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Sep 25, 2016

Stress Tests

Stress Tests

Passage: James 1:1-12

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: James

Keywords: character, humility, joy, maturity, mind-set, perseverance, trials, wisdom

Summary:

This message looks at 4 things God calls us to do when we are in difficult, stressful and trying places in life. It extols the virtue of perseverance and looks at how to develop that in our walk with Christ.

Detail:

Stress Tests

James 1:1-12

September 25, 2016

 

            How many of you ever feel like you’re getting beat up by life’s challenges and difficulties? 

            How many of you would say that this is what you expected when you first put your faith in Jesus and became a Christ-follower?

            We’re in a new Sunday series from the book of James.  Jesse did a wonderful job launching us into this study last week.  He introduced us to James’ teaching that God actually designs trials and tests in our life, not to get us to fail, but rather to strengthen us for not failing when we encounter battles, tests, trials and temptations in our journey of life. 

ILL:    It’s akin to what happens when blacksmiths of previous centuries forged a piece of metal into a superior weapon, a sword. A good sword needed to be able to be strong yet not brittle.  To do that, swords need to have the right combination of iron and carbon as well as be forged by a skilled blacksmith. 

But good swords aren’t made on the battlefield.  They are prepared before the battle in the furnace of the sword maker.  Watch briefly the process a sword must go through to become a superior piece of metal that will be able to stand up to and beat the blows of an enemy.  And think about what God might be doing in your life to forge your life into a strong and resilient tool for His kingdom.

[See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUEw4eLdOGk]

Sword-making is a lot like character-building when it comes to God’s children.  This is what James is trying to teach us in the first half of this chapter.  So let’s start by reading this paragraph together this morning.  Would you please stand as we read it together?

James 1:1-12

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:

Greetings. Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 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. 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. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

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.

A quick reading of this passage may leave you wondering, “What on earth do all these different things like trials, riches, wild flowers and crowns have to do with each other?”  May I suggest that verses 3 & 12 function much like mirror image bookends on this paragraph.  I think James is trying to tell us that everything from our attitudes and mindset to money issuesand our prayer lives has a lot to do with the character of Christ that God is forging in every one of us.  That character of Jesus can only come to any of us through life experiences that require perseverance.  But actually believing and embracing even that simple truth is part of the process of becoming like Jesus Christ.    

            James is going to give us 5 things to DO when we find ourselves in “various trials” or “trials of many kinds” (vs. 3). 

            Jesse did a wonderful job last week of reminding us that “trials” here can mean ANY type of life experience that comes your way that you might naturally want to avoid but can’t.  It can be health issues (as it is with him and some of you right now).  It can be money challenges…or relationship problems…or just about anything.  In fact, what is a trial for me may look like a cake walk to you because God knows I need to mature a lot more in some particular area than you might need to mature.   

            That’s why James can say in vs. 2, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds….” 

First, this is written to “brothers and sisters.”  If you’re not a child of God by faith in Jesus Christ, you won’t be able to have the kind of confidence James is talking about.  If your life isn’t surrendered to God, I can assure you that trials and trouble in life are there to do 1 thing—bring you to that place where you cry out to God for help and realize you are a lost sinner who needs Jesus to save you.  (“Next Step packets >> trust in Christ)

As Jesse reminded us last week, the “pure joy” here doesn’t mean that Christians in the midst of trials will have no response other than joy, as if we were commanded never to be saddened by difficulties.  James is talking about the intensity of this “joy” rather than the exclusivity of only joy.  There is a deep-seated positive emotional experience that can only come to followers of Jesus in the midst of negative and tough experiences. 

While people without Jesus may come to recognize certain valuable things that come to their lives and character because of difficulties in life, they can never arrive at the depth of soul-satisfying joy that can be the Christ-follower’s experience. 

            This gets to a question Don asked me a few weeks ago when I was talking about the “happiness of holiness.”  He asked me if I believed that only Christians could experience the “happiness of holiness” or whether non-Christ-followers could experience some measure of the same happiness IF they actually practiced practical holiness in their attitudes and acts too.  That’s an important question.  If you walked away from those weeks on holiness with the idea that Christians are the only ones that get happiness when they live in a “holy” way, that’s a mistaken notion. 

