Faith in the Everyday World (1): Growth Opportunities
Scattered Among the Nations
Starting over is never an easy thing. We have had to start over a couple of times in life and every time we did, it brought with it challenges and uncertainties.
Starting over again may be a physical relocation to a new place, maybe even a new town. Other times it may involve a new reality such as a new school, a new relationship, a new employment arrangement, or even the loss of someone near and dear.
In these times of great change also comes great uncertainty.
What will come of me? How will life be from now on? Will God be with me in what is up ahead?
With this great uncertainty comes an even greater desire to rely on our faith and to find our moral compass in a sea of change.
This is not so much in terms of will I believe what I always believed but how will my beliefs guide my actions, choices and decisions in this new reality of mine?
How will my faith provide a moral compass in this new reality by pointing me to the true North Star?
If any of what I have said resonates with you then the Epistle of James will provide you with a practical hands-on-guide when faced with a new reality.
James is an incredible book filled with spiritual hints and tips in times of great uncertainty in life.
James isn’t so much a theological book as it is a practical one.
It has less to do with doctrine and what we believe, and more with how we live out faith in the everyday world especially during times of upheaval and change.
In fact, James follows a group of people who were facing probably some of the most uncertain times of their lives.
Notice how he starts his letter. He writes this “to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations.”
This was during a time of great persecution so the phrase “the twelve tribes” was code for those who were running away so that the authorities wouldn’t figure it out.
The key here is “scattered among the nations”, which basically describes the reality of their new lives as people literally scattered into the four winds as a result of the persecution they were facing.
Some of you know what it means to be scattered among the nations! Some of you have made incredible journeys through hills and valleys to come to where you are today.
And for some of you it still feels as though you are being scattered among the nations, as the winds of change buffet you from one place in life to the next.
You don’t have to be a refugee fleeing for your life to be scattered among the nations. Uncertainty and change is everywhere in life.
It can take on many forms, from a sudden sickness, to a new employment reality. It can be the separation or the passing of a loved one. It can even take the form of a new baby coming into the family, or having to go to a new school.
Facing the uncertainties of life is what it means to be scattered among the nations! Who of us hasn’t felt or experienced that?
Truth be known, when you are being scattered among the nations, then the last thing you want to do is read a theology or doctrinal book.
No, you are looking for something common sense, something hopeful and some way of finding your way to the North Star in this new reality of yours.
This is why self help books are such bestsellers. People want to figure out how to make sense of life’s uncertainties.
This is also what makes James such a brilliant book, because it does provide the compass that points to the North Star!
And it is also precisely the reason why his book had gotten him into trouble among the Reformers.
When Luther and his contemporaries translated James into the vernacular of the people, they felt that it was very light on doctrine and absent of references to Jesus.
In fact, Luther banished James to the back of his Bible just before Revelation because in his mind it was a frothy, light little jingle.
While it’s true that there are no references to Jesus other than in the salutation, and that the references to Lord refers to the name of God and not Jesus with the Heavenly Father as the book’s focus, it is nonetheless an amazing book of common sense faith in the every day life.
“James concern is not doctrinal (which he seems to assume) but ethical – how the Christian faith is to be lived on a day-by-day basis.” James: Faith at Work, Serendipity House
In other words, it is common sense faith for the everyday world.
Consider It Pure Joy!
When it comes to common sense faith, the first thing James tackles in these opening verses is this sense of loss of control that so often happens when things go sideways in life.
When James talks about “whenever you face trials of many kinds”, he is in reality talking about when things go sideways in life.
There is a sense of loss of control when we face trials of many kinds and we end up at the mercy of the circumstance. It’s like being buffeted by the winds.
A sudden sickness will do that to you, as will the death of a spouse, a forced relocation, or sudden unemployment, or even financial collapse.
There is nothing worse than the sense of losing control. There is something about us that makes us want to be the masters of our own destinies and to be in control of our own ships.
Gaining control is precisely what James says in these verses needs to happen.
Not in as many words; you won’t find him saying that. But when you read between the lines that is precisely what he says.
When James says to: “Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds”, he is talking about gaining the upper hand in the crazy circumstances of life.
Where do I see that? I see gaining the upper hand in the word “joy”.
It is actually a particular kind of joy. Not the goofy joy of liking trials but joy because of an anticipation that this can be turned around for something good in my life. “The joy James is talking about is not just a feeling; it is an active acceptance of adversity.” Serendipity House
The joy comes from coming to a place of an active acceptance of adversity instead of passively letting things simply wash over you.
We are not a people given to fatalism where whatever happens happens, but instead we look for the silver lining, the lesson learned and the upper hand gained.
You see, life’s school of hard knocks that can leave many spinning out of control in circles, is actually the means whereby we become stronger and better people.
Testing Develops Perseverance!
Look at what it says: “Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” vs. 3
I am feeling joyful and hopeful because I am not rolling over when waves wash over my boat, but instead I use this to develop perseverance in my life!
Perseverance is a character trait critical to personal success in life and it is a character trait in incredible short supply in our times!
