Back in July my daughter and I climbed Mount Columbia which is 14,078 feet. We started around 9,500 feet. 4,500 feet doesn’t sound like much. We climbed six miles and 2,500 feet in about three and a half hours. It then took us three hours and 50 minutes to climb one mile and the last 2,000 feet. It was brutal. Climb 20 or 30 steps and stop. We got up to the summit only to discover it was a false summit. So we had to keep climbing. It looked like we were there. So we kept climbing. It took us another 45 minutes and we got to the summit only to discover it was another false summit and the real summit was about another 30-40 minutes of hiking. We wanted to quit.
Ravi Zacharias, a famous Christian philosopher travels around to college campuses to engage in debates with Atheists or other philosophers about Christianity and whatever topic may come up. I remember him saying that one of the most frequently asked questions is, “How could a loving God allow pain and suffering?” Now I know God was saying about our hike, “Don’t blame that on me. That’s not my fault. You’re the one who wanted to go climb a mountain.”
Just since I’ve been back the stories of trials and suffering people have within our church are staggering. I shared about my father-in-law being diagnosed with cancer and someone came up to me and said their spouse most likely has cancer. Another couple just was hit with a suicide of a friend. I just found out another couple went through a miscarriage. Another man lost his a son in a tragic death. That was just this past week. Add to that the ever present number of marriages that are struggling. People out of work. People recovering from divorce. People with banks threatening to take everything. And I haven’t even touched on the persecution the church is facing in this world. Christians being martyred for their faith. Losing homes. Being imprisoned. Anyone here about to quit? It’s too hard. It’s too painful? It’s gone on long enough?!
It does present a question about where God is and why, if He is a loving God, does He let these trials happen? Because He most certainly could stop them at any moment.
Background: We’re going to be moving through the Book of James in the coming months. It’s found at the end of your Bible. We’re not exactly sure which James wrote this. By far the strongest frontrunner is James, the brother of Jesus. God compelled James to write this letter to the, “12 tribes in the dispersion”. Who is that? Another great question that can’t really be answered with 100% certainty. The early church was often planted in synagogues around the middle east. And it could be that he was writing literally to these Jewish congregations that had converted to Christ OR he is using the 12 tribes more symbolically and including the Gentiles into the kingdom of God’s people. Regardless, it is a young Christian audience he is writing to about how to live as a Christian. To put it more succinctly, “How their faith should work out.”
V2: And what James starts his letter out with is “Consider it pure joy whenever you encounter various trials.” And we must understand that this isn’t just James, this is God saying to them and to us 2,000 years later, “Consider it pure joy when you meet trials of various kinds.” Let me encourage you to be very careful about when or IF you say this to someone because it’s the last thing any of us want to hear when trials and suffering come. Hey buddy, “Consider it pure joy.” Joy and trials in our human minds do not go together. Joy and trials. Trials are not joyful. They’re painful!! They’re awful. Dark. Sad. Nobody likes trials. Joy? Joy is awesome. Fun. Happy. Bright. Filled with light and laughter. Everybody loves joy. Trials and joy don’t go together any more than the Browns and a winning season…Consider it joy when…☺
TRIALS: James uses the phrase “trials of many kinds”. He leaves it wide open to include every trial out there. What are the trials we face? In the book of Job we have an excellent example of how our trials can come from Satan. Satan can cause trials of sickness, tragedies, death, and any number types of suffering. Trials of sin, whether ours or others, can bring all forms of suffering, pain, death and broken relationships. Another trial is the curse this world is under. It is against us and we have to fight and work just to survive. The storms of this world create sometimes difficult trials of suffering and loss. Our bodies, or minds, or emotions, or judgment can be broken because of this cursed world and simply not work. Trial of persecution for our faith in Christ is the last one. If nearly every Christian leader I have read is right, it is only going to get rapidly worse here in America. James doesn’t discriminate or pick out any particular type of trial. Name your trial. Name the suffering. Name the valley you are in and hear God say, “Consider it joy that you are going through these trials.”
CONSIDER IT JOY: Knowing the categories of trials still leaves us in this place where to the natural ears it sounds like crazy talk. We’re not supposed to consider it joy – we’re supposed to avoid trials at all cost, right? We’re obsessed with self-protection. Take the jungle-gyms off the playgrounds. Get rid of the merry-go-rounds. No more dodgeball. Make it a law to put warnings on a pack of cigarettes – Warning! Inhaling smoke is dangerous! We need a warning for that? Trials and suffering are to be avoided at all costs!!! And if you go through one, find someone who is at fault and sue them!
I’ve been reading a book by Larry Crabb entitled, “Shattered Dreams.” He talks about this idea that (see chapter 2 page page 31) God in his mercy comes along and through James demands we embrace what He [God] thinks of trials and suffering. It’s a radical shift from how this world looks at things. It goes to the core of why we’re alive and what our life-purpose is about. “As long as our purpose is to have a good time, to have soul-pleasure exceed soul-pain, God becomes merely a means to an end, an object to be used, never a Subject rightfully demanding a response, never a lover to be enjoyed. Worship becomes utilitarian, part of a cunning strategy to get what we want rather than a passionate abandonment to someone more worthy than we.” (pg 32).
