Skip to main content

Living in Difficulties with Great Joy

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.
-James 1:1-4 (NIV)


Do you ever have times when it seems like everything is broken?
It seems like all of life is discovering brokenness.
Broken things, broken people and broken relationships.

Will things ever be fixed?
When one thing gets better, it seems like a new problem arises.

Why is this happening to me?
I would prefer to avoid difficulties.
I look for a way around it, or above it.

The way of wisdom and the way of wholeness is to take on and go through difficulties that meet us.
If we turn away from difficulties that face us, we are stopping the maturing process that God has for us.
Difficulties are where God grows us.  This is is why we are happy when a difficulty arises.

I am saying 'difficulty', but the text from James says 'trials'. Some translations say 'temptations'. The CEB has 'tests' and The Message has 'challenges'. The Passion Translation has 'difficulties'.

I prefer 'difficulties' or 'challenges', to describe the brokenness of life: things, situations, people and relationships. The other words may fit you better. That thing you are facing is a temptation and also a test and a trial and a challenge and a difficulty.

The word 'trial' is about something that is trying to us or testing us or 'putting us to proof'. In other words, proving us. It is like a person saying that an object is made of metal and not plastic or wax. To prove it, the object it put into heat. The metal is proved to be metal and if it is plastic or wax, it melts and is proven to not be metal. That is a trial.

When we go through difficulties, our faith is proven real. There is a secret about faith.  It only gets grown through difficulties. There is an equation here that says faith plus difficulties equals perseverance.

The goal is not just faith, but maturity and completeness. Perseverance is a part of maturity and completeness. Faith alone, without perseverance, means lacking maturity and incomplete.

James is strongly echoing Jesus when he says that faith must be tested. There is never a question of what saves us. God saves us and we believe it and that is faith.

But then our faith is always tested, tried, or tempted. These trials are difficulties and challenges. When we face them, growth occurs inside us and we become more mature and complete.

And a secret behind this process is that with every difficulty, challenge, trial, test or temptation that comes against us; there is a gift from God. The gift is the provision that God has placed there for you, next to that difficulty. It is not an escape hatch or an ejection seat, but a grace package from the Father (James 1:17).

I long for things to be made whole. 
I am learning to live in brokenness. 
These two things are 'the life'.

Difficulties stretch us. 

Our lives today, with difficulties, form us to become who we need to be tomorrow.

I am longing for wholeness and living in brokenness.

I have been thinking about a book called, "Love, Acceptance, and Forgiveness", by Jerry Cook and Stanley C. Baldwin.  In the book, they talk about how the church ought to be a place where people become whole.

Their message is that God loves, accepts, and forgives people.  We often do not love, do not accept, and do not forgive people; including ourselves.

The seventh chapter (p. 103-119) deals directly with the text from James that I quoted, about difficulties.  The authors list these as difficulties that Christians encounter:
  • Criticism: Learning to give receive constructive criticism.
  • Sensitivity: Learning the distinction between being sensitive to others and taking offense.
  • Divisiveness: Learning to have differences without dividing over them.
  • Traditionalism: Learning to live from Christ for the sake of others, as the center; and making traditions peripheral. 
To me, these four represent common ailments that Christians have today.


The message from James is: "Now that you are a Christian, you have a lot of problems".

As a pastor and a teacher, James preaches about how to navigate your challenges.  James has a very commanding voice.  His letter is the bossiest book in the New Testament. See Jeffrey Kanz's post on this (2nd place goes to Joel).

James is a 'how to book'.  Do you want to know what to do?  James has 54 commands of what we should do.  Timothy Sparks made a list, here.

In this beginning section of James, the commands are:
  • Consider it pure joy
  • Let perseverance finish its work
If you choose to not take James advice or obey the commands he gives, then what are the consequences?  I ask this because we are a people who get a lot of advice, but sometimes do not take it.  Our Christian culture is a culture where advice or commands or bossiness abounds, but the follow through is very small.

In most churches, we have a lot of sermons.  A person stands up and tells us something.  It is sometimes something we already know.

And often that something we already have heard before is something we are not doing.  The preacher's job is to tell us something we usually already know that we are not doing.  Nothing has changed since James pastored his church and preached to them.

Imagine that James is a collection of his sermons, in newsletter form.  The problems Christians were encountering, who were scattered far and wide, were the same as those who lived in Jerusalem.

The people had difficulties: problems just like we do today.

And the way life worked then and today, is that we have problems and then we have to decide how we will navigate them.  James says, "You have problems".  Awareness is the beginning.

Okay, I have problems.  Now what?  How do I escape?

James says that you do not escape your problems.  He says something that sounds like the opposite.  He says to celebrate the fact that you have problems.

This is verse number two of a lengthy sermon/letter.  He does not tell a joke or tell a sentimental story, to warm his audience's hearts; but immediately gives what we would call, 'a hard word'.

Can you already tell that this is Jesus' brother?  Does he remind you of Jesus?  What is ironic is that James did not recognize that Jesus was the Messiah, before he died on the cross and rose from the dead.

James became a believer, after Jesus rose from the dead.  He was a late adopter, when the truth had been right in front of him.

James was written to Jewish Christians that realized Jesus was Messiah, but many other Jewish people around them did not and perhaps gave them a hard time.  That might be the number one trial that the original readers of James were going through.

People got saved and became Christians, followers of Jesus.  That is really good.  The negative side though, was that many of their kin, did not not get saved, but became antagonistic to these believers in Jesus.

Circumstances, that are negative, stretch us to touch God.  Our lives today, with the troubles, form us to become who we need to be.  God uses trials to shape believers into people that will glorify Himself.[1]

The theme of James is: How shall we live as servants of the Lord Jesus Christ?[2]  Serving Jesus is the theme of our lives.


James begins his letter with a piece of advice.  He says, that it is a great thing that you have troubles, challenges or trials in your life, because these are an opportunity for you to grow in joy.

This sounds very paradoxical, because difficulties are the opposite of joy.  He is saying that your difficulties are an opportunity to grow in joy that you should celebrate.

How can this be?  This does not make sense.

Here is what I think James had in mind.  When our lives are not working well,  and it could be any kind of troubles; we simply must turn to God.

Christians live in the paradox of total dependence on God and the stewardship of our lives.  In our covenant relationship to God, we are totally dependent while being totally free.  In our freedom, we are completely wedded to God.

We live in the tension of being set free, but being in need.  When troubles come, of any kind, they are an opportunity to connect deeper with God and become authentically joyous.

There is something called 'strangely encouraged'.  That is when something bad happens, but you have a measure of joy in the Lord.

What God wants is to form us into being like Jesus.  When things hurt or when we are irritated or discouraged, our job is to turn to God.

With every negative, there is a positive.  When something bad happens, God has something good for us to receive.

When things happen that are unpleasant, we may ask, "why?"  We might reason that we do not deserve it or we may assume it is happening because we do deserve it.  But many things happen to us, not because we do not or do deserve them.

Conversely, many things are related to cause and effect.  We do one thing and it makes us vulnerable to this other thing happening.  

But what if you don't do anything wrong, and in fact you do a lot of right things, but bad things happen to you.  Cause and effect is not the answer.  

"Why?", is usually the wrong question.  "What?" is a better question.  "Who?" is the best question.

"What is life about?"  "Who loves me?"  "What is God doing?"  "Who is God making me to be?"

These are the ultimate questions.



The way of wisdom and the way of wholeness is to take on and go through difficulties that meet us.
If we turn away from difficulties that face us, we are stopping the maturing process that God has for us.
Difficulties are where God grows us.  This is is why we are happy when a difficulty arises.

When we go through difficulties, our faith is proven real. There is a secret about faith.  It only gets grown through difficulties. There is an equation here that says faith plus difficulties equals perseverance.

The goal is not just faith, but maturity and completeness. Perseverance is a part of maturity and completeness. Faith alone, without perseverance, means lacking maturity and incomplete.

And a secret behind this process is that with every difficulty, challenge, trial, test or temptation that comes against us; there is a gift from God. The gift is the provision that God has placed there for you, next to that difficulty. 

This is the secret of trials, temptations and difficulties:

Joy from God.

Embracing the brokenness is the doorway to Joy.

Surrender to God.


I long for things to be made whole. 

I am learning to live in brokenness. 

These two things are 'the life'.

Difficulties stretch us.   In the stretching, we experience uncommon joy.

Our lives today, with difficulties, form us to become who we need to be tomorrow.

I am longing for wholeness and living in brokenness.

With great joy.





______________________________________
Footnotes:
1. Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes On James
2. George M. Stulac, James; p. 30

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Two Disciples and The Two Donkeys

When they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus gave two disciples a task.  He said to them, “Go into the village over there. As soon as you enter, you will find a donkey tied up and a colt with it. Untie them and bring them to me.  If anybody says anything to you, say that the Lord needs it.” He sent them off right away.  Now this happened to fulfill what the prophet said,  Say to Daughter Zion, “Look, your king is coming to you, humble and riding on a donkey, and on a colt the donkey’s offspring.”  The disciples went and did just as Jesus had ordered them.  They brought the donkey and the colt and laid their clothes on them. Then he sat on them.
-Matthew 21:1-7

On what we call Palm Sunday, Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem. But, he had two disciples get two donkeys: a mother donkey and her colt. Jesus rode the young male who had never been ridden before. In his carefulness and perhaps kindness towards these two donkeys, he had th…

God's Secret, Hidden People

(The children) of Elam 1,254.  -Ezra 2:7

Do you feel hidden?

The name Elam means secret or hidden.  Do you feel like you are on the shelf, not being used by God?  Maybe you are part of God's secret agents.

God has people who are in secret.

I have this idea that God has His attention on secret people.   I believe that God has rewards for secret people coming.  You may feel on the shelf, but you are actually hidden for a special purpose.  God has you in reserve.

The number one thousand, two-hundred, and fifty-four; tells us God's plan for his hidden, secret, and in reserve children

One thousand speaks of recompense.

Recompense means that you will be compensated or made amends to, due to harm or loss you suffered. In Genesis 20:16 is the story of Abimelech recompensing Abraham and Sarah.

Two speaks of fellowship, partnership, and co-laboring (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).

There are hidden people who have felt like they are "going it alone", who are about to be joined by someone.  …

God Will Always Bless Your Rest, by Graham Cooke

Graham Cooke:

"So in Genesis 2, by the seventh day, God completed his work which he had done and he rested on the 7th day from all his work he had done, and then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it he rested from all his work which God had created and made.

God will always bless your rest.

Always.

Since I learned rest, there has never been a time when God has not blessed that rest and honored that rest and sanctified my rest.

In other words, set aside peace for me; set aside rest for me.

So, for me, therefore, when God blesses something and sanctifies it and sets it apart; what that means is rest is always available as an absolute essential for life.

So, every circumstance you encounter already has rest in the issue.

No matter how hard, no matter how harsh, no matter how difficult, no matter how awful; every single circumstance has rest, because it's the one thing that God has blessed and sanctified, in terms of his relationship with you.

So, it'…