When life offers no good options and no perfect answers, what are you left with? And more importantly, how do you move forward?
- Describe the last time you faced a difficult situation that left you feeling stuck. What did you do?
- Have challenges in your life ever exposed the authenticity (or lack of authenticity) of your beliefs? What did you learn about yourself in the process?
- Have you ever been a part of a religious or faith community that was focused on getting God to do good things for you? If so, what was your experience?
- Have you ever viewed a difficult situation as an opportunity to mature and grow as a person? Does this seem like a worthy goal? Explain.
- How would you define wisdom? Could pursuing wisdom and perspective help you get through a difficult circumstance? If so, what would be a simple first step?
NOTE: The following content is a raw transcript and has not been edited for grammar, punctuation, or word usage.
So, as you know, it is human nature to avoid the things that we don’t like, right? This starts from childhood, right? It’s human nature to avoid things that we don’t like: Vegetables, exercise, people who only eat vegetables, people who exercise all the time, people who dress like they eat vegetables and exercise all the time, whatever it is. And sometimes avoiding things we don’t like won’t hurt us, and then sometimes avoiding things we don’t like can hurt us. In the category of avoiding things that we don’t like that won’t hurt us, I was talking to Sandra last night. And one of the things that we avoid that won’t hurt us is scary movies. And I don’t know why, but neither us like scary movies. In fact, we decided last night, the last scary movie that we saw, and some of you won’t even think this was a scary movie, just to tell you where we are, was The Sixth Sense. Remember that movie back in 1999?
And I remember we watched that movie, and we were so freaked out by it, we muted so much of the movie and fast forwarded through so much of the movie, when we got to the end, we had no idea what had actually happened. Seriously.
Now, again, there’s lots of things that, if you don’t like them, you can avoid them and it won’t hurt you. But there are some things that you don’t like that if you avoid them, they have the potential to hurt you.
Now, this is gonna come as a surprise to some of you, and please don’t judge me harshly, but there are statements in the Bible that I don’t particularly like. And today, I need to talk about one. I would say, I wanna talk about one but actually I just need to talk about one. And the reason I need to talk about one is this particular statement answers a very important question. And it’s a question that’s relevant to all of us. The problem is, I don’t like the answer. And if you don’t like the answer to this question either, just remember this over the next few minutes, this is not my answer, this is not me speaking, this is somebody else. I am just the messenger. Don’t shoot the piano player. I’m just delivering the message.
Now, the question that the author is gonna answer for us is actually a question we’re all asking. Again, it’s just the answer that’s disturbing, but the question is this, “What do we do when there’s nothing we can do? What do we do when there’s nothing we can do? When it is what it is and we don’t particularly like what is” Which is now. Because for some of you, you’re not gonna be able to graduate publicly. For some of you, you’ve lost your income, you’ve lost your job, you’ve been furloughed from your job. For some of you, you’ve lost opportunity that’s not coming back. You were planning to retire, and you’re gonna have to put that off. In fact, you’re not sure you’ll ever retire.
You don’t like what’s going on right now because you’re alone. And then you go on Facebook or Instagram, and it looks like everybody else in the world has somebody, but you don’t have somebody. Or maybe you wish you were more alone. But isn’t it true that in the past few weeks for all of us, in the past few weeks we’ve all been confronted with our more sinister selves? That stuff in us that we weren’t sure was there? That stuff in us that we’re embarrassed about, but we’ve been confronted with it?
And we can’t wait for things to get back to normal or… Well, we can’t wait for things to get back to more normal. And I’ll tell you who can sympathize with you. Ben. Ben is being homeschooled for the very first time, and during a break in the homeschooling process, Ben wrote a little note and I’d like to share Ben’s note with you. Here’s what Ben writes. Ben, he’s being homeschooled, 3/16/2020, here’s what he says, “It is not going good. My mom’s getting stressed out. My mom is really getting confused.” Then he says this, “We took a break so my mom can figure this stuff out. And I’m telling you, it is not going good.”