But just look at what perseverance actually is:
“Perseverance is overcoming difficulties, it is facing pressures and trials that call for a steadfast commitment to doing right and maintaining a godly life.” Lawrence Richards
Notice some of the key phrases that describe perseverance in that quote such as overcoming difficulties, facing pressures, steadfast commitment and maintaining a godly life.
Doesn’t that, in some ways, remind you of resilience, toughness, tenacity or even a bullheadedness where you just keep going regardless what comes your way?
That’s what perseverance is! It is an incredible character trait that causes us to succeed in life.
You can be swamped by waves, battered by the wind, bruised by the elements, but that little ship of yours just keeps on going.
Nothing throws you off course and nothing rocks your boat.
Lawrence Richards calls this “a strong commitment to doing right and maintaining a godly life.” I call that perseverance! No matter what, you stay the course!
The exact opposite of verse 6 where it describes an unstable person as someone who “like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.”
Yet how many people are like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by whatever wind comes along?
How many people are like rubber dinghies, where all is well as long as the sea is calm, but as soon as the sea churns the dingy blows off course, or worse yet, capsizes.
The problem is that life is not a calm sea but an angry ocean and it is perseverance that gives us a steadfastness that keeps us on course.
Mature And Complete!
The million-dollar question, of course, is how do trials and tests develop perseverance?
There is a strength that can emerge through repeated exposure to the elements.
Think about it for a moment, isn’t a weather-beaten thing stronger than something always babied and tucked away somewhere?
If nothing else, the elements will quickly expose weaknesses early on that can be fixed and attended to.
Just like a car. Unless you expose it to various conditions how will you know what it is capable of and where its weaknesses and flaws lie that require special attention and fixes?
The same is true with us in life’s unpleasant circumstances.
These can bring out an inner strength we never knew we had, as well as making us aware of any weaknesses that surface during crises that we can then work on.
Never being exposed to difficulties is like a car that has never really been driven. It might be nice and shiny but I am betting it won’t be very tough.
How many people are nice and shiny when the sun shines but fall apart or lash out in anger when hard times come their way.
I don’t know about you, but I would rather be scraped and banged up a little with a workable faith that keeps my head above water, than to fall apart at the first sign of trouble.
I know far too many people who have to be babied and nursed through every crisis when what God wants is for them to stand on their own two feet and not fall apart.
That’s what James points to in verse 4: “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
It’s super when all things are working well, with all the parts humming along. No matter what comes along you just keep on going. That is precisely what “mature and complete” means.
Lawrence Richards says: “What James has in mind here is wholeness of character.”
In other words, it results in a well-rounded person who does not react adversely to life’s various curveballs.
And boy, do we ever need people like that! We don’t need shiny cars safely tucked away in garages that, if ever exposed to the elements, would break down.
Life is tough, and we need tough people with a tough faith!
The Need for Wisdom!
That brings us to what James talks about the need for wisdom mentioned in verses 5-8!
“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.” James 1:5
You say, what does wisdom have to do with any of this? It has everything to do with this, friends.
Think about it for a moment, it takes a ton of wisdom to look upon trials and difficulties as growth opportunities.
It takes a ton of wisdom to see the need for perseverance and be committed to the process of working it out in our lives.
It is indeed a wise person who sees trials as opportunities for personal development.
Do you realize that most people don’t see it that way?
Most people see trials as a nuisance and a headache; as something to be wished away or to get away from as quickly as possible or as something that you simply hunker down and endure.
Then there are those trials that are viewed as a God punishment or, worse, as a sign that God has abandoned them or that they have somehow sinned against God.
Only a wise person sees the actual opportunities in a trial for self-examination and personal development.
This is why we need wisdom so very much in these situations of life.
When it comes to asking for wisdom, here is the kicker: Don’t change your mind in the middle of it:
“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”
When you start down the path of a wise person who sees the trials of life as the means for personal development, don’t change your mind in the middle when the storms blow the fiercest. Remain consistent in your wise conviction to use this trial to your advantage. Flip it on its ear, turn it on its back, friend.
It’s sometimes easy to be determined to see hardships as growth opportunities when just starting out in something.
But when fully engulfed in something, how easy it is to pull the parachute or just run for nearest exist sign.
So ask God for the wisdom to see the growth opportunities, remain committed to that, even when the going gets tough.
Remember, life is tough and we need to be tough people with a workable faith!
Where Are You Today?
So where are you this day? In the midst of a storm? Maybe it seems like you have been in a storm all your life? Or maybe it feels like you are going from storm to storm?
Maybe your ship is so battered and you don’t know how much longer it will hold up.
Friend, this is not about self-resilience, but God giving you his resilience and strength.
In these closing moments, if you need for someone to pray for you or you need a touch from God to help you through, we invite you to come forward and receive prayer and support.
Maybe come with a friend or come alone, but know that some of us are more than willing to pray with you and for you.
So as people quietly slip out of the sanctuary, why don’t you quietly head the other way to the front of the stage for prayer and ministry?
Scott Street MB Church invites you to write your reflections and thoughts about the weekly messages shared by lead Pastor Jurgen Rausch.