WHEN BAD TIMES COME
Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. 12 Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11-12).
What do you do when bad times come? How do you handle it? What is your attitude when your well-laid plans crumble into disaster?
Problems. Some are big problems and some are only little problems pretending to be big problems. It has been said that within every little problem is a bigger problem trying to get out.
If you live on planet earth for any length of time, something bad is going to come into your life. You’ve heard of Murphy’s Law that states, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” Nowadays we have Petrov’s Law. It says that Murphy was an optimist.
WHEN YOU ENCOUNTER TRIALS
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials (James 1:2).
Notice that James does not say that you MIGHT encounter trials someday. He does not say, “Consider it all joy if you happen to encounter some trials.” Instead he assumes that you will have hard times. Everything that follows is based on that assumption. Let there be no mistake about it; you WILL encounter various trials. You can bank on it. Jesus promised that in the world you have tribulation (John 16:33).
How many times have you heard some well-meaning preacher say that once you become a Christian all of your troubles will end and life will become wonderful and peaceful? All too often, such a message is presented in the church. The church becomes full of people who are smiling on the outside but who are hurting on the inside. “How are you doing?” we pleasantly ask. “Fine,” comes back the answer. And meanwhile, each one is hiding behind his own smiling mask, thinking that he is the only one who doesn’t have it all together, each one afraid that the others might find out that he alone isn’t experiencing total victory.
It is because of this that I want to make an official announcement. You are in for hard times. You are going to encounter various trials. Bad times are coming. Perhaps you are in the midst of them right now.
I haven’t said this to discourage you. I’m not trying to turn you into a pessimist or to fill your day with gloom and doom. The reason I want you to be aware that bad times are coming is so that you can get ready to meet them.
I have spent 25 years as a fire fighter. In the fire service we put together preplans of hazardous areas so that we will know how to handle any emergencies that might arise in those areas. In the same manner, James provides a preplan for Christians. It gives us instructions on how to get past the hazardous conditions ahead.
What are you to do when hard times come? How do you meet problem situations? What do you do when disaster strikes? James gives the answer. He says to consider it all joy (1:2).
At this point, you might be ready to tune out and mentally discard James as another sweetness and light preacher who has left his head buried in a hole in the ground. Don’t do that. James isn’t looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. He isn’t denying that there are real problems or that they really hurt.
He isn’t saying that bad times are fun. He doesn’t say that suffering is joyful. He doesn’t tell us to enjoy our suffering. He doesn’t say to grin and bear it or to try to ignore the pain or to praise the Lord anyway.
Instead he says, “Consider it all joy.” Note the word “consider.” It refers to a mental evaluation. We are to evaluate our adverse circumstances and to consider them to have an end result of joy.
How can we do this? How can we look at all of the problems that besiege us and consider them “all joy”? It is only by looking past the immediate problem to see its end result.
Jesus provides the perfect example. If anyone was ever faced with an adverse situation, it was Jesus as He was facing the cross. He went so far as to pray that He might be released from this suffering which was to come -- that the cup of His death might pass from Him. But when it was evident that it was the Father’s will that He go to the cross, what was the attitude of Jesus? Did He grumble about the raw deal that had been handed to Him? Did He resign Himself to misery. No.
Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).
Jesus despised the shame of the cross and all that it implied, but at the same time He focused on the future JOY that it would bring. He considered the cross to be “all joy” because of the future results that it would bring. He could approach His time of trial with joy because of those results.
If we are to consider our trials to be “all joy,” then we must do the same thing. We must look beyond the present trials to see that God has planned the future results of those trials. This brings us to the next point.
THE REASON FOR YOUR TESTING
Knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance (James 1:3).
Trials come for a reason. Bad times are not an end to themselves. They are designed to produce something in your life. The testing of your faith produces endurance. What is endurance? It is the quality of continuance.
Endurance is a quality of the mature. Children are noted as early quitters. Give a child a present and he may spend 15 minutes playing with it, but after that he is off doing something else. His attention span has no endurance.
Have you watched your kids do their homework? The least little distraction will capture his attention. He has no endurance. Endurance cannot be taught in a classroom. I cannot preach a sermon on endurance and thereby impart that quality to you. You cannot even get endurance through prayer. Endurance comes only through trials.
When I was in high school, I went out for the track team. I figured that I was reasonably fast on my feet and that I would run in some races and win some prizes and that everyone would say how wonderful I was. I learned very quickly that I had no endurance for long distance running. And I also learned that you cannot build up that kind of endurance in a single day. Endurance only comes through daily practice. The same is true of life.
At this point you might be asking yourself, “Why would I want to go through all of that in the first place? Why not just bail out now? After all, if at first you don’t succeed, quite before it gets to be a habit. What’s the sense of keeping on keeping on?” Jesus gives the answer in the next verse.
THE NEED FOR ENDURANCE
And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:4).
Endurance is a necessary quality of growth. Like it or not, you are growing. If you are a child of God, if you have entered God’s forever family through faith in Christ, then you are in the midst of a growing process. James says that the end result of that process is that you one day be “perfect and complete.”