You can relate to that. Maybe not specifically to homeschooling, but it’s just not going good. Maybe it went good for the first few days or for the first couple of weeks, but you’re kind of tired of this. And then along comes James, the brother of Jesus, with advice or instruction that, honestly, it strikes me as too passive and it strikes me as insensitive. And the reason it strikes me as insensitive is James doesn’t know what’s going on in my life. And James doesn’t know what’s going on in your life. That James is gonna give us advice without hearing our stories and that’s always a bad idea. It’s a bit like when you read in the New Testament where Jesus says, “Don’t worry about tomorrow. Don’t worry about tomorrow.” And you wanna raise your hand and say, “Hey, hold on a minute, let me tell you about what’s coming up tomorrow in my life. And then you tell me, ‘Don’t worry about tomorrow.'” It just seems so insensitive to give these big blanket, overarching statements, “Don’t worry about tomorrow.” And what James is about to tell us, well, it falls into that same category.
Regardless of how much I don’t like what James says and regardless of how much maybe you won’t like what James says, we would be fools not to take his instruction seriously. And here’s why. Because this is James, the brother of Jesus. And more specifically, this is James who was the leader in the church in Jerusalem during the first century. This is James who believed his brother was his Lord because he saw his brother crucified, and then he saw his brother after he rose from the dead. And this is James, the brother of Jesus, who led the church in Jerusalem, get this, for about 30 years.
His street cred for me is related to what happened during those 30 years. During those 30 years, remember, the church in Jerusalem was primarily Jewish. They were considered blasphemers, they were ostracized from society, they were ostracized from the temple, they were poor, were not supported by the temple, and things were very difficult for this group of people. And this was the group of people that James was responsible for leading.
So for 30 years, James carries this weight and he sees the difficulty and the trials that these Jesus followers are facing every single day; that essentially James, and this is what gives him credibility, James was surrounded by, and he was actually responsible for, a community in crisis. And with all that going on, here’s what he told his first century Jesus follower friends to do, and here’s what he tells you to do, and here’s what he tells me to do. James chapter 1, here’s what he says, “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,” this is amazing, that all these years later, James considered his brother his Lord. Now, what he says next, if you grew up in church, is pretty familiar, and I’ve taken this verse and I’ve reversed the order so that us English readers can get a better sense of what James is communicating. Here’s what he says next, and here’s the part… Well, it’s just not my favorite part of the Bible.
Here’s what he says. He says, “Whenever you face trials, whenever you face trials,” not if ever, whenever, you can’t pray them away, you can’t obey them away, you can’t faith them away. Trials are going to come. and the little Greek word translated “face” is a really interesting word. It carries the idea of being taken by surprise. In fact, it’s used in the context of being robbed in other Greek literature.
So he says, “Whenever you are surprised by trials, whenever you are surprised by trials,” whenever you wake up one day and oh, no, you get that call, oh, no, you get that information, your son or your daughter calls, or perhaps the doctor calls, oh, no, you’re faced, you’re surprised by trial, he says, “Whenever you face trials of many kinds,” here’s what we’re to do. And again, remember, this isn’t me talking, this is James. He says, “Whenever you’re faced with many kinds of trials, consider it,” that is, adjust your perspective, adjust your thinking, “I want you to rethink it,” James says, “I want you to reframe your trial as pure joy, my brothers and sisters.” Reframe or rethink your trial in such a way that you can begin to see it as a, this isn’t me talking, as a source of joy.
And how can he say this without knowing the circumstances of our lives? He hasn’t even heard our story and he says, “No matter what you’re going through, no matter what your trial is, I want you to step back and I want you to reframe it to the point where you can find joy in the midst of your trial.” Now, how can he say that? He tells us, he says, “Because,” he says, “because you know… ” He says there’s something you know that you’ve lost sight of because you’re in the midst of a trial. Of course you’ve lost sight of it. He says, “Because you know that when you stop to think about it, when you pause long enough to catch your breath, when you’re able to see beyond your immediate circumstances,” he says here’s what you’re going to remember, here’s what you’re gonna discover, “Because you know that the testing of your faith, the testing of your faith,” and what is a test? Testing means I’m gonna do something to ensure that whatever it is I’m testing is authentic and real.
Testing is the process used to determine the authenticity of something. And he says this trial that you’re facing, the trials that we’re facing are testing the authenticity of our faith; that trials, this is his point, that trials expose the authenticity of our faith. And the term faith in this particular context actually is referring to our confidence in God. So it could be restated this way, trials expose the authenticity of our confidence in God, don’t they? Right? I mean, this just happens. This isn’t a decision you make, this isn’t a decision I make. When I am surprised by a trial, immediately I discover something about my faith. When you’re facing a trial of any kind, using James’ terminology, immediately you discover something about your faith. You discover in that moment what you believe, what you really believe, what you were pretending to believe, what you were taught as a child but you never really embraced as an adult.
