Today begins a new Fall sermon series on the Book of James in the Bible. And this first message answers a universal question: how should I view hard times, trials, and what could they produce positively in my life? There’s actually a formula in James 1 to help us in the midst of trials.
We’re beginning a series of messages from the Book of James. It’s like a New Testament book of Proverbs, the Lowes of the New Testament, full of practical, real life situations. Do you like real? Guaranteed, everyone will get something to take home and use if you’ll apply it.
First, some background.
The author of the book is James…you already knew that. But did you know that of the four men named James mentioned in the Bible, this particular one is the half brother of Jesus? And the leader of the home base church in Jerusalem. So James, not always a believer, became a believer in his Brother and a leader in the early church. You have some street cred if you grew up with Jesus and He was your half brother.
He writes to those “scattered abroad”, meaning believers who were dispersed throughout the Roman world because of the persecution that came beginning with Saul, or Paul as we commonly know him. It’s full of commands. As a matter of fact, it’s a good Bible study to pick out the commands of James. And if this is the Word of God, which it is, we realize something: that for our own good, God is telling us “do this.”
Interestingly, because it’s so practical and because it talks about faith without works being dead, Martin Luther had a hard time with this book. He called it a “right straw-y book”. Mostly because Luther’s life message was that we are saved by faith alone. Both were right, of course, and we’ll explore the faith without works thing in weeks to come.
So let’s read the first 8 verses of the book…
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, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. 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. 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.
Here’s a right up front observation:
This is ridiculous for people who don’t have a faith relationship with God.
Count it all joy, or sheer joy, complete joy, when you fall into various trials. What??
Ho boy, this is great! As you’re dealing with an illness, divorce, a job loss, or depression, or worse. Why would he say such a thing? Isn’t that a bucket of ice water on those struggling with something really hard?
Trials + Endurance = Trust
Trials come to everyone. There are seasons, for sure, but trials come to everyone. Their trials may not be your trials, they might be, but you will have your own twist on ones that are similar to some others. It’s not “if” but “when”. But right out of the gate, James tells us to do something, a command. “Count it all joy.” As in, consider what you’re going through an actual occasion for joy, for good. Really? You can if you look at what it can produce. James tells us that the whole object of trials can be an occasion for growth in faith. Faith is a precious commodity. Jesus often said, “Go your way, your faith has made you whole” or “Your faith has saved you.” Faith is the most precious commodity. With just a little of it you can move mountains. You can subdue kingdoms. Just read Hebrews 11 some time and see what many have done by faith.
Trials are the crucible of faith. Crucibles were vessels heated to the point where they would melt metals and ores. Under that intense heat all the “yuck” that was imbedded in the precious metals would come out and up and a craftsman would skim all that impurity out. Then, as the remaining metal cooled, it was naturally more pure. If faith is so precious, it should be a joy to increase it. It’s just that the process is most often unpleasant. And the longer the term of the trial, the greater the patience or endurance you own.
Have you ever fished? When I was a kid my Dad used to take me fishing. Saltwater fishing is fun, lots more fish and lots more action. But freshwater fishing? Boring! So here we are as kids, my brother and I, and Dad. How many of you know that there was a difference in how we handled the waiting/testing period, kids versus Dad? So take an ice fishing trip we went on, for example. I might have been a genuine preteen. It was a Saturday. First there was the car trip up there. I was feeling kind of car sick, my Dad’s stale coffee and whatever wet dog smell that was in the car didn’t help. And when we got to the targeted lake, much earlier than normal kids were up, we got out the fishing gear – tip ups. So once we dragged the extensive gear out on the frozen lake to a spot that I didn’t choose, we got the gear out. And then the ice chopping began. We didn’t have a motorized drill then, so we had to chink away at the ice, often a foot thick, until we broke through and then widened the hole for fishing. Multiply that times the number of tip ups Dad could legally set up now that he had a crew of three. So then we would set the tip ups out and bait them with minnows. They were the only ones having a worse time than us. Then, once they all were set up we waited… and watched. Grass grows faster than tip ups move. We’d check the bait from time to time and hours would go by. We did have a glimmer of faith that there really were fish down there. We ate a soggy peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, sipped some of Dad’s warm, but nasty, coffee just to keep warm. And nothing. We skated. We followed cracks in the ice. We walked around the tip ups. After a while we just started walking away, looking for anything interesting and to stay warm. But Dad? He hung out, calmly, near the tip ups, and if we had shelter, he would sit just inside and wait. Most days on the ice there came a time where the fish were biting. Dad was right there because he had patience or endurance. He had been on many an ice fishing trip. And because he had a trust, he didn’t lose it. My brother and I lost it. We weren’t even there. But Dad had a trust that was built over lots of trials and was calm and patient, he caught fish and enjoyed himself.
The crucible of trials does that. Patient endurance through trials produces trust.
But what if I don’t know what I’m doing in the trial? Like which way to turn, which person to ask for help from, what I should say and when do I say it? The beauty of trials as a Christian, as someone with some faith, is that you’re never in the trial alone. You always have God and if you have God, you have all you need. Jesus plus nothing is everything. If you know that, even intellectually, you’ll ask Him. His promise here? I’ll give you what wisdom you need and I won’t say you should know that by now. Don’t you know?
The opposite is someone who doubts. (about God) He’s not there. He doesn’t care. He doesn’t see me. He’s not interested in my little life. What is that experience like in a trial?
We went to the ocean for vacation this summer. Man, so good, so beautiful and so warm! The waves were so perfect. But then there was a tropical storm that formed right off the coast where we were. It actually became the season’s first Atlantic hurricane. The next time we went to the beach, with winds from the tropical storm off the coast, we were in the sunshine, but there was a distinct difference in the waves. They were big, powerful and there were riptide warnings up. They were driven by the wind. But the jetty that ran out into the ocean? Not so much. Not at all, as a matter of fact. It was anchored to something in the storm. Faith is like that. Even in the most difficult trial, if you can stay anchored by faith and trust, you won’t be driven and tossed by the wind. Doubt turns you to the will of the wind, and you get tossed back and forth; two souls. Faith anchors you to God who never changes. And so it’s the most precious possession you can own.
God knows that. He doesn’t relish allowing you to go through trials. But the greatest commodity you can possess is a deep, abiding faith, trust, in Him.
2 Corinthians 1:8-10
For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us…
Paul and his team thought they would die. And God let them go through that, “that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead.”
Trials + Endurance = Trust or Trials + Patient Endurance = Faith and Trust
Going through a trial right now? No need to be a wave tossed, but a jetty fixed and steady, if you’re anchored to the One who walks on water. He is with you in the trial. But you need to let the trial produce trust; even down to your last breath. Tell Him: I’m learning to trust you alone. I have faith in You. I believe you’ll get me through. And then do what He says.