This is the final sermon in our current series, “Different”
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James 1:2-4 says, “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.”
Last week we discussed the Biblical definition of happiness. We said that we can find true happiness by loving God with all of our heart, soul and mind. We said that Jesus wants us to find happiness and joy even in life’s valleys. Psalm 23 says, “…surely goodness and love will follow you all the days of your lives…” – not some of the days, all of the days!
Now, here in James 1:2, James is telling us to find joy in life’s challenges. The normal human response to that statement is “Do what?” Jesus says something similar in Matthew 5:10, “Blessed or (Happy) are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.” Can we truly be happy or joyful through life’s difficulties? We need to remember James wasn’t writing to a bunch of rich Romans. His readers faced persecution and poverty, but he purposefully used the words “trials of many kinds.” We all experience trials and James wants to encourage believers to respond to their troubles, regardless of size, by counting that experience as “joy.” What in the world could that mean, and why would James have such high expectations for people who are going through such challenging times?
Last week on the way out a few people told me, “I understand the “concept” of being happy or joyful as we face life’s challenges, but how do you actually do it? I don’t feel good when I’m in the midst of a struggle.” As usual, context is the key to understanding the meaning of Scripture. James 1:3-4 provides crucial information for what he means. James does NOT command Christians to “feel happy” in the midst of a trial. But he does tell us to “consider it” joyful. He wants us to label or categorize it, as a thing worth rejoicing over.
The word “count” is used in some translations instead of “consider.” “Count” is from a Greek word h?g?sasthe, which is an accounting term. It means organizing or collecting things. James is saying that we should enter our hardships and trials as deposits into our life account, not as withdrawals. (“Count it as pure joy.”)
Now this is key. He’s not talking about our immediate emotional response to our car breaking down, or being sick, or losing someone we love. He’s talking about how we categorize that moment when we’re assessing our life as a whole. James is saying WE CAN DECIDE how we will describe any moment or experience to ourselves.
I was talking with one of our elders after a meeting last week and I was walking him through the most challenging times of our church history. I was explaining how we would not be where we are today as a church without those hardships. In very practical ways.
I think of my childhood. I would not be the person I am today without the difficulties I faced. My personality and relentless spirit come from those trials.We may not be able to control our circumstances, but we CAN control how we THINK about our circumstances in the long run. It just may not be how we feel at first.
When you recall a challenge in your life you can say, “It was terrible. Now my life stinks. Why did this happen to me?” Or you can say, “It was difficult, but I’ll get through it. I’ll learn from it and be stronger. I’ll consider it joy because I know God will use it for my ultimate good.”
Remember what Joseph said to his brothers? In Gen. 50:20 he said, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
The key is, we need to understand how that challenge fits into our lives, or better yet, how God can fit that experience into our lives. Think about it. Trials are going to happen…period. Struggles are coming, like it or not. Believer or unbeliever. The only question is HOW are you going to let them affect you? James says that we need to see them as a testing of our faith; a test that will make us stronger…mature, compete, not lacking anything.
Let me get even more specific. One of the best ways to have this attitude is to be prepared in advance. If you know trials are coming, decide beforehand how you are going to handle them. Don’t let your emotions make the decision for you. It’s fine to feel the emotion of the moment, but don’t let that emotion determine your ultimate decision. Or how you will remember or characterize that event.
For example, “That event was life changing. I will never recover. I will never trust again. I will never see myself the same way again. I will always be a victim.”
Have you ever known a Navy SEAL? Let me walk you through what it takes to be a SEAL. In order to be a SEAL you have to be an active-duty member of the U.S. Navy. You have to be 28 years old or younger, though they will make exceptions. You have to be a U.S. Citizen and pass the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. Your vision needs to be good, you have to be able to swim the length of five football fields, followed by a 10-minute rest, followed by 42 push-ups in under two minutes, followed by a two-minute rest, followed by 50 sit-ups in under two minutes, followed by a two-minute rest, followed by a mile-and-a-half run in boots and pants that has to be finished in 11 and half minutes. That’s just to qualify. You’re still a long, long ways off from becoming an actual Navy SEAL.
SEALs are extremely good at what they do. A SEAL has never been left behind on a mission and a SEAL has never been taken prisoner.
Once a potential SEAL qualifies for training, it’s just the beginning. It takes 2 and half years to receive your trident pin and become a Navy SEAL. Only about 25% of the trainees make it through the training to become SEALs. Currently there are less than 3,000 SEALs on active duty.
The training is brutal and designed to push them to the limit. Why? Because they are “preparing in advance” for the inevitable battles to come. If they can’t take the heat with no lives on the line, they won’t be able handle it when there ARE lives on the line. SEALs are trained to perform specific tasks in any environment. I don’t think there’s a lot of joy for the SEALs in the midst of a 500-yard swim, but there is satisfaction and indescribable joy when they pass and know they’re ready to take on whatever comes their way. The other thing is, SEALs never stop training. They are constantly developing their skills and learning new skills and techniques that will make a difference when they’re in battle. For the Christian that’s called sanctification…an ongoing process of spiritual development.
James 1:2-4, “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.”
We are called by God to be set apart and that means we need to think differently; we need to respond differently. Even in difficult circumstances. The Israelites thought that being set apart for God was going to make their lives easy. They were surprised to learn that being chosen meant they were expected to face life’s difficulties with perseverance. Being chosen by God was a privilege that should have given them joy, but instead it often led to doubt, fear, or whining.
Luke 12:48 says, “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required, and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded”. Being set apart for God should never been seen as a burden, but an honor. It should bring us joy. “Hooyah” is the battle cry of the navy SEAL. It becomes an automatic response for SEALs during their torturous SEAL training. “Hooyah” is a verbal acknowledgement. It means I’m not going to let this challenge or difficulty defeat me.
When the apostles were preaching the Gospel in opposition to the Jewish leadership, the Sanhedrin had them arrested and flogged. Some of them died from the flogging. How did the Apostles respond? “Hooyah!”
In Acts 5:41, we are told that “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing
because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.”
Suffering for Christ was an honor, so they weren’t discouraged and angry about what they went through. They considered it pure joy. The purpose of SEAL training is not to get you in shape. You already need to be in shape. The purpose of SEAL training is not only to learn what your strengths are, but also to learn what your limitations are. Like SEALs as we face our own trials, we not only discover what our strengths and limitations are, but we also discover God’s limitless strength. As followers of Christ we need to be ready to face any obstacle and know that our faith is strong enough to endure it. Each victory builds our faith, our trust, our confidence for when we face the next trial, and, trust me, there will be another trial. The question is how will we count it?