In that moment, without doing anything, your faith, the authenticity, the genuineness of your faith is being tested. It just happens. To put it another way, when circumstances begin to deteriorate, when circumstances deteriorate, artificial, counterfeit, and what’s-in-it-for-me faith deteriorates right along with it. You’ve seen this happen to other people, perhaps this is your story. And James is telling us, whether we like it or not, James says there is joy in discovering how real our faith really is. There is joy in the discovering that even though I wouldn’t sign up for what’s happening, in the midst of my trial, I’m discovering something about myself I could not discover any other way, you’re discovering something about yourself you could not discover any other way, you’re discovering something about your children, or your husband or your wife, or your brother or your sister that you wouldn’t discover and they wouldn’t discover any other way.
And this perspective of faith stands in stark contrast to some of the silly things that are taught sometimes by people who do what I do, some of the silly perspectives on faith. Specifically, faith, and this is so important, faith is not how we get God to do stuff. That’s not the point of faith. Faith isn’t a super power. Faith is simply confidence that God already did something. Faith is simply confidence that God is who God reveals Himself to be in the New Testament, and that He will do everything He’s promised, that faith is ultimately a response to God. It’s not a way to leverage God or to get God to do something He wasn’t originally intending to do. That’s not faith, that’s not New Testament faith.
And James says, “If you will step back for a moment, if you’ll catch your breath, if you’ll regain your perspective, there is joy in that discovery.” So, here’s what he says, “Whenever,” not if ever, “you face trials of many kinds consider that whole process, that whole encounter as joyful or pure joy, my brothers and sisters, because,” he says, “Here’s what you know, you just have lost sight of it, I’m reminding you, because you know that your faith is being tested and you know that the testing of your faith does two things: It demonstrates something, and it produces something. It demonstrates something and it produces something. It demonstrates whether or not your faith is real.”
And he says, “But there’s another benefit. It also produces something.” And here’s what it produces. He says, “Over time, the trials that you’re facing will produce perseverance.” Perseverance, you know what that is, it’s the ability to hold up, it’s the ability to hold up under pressure or under stress. In other words, he says, that trials, even though we don’t sign up for ’em, trials make our faith stronger, and trials make our faith stronger because trials automatically exercise our faith, trials exercise our faith muscle. The only way to make a muscle stronger is to exercise it, right? But of course, this is not an exercise you choose. This is an exercise that chooses you. I don’t choose it, you don’t choose it, it chooses us.
And then James says the most interesting thing, he says, “Don’t leave the gym early.” Well, that’s not exactly what he says, but that’s what he means. Look at what he wrote next. He says this, “And allow perseverance to finish its work.” In other words, don’t bail out in the middle of the process, and this is a really big, uncomfortable idea. I wanna see if I can explain this. Here’s what he’s saying, he’s saying, “Look, what God is doing right now through this trial is at the center of what God is doing in your life, and you don’t wanna shortchange the process or you will miss out.” Or to say it another way. The thing that we want removed, think about the thing you want removed right now from your life, the thing that you want removed is the thing that God has chosen to use. The thing that we’re trying to pray away or pray out of our life, which is completely understandable, is the thing that until God chooses to remove it, that God is using it. Or to say it a different way. The tension in our lives is at the epicenter of God’s activity in our lives. The tension in our lives is the epicenter of God’s activity in our lives, and I can prove it.
What are you praying about right now? Exactly. Isn’t it true? This trial, this difficult time that you’re going through, this thing that you wish would change, it has your undivided attention, and this is what you’re praying about. In fact, perhaps you haven’t prayed in a long time and suddenly you find yourself praying. Why? Because that’s what trials do. It exercises our faith, and it is the epicenter of what God is up to in our lives. That’s why our trials inform our prayers. So, James says this, “Look, don’t shortchange the process, don’t bail out on the process, don’t quit the process, and don’t stop believing, because there is an outcome.” And here’s the outcome. He continues, he says this, “Let perseverance finish its work so that you might be complete and mature, or so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” And he’s using a little play on words here. Here’s what he’s saying, he’s saying, “Let perseverance complete its work, so that you will be complete. Let perseverance, let the process play out, let perseverance complete its work so that you will be complete, so that you will have grown up faith.” And let’s face it, the only way to have grown up faith is to face the trial and to experience God’s faithfulness in the trial.