Holiness (right, good, righteous character and actions) always brings us deeper into happiness…even when we’re not a follower of Jesus.  The problem is, non-Jesus-followers don’t have a new heart given them by Christ.  They don’t have the Holy Spirit striving in them all the time to move them to holiness.  And they may not have a very good grasp of what attitudes and actions lead to holiness since they lack a submission to God’s declared will and word.  But they certainly can get tastes of joy whenever their choices and attitudes and motivations correspond with God’s holiness. 

James is reminding us of this bedrock Gospel truth:  that deep, ongoing, overriding satisfaction and joy in life comes, not by the absence of difficulties and trials but by the presence of difficulties combined with attitudes and actions that lead us into deeper life in God.

This singular truth can revolutionize every experience in life if we let it. 

  • Every difficult and painful relationship will hold opportunity for joy and growth.
  • Every physical or health challenge…
  • Every financial hardship or situation…
  • Every psychological or even emotional abuse situation…
  • EVERYTHING….good or evil…can lead me and you into deeper joy and emotional bonding with God.

This is the miraculous, redemptive power of God in life.

But HOW???  Let’s go to James 1 for that answer.

#1. Hard life experiences (trials) can lead us into great personal development when we “get our head in the game” about joy (vs. 2).  When a coach yells at a player to “get your head in the game,” what are they calling that player to do?  They are telling them to focus. They are telling them to start thinking smart about what’s unfolding on the field.  The same needs to happen to all of us when we’re dealing with life difficulties. 

Let me illustrate it this way.

ILL:  Traveling through the Puget Sound area this past Thursday coming back from Olympia with Yohannes.  That area of the state is filled with a lot of emotion for me.

  • I went to college in Tacoma and have a lot of deep, emotional and relational memories from that stage of my life. Almost all of them are positive.  I loved my college experiences for the most part. 
  • I have former college roommates from both Tacoma and Portland who live in that area.

I just found out a couple a weeks ago that one of them has gone through a divorce recently.  I was sad for days when I heard that—sad for him, for his wife, for their now-adult boys, and for the fact that while I feel a close bond with this brother, I wasn’t even aware of the depth of his struggles the last few years. 

In addition, when I drove through another suburb of Seattle where a different former housemate lives, I found myself getting more sad by the mile. This godly brother is a man I deeply respect.  But for some reason, I’ve felt a growing distance from him over the past 12 years for reasons honestly unknown to me. 

Thankfully I had several hours of quiet driving to process my feelings of sadness. As I thought about things and talked them over with God, it became evident to me that I struggle with some deep feelings of abandonment in my soul.  Just realizing that I have negative (and unbidden) emotional reactions to feeling distant or estranged from people I wish I was close to is allowing me to ask better questions of myself that can lead me away from sadness and into God’s joy for my soul. 

            As I drove down I-90, God simply reminded me that He never promised that friends and even family in my life will never leave or abandon me.  The ONLY promise I have that won’t happen is from God himself.  And He is the only 100% Promise Keeper I will ever know.  It’s not that everyone else are liars. They just don’t have the power to always carry out their commitments because they aren’t God.  God is the only one in my life and yours that not only has made the promise, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” He’s the only one who can actually guarantee that regardless of what happens in life. 

            As I embraced that fact driving down the road, something happened in my soul.  A weight was lifted.  The sadness began to give way to quietness in my soul.  It didn’t make me giddy-happy.  But it did bring a settled-ness to my soul. And instead of being caught up in sadness, I was actually able to get out of my own pity-party and enjoy a great time with Yohannes the rest of the trip (after he woke up from a nap, that is!). J

Hard life experiences (trials) can lead us into great personal development when we “get our head in the game” about joy.  The truth about joy is that all of us will only find that kind of joy ONLY in God himself…in that unbreakable relationship He offers us in Jesus.  We won’t find it in any other experience in life.  And it can’t be taken from us through any experience in life, no matter how difficult, as long as we keep coming to Christ for our joy.

