
True joy does not come cheaply or as a fleeting, superficial emotion. Real joy is produced by much deeper factors than the circumstances that produce superficial happiness. If you are struggling through the negative circumstances of life, floundering in doubt and dismay, you have forgotten that genuine joy resides in the confidence that your life is hidden with Christ in God. In God’s providence, that joy and assurance can be most strong during a trial.
"Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials ..." v. 1. Don't misunderstand what he's saying. He's
not saying "Fake it. Put on a plastic smile, pretend, be something you are not" God never asks you to deny
reality. He doesn't mean some kind of psychological pump-up based on nothing. He's also not talking
about masochism. "Good! I get to suffer! I just love to suffer! I feel so spiritual when I feel bad!" He's
not having a martyr complex. We don't rejoice for the problem, we rejoice in the problem. We don't
thank God for the situation. Why would I thank God for evil? But I thank God in the situation.
The key word is count. It is a financial term, and it means “to evaluate.” Paul used it several times in Philippians 3. When Paul became a Christian, he evaluated his life and set new goals and priorities. Things that were once important to him became “garbage” in the light of his experience with Christ. When we face the trials of life, we must evaluate them in the light of what God is doing for us.
This explains why the dedicated Christian can have joy in the midst of trials: he lives for the things that matter most. We are to evaluate our trials on the basis of eternal realities.
1) That God is in control – Genesis 50:20 “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”
2) Trials are God’s special gifts to us – Psalm 55:22 “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.” - Hebrew literally reads “Commit to the Lord what He has given to you (or laid upon you)” - Word for burden literally is “that which is given (as a gift)”
3) God promises his deliverance and eternal blessing – Hebrews 12:2 “Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Victor Frankl, the Jewish psychologist who spent time in the Nazi concentration camp in Germany said,
"They stripped me naked. They took everything -- my wedding ring, watch. I stood there naked and
all of a sudden realized at that moment that although they could take everything away from me -- my
wife, my family, my possessions -- they could not take away my freedom to choose how I was going to
respond." You choose to rejoice in the situation.
Psalm 34:1 "I will bless the Lord at all times. His praise shall continually be in my mouth."
- What does God want to produce in me through my struggles? (1:3-4)
In order to use us, God sets in motion a plan for shaping us into the kind of people He wants us to be. Sometimes that means we experience awful pain, giving up what we want to keep, and going forward into areas we’d rather leave unexplored. But if we are going to be used by the Lord for His purposes, that process has to take place.
Our problems are purposeful … they have a point.
1) In my trials God wants to purify my faith
He uses the word "testing", as in testing gold and silver. You would heat them up very hot until the impurities -- the dross -- was burned off. Job said "He has tested me through the refining fire and I have come out as pure gold." The first things trials do is test our faith. They purify us. Christians are a lot like tea bags. You don't know what's inside of them until you drop them in hot water.
2) In my trials God wants to develop perseverance in me
Against great obstacles William Wilberforce, an evangelical member of Parliament, fought for the abolition of the
African slave trade and against slavery itself until they were both illegal in the British empire. The battle consumed almost
forty-six years of his life (from 1787 to 1833). The defeats and setbacks along the way would have caused the ordinary politician to embrace a more popular cause. Though he never lost a parliamentary election from age twenty-one to sixty-five, the cause of abolishing the slave trade was defeated eleven times before its passage in 1807. And the battle for abolishing slavery itself did not gain the decisive victory until three days before he died in 1833.
During those 46 years he battled illness (eye problems and ulcerative colitis) – He was bound to the one medication they had in those days to deal with the pain … opium.
He lost friends … forever … and those who sided with him lost as well.
Yet … he persevered.
3) In my trials God wants to cultivate my character/maturity
That's God's long range goal. His ultimate purpose is maturity. God
wants you to grow up. He wants you to mature. In the Christian life, character is the bottom line. So
many Christians I talk to have absolutely no idea of God's agenda in their life. They don't know what's
happening and as a result they are overwhelmed by their problems.
God's number one purpose in your life is to make you like Jesus Christ. God is much more interested in
building my character than in making me comfortable.
- Where can I turn for help in my struggles? (1:5-8)
Romans 12:12 “ Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”
Charles Swindoll once called wisdom “the God-given ability to see life with rare objectivity and to handle life with rare stability.” “When we operate in the sphere of the wisdom of God.… ,” Swindoll wrote, “we look at life through lenses of perception, and we respond to it in calm confidence. There’s a remarkable absence of fear.… We can either lose our jobs or we can be promoted in our work, and neither will derail us … because we see it with God-given objectivity, and we handle it in His wisdom.”
More than a century ago, on the streets of Port Hope, Ontario, a man could be seen walking along carrying a saw and a sawhorse. One day a rich man from across the street saw him and said to a friend, "He looks like a sober man. I think I'll hire him to cut wood for me." "That's Joseph Scriven," the friend replied. "He wouldn't cut wood for you. He only cuts wood for those who don't have enough to pay." And that sums up the philosophy of Joseph Medlicott Scriven, a devoted member of the Plymouth Brethren Church, who took the Sermon on the Mount literally.
Scriven was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1819. He fell for a lovely young woman, but on the eve of their wedding she accidentally drowned.
Scriven never recovered from the shock. The Irishman began to wander, hoping to forget his sorrow. At age 25, he finally settled in Canada.
His faith led him to do menial tasks for poor widows and the sick. He often worked for no wages and was regarded by the people of the community as a kind man, albeit a bit odd.
He later fell in love again and planned to marry a wonderful Canadian woman. But again, tragedy struck. His fiance died after contracting pneumonia.
In 1855, a friend visited an ill Scriven and discovered a poem that he had written for his ailing mother in faraway Ireland. Scriven didn't have the money to visit her, but he sent her the poem as an encouragement. He called it "Pray Without Ceasing." When the friend inquired about the poem's origins, Scriven reportedly answered, "The Lord and I did it between us."
Scriven never intended for the poem to be published, but it made its rounds, and was set to music in 1868 by musician Charles Converse, who titled it "What a Friend We Have in Jesus."
Scriven died in 1886 (ironically, in an accidental drowning). In his memory, the town of Port Hope erected a monument with this inscription from Scriven's famous song: In His arms He'll take and shield thee. Thou wilt find a solace there.
What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear.
What a privilege to carry, everything to God in Prayer.
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry, everything to God in Prayer.
Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged; take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful, who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness; take it to the Lord in prayer.
Are we weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge, take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee? take it to the Lord in prayer;
in his arms He'll take and shield thee, thou wilt find a solace there.
A woman complained to her father about how difficult her life had become. "What can I do about it?" she asked. He said, "I will tell you, but first I need to show you something." He took her into the kitchen and set three pots of water to boiling. He put carrots in the first pan, eggs in the second, and tea bags in the third.
After the water had boiled for awhile, he asked his daughter to examine the contents of each pot. He had her cut the carrots, peel the egg, taste the tea.
She asked her father what this meant. He said, "Each of these teach something about facing adversity. The carrot went into the boiling water hard but came out soft and weak. The egg went in fragile but came out hardened. The tea turned the water into something better."
He then asked his daughter, "When you find yourself in hot water, which will you be? Will it make you weak? Will it make you hardened? Or will you turn adversity into triumph?"
Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when test and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and show its true colors. (James 1:2-3 The Message)