tough times prove our maturity

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I am not a huge fan of topical sermons. I think there is a danger of coming to the Bible with my mind already made up on a topic, and reading into the texts of scripture just what I want to hear. It is for that reason that I prefer messages like those of Dr. Flanagan of late.  He is approaching the entire Gospel of Luke, and trying to get at what Luke had in mind in the entire book, and relating each section to the book’s purpose as a whole. That is a safer practice, because it puts what God has to say above what I want to hear.

Nevertheless, I admit that there is a place in the church for topical preaching.  Sometimes I need to come to the scriptures with my questions, and seek God’s answers. That is what I have been trying to do with this series on tough times.  We have been going through some tough times as individuals, and as a church. I want to get God’s perspective on these tough times.

When I looked at Jesus’ parable of the planter and soils in Matthew 13, I asked whether going through tough times implies that I am not a Christian. I discovered that my identity depends on who planted me, not on how difficult the soil is. In fact, Jesus tells us in that parable that God intentionally puts some of his seed in rough soil.  So, I should not be surprised to undergo challenges. The existence of those challenges serves to prove my identity as a Christian, not to disprove it.

When I looked at 1 Peter 1, I asked why God puts me through tough times – what is his ultimate plan for me, and why do I have to go through tough times to experience his ultimate plan.  Peter changes the metaphor, and says that God is a refiner. He puts his gold through the fire so that it comes out refined – purer.  Peter taught that Christians have a future we will inherit which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.

So, today I want to explore another text which treats the subject of tough times.

James 1: 2-8 NET

2    My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials,

3     because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.

4     And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything.

5     But if anyone is deficient in wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without reprimand, and it will be given to him.

6     But he must ask in faith without doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed around by the wind.

7     For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord,

8     since he is a double-minded individual, unstable in all his ways.

Some of you have probably wondered why I took so long to get to this passage.  For many, it is the go-to passage on the subject, and for at least three good reasons.

  1. The audience is similar. James is writing to churches.
  2. The context is similar. The churches are facing hard times – I mean really hard times – as in some are being persecuted and killed.
  3. Some gospel songs and choruses are based on this text, so it is easier to remember.

So, what is James telling Christians in this passage that relates directly to my questions about tough times in my context today? Here is what I find.

First, TOUGH TIMES ARE ALLOWED IN ORDER TO MATURE US.

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James says that tough times come into our lives “so that (we) will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything.” (4).  In other words, just being a disciple of Christ is not enough. God wants disciples to be discipled. He uses other Christians to do that, but he also uses tough times as part of the process.

James tells us not to be surprised when “all sorts of trials” come to us.  God is producing the character quality of endurance by allowing those tough times to affect us.  He is testing our faith.  He is not testing to see if we have faith. He is proving the existence of our faith by means of the trials.

True Faith + Tough Times = Endurance

True Faith + Tough Times = Maturity

Secondly, TOUGH TIMES ARE ALLOWED IN ORDER TO PROMOTE PRAYER FOR WISDOM.

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James gives a prescription for those believers who want to know what to do when things get tough. He says “if anyone is deficient in wisdom, he should ask God.” (5).  Notice that James does not say our first prayer should be “Lord, take this problem away from me.!” No, our first prayer should be “Lord, what are you teaching me through this trial?”

We human beings can endure all kinds of hardship as long as we are aware of the purpose for the pain. When we lose sight of the purpose, even the slightest hardship can be our undoing.

Thirdly, TOUGH TIMES ARE ALