Whacked by the World
2 My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; 4 and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.
5 If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. 6 But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; 7, 8 for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.
9 Let the believer who is lowly boast in being raised up, 10 and the rich in being brought low, because the rich will disappear like a flower in the field. 11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the field; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. It is the same with the rich; in the midst of a busy life, they will wither away.
12 Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.
Perry the parakeet was peacefully perched in his cage, perhaps thinking about birdseed and female parakeets when disaster struck. Perry’s owner decided to clean the bird’s cage with a vacuum cleaner. She removed the attachment from the end of the hose and stuck it in the cage. Her cell phone rang, and as she reached into her pocket to get it, she inadvertently moved the vacuum hose the wrong way, and swoosh, poor Perry was sucked in. His whole life flashed before him as he went down this big black hole.
His owner gasped, put down the phone, turned off the vacuum, and opened the bag. There was Perry--alive but stunned. Since the bird was covered with dust and trash, she grabbed him and raced to the bathroom, turned on the faucet, and held Perry under the running water. Then, realizing the bird was shivering, she did what any compassionate bird owner would do, she reached for the hair dryer and blasted the parakeet with hot air.
Well a reporter heard about Perry’s adventure—with the vacuum cleaner, water, and hair dryer—and wrote up the story and it got quite a bit of attention locally. So a few days later the reporter contacted the parakeet’s owner to see how Perry was recovering. "Well," she replied, "Perry doesn’t sing anymore. He just sits and stares."
Now when I read that story on the internet, I burst out laughing. He doesn’t sing anymore. No wonder. The poor bird was sucked in, wet down, and blown over. He will probably never sing again.
“Sucked in, wet down, and blown over”--That sums up how all of us feel sometimes. We are told to think positive, to feel good about ourselves, then we get whacked by the world.
At a base where I was stationed ages ago when I was in the Air Force, a chaplain had a sign on his door that said, “If you have troubles, come in and tell me all about them. If you don’t have troubles, come in and tell me how you do it.” I do not think he had any takers with regard to the last part of the sign, because we all have difficulties, hard times, problems. In v2, James says, “Whenever you face trials of any kind.” Not if you face trials, but when you face trials.
However, the Christian does not have to be a victim of circumstances. We can live victorious lives, even in tough times. James says we can have a Joyful Attitude. Verse 2 again, “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy.” James says, take stock of your situation, consider your situation. Investigate fully. Add up all the pros and cons. Look at the facts of your troubles or trials.
Of course, this is exactly what most people do not want to do. If they are having difficulty, the last thing they want is to analyze the difficulty. They may say, I already feel bad about this; thinking about it is just going to make me feel worse.
But we might ask, why is this happening to me? I am a believer. The preacher told me that God is on my side. So why am I whacked by the world. The simple answer is we do not know the mind of God, and we often do not understand how God is working to bring about his will in this world. Sometimes what we think of as trouble may be a blessing in the long run. That might be, but we do not know. We know that Jesus said it rains on the just and the unjust alike. Cruel mean people have troubles, but the most blessed saint of God has troubles also.
Problems come in all stripes and sizes. Sometimes we are the source of our own problems. My wife tells me that she has students at school who do not study and don’t half try on tests, then they cannot figure out why they fail. Well, duh. There are adults like that too. They act in self-destructive ways and cannot figure out why they have problems. But having said that, that is not all. Sometimes bad things happen to people who do not deserve such consequences.
We suspect that the book of James was written after what Jewish scholars call the catastrophe of the first century. In the sixties, the Jewish rebellion against the Romans was totally crushed. Many Jews were killed, others were enslaved, and still others were driven out of Palestine. This would include Christian Jews. In v1, James addresses his letter to the “twelve tribes of the dispersion.” We suspect that he means Christian Jews who were now living in exile. Through no fault of their own, they were driven from their homeland, and probably lost much of what they owned. They were now trying to make sense out of life in some foreign place. Through no fault of their own, they were in the wrong place at the wrong time and catastrophe came upon them.
That happens. We think of the people who went to work in the World Trade Center that day, when the planes crashed into the building. We think of those who lived in New Orleans during Katrina, or of those who lived in McCellanville, SC during Hugo. These kinds of trials are unexpected. You do not find them, they find you.
What then is your response? James says, “consider it nothing but joy.” The Apostle Peter also says, “In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (I Peter 1:6-7).