APP:  What life experience right now is robbing you or threatening to rob you of joy?  Can I encourage you to ask yourself this question:  What am I looking to this experience/person/thing to give me that only God has promised to give me?  What happiness, what security, what provision, what sense that life is O.K. am I looking to them to give me that really only God has promised? 

  • Confess that as idolatry…or confusion or misplaced expectations.
  • Choose to cling to the divine truth that only God can ultimately meet that longing by calling out to God.

Let’s keep moving.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

#2.  Get your head into the game about PERSEVERANCE:  It’s the ONLY WAY to maturity…especially spiritual maturity. 

ILL:  How long does it take for most children to learn to walk?  On average, babies learn to walk around the 9-12 month age.  But some kids can’t walk until 16 or 17 months. 

            I’ve been reminded of the LONG process it is for kids to learn to walk.  Our little granddaughter, Kalyra, is learning to walk.  She loves the mobility walking brings…but she doesn’t have the balance thing down yet.  So all of us are walking her around the house and feeling like we’re developing scoliosis…curvature of the spine…doing it.  J  The only way she’s ever going to walk on her own is by perseverance in learning to walk. 

If she ever decides she’s done trying before she learns, she’s going to become a teenager that crawls down the hall at middle school or slides on her bottom like a crab.  (Just for the record, I’m not worried that’s going to happen! J)

            But the day may also come, God forbid, when she is in some accident and suffers some brain or spinal cord injury requiring her to learn to walk all over again.  That’s what happened to a very athletic, very gifted young man in our college group in Portland one day.  Riding his bike down the street, he ran into a parked car and suffered a brain injury that left him in a coma for about 20 days and eventually required that he learn to walk all over again as an adult.  Both the 1st time as a baby and the 2nd time as an adult learning to walk required perseverance. 

            Spiritually, relationally, physically, you name it, perseverance is the ONLY route to spiritual maturity.  James uses the words “mature” and “complete” in this passage (vs. 4). Some versions translate those words “perfect”.  It’s not really the idea of absolute perfection where you never fail again.  But those words are stronger than simply “mature” as well. 

  • Someone may be physically mature without being emotionally or mentally mature.
  • Someone may be a genius but not physically mature.

James is talking about, all-around maturity wholeness and completeness as a person…especially in the soul-ish emotional and spiritual realm.

Only life trials have the built-in capacity to develop perseverance.  Ease doesn’t.  Opulence and wealth doesn’t.  Natural talent doesn’t.  Only perseverance does. Far more in life is attained by perseverance than by natural ability or talent.  That’s why God wants us to embrace trials, challenges and troubles in life because they have the unique capacity to lead us into PERSEVERANCE like nothing else can. 

APP:  So what is building perseverance in you right now?  What trial, what challenge, what trouble is inviting you to persevere?  To press forward despite the pain...even in the pain?  What friendship, what physical challenge, what family relationship, what church experience, what business challenge, what class…is inviting you to persevere?  Don’t run from it; embrace it!  Thank God for it.  Tackle it as a friend determined to help, not hurt, you.  We’ve got to “get our head into the game” about trials…and about perseverance.

            Now to verses 5-8.

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. 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. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

#3. In trials, learn to exchange doubt for wisdom-based faith.

Let me give you a simple definition for wisdom that may help us grasp this truth. 

Wisdom = God’s perspective on life.

This is why the Psalmist can say that, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding.”  (Psalm 111:10)  Solomon echoes that when he writes in Proverbs 9:10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning

of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”  You can’t see life from God’s perspective if you don’t think He exists…or is worth listening to…or isn’t truthful…or isn’t worth respecting.  But when you do properly “fear the Lord,” that’s when God’s perspective on life begins to impregnate our minds and hearts.  That’s when God’s view of life begins to affect our living of life.

            Again, wisdom starts with personal faith in God through Jesus Christ.  [Call to repentance and belief in Jesus.]

            Once we’ve become a child of God by faith in Christ, what you and I desperately need IN the midst of life challenges and trials is God’s perspective, not mere relief from those trials.  God’s perspective…His wisdom…will enable me to see trials, trouble, heartache, pain, suffering, everything from the one perspective in the universe that is accurate, true and life-worthy. 