One day you will be completely like Jesus Christ. You will be perfect. You will be complete. But you aren’t there yet. Today you are in transition. You are like a caterpillar who is becoming a butterfly. You are growing.
Unfortunately many believers seem to have a “Peter Pan” syndrome. Remember the story of Peter Pan? He was the little boy who decided that he never wanted to grow up -- that he wanted to be a little boy forever. Some Christians seem to have the same desire. The result is tragic. They become retarded Christians.
This is a painful way to go. It is painful because you keep having to go back and take the same trials and tests over and over again without any lasting benefit. Instead of considering it all joy, you will find yourself considering it all drudgery.
Are you free from the Peter Pan syndrome? Are you ready to start benefiting from your troubles? Do you want to be able to count it all joy? If you do, there is one thing you will need. It is WISDOM.
IN SEARCH OF WISDOM
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But let him ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For let not that man expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8 being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:5-8).
James does not say to ask God for release from the suffering that we experience. He does not tell us to ask God for the strength to endure. He says to ask for WISDOM.
What is wisdom? Wisdom involves seeing things from God’s perspective. This is important. It is only as you are able to see your trials from God’s perspective that you will be able to “consider it all joy.”
When we see things from God’s perspective, we get the bigger picture. It is like looking at a Persian rug. If you examine the threads with a magnifying glass, they appear as an ugly jumble of tangled threads with no visible pattern. It is only when you stand back to get a better perspective and when you are able to look at the rug as a whole that the beautiful pattern can be appreciated.
The same is true of life. When we are in the midst of our circumstances, they often appear to be tangled and without meaning. God sees the bigger picture. He has patterned your life into a beautiful mosaic. You may not be able to see that bigger picture right now. You are too close. Like the Persian rug, you see only the threads. You cannot see the bigger picture. But you can believe that it is there. You can accept it by faith. In believing, you can count it all joy.
This brings us to our next question. If wisdom is the key to obtaining the bigger picture, then how can I obtain this wisdom of God? James gives the answer.
1. I must ASK for it: If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him (1:5).
God is the source of all true wisdom. If I am to obtain such wisdom, it must come through Him. At the heart of such wisdom is the knowledge of God. A proper concept of God is the foundation of all wisdom. He tells us that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 111:10).
God wants us to be wise. He wants us to see things through His perspective. He wants us to share in His wisdom. This is why He gave us the Bible. As we read the Scriptures, asking for His enlightenment, we will be given the wisdom of God.
2. There is a second requirement to gaining God’s wisdom. It is the requirement of ENDURANCE.
But let him ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For let not that man expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8 being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:6-8).
This passage has often been taken to mean that if your faith is not strong enough that you prayers will not be answered. I believe that such an interpretation completely ignores the context. James is not speaking of the strength of one’s faith. He has been speaking of the quality of ENDURANCE.
There are several different kinds of doubt.
There is the doubt of the Ability of God. This is the doubt expressed by the man who had brought his demon-possessed son to the disciples. He turns to Jesus and says, “If You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” (Mark 9:22).
There is the doubt of the Goodness of God. The leper who prayed to Jesus saying, “If You are willing, You can make me clean” (Mark 1:40). Such a prayer assumes that God is able, but that He might not necessarily be willing. This is the doubt that says, “God loves the world, but does He love me?”
There is a doubt of personal commitment. This is the doubt that wonders whether following the Lord is worth the effort.
The last of these can give rise to the others. If you have not staked everything you have and everything you are, then doubt acts as a cancer of unreality on faith. I believe it is the last of these that is in view here.
James says that, if you want to gain the wisdom of God, you must ask for it and then you must endure in your desire to have it. You cannot decide that you want to follow God only on alternate Tuesdays and Thursdays and expect to be granted the wisdom of God. Instead you must be single-minded in that desire.
The Double-Minded Man
The Single-minded Man
Double-minded in his desire to have God’s wisdom.
Single-minded in his desire to have God’s wisdom.
Unstable in all his ways.
Seeks the firm foundation of God’s wisdom.
Does not receive anything from the Lord.
Receives wisdom from God.
Doubt hangs back.
Faith steps forward.
Many people want to play games with God. They want to come to church on Sunday and to do their bit for religion and then go back and put God on the shelf for the rest of the week. You cannot love God that way. He will not allow such divided loyalty. He will not reward that kind of relationship.
Do you know someone like that? He is like a man standing in two rowboats with a foot in each and trying to make up his mind which way he wants to go. Sooner or later he is going to fall.
Am I describing you? Have you been trying to hold onto God with one hand and to the world with the other? Look again. You’re grasping at the wind. You’re being tossed by the waves. You may be in the midst of trouble, but you are not benefiting from it. You can’t consider it all joy because your trials are not being used as an opportunity for growth. You need to let go of the world and get off that spiritual roller coaster.
Ask God for wisdom. Ask Him to show you the bigger picture. And then in light of that bigger picture, begin to grow and mature into the kind of person God wants you to be. When bad times come, you will be able to consider it all joy.