Peter is saying the same thing as James. These trials are only to test your faith, and thus to improve your faith. Peter uses the illustration of Gold. As fire tests and purifies gold, life tests faith. So if your faith remains strong after being tested by fiery trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day Jesus is revealed to the whole world.
When a gold prospector brings his ore sample into the assayer’s office to be tested, the sample itself may not be worth more than a few dollars, but the approval, the official statement about the ore, is worth millions. It assures the prospector that he has a gold mine. God’s approval of our faith is precious because it assures us that our faith is genuine, and that is worth more than millions.
Thus, trials work for our benefit because God approves of our faith when we trust Him through the trial. Trials rightly used help us to mature. They give us endurance, which is the ability to keep going when it is tough to keep going.
We have all been on journeys with little kids. And the kid asks, “Are we there yet?” We reply no, we have x miles to go and it is going to take awhile. A minute goes by. The kid asks, “Are we there yet?” We reply no, it going to take awhile. Another minute passes, the kid says, “Are we there yet.”
The child is too immature to understand the journey. Immature people are often impatient –– they want the blessings of maturity without walking the road of growth.
The only way for us to develop spiritually is through trials. When we go through the fire, when we trust God and obey Him in difficult times, the result is patience and character.
This is why we can face trials with a joyful attitude –– we know what trials will do in us and for us –– that the result will be a victorious life.
So we should evaluate our goals and priorities and Live for the things that matter the most. We should look to the result. Job said, When God has finished with me, I shall shine as gold (Job 23:10). And indeed we shall.
There is an old saying, Outlook determines Outcome, or Attitude determines solution. But Job, and James and Peter have reversed this. As believers, we know the outcome. Christ is coming. Outcome determines Outlook. Because Christ is coming, we rejoice, and we live victoriously even now.
In verses 3-4, James says, “Because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” We have faith; James is speaking to a people of faith. He says your faith is being tested and this makes you a better person. Our faith is always being tested as we live on this earth, and that is sometimes hard, but it is not necessarily bad.
This testing of our faith shows us something. God has a goal for our individual lives. God’s goal is to develop spiritually mature people. Most people like children, most people like babies. I have seen people stop women with baby carriages on the street just because they want to see the baby. And that is good. But it would be a tragedy if babies always remained babies. Babies need to grow into children and teenagers and adults. That is the natural course of things. We need to grow up spiritually also. We grow by being tested by the trials of life. We are tested as individuals and as churches.
James 1:9-11 explores this truth with two classes of Christians –– the poor and the rich. God’s testing has a way of leveling us all. It is not our material resources that are going to get us through the trials of life, but our spiritual resources.
So, when the unexpected trials of life land on our doorstep, how are we to respond? How do we pray? Verse 5 is our answer: “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly.”
We should pray for wisdom. Wisdom is more than knowledge. Someone has said that knowledge is the ability to take things apart, while wisdom is the ability to put them together. Wisdom is using knowledge rightly. Why do we need wisdom when we are going through our trials? We might think we ought to pray for power, strength, or deliverance, but we need wisdom so we will not waste the opportunities God is giving us to mature. Wisdom helps us to use these circumstances for our good and God’s glory.
Take an example, one day a farmer’s mule fell down into a well. The animal cried piteously for hours as the farmer tried to figure out what to do. Finally, he decided the animal was old and the well needed to be covered up anyway, and it just was not worth the effort it would take to retrieve the mule, so the farmer invited all his neighbors to come over and help him. They all grabbed a shovel and began to shovel dirt into the well. At first, the mule realized what was happening and cried horribly. Then, to everyone’s amazement, he quieted down. A few shovel loads later, the farmer finally looked down the well and was astonished at what he saw. With every shovel of dirt that hit his back, the mule was doing something amazing. He would shake it off and take a step up. As the farmer’s neighbors continued to shovel dirt on top of the animal, he would shake it off and take a step up. Soon, everyone was amazed, as the mule stepped up over the edge of the well and trotted off.
Here is the lesson: Life is going to shovel dirt on you. The trick to getting out of the well is to shake it off and take a step up. Each of our troubles is a stepping-stone. We can get out of the deepest wells just by not stopping, never giving up. Shake it off and take a step up. That is wisdom.
Or we can leave the mule and return to the bird. When life treats you like Perry the Parakeet, keep the faith, rejoice in the presence of the Lord, and keep on living victoriously. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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