ILL:  That’s what happened to me as I drove down I-90 this week.  Feeling the sadness of lost friendships, I simply asked God to help me deal with that sadness in a good way.  Lo and behold, he reminded me of His promise made many times in His word that HE would never leave me nor forsake me (Deut. 31:6, 8; Joshua 1:5; John 14:18; Heb. 13:5). 

Our greatest need IN trials is to really OWN God’s perspective …His wisdom.  And we won’t be able to do that unless we build a prayer-facilitated relationship with God. 

ILL:  One of the parenting experiences just about every parent has with a growing child is passing along wisdom that enables them to live life successfully.  Whether it’s learning to tie their shoes or learning to avoid or limit destructive relationships, parenting is all about passing wisdom. 

This is essentially what the Bible is all about.  It’s especially what the book of Proverbs is all about. It is literally “words of wisdom” from a father to his son about what really works in life. 

Every godly parent wants to see their child succeed at life.  While learning to do things “on my own” is a healthy thing for every child, it’s only healthy if they are learning to do it RIGHT rather than wrong…or in a way that isn’t harmful to them or others.  There may be multiple healthy ways to learn to tie your shoe, but that isn’t true when it comes to more important, more impacting life decisions like…what’s the right use of sex…or money…or marriage…or printed pictures…or my imagination.  Without God's perspective, His wisdom, on much of life, we won’t be able to handle trials or temptations in constructive, character-building ways.  We won’t even know what IS the right way.

So, what does James mean by verses 6-8?  Without getting lost in the forest of this passage, let me just say that James is warning against asking God to give you wisdom…His perspective on life…without having an overriding commitment to adopt that perspective, that wisdom, when God gives it. 

ILL:  We all know people who just can’t seem to make up their minds about something, don’t we? 

  • They go buy a piece of clothing…and then return it a week later because they really weren’t committed to exchanging that money for that item.
  • They get into a romantic relationship but then aren’t really committed to that person when the feelings fade a few months or years later and reality sets in that intimacy requires personal growth, sacrificial love and lasting commitment.
  • They take a job with a company but find out the second or third year that the company culture isn’t what they want so they jump at the next opportunity without really taking the time to find out if that next company is any better.

James is saying, “Don’t bother to ask God for wisdom if you don’t plan to be committed to it when He gives you His take on life.  That kind of asking isn’t going to get you a divine answer.  That kind of asking will leave you as tossed, as drifting and as lost as everyone without Christ is when it comes to living life wisely.” 

APP:  Do we really have that bedrock commitment to God’s wisdom/truth about life that causes us to embrace His guidance when He gives it? 

            Or are we still holding on to some “veto power” that says, “If I like God’s wisdom, I’ll take it.”  “If I agree with God’s perspective, I’ll embrace it.  But if not, I don’t have to do what God asks of me”? 

On to the 4th action point in handling life’s trials found in vss. 9-11.

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.

#4.  Learning to grow through trials involves learning to EMBRACE HUMILITY. 

At this point, James grabs that huge area of all our lives—our finances.  Everyone is somewhere along the spectrum from destitute to fabulously wealthy.  And the Holy Spirit has something to say to each of us wherever we are on that spectrum. 

Humble circumstances (poverty) >> high position/reality (of being in Christ in all eternity)

High circumstances (wealth) >> Humble reality (it won’t last…and neither will the world’s applause of wealth).

This in itself is God’s wisdom.  The world has always lied to people about values and eternity.  This world system tells us that you’re a winner or loser based upon how wealthy or how poor you are.  God says, “HOGWASH!” 

He says that being poor according to this godless worlds standards (usually wealth-based) can actually lead us to a better grasp of eternal perspective, eternal realities and eternal status in Christ.  When we don’t have the luxury of thinking we’re special or important because we have a lot of wealth, it’s going to be a lot easier to embrace the TRUE reality that being, living and dying “in Christ” makes us richer in eternal position and eternal reality than money ever can make us in this life.  That’s what the “trial” of poverty or a shortage of financial resources can do for us.  It can lead us to build our lives around our identity in Christ rather than our identity in “stuff.” 

