Anyone grow up with an older brother or sister?
Anyone grow up with an older sibling whom everyone else thought was perfect?
You went to class, and the first thing the teacher says to you is, “Oh, you’re so and so’s little brother/little sister…wow, we’re they great!”
You showed up at your first basketball practice, and the coach keeps going on about how your sibling was the best basketball player they ever coached”
And by the time you’re 18, you’re completely sick of your perfect, older sibling.
Now, imagine that Jesus is your older brother. J
“When Jesus was in class, he knew all the right answers, in fact, I just had him teach the class!”
This morning, we are starting a brand new series on the Book of James in the New Testament.
And James, is actually the younger, and half-brother of Jesus.
Mary is his mother, and Joseph his father (Jesus of course, the Son of God…and Mary)
James was a leader in early Christian church…but the Bible tells us that until Jesus’ resurrection, he was not a believer that Jesus was the son of God.
In fact, the Bible even tells a story where James and his other brothers try and get Jesus to stop acting “all crazy.”
That’s what you’re supposed to do for your brother when he all of a sudden starts saying “I am God”
And yet, after Jesus is brutally crucified, and 3 days later rises from the dead, James (his half brother) becomes one of his most ardent believers.
And a number of years later, James writes a letter to Jewish Christians, and that letter has now become the Book of James in the Bible.
It’s really an amazing letter, and a lot of Christians love it because it’s one of the most challenging & yet practical letters in all of the Bible.
‘We’re calling this series “More Than Words,” because James’ greatest emphasis in his letter is the fact that your faith has to result in action.
It can’t just be words on a page, or words you utter in church.
Your faith, if real, will always result in ‘more than words.’
It’ll result in action.
With that, let’s dive into the book.
We’re going to start right at chapter 1, verse 1…and go through the first 12 verses today.
Keep it open as we’re going to camp out here today.
(James 1:1-12) – NIV
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 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. 6 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. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.
9 Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. 10 But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. 11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business. 12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.
At first glance, James says some crazy stuff here.
And maybe at the front of that “crazy line” is his phrase: “Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials.”
“I’m sorry, what/!?!”
This is the exact opposite of how most in our culture react when we face trials.
We have a lot of emotions when we face trials:
Anger, pity, self-loathing, resentment…but somehow joy isn’t usually on that list J
So what is the Bible saying?
When you lose your job…when you’re trying to have kids but can’t…when your relative is sick…when you’re constantly stressed from all that pressure that’s on you…we’re supposed to ‘consider it joy?’
Well, first of all, we have to admit that we are not, as Americans, experts on this in any sense of the word.
Ajith Fernando, who is a great Christian leader/writer from Sri Lanka writes this:
The church in each culture has its own special challenges—theological blind spots that hinder Christians from growing to full maturity in Christ …. I think one of the most serious theological blind spots in the western church is a defective understanding of suffering. There seems to be a lot of reflection on how to avoid suffering and on what to do when we hurt. We have a lot of teaching about escape from suffering and therapy for suffering, but there is inadequate teaching about the theology of suffering (WHY do we suffer?) …. The "good life," comfort, convenience, and a painless life have become necessities that people view as basic rights. If they do not have these, they think something has gone wrong …. One of the results of this attitude is a severe restriction of spiritual growth, for God intends us to grow through trials.
So we must start with the idea that God can actually do something (He can grow us) through our trials.
That’s what verse 3 says, right?
“The testing of your faith (your trials) produces perseverance”
This is something I think you probably actually know to be true, but in the middle of a trial, we rarely believe it to be true.
Our pain blinds us from critical thinking
I’ve seen a few writers like John Ortberg use this exercise to prove this very point.
Imagine you have a child, and when they’re born, an angel shows up and hands you a script of what will be that child’s life.
The angel then hands you an eraser and says, “You have 5 minutes to take out whatever you want”
You read that your child will have a learning disability in school…reading will be hard work.
You read that your child’s best friend in high school will die of cancer.
You read that in college your child will date someone for 3 years, but then go through an incredibly heart-wrenching break-up at the end of it.
You read at 32, your child will get in a bad car accident, and it will prevent them from working for 2 years…and present them with a host of other difficulties.
What would you erase?
And what would happen if you did erase all of those trials?
Who would your child become?
The Bible takes this curious stance that maybe we shouldn’t want to erase suffering…and that suffering, that trials, actually produce perseverance.
If you never experience any adversity (maybe think of a spoiled, rich, trust-fund kid), you have no idea how to survive adversity when it comes.
In fact, let me read you a quick biographical sketch of someone famous, and you try and guess who it is in your head:
When he was 9, his mother died.
He lost his job as a store clerk when he was 20.
At age 23 he went into debt to be a partner in a small store.
Three years later his business partner died, and his resulting debt took him years to repay.
When he was 28, after dating a girl for four years, he asked her to marry him, and she turned him down.
On not his first try, but on his third try he was elected to Congress, at age 37
But then, failed to be re-elected.
