In Trying Times We Find Joy in God
The 12th Sunday after Pentecost
In Trying Times We Find Joy in God
Text: James 1:2-8, 12
Asher the Israelite is terrified. 2,000,000 of his countrymen are standing on the shores of the Red Sea. No one is ignorant of the predicament facing them. He remembers the looks the Egyptians gave as he left town carrying everything he could. Now Pharaoh and his armies are barreling down on them. In barely a day’s time it will all be over. Only God knows how many will survive, if any, after Pharaoh has filled his thirst for blood. The ones who do survive will be dragged right back into slavery by the end of the week.
Abraham’s mind is racing. God promised that a great nation would come from his descendents, but he had to wait 100 years to have just one son. Trudging up the hill with heavy feet and his only child in tow, the boy asks him where the lamb is that they will kill and burn when they get to the top. His heart sinks… God has told him that this little boy will be the only thing that is killed and burned that day.
Job hopes that he will never see another sunrise. Just one week before he was a whole man… but then it happened. His heart was broken, one precious piece at a time. In one day he lost it all; his enormous wealth, gone… his ten children, dead… What did the next morning bring? A body covered from head to foot in painful sores.
John is depressed as he walks out of his former boss’s office. He doesn’t remember much of the conversation; some stuff about how sorry his boss was to do this, but times are tough on everyone. All he could think about was, how was he going to tell his wife and four kids that no more paychecks would be coming? They were already living paycheck to paycheck, where was the next meal going to come from?
Carla is devastated. She stands on the other side of the window with tears streaming down her face and sobs wracking her body as she watches her 7 year old daughter undergo an incredibly painful bone-marrow transplant. The leukemia would not respond to the chemo… why should her little, precious girl have to go through this? Why can’t she be watching her daughter playing outside with other girls her age right now?
James says to Asher, Abraham, Job, John, and Carla, “Consider it pure joy…when you face trials of many kinds.”
They cut him off, “Excuse me? You want me to do what?”
James continues, “Because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything… Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”
This is how our loving God treats his children. He tests them. His tests are not confined to a 50 minute class period. His tests are often much more personal and complicated than any test you could find in a classroom or work place. His tests strike home and make us examine ourselves more deeply than anything else in this world. His tests involve everything from life and death to the most trivial aspects of our lives.
So how do you respond to God’s tests in your life? How do you feel about a God that gives such rigorous tests and calls them love? It’s one thing to say with James “Consider it pure joy” when someone else is undergoing trials, but how do you react when it is your job that is being cut? When it is your family that seems to be falling apart at the seams? When it’s your desk that those bills are piling up on with not enough money to pay them all? When it’s your child that gets sick? When it’s your husband that has a heart attack?
Do you cry out to God asking him “why?”! Does your life fill with worry and the feeling that it is up to you to take care of it all? Do you get angry at God because if you were God you would never treat people this way? Do you give up on God because in your eyes he has failed you and you won’t worship a God that fails you when you need him most?
Hopefully the very fact that you are sitting here today shows that you have not given up on God, because the very fact that God is testing you means he has not given up on you! The very worst thing that God could ever say to any sinner would be, “fine, have it your way! Live your comfortable life of sin and go straight to hell!”…
When is the last time you have heard someone who has it all under control, who is perfectly comfortable and happy, ask for help? It doesn’t happen, and when it comes to spiritual matters, to eternity, thinking we can do it on our own, thinking we don’t need help this side of eternity is a lethal mistake.
We need to be brought to despair constantly because without these humbling experiences we get so full of ourselves. Without God’s trials we break our arm patting ourselves on the back because of how good and great we are. We forget about God. In our sin we never lose the urge to play God, to get our own way, to do our own thing. Only when we suffer do we doubt our own strength. We remember our sin and need of a savior. And so God, knowing his creation, daily calls us back to him. He does this through his tests.
James says that we should find joy in our trials, “Because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James wants us to persevere, to remain with God, hold tight through thick and thin. When trials come into our lives and we remain with God, when our faith in him stands firm, we learn from experience the peace and joy that can be found in him no matter how bad things get. After we have learned this peace and joy in the face of troubles we are more likely to run to God when the next trial enters our lives, and so we mature as Christians. We turn to God and trust him in everything.
One of the first places I look when I am experiencing a trial in my life is Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 12. Paul begs God three times to take a thorn out of his flesh. What that thorn was we don’t know, but we do know it was one of these trials that God give to those he loves. God’s answer to Paul’s prayer… “My grace is sufficient for you. For my power is made perfect in weakness.” God’s trials are his way of focusing us on what is really important. God says to you and to me when we undergo trials, “My grace is sufficient for you.” In other words, “When have I ever failed to give anything to my creation according to my perfect and holy will?”
God in his grace has already taken care of our most pressing need. God the Father sent Jesus to die. His death gained eternal heaven for Asher the Israelite. His death gave Abraham the right to enter paradise. His crucifixion gave Job peace when he fell asleep. His resurrection gives John, Carla, you and me the promise of a Crown of Life. Knowing of God’s grace means that we know that no matter how bad things get in our lives the doors of heaven are open to us. We will live with God and every wound that this world can and will inflict will be healed. All our tears… wiped away by the very hand of God.
Heaven might be a long way off for some of us. It is true that knowing of Jesus death for our sins doesn’t necessarily pay the bills. It doesn’t always heal that broken relationship over night, it doesn’t always immediately resolve our most recent trial from God. Don’t worry though, the very same God who knows his creation well enough to know that we often need a slap in the face to turn from our selfish ways and trust in him, knows what we need for our daily existence as well. Jesus put it this way, “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
James puts it this way, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” Our loving God does not simply tell us to look to Jesus and ignore the problems that he puts in our lives. He generously offers gifts and wisdom to all who ask.
James does adds an asterisk to this promise however. “But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” James doesn’t want any of us to have the idea that it is simply a matter of saying the right words that causes God to give us gifts.
Our faith in God is like a vital organ. Just as it is impossible to breathe without your lungs, it is impossible to receive God’s grace without faith. Faith is the cup into which God pours his grace.
God tells you to pray to him in your trials. He promises that he will give generously to all those he loves. That does not mean that all our trials will work out the way we want. But we can be ok with that. Whose will would you really rather have done in your life? Your selfish, simple, human mind’s will that has no concept of how certain deeds will change your life, or God’s holy, all-knowing, perfectly loving will that has already taken into account how every single act can best bless his loved children? Just as we heard last week, God’s plans are bigger than ours…
In trying times, we find joy in our God. We have a God who has made many promised and he has kept them all! God has already given us the Crown of Life. It comes with our final breath. We have his promise that when we ask he will give to us lovingly, generously in his perfect and holy will. We can thank God for our trials because day after day we see his love and care evident in our lives. He does not just leave us in our sins, but he wakes us up to our need for help. Then he graciously gives help when we come to find it in him.
Asher the Israelite stands on the opposite side of the Red Sea. He can’t believe what just happened. He walked right through the lake on solid, dry ground and all of Pharaoh’s army is dead at the bottom.
Abraham is standing with his arm around his son watching a lamb, given by God, burn on the altar.
Job falls to sleep at night with a whole new appreciation for his new family, home, and health.
The best part of their stories… the crown of life was theirs in death. It waits for you. Have faith, your God will provide.