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We are in the middle of a series called “The Waiting Room” and throughout this series we are asking the question . . . What do you do when there’s nothing you can do?
For all of us, there’s going to be . . . or you are currently in . . . a season of life that you didn’t want, you didn’t expect, you never wished for, you weren’t prepared for, and you’re not sure if it’s every going to get better.
The question is . . . what do you do with that?
Sure, there are options . . . you can run, you can quit, you can throw in the towel but if you do, you might miss what God is doing in and through your life during those hard seasons.
And so, we wait!
But it’s not easy in the waiting room . . . sometimes while we wait, we draw some really-bad conclusions; “I’ll never be happy again”, “nothing good can come from this”, I’ll never survive this”, “God must be angry with me”, “God doesn’t care.”
But then every once in a while, you bump in to someone – an old friend, or a relative you haven’t seen in a while, or someone from church - and you tell them your sad story and you’re thinking that you’re going to get some pity or compassion but then they tell you their story and it totally trumps your story and you’re a little embarrassed that you even shared your story.
But the thing that strikes you the most is that somehow, despite being stuck in a waiting room season of life . . . they have joy, and they have confidence, and although it seems like God didn’t come through for them, they continue to have faith.
And so last week, we talked about that when you focus on what’s wrong, you lose sight of what God is making right. And I challenged you, that when you are feeling over your head . . . when you find yourself stuck in a waiting room season of life . . . to shift your focus away from what’s wrong, and all the noise and the pain, to seeing what God is doing right.
And today, as we begin to bring this series in for a landing . . . we’re going to focus on word that Jesus and the authors of the New Testament emphasized over, and over, and over, again . . . “Believe”
And the reason it’s emphasized is because intuitively we do the opposite.
But what Jesus and the writers of the New Testament tell us is that when we’re in a set of circumstances and it seems like this is our new reality, it’s not going to change, it’s not going to get better, this is just the way it is . . . there is something very specific that we are to embrace and believe.
There are several places in the New Testament where we find this but this morning I want us to hear it from James. And the reason I want you to hear it from James is because James wrote something that I would never say. Much like some of things Jesus said, like, “don’t worry about tomorrow” . . . well, some of you might share your stories and my first thought would be, “You should probably worry about tomorrow” . . . well that’s James . . . what James says I wouldn’t intuitively say.
James had a very famous brother . . . you’ve probably heard of him. His name was Jesus.
What makes this so interesting is that James does not show up anytime during Jesus’ ministry. In fact, Jesus kind of distanced himself from his family. James isn’t one of the disciples, he wasn’t a follower, he’s never quoted . . . he just isn’t there.
And then, after the crucifixion, James suddenly shows up and becomes a leader in the first century church. And he suffered enormously because of his faith in his brother. This is fascinating to me;
What would it take for your brother to convince you that he was the Son of God?
James does not come to this conclusion because of the teachings of Jesus, or the miracles of Jesus, and it wasn’t even the crucifixion of Jesus. It was the resurrection of Jesus.
Suddenly, after the resurrection, James comes to the forefront, becomes a leader in the church, and he writes a document which gets included in the New Testament. Which means that you have access to something written 2,000 years ago by somebody who grew up with Jesus. I think that’s cool.
So, James, the brother of Jesus writes this document and in it he tells us, “If you’re going through a tough time, if you’re stuck in the waiting room, there’s something you need to believe”
Let’s listen to our text this morning: READ James 2:1-8
Now, let’s remember, this is stuff that I would never intuitively say to you which is why I think it’s important that we work through it together.
James starts off by saying, “Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials”
To which we say . . . “Seriously?”
This little word right here is so interesting . . . better translated it would read . . . “wait, wait, wait”
When bad things happen and you want to hit the eject button, James says “wait, wait, wait . . . instead, I want you to embrace a different mindset. Instead of considering it terrible, the end of the world, I’ll never be happy again . . . I want you to think about it as a source of something good.”
And again, some of us would raise our hands and say, “James, let me tell you about my life, there’s no way this applies to me.”
To which James would say, “Stick with me because I’m just getting started . . . I want you to consider it pure joy whenever you face adversity”
This phrase here (face adversity) is also very interesting . . . it’s used when talking about something that takes you by surprise . . . you’re just going along, doing life, minding your own business, and then bam! Something happens that totally took you by surprise and rocked your world.
And as we all know . . . it seems to always happens in three’s . . . doesn’t it.
James is saying, “When life surprises you and rocks your world . . . instead of thinking the worst, I want you to consider it as a possible source of something good.”