Now, James knows how challenging this is, and he knows that for many of us, and for many of the folks in his original audience, trying to imagine how something good could come from something so bad, how something good could come from such a trial is almost unimaginable. And James says, “I understand that.” So here’s what I want you to do. If any of you lacks wisdom, specifically, if any of you lacks the perspective you need to see this the way that God sees it, if any of you lacks the perspective to see that God is doing something in you and through you,” he says, “Here’s what I want you to do. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God for what? For wisdom. And He will give it to you generously, without finding fault. It will, in fact, be given to you.”
Now, here’s the problem. When I’m going through a tough time, I don’t want wisdom. I want relief, right? When you’re going through a tough time, you don’t want wisdom, you want relief. But James says, “Look, I understand that, but if you want God to choose what you are going through and you’re having a hard time seeing that there’s anything good that could come from this,” he says, “Lean in and ask God for wisdom.” This is a prayer that God will always answer, that you say, “God, give me your eyes to see this the way that you see it, give me your eyes to see me and my friends and my family and my work situation and my finances the way that you see it. Give me wisdom to see as you see.” And you know this, we’ve talked about this before. Oftentimes when we have the ability to see as God sees, we are more inclined to do as God says. James says, “And then you will have the perspective you need to persevere through what you’re going through.”
So, I wanna put it all back together, and then I wanna tell you a story about a friend of mine. Here’s what James says. He says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” Why? Why can we do this? He says, “Because you know this. You know that the testing of your faith, the testing of your faith demonstrates the authenticity of your faith. The testing of your faith also produces perseverance, the testing of your faith demonstrates that your faith is real, that God is faithful, and ultimately you will have stronger faith.” And he said, “And don’t bail out early, let perseverance finish its work. Don’t leave the gym early, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” But if you get to the point where you just can’t do it any longer, if you get to the point where you’re thinking, “God, if you are real, you’ve gotta demonstrate your love for me, I gotta hear something. I gotta know something, I’ve gotta see something I can’t see.” He says, “In those moments, don’t give up. I want you to ask God for wisdom.” He says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, the perspective you need to get through this, you should ask God who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”
Now, let me ask you this, have you ever met someone like this? Have you ever met someone or known somebody? Maybe you’re related to somebody who faced trials of many kinds, trials that they’re facing the trial and you’re thinking how would I respond if I were going through that. And you watch them walk through the trial with extraordinary faith and confidence in God. And I gotta tell you, and I think you would agree, those are the most inspiring, hope-giving, faith-giving people I’ve ever met, right? I am more inspired, or I should say, I’m most inspired by people whose faith is tested and endures. I’m more inspired by people who get a no from God, and their faith endures than I am by people who always seem to get a yes from God, and they live somewhat of a wrinkle-free life.
I mean, isn’t it true that you’re more inspired by people who get the no and yet remain faithful? And the reason you’re so inspired by them and the reason I’m so inspired by them is this, they leave us with confidence that there is a category of faith and there is a category of confidence in God that can endure just about anything: The people whose prayers go unanswered, but their confidence in God remains firm. I had a friend like that. His name was Regi Campbell. Regi Campbell passed away three months ago in January. I’ve known Reggie for over 20 years, and I gotta tell you, I had never seen an individual face and embrace his own mortality with more confidence and more courage and more faith than Regi Campbell.
Two days before he passed away, I visited him in his home. I’d been in his home many times, and I went into his home office and he was sitting there with his oxygen. And there was a white, a white marker board over in the corner of his office I’d never seen before, and across the top of the board were these words, “My commitment,” and there was a list of six things he had written out by hand on the marker board. Now, when I looked at the six things, I thought these were like maybe life goals that he had established a long time ago and he was maybe reviewing his life as he got to the end.
But they weren’t life goals, they were actually “finish strong” goals. He had just developed these a few weeks before to make sure this was what he focused on as he spent his last few weeks in this life. Now, the thing that was amazing to me is, most people don’t have a to-do list about how to live well. Regi developed a to-do list to ensure that he died well. And I wanna share with you what was on that board. Number one, he wrote, “I will walk with Jesus every day. I will walk with Jesus every day.” Wait a minute. Wait, Regi, wait. The Jesus that didn’t answer your prayer? The Jesus that has allowed you to go through so many trials? The Jesus that has not healed you? “I will walk with Jesus every day.” Wow.
