Faith In The Everyday World (2): Making The Best Of The Bad
The Need For Wisdom!
James is writing to his flock that is no longer under his care.
He was actually one of the pastors in Jerusalem and most of his congregation was chased out of the city by fierce opposition to the faith. And his parting words that he shouts after them as they run is this:
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5
What an incredible set of last words. What an amazing claim this is! What a promise to make that we would be given wisdom from above to guide and help us with whatever comes our way in life.
And it does take a ton of wisdom to look upon the challenges and obstacles of life on the run as actual growth opportunities instead of things that knock us down.
You see, most people would rather not think about trials and difficulties at all.
Most would rather flee from these annoyances of life, run away from them and escape into some kind of fantasy world.
Some might even get angry – really angry – when the bottom falls out, while others would simply collapse into fear, panic or cynicism.
Trials in life can deteriorate into all kinds of destructive and sinful behaviors such as anger, escapism, cynicism, doubt or even fear.
That’s what these people were facing as they tried to
re-establish a new life and a new beginning elsewhere.
Of course, by the time the dust settled, they were far from home and many of them with nothing more than the clothes on their backs and a suitcase in their hands. They were refugees in the truest sense of the word.
If you have ever had to start again at the bottom or had to start over again, then you know the struggle that can be.
The obstacles and challenges of something like that could easily have destroyed them.
It could make them or break them and it could have gone either way, which is why the need for wisdom was absolutely paramount (which is why James talks about this).
It takes an incredible amount of wisdom to see the upside of negative things.
Most never come to that place and never see how obstacles can be growth opportunities that shape and strengthen your character. Most never see that!
It takes a ton of wisdom to see obstacles as opportunities to shape character.
“Testing develops perseverance,” James tells them in; and “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete.”
This is the approach a wise person takes when it comes to facing “trials of many kinds.” Especially for someone facing poverty, as many of them did.
It’s obvious from the passage that while some may have done ok in the new world, many of them did not. Some did extremely well but others not so much.
For some the new world was a world of opportunity and the land of the golden sun, while for others it was a completely different reality.
The Challenges of the Dispossessed
Some of these refugees ended up in grinding poverty, who then faced challenges that only those who are dispossessed face.
This is what James addresses: “Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position.”
“Humble circumstances” was James’ way of saying ‘poverty’.
There was more than enough poverty to go around.
Many of these refugees ended up in desperate poverty as they forfeited property and possessions.
With nothing more than a suitcase in their hands, they eked out a living in a foreign land, trying to put enough food on the table.
There would be crisis upon crisis among them. They lived from paycheck to paycheck, if even that. They were always one step away from disaster. Issues of survival were constantly on their mind. Unless you have been there you have no idea what the economically disadvantaged go through.
The despair and sense of hopelessness is enormous. The desire to find an escape is incredibly tempting. Shame and low self esteem are constant companions.
And then come the crippling emotions of anger and envy toward those who have so much more.
These are some of the temptations of the have-nots of this life. Going into those dark places will only make matters worse.
Anger, envy, despair and hopelessness are dark places of the soul. It is not a place you want to go to.
Where should you go? Go instead to the place of the high position James talks about: “Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position.” James 1:9
This is absolutely key, friends! Those in humble circumstances actually hold an incredibly high position with God.
I’m not sure how to explain this. I’m not sure how much of this is about God turning the tables in an attempt to create justice, and how much of this is about those who are without being far more open to God’s intervention than those who have everything they need.
But the reality is that the family of God is a great equalizer and that inside God’s family the playing field is level.
Those believers in humble circumstances are as much king’s kids and children of God and thus as important and valued as anyone else.
They could walk tall and be proud; they could look people in the eye and speak with a confident voice of equals:
“Just because I am poor doesn’t mean I am less important or that my opinions matters less. I am no ones doormat and no one is going to walk over me.”
“Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position.”
So stand tall. Believe in yourself even as God believes in you! You really are a ‘somebody.’
And hear this: poverty is not God’s will for you! God wants you to prosper in life.
By not going into the dark places of anger, entitlement and despair, but instead turning your heart fully to God, He will make a path for you and direct your ways.
Whatever you do, never envy the rich because notice what James says happens to the Donald Trumps of this life:
“But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower.” James 1:10
I love the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases this passage in The Message:
“Prosperity is as short-lived as a wildflower, so don’t ever count on it. You know that as soon as the sun rises, pouring down its scorching heat, the flower withers. Its petals wilt and, before you know it, that beautiful face is a barren stem. Well, that’s a picture of the “prosperous life.” At the very moment everyone is looking on in admiration, it fades away to nothing.”