PERFECT & COMPLETE: So what is deeper purpose of trials? Let’s skip to the end of verse 4 and then work our way back. Let’s read it.
God is using them to perfect and complete us, that we are lacking nothing. What James is saying is that God is not concerned as much with comfort as He is with our character and the condition of our soul. The reality is we’re all imperfect and incomplete. The question is what does “perfect and complete” look like? As we read through the New Testament, Romans 8 says we are being conformed to the image of Christ. Phillipians 2 says we should become like Christ. The goal of the Christian life is Christ formed in us. Us being like Him who is Perfect and Complete. And it’s in the middle of trials that what is us and what is Christ is truly shown. That’s why God allows trials and the suffering that comes with them.
Keep in mind this is the brother of Jesus. He saw Jesus suffer and die. He was there. These aren’t cheap words. He saw his brother – our Savior – tortured and yet He still writes, “Consider it all pure joy when you encounter trials.” I read this past week an excerpt from Mark Talbot who was partially paralyzed at the age of 17. He writes, “When things are going well for us we tend to believe that life’s ordinary goods can satisfy us. Ease and prosperity all too quickly seduce us into falling for the illusion that we have secured our own happiness and all we need is more of the same…When our lives begin to be significantly or consistently unpleasant, our quest for life’s ordinary pleasures tends to lose its appeal to us. Trials test the worth, the value, the power, the hope of things we lean on and go to. And it burns it all away leaving only Christ shining brighter and greater.” (Dr. Mark Talbot, unpublished essay entitled, “Meditations on Profound Christian Suffering”)
APPLICATION: If we are going through trials right now, do we really believe that the best thing that could ever happen to us is become more like Christ even if that means trials and suffering? Do we really believe that that’s what a loving God does? That He really does have our best interests in mind even though we can’t see it?
What is a relief is what James does NOT say which is, “We should handle the trials of life perfectly and completely.” I can’t tell you how many times I see how imperfect and incomplete my faith and responses are in trials. I find myself resenting trials. Complaining about trials. I can go days in a depression or bitterness and anger or defeat. Not again. Not another one. Throwing a pity party for myself. You know what I mean? And James comes along and jolts us awake saying, “Wake up! Keep the end in mind. You’re becoming perfect and complete in Christ. That’s the goal. So this trial should bring you joy because you know what? It will work.” Not the whacko, “I’m so happy for pain or asking God for trials.” But the deep, deep, deep sense of well-being that I’m not just going to be okay but this is good for me. Those quiet whispers from God that tells us we’re safe in His hands. That kind of joy that defies the logic of the world that. It’s the faith that we’ve worked out that says God’s reality and purposes and plans is the best thing EVVVERRRRR. And that faith and truth brings the ability to consider it pure joy whenever we encounter trials.
It’s with the goal and that joy in mind that we now understand the call to persevere or to be steadfast. Staying power. The ability to stick it out. Persevere. Don’t quit. I know in a room this large that some of us have quit. Some of us are ready to throw in the towel. You cannot do another day. You cannot do another conversation. You cannot do another appointment. You can’t do another day, week, or year. You barely know how you got here this morning. Others of you have quit and you’re ticked off and angry. You live in a stew of resentment about the trials you’ve been in. You’re not alone. God’s not writing this because there were a few pathetic Christians who couldn’t handle it. He wrote it because He knows how hard it is. He knows! He sees you right now. He’s calling out to you. Hold on. Persevere. Seek Christ and just take the next step.
That moment when Payton and I realized we had more climbing to do was devastating. We both felt the defeat of that moment. We seriously talked about whether we could go on. But we slowly put one step in front of the other. That’s all perseverance is. One step at a time.
Crown: James writes another thought a few verses later about persevering. Let’s read chapter one verse 12. The crown of life is eternal life that starts now and is culminated in Heaven. I have a scene much like the Olympians receiving their medals. Only we will be before Christ who will reach and place a crown on our head. God doesn’t just give out crowns. It’s one of the highest honors from God. But for those who consider all trials a joy and persevere knowing that they are being perfected and completed to be like Christ…they will get His honor. James is saying, “God won’t miss it. He won’t forget it. He won’t blow it off. Jesus sympathizes with us. He knows how hard it is. He’s lived our trials and just like those men and women of faith in Hebrews He will honor us. It’s an image of intimacy with God and participation with Him.
CONCLUSION: How do I persevere with joy in my trials?
Surrender. It’s all I got. Give up the anger, the resentment, the bitterness and call out to God. Help Me! Where’s the joy?! Where is the perseverance I need because I don’t have any! Call out to Him and tell Him you give up trying to manage the pain and instead ask him, “Perfect me. Complete me! Do you your work, Jesus.”
Get close to the older generation that has walked with Christ. Look around there are some people who have walked with Jesus for their whole lives and ooze that joy. Just be around them. Tell them you want to quit. Ask them how they do it. Pray with them. Maybe just fall apart with them. They’ve been there and you’ll find Jesus and new joy and perseverance.
Some of you are in a trial not from God but of your own decision. It’s become your identity. We would rather stay in self-pity – becomes our identity. Looking for pity. Stuck in that place and thinking pity and self-pity is a better substitute for joy. The joy has gone out of your life. God would have you leave that false-identity behind. Instead, let Him work in you.