Number two. “I will be grateful and live every day to the fullest.” In other words, he says, “As I leave this life, I wanna make sure I am leaning in up until the very end. I will be grateful and live every day to the fullest.” Number three. “I will bless my family with words, pictures and videos.” He wanted to make sure that his grandchildren would know him, not just know what he’d written, but know what he looked like. He left them messages. He put together a song list and playlist. Number four. “I will invest in my guys,” his… The small group of men that he had been developing and mentoring for many years, “I will invest in my guys for their good and God’s glory, not mine,” his point being, “Even though I’m dying, even though I’m receiving all kinds of letters and sympathy cards and all kinds of things,” he says, “This is not going to be about me, it’s going to be about them.” And then I wanna skip number five and come back to it.
Number six on the list was this. “I will let people love on me.” Now, I asked him about this, I said, “What is that about?” And he said, “I decided here at the end if people want to bring us food, I’m gonna let ’em bring us food. If people wanna love on us, I’m gonna let ’em love on us. If people wanna love on my family, that’s just my pride. I just wanna allow people to love on us.”
Now, that was a pretty powerful list, but I tell you, number five is the one that got to me. Number five goes right to the heart of what James was saying all those years ago. Here’s what Regi wrote, he wrote, “I will not give up and run out the clock. I will not give up and run out the clock.” This was his version of, to use James’ words, “I will let perseverance finish its work to my last breath.” I’m going to lean in, rather than sit it out. Here’s the thing. Regi’s faith did not, and this is so important, Regi’s faith did not reverse the consequences of life in a fallen world, and he was wide open to that. We all prayed for a miracle. You should pray for a miracle, but Regi’s faith did not reverse the consequences of life in a fallen world, and he did not expect it to, because he understood what faith is. Faith is not a super power. Faith is not how we get God to do something God doesn’t wanna do. Faith is a respond to the faithfulness of our Heavenly Father.
Regi’s faith actually produced, his faith produced perseverance and courage in the midst of a fallen world. And my friends, it’s why I’m telling his story.
And this is kind of the bottom line, that God will use whatever he chooses not to remove. Regi understood this. You know people who understand that, and James’ words, James’ instructions, are an invitation for all of us to step into this, to say, “God, use this until you choose to remove this. Use this until you choose to remove this, or life chooses to remove this, but use this to remind me that you’re faithful.
Now, here’s how James finishes this section of his letter. Listen to what he writes. He says, “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial.” That’s Regi. Maybe that’s gonna be you. Hopefully, that’ll be me. “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial.” Not praise it away, obeys it away, or faiths it away. “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial,” because having stood the test and having discovered that their faith is real, that person, listen to what he promises, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. And do you know what the crown of life is? Me neither. I have no idea. But it sounds good, doesn’t it? The point is simply this, that God values, God values and uses persevering faith, that God values and God uses persevering faith. And God has invited you, and God has invited me to step into this realm and to begin to see the trials that we’re facing every single day in this life.
Because here’s what we know with confidence. Persevering faith leaves its mark on the world and it leaves its mark on the people around us. We don’t choose the trials, the trials choose us. We don’t choose the trials, we simply choose our response to these trials. And James, this is so powerful, James invites us to lean in and to allow God to purify and strengthen our faith in the midst of what we would never choose. Now, here’s the thing, these current events that we’re all experiencing there that are impacting all of us differently, but they present all of us with the same opportunity. They present us with the opportunity to allow perseverance to finish its work so that we may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
So with that in mind, I wanna give you words to pray. Perhaps you’ve never prayed because you’re not sure you know how. This is a great time to start, and this prayer is a great place to start. I wanna encourage you to begin praying this, “Heavenly Father, use this until you choose to remove this. Heavenly Father, use this until you choose to remove this.” And if you cannot imagine how God could possibly use what you’re facing right now, then I want you to do what James tells us to do. I want you to ask God for wisdom, because James says that is a prayer that God will answer every single time.
So one more time. I wanna put it all together, and we’ll close with James’ words. Here’s what he said, “Consider it pure joy.” Reframe it in such a way that you can see the joy in it, my brothers and sisters. Whenever you face trials of many kinds, and here’s why, because you know, once you catch your breath, you know that it’s simply a test of your faith and a test of your faith produces perseverance, if you let it. So, let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, and not lack anything. But if you just aren’t sure you can get there, if any of you lacks wisdom or perspective, you should ask God, who gives generously to all, without finding fault, and it will be given to you.