His 2nd son tragically died at 4 years of age of Tuberculosis.
His 3rd son died when he was 12, of a fever.
When this man was 45, he ran for the United States Senate and lost.
At age 47 he ran for the vice-presidency and lost.
But at age 51 he was elected president of the United States.
His name: Abraham Lincoln.
And as you know, Abraham Lincoln led our nation through perhaps its darkest days…
And he did so with an unwavering perseverance.
He led like a man who wasn’t a stranger to suffering.
Like a man who wouldn’t back down or run away, just because times were hard.
And this should all cause us to ask an important question: What are the things (or events) in our life that actually cause maturity? Specifically spiritual maturity?
How is it that we actually grow?
Towards the end of his life, the impeccable writer Malcolm Muggeridge once said:
“I look back on experiences that at the time seemed especially devastating and painful with particular satisfaction. Indeed, I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in my 75 years in this world, everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my existence has been through affliction and not through happiness.” – Malcolm Muggeridge
It sounds crazy, right?
But let’s ask the question in a way that’s easier for us to understand:
How does a child grow?
How do you actually mature in your “growing-up years?”
How does a toddler learn to walk?
In part, by falling down.
Or by running right into walls and then learning that the next time, I actually have to have my head looking the same way as my body. J
How does a teenager learn?
Not by anything you tell them. Or not often anyway at that age.
Often, in our adolescence, we learn through pain.
It’s through the pain of their first break-up, they learn, that’s not the type of person I need to marry someday.
Or when a teenager comes home at 2am when you told them 11pm, what do you do?
Have a nice chat about where the clock is located on their cell phone?
You discipline them.
Why? So through pain/trials, they realize that poor choices have consequences.
We grow, we mature…in many ways through trials.
And most of us, honestly do get that. That makes sense to us.
But somewhere in the space between our normal lives and spiritual lives there lies a strange disconnect for us.
We say it’s normal for us to mature through pain and adversity, but then when I say the Bible says that “God wants you to grow spiritually through pain, we think: “Well that just makes no sense!”
Because we think, “If God has anything to do with my trials, then He must not be good!”
Do you see the intellectual disconnect?
Now, before we go any further, let me very briefly clarify that suffering and trials are, of course, more complex than all suffering is just God’s attempt to mature us…or God disciplining us.
Sometimes suffering is the result of evil.
Sometimes it’s the result of our own sin…or poor choices.
But even then, God can still use every trial (whether he ordained it or just simply allowed it) to shape us and mature us…if we let Him.
And see God, is like the ultimate spiritual director.
He is doing everything possible to help you conform to the image of Jesus the Bible says in Romans 8.
And so sometimes He’ll do that through putting something on your heart when you pray.
Often He’ll do that by enlightening your mind when you read the Bible
But let’s say God really needs to get across to you that He truly cares for you and is trying to comfort you, but you just don’t see it.
And you go through your prayers…but it’s just been a list for you lately, and you don’t hear him.
You read the Bible…maybe even go to a Bible study…maybe they even talk about God’s love…but it stops at your head before it hits your heart.
Now, let me ask you, as your spiritual director, as someone who’s trying to shape you to become like His Son, Jesus, what is Godsupposed to do?!?
So often, God uses different methods.
Let’s say you have a baby at home.
And you have a colicky baby who just won’t stop crying.
You try everything. I mean everything.
You try rocking your baby.
You try running around the room with your baby.
You try putting the baby in the car…
You try singing to your baby…your baby also doesn’t like Justin Bieber
And after weeks and weeks of this…and sleepless nights, you’re starting to go crazy.
You can’t function, you can’t think straight, you shouldn’t be able to operate a motor vehicle, and you can’t be kind to anyone…especially your spouse.
And one night, at 3am, you just cry out to God, “What’s the point of this, God?! Why are you even doing this?”
And you say, “All day long, I hold my arms out to this child, and they’re not happy no matter what I do…….”
And all of a sudden, it hits you like a ton of bricks.
God puts it on your heart…without saying a word.
It’s the same. It’s the same with you and God.
All day long, he holds his arms out to you…and no matter what He does, we just complain…we’re not happy.
And so through your trial…he teaches you.
When we won’t see it through normal methods, he’ll use abnormal ones.
One of the reasons that verses 5-8 tell us that we ought to ask God for wisdom, is that God wants us to ASK HIM why we are in this trial.
He wants us to take time to figure out what He is doing with our trial.
Otherwise we’ll miss what He wants to do in us.
CHANGE YOUR PERSPECTIVE (CONSIDER IT JOY)
That’s why in verse 2, James says, “Consider it pure joy when you face trials”
He says consider it.
We must do the work of reorienting how we think about suffering, and that’s hard work.
And I’ll tell you right now: You’re never going to change your perspective on your trials while you’re numbing your pain with Netflix or Neapolitan ice cream.
When you’re frustrated with what life has thrown at you, it takes discipline to stop…and consider what God may be doing or could be doing with this.