And then James affirms what we all suspect that whenever you hit a bump in life, it tests your faith. “Because you know that the testing of your faith”
Our trials have this way of putting God on trial. Trials cause us to look up and go, “Really? Are you kidding me, you would allow this to happen to me?” “Are you angry with me”, “Do you care about me?”
James is acknowledging that it’s perfectly normal because our trials have a way of putting God on trial but then he takes us in a direction that’s uncomfortable but somehow, we know it’s true . . . that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Trials produce persevering faith.
Here’s what’s interesting . . . when you read scripture, especially the teachings of Jesus, you will discover that God is most glorified in persevering faith.
Think about this for a moment . . . faith that always gets a yes from God is not very impressive. If you always get a yes . . . like I prayed and fasted on Thursday and by Friday, woo hoo!
Ok, that’s impressive but when we hear those stories . . . the first thing we think is, “I want that formula. Tell me what you did because I’m going to do the same thing so I can get what you got”
But what happens is . . . we fall in love with a formula and we miss the love of God.
The person that gets a “no” but believes anyway. The person who prays but never seems to get the answer they’re looking for and yet trusts God anyway. That’s impressive and that brings God honor.
That’s why James says, “OK, when the bottom falls out, before you go into a nose dive, before you hit the eject button, before you say I’m going to rip up my bible, and I’m never going back to church . . . wait, wait, wait . . . it’s possible that God is up to something good.”
And then he tells us what God’s up to . . . developing a faith that perseveres. Trials are what produce this kind of faith.
And then he gets to his main point, the thing he wants us to take away as we consider seeing bad-things as good things. He says, “let perseverance finish its work so that you will be mature and complete.”
This little word here (finish) is the same word for mature. It’s a little word play that we don’t pick up in the English translation. He’s saying . . . “Let perseverance mature in its work, so you will be mature.”
In other words, if you don’t allow perseverance to complete its work, you will never be complete. If you don’t allow perseverance to mature you, you will never be mature.
James is saying, God is at work in you . . . God is in the process of building in you the kind of faith that honors him the most and leaves you in a better, healthier, more mature and complete, place where you can find joy, and confidence, despite your circumstances.
Now James knows that this is some hard stuff. And honestly, most of us would rather have a quick formula than to have to go through a trial and so he says . . .
“Look, I know what it’s like . . . I know what it’s like to be blindsided by life and to face trials and be surprised by bad news . . . but I want you to know that you have a God who gives generously. So, when you are over your head and you just don’t think you can survive this any longer . . . ask God for wisdom.”
Wisdom is simply the ability to see this thing we’re so frustrated about within a bigger context.
James is saying, bring your frustrations to God . . . “God, what’s going on? I don’t want to quit, I don’t want to run away, I don’t want to hit the eject button but I don’t know if I can hang in there any longer so I need you to give me some wisdom . . . I need you to put this into a bigger context . . . I need you to help me see this as you see it so I can understand this thing and respond to it in a way that honors you.”
And James says that God will answer that prayer for the person who is allow perseverance to finish its work. Isn’t that powerful?
He’s not done yet. There’s a but . . .
He says, “But when you ask for wisdom, you have to believe and not doubt” . . . and no here’s that word. You have to believe that God really has a bigger plan. That God is up to something and you’ve been swept up in it.
And here’s why belief is important, and I think he’s taking a jab at Peter . . . He says, “because the one who doubts is like a wave of the seas blown and tossed by the wind.”
Remember the story of Peter? They are in the middle of the sea, and then they see Jesus walking on the water and everyone is freaking out because they think it’s a ghost but Peter says, “Jesus, if that’s really you, tell me to walk on the water” and Peter gets out and walks on the water but when he notices the chaos of the seas crashing all around him and takes his eyes off Jesus he sinks.
Yeah, I think James is referring to this story and he’s saying, “Look, you can’t doubt. Just like Peter, if you take your eyes off the fact that there’s a faithful God who loves you and is up to something, and instead focus your eyes on your circumstances, you’re not going to allow perseverance to finish its work to complete you and mature you and bring honor to God.”
So, let’s put all this together . . .
When you are faced with adversity . . . when life catches you by surprise and knocks you off your feet . . . wait, wait wait . . . don’t assume the worst; don’t assume that God has abandoned you and doesn’t care.
Instead, change your way of thinking . . . consider the idea that something good can come from this, because this is a test of your faith, and the only way to build enduring faith is the way you build muscle, you stretch it and rest it, you work it and rest it, you stretch it and rest it, you work it and rest it.
God is up to something. He is building enduring faith in you, so let endurance finish its work.
And as you wait . . . believe . . . believe that God is at work. Believe that God is at work in you. And what he’s doing is working to mature you, and to increase and create enduring faith.