Conversely, if we find ourselves with lots of financial resources, lots of “stuff” in this world, that has the capacity to remind us that “stuff” won’t satisfy.  Things won’t last.  This material world, including our own brief life, doesn’t determine our eternal condition or status.  Only our relationship with God does.  Only our life in Jesus Christ does.  Only what we do for God’s kingdom, with all we have, for this brief period of a lifetime, matters forever. 

APP:  This is why I have no qualms about challenging those of us who have financial resources to spend more and more of it in ways that change eternity rather than just amasses more “stuff” to leave behind when we die. 

            This is why I have no qualms about calling those of us who never have a lot of excess to give God the 1st and best of what we do have and to embrace the non-material riches we have in Christ that can fill our souls and hearts with more life than any non-Christ-following billionaire on the planet. 

            So, which group do you see yourself in today? 

  • If you see yourself as “poor,” what are you going to do to think and value and grow more in your “riches in Christ” than your poverty in worldly wealth? What are you doing to make your life in Christ more valuable and important to you than your sense of material poverty?  How will your “high position” in Christ help you feel legitimate pride at being so amazingly related to God? The fact that you are a son/daughter of the Living God, the fact that you are an heir to heaven itself, the fact that you have a place reserved for you in the very eternal presence of the God who made this amazing, vast, beautiful universe, should more than overwhelm to struggles and hardships of economic problems. 
  • If you know you are in the “rich” category James is speaking to, what are you doing to regularly remind yourself that your life is fleeting, that wealth is temporary, not eternal, and that increased economic resources bring increased accountability before God? What are you doing that helps remind you that when you stand before God and he tests your life works by fire…right next to the brother or sister that never had 1/100th of your wealth…that having greater wealth here could be a liability there?  Wealth in life is given to bless people, not build pride.  It’s meant to connect us to others, not isolate.  It’s meant to be used to make the Gospel of Christ both attractive and credible. 

Lastly, verse 12 sums it all up with these word. 

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.

            I don’t know what your idea of “blessed” is.  It’s different from and more than happy.  It carries the idea of being the recipient, the object, of God’s own love, goodness and grace… forever!

            Perseverance in loving God despite hardships, despite trials, despite suffering and pain…in fact, through all those experiences...will lead us to a life and eternity that is crowned with God-gifted “life” itself. 

The image here of “crown of life” is not some diamond-studded, gold, gaudy thing.  It’s of a simple wreath that was placed on the head of athletes when they won a race.  It wasn’t the crown that gave joy; it was what it represented.  It was the honor and joy and prestige that came with knowing you had accomplished something truly noteworthy, truly outstanding. 

            And this phrase “crown of life” might really be translated “crown that is life.”  Life in communion with God himself IS the crown of greatest value.  It IS the reward of highest joy.  And it is only attained by perseverance in the midst of pressures.  Perseverance under pressure is what has the greatest potential to grow much-needed love for God in our hearts. 

ILL:  Which kind of relationship grows love the deepest? The relationship that never requires sacrificial love, never goes through the fire, never calls for personal growth in selflessness and drops out or moves on to someone else when things get hard? 

Or does love grow in the relationship that has been tested by a host of different circumstances, through various crises, calling for faithful love over the long-haul? 

            NEG: Just take a look at Hollywood if you have any doubts.  Check out the bios of people like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie to name a couple of the wealthiest, most attractive, most acclaimed high fliers in the world.  See what a lack of perseverance in faithfulness, in marital fidelity, in Christ-like cherishing, of respectful love and of commitment to God’s truth will get you.  That story is written every day in the trail of broken families trying to find life in Hollywood’s definition of love.

            POS:  Story of Eddie the Eagle.

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.

            Life, in the best of times and the worst of times, is found in a persevering relationship with the Living God.  It’s all about learning to love God even when…especially when…life is tough.  That’s why God says to his church (Smyrna) in Rev. 2:10, “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.” 

APP:  Where in your life is God calling you into perseverance?  Have you accepted that call?