You may have seen this in the news 4 or 5 years ago, but there was an 85-year-old nun, named Margaret Geary who stayed at her convent near Baltimore while the other sisters were gone at a 3-day conference.
Shortly after they left, she came down from her room to the kitchen to get a snack. She went to the refrigerator, pulled out a jar of water that had celery sticks in it, and walked back to elevator, got on and pressed the up button.
Well, the elevator went up about two feet and then it stopped.
She tried to pry open the doors, and right then the electricity went out.
Then she realized, "Oh, don't worry about it, I have my purse with me and it's got a cell phone."
Except she couldn’t get a signal.
Then she started to panic…in her trial.
Then she realized this, and here’s what she said, "You know what, I can either panic or I can pray. And it looks like I'm going to be taking a three day prayer retreat and I didn't have to reserve the space."
When the sisters finally got back three days later and got her out of the elevator, they said, "What were you thinking? What was it like for you?"
She said, "Well, I finally realized God had provided for me an opportunity to draw closer to him….so I took it"
See trials and suffering are an opportunity for you.
An opportunity to complain…to wallow in your pain…to get stuck or run away.
Or an opportunity to ask, “God, what can you do with this?”
“How are you shaping, how are you maturing me here?”
This is a great question for you to think through:
When you get “stuck in an elevator” in life, what do you do?
Do you sit in the elevator frantic about what’s happening to you
Will you spend 3 days talking about the idiots who should have fixed the elevator…or the people who left you all alone and how it’s their fault.
Or do you just say, “God, I’m here…I don’t like it…I can’t change it…but what can you do with this?”
“How are you going to grow me out of this?”
PERSEVERANCE LEADS TO BLESSING
So much of life is about deciding what you’re going to do when you get stuck in an elevator
And it’s what you decide in the elevator that can help you develop perseverance…and develop maturity like our passage says.
But see, maturity is not a given just because you’ve had trials.
And THAT is precisely where the Bible makes a strong right turn from the way our world looks at the relationship of suffering and perseverance.
I think a lot of us have this notion that it works something like this: “If I suffer, then I will get tougher, and when adversity comes back, I will be ready!”
And that’s not the type of maturity through perseverance the Bibles speaks of.
It’s more like this:
Say you’re 17 years old, and you’re not so good at managing money yet.
And you spend too much without checking how much you have, and your bank informs you that your latest debit card charge has bounced.
You don’t actually have the money in your checking account to pay for your latest purchase.
It’s a frustrating experience for people because:
1) You didn’t have the money you thought you had
2) On top of that, now you have to pay a fine for it too!
3) It’s difficult because you have to figure out how to work this all out with the bank
It’s a frustrating trial because you feel stuck with a problem that you don’t really have the resources to solve.
Which is a great definition of a trial
And this how how trials can and should actually mature you…whether we’ve brought them on ourselves…or they were brought upon us.
Our reaction to trials shouldn’t be, “I’ll get even tougher…and no one will get the best of me again!”
No, that’s not growing you! That’s not maturing you.
That’s just forcing you into a deeper sense of self-reliance.
That’s not maturity because it’s not reality.
Our trials can make us more mature (as Scripture says) only when we recognize that these are the moments in life where we ought to say, “God, I can’t do this by myself, I need you”
It’s usually when we’re stuck in an elevator that God begins to strip away our false sense of self-reliance and reminds us that we are nothing without Him.
Just like it becomes clear to you that you can’t do anything yourself if you’re stuck in an elevator, our trials should make it clear to us that we can’t do this thing on our own.
We need Him!
And every time you realize you need Him…and every time you let Him in…you grow.
That’s what James is talking about!
I just finished the biography of the great theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed in a Nazi concentration camp just before the end of WWII.
And as a man who went through more trials than any of us, we ought to listen to his words on suffering.
He writes that too often we only encounter God on the ‘edges of our lives’…the “boundaries where human powers give out” he calls it
We’ve in a sense, resigned God to the “edges of our lives,” and we’ll only invite Him in for help only when we can’t first fix the problem ourselves.
But see what happen is: when we face trials (out on the edges), we realize that we need Him
And spiritual maturity is thus this: When you meet God out on the edges, and realize His goodness…and thus because of that…you begin to move Him in from the edges…closer to your center.
The space in which you rely on yourself…gets smaller and smaller, and God’s presence in your life…get larger and larger.
But that doesn’t happen unless you first, when stuck in an elevator, choose to consider how you could seek God in this.
And so the next time you’re stuck in an elevator…try to look at differently
Rather than just complaining…or taking it out on others…or running away (to a new job…or a new relationship…or you name it).
Consider what God might be doing.
Because if God has you stuck in an elevator, and you spend all your time complaining about the lack of food, pillows, and water, you’re going to miss what he’s up to.
But if you can see Him in the elevator, and you allow Him to work…you will grow.
He might not make you tougher…but he will make you wiser…
Wiser as to where real strength actually lies.
Let me pray.
Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN
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