Sometimes when someone is economically disadvantaged they envy the “haves” of this world and would do anything to become like them, and sometimes even sell their souls to the devil to do that.
But the Donald Trumps of this world end up in the same wooden box six feet under just like everyone else.
Not Tempted into the Dark Place!
While the focus of the passage here is on the unique challenges of the economically disadvantaged, the wealthy and rich also have their unique challenges and obstacles.
So it doesn’t matter whether you are rich or poor, each will have their own unique struggles in life.
What we are talking about is how to overcome these struggles in life regardless if we are rich or poor.
Here is the key to this: It’s not the obstacles but what you do with them that matters.
Will these trials of life make you or break you? Will they bring out that inner strength of character or cause you to spiral into the dark place of the soul?
At the end of the day the choice is ours, which is precisely what James points to next:
“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” James 1:12
You can persevere under the trials and withstand the tests, and when you do you will receive the crown of life, which is part of the rewards program of heaven!
So you have that choice. The trials of life do not have to become occasions of going into the dark place of the soul.
But you say that it doesn’t feel that way to me. I feel overwhelmed and it seems too much for me to bear.
You know what, if you are not a child of God then it will be too much to bear and you will be buffeted by every wind that blows.
But if you are a child of God then He is limiting the trials you are facing to that which you can withstand:
“God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” I Cor. 10:13
Not only bearable but He also has a way out. Did you notice that the way out is about having the endurance instead of finding a quick escape?
More often than not God will not remove the circumstance with a magic wand, but give us the resilience to endure it.
So it really comes down to what you do with what comes your way. Will this trial of life test your resilience, or will it tempt you into the dark place?
Does it become an occasion for sin or an opportunity for personal growth? Is this thing going to make or break me?
Will it be a test or a temptation, that’s the question! Verse 12 says a trial can be a test while vs. 13 talks about it becoming a temptation.
It can go either way, so what’s it going to be? Whatever you do, don’t ever say God is tempting me:
13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
We tempt ourselves when we give in to our evil desires, which then give birth to sin and eventually to death.
Pennies from Heaven
So realize that behind every problem lies a devil and, in some ways, it’s a two-way struggle between good and evil with us being pulled into both directions.
And a wise person sees that and determines not to go into that dark place of the soul. This is why James talks so much about wisdom!
“If anyone of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives generously.” James 1:5
A wise person never says God doesn’t love me or God has done this to me or it’s all God’s fault!
In case that old lie still comes up in your head as to who sends what and whether God causes bad things to happen to good people, James talks about not being deceived: “Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters.” James 1:16.
Who deceives us? Who is the deceiver if not Satan? The devil will try to deceive you into blaming God and saying that these terrible things God brought my way.
Do you know what God actually brings your way? This is what God brings your way: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17
Temptations, disasters and destruction never rain down from heaven. Disasters and destructions are the reality of a broken world, and the lingering consequences of when the floodgate of sin was opened on the planet.
What rains down from heaven is “every good and perfect gift.”
These gifts are sure and constant. God does not play with us. He doesn’t hold out his gift one moment only to pull it back the next.
James calls him “the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows”. Here one moment and gone the next; teasing us, playing with us and pulling the rug out from underneath us.
That’s not God! He gives good and perfect gifts. Yes, even the trials of life can be pennies from heaven, for they forge in us a character that will far outlive our status and wealth.
God’s Bragging Rights!
In fact, take a look at verse 18: “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.” James 1:18
This is huge, friends! You will need to get your head around this because this is the reason why we face the trials of life!
It’s all about being “a kind of first fruits of all he created”! It’s about bragging rights; it’s about God showing us off to the universe!
What do you mean ‘showing us off’?
Our personal growth and development, as seen in our character and way of life, is a kind of first fruits of all he created.
It’s what God wants to show off to his angels, rub into the noses of the devils and have as a showcase for all to see.
There is nothing more amazing than to see someone’s character shine like the sun despite the severest of trials!
It’s not about your wealth or your fame. It never was! It’s not about your accomplishments and how big a person you were. It doesn’t matter where you have travelled and what you have built, even in the name of God.
What matters is your character! Does your life exhibit the sweet character fruit of the Spirit?
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Gal 5:22-23
No law, no restriction, no limitation! These we can have in abundance.
Our character, which is forged in the crucible of life, is God’s bragging right! Nothing else matters.
So in these closing moments of our service, we invite you to stay for personal prayer or come forward for prayer from our ministry team.
If you have struggled with your lot in life and what’s come your way, turn your heart toward the Father of lights who is your very own personal Father.
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
Here you can find several messages. Feel free to write your thoughts or questions in the comment section.