Several years ago, Edith, a mother of 8, was coming home from a neighbor’s house on a Saturday afternoon. Things were quiet – too quiet – as she walked across her front yard. Curious, she peered through the screen door and saw five of her youngest children huddled together, concentrating on something. As she crept closer to them, trying to discover the focus of their attention, she could not believe her eyes. There, smack dab in the middle of the circle, were five baby skunks. Edith lost it. She screamed at the top of her lungs, “Quick, children. Run!”
Each kid grabbed a skunk and ran.
Some days are like that, aren't they?
I had my own series of “Edith Days” this summer (see the post, “On The Doorstep Of My Seventh Decade.” I suspect you have had plenty of your own Edith Days as well. If you have “been there” or “are there,” James has good news for you. God gives you everything you need for enduring trials.
The Truth About Trials
Trials come — when (not if) you meet trials
James pulls no punches. He offers us no polite platitudes or pleasantries when it comes to life. Trials are coming your way. It's a guarantee. Jesus said the same, “In this world you will have troubles” (John 16:33). Ditto from Peter, "Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you” (1 Peter 4:12). Should we be surprised? Abraham, Moses, Joseph, Daniel, Paul . . . they were all students in TRIALS 101, life’s required course.
Trials come unexpectedly — when you meet trials
“Meet” is a tame translation. The word is actually the same one Jesus uses in Luke 10:30 (the parable of the Good Samaritan) to describe the man coming from Jerusalem to Jericho who “fell” among robbers. This unfortunate guy did not wake up in the morning thinking, “Today is my day to get mugged.” No, it was an unexpected encounter. We get that. Cancer, waywardness, marital difficulties, DEATH . . . all come calling when we least expect it.
Trials comes unexpectedly in a variety of ways — when you meet trials of various kinds
Each week our staff prays over the needs our church family shares over the weekend. I’m blown away at the challenges our people experience. Beautiful smiles can mask a world of hurt. The kaleidoscope of trouble includes anxiety, alcohol addiction, job-related challenges, cancer, cancer, and more cancer; pain, sickness, a deployed soldier in harms way, impending surgeries, friends and relatives far from God, and the uncertainty of the unknown.
How do we endure trials?
This is an important question. Some sectors of the Christian faith shout, “You will overcome in Jesus’ name!” Yeah, that's right, but you must first endure before you overcome, and the final victory just might not be until the final day. Paul struggled with his “thorn in the flesh” his entire life. Should you and I expect an exemption?
Gratefully, James does not leave us at the end of our rope! There is hope. God gives us what we need to endure.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. James 1:2-8 ESV
How God helps you endure trials
While James does not give us a "formula” for facing our trials, he does offer four very clear steps we can take to endure the tough stuff.
1. Celebrate it! “Count it all joy my brothers.”
“James, are you kidding me? Celebrate my trial?!” That's right. The original carries the idea of “whole joy,” “unmixed joy.” In other words James is saying, “celebrate that trial with joy, unmixed with grief.”
You might not like James right now. One thing is for sure, his words make no sense unless you understand “joy.” The “joy” James commands is not the belly laugh you get complements of Saturday Night Live. Rather, it is a good mood of the soul.
You know that good feeling you get when you exercise? Your body is aching, but you spirit is smiling because good things are going on inside you. That's the idea behind joy — a good mood of the soul, not because of what is happening to you, but because of what God is doing in you.
And what is God doing? He is building spiritual muscle — the staying power that helps you stand up under that load of trials rather than being crushed by them. Yes, God is maturing you. And you’ve been around long enough to know that maturity usually comes through pain, not around it.
2. Surrender in it. “Let steadfastness have its full effect.”
Sometimes I’m like the psalmist when trials come my way. I shake my fist waiting for God. “I don’t like this. I don’t deserve this!” I pout. Gazing at my problem and only glancing at God, i can't figure out why i have to endure this difficulty.
James suggests something different. He tells me to be like Jesus who said, “Not my will but yours, Father.” Jesus waved the white flag of surrender to His heavenly Father. He trusted that His Father knew best and was working out the best.
That is what James is telling you to do. He is prescribing a course of action for difficult times. Rather than pout and gripe and complain, get down on those knees and wave the white flag of surrender. Trust God that he is bringing good out of your pain.
You know He is! The gospel guarantees it.
Here is Paul’s argument: God has been thinking about you LONG before you ever thought about Him. He has been working on your behalf before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-10). He went to great lengths to do his best work on the cross when you were at your worst (Ephesians 2:1-10). So . . . do you think he’s going to somehow drop you now?!
God’s got this! He’s got you too. Your trial may not get resolved according to your timing or your version of “happily every after,” but He is working it out for your good!
3. Pray about it. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God.”
Sunday after Sunday I look out over a congregation enduring far worse than I ever have. I don't fully understand their pain! I don’t know the answers to every problems. But God does! That’s why James urges those enduring trials, “Ask God for wisdom!” The Psalmist said,
If God can create the universe out of nothing — and speak it into existence — how hard is my problem to him? Dwelling on Psalm 121 reminds me to change my orientation. "Tommy, stop gazing at your problem and only giving me a passing glance! Fix your eyes on me!”
Fixing my eyes on God does not mean I ignore my problem and pretend everything is okay. That's not God’s way. But when I seek God, when I ask for his help, he promises to give the wisdom I need to endure.
4. Share it. “Consider it pure joy my brothers."
Read those words carefully: "Consider it pure joy my brothers” or “brothers and sisters.” James is addressing individuals who belong to something bigger than themselves. In chapter five he will write, “pray for one another.”
Some folks mistakenly assume Christianity is a “me and God” thing. It’s not. Christianity, the way of Jesus, is a “me and God and you” thing. God has made us for relationships. The family of God is one of his great gifts. James reminds me to run to them — to share my challenges — when hurt comes my way. Yes, use discretion as to how much and how often I unload, but God has not made me (or you) to carry my burdens alone.
I love this picture of the California Redwoods. Some of these trees have stood for hundreds of years. They have endured high winds and challenging conditions — and survived — which is very interesting because Redwoods have shallow root systems.
But Redwoods have a secret. They interlock their roots with neighboring trees, and in doing so experience the power of connectedness. That is a picture of the church. Connecting with each other we get stronger. So don’t keep your challenge all to yourself. Share it with a trusted friend. Humble yourself. Ask someone to pray for you and with you. This is the way of Jesus.
Sharing our trials, praying for each others, brings an enduring power like that found in the Redwood forest.
Trials are going to come your way, but God is going to help you endure. And then he is going to go one step further — he is going to bless you for enduring.
Note: This post is a summation of my message this past Sunday. Click here if you want to view the message. Scroll to 35:55 when the sermon begins.
“Several years ago Edith . . .” I read that story from Charles Swindoll years ago. I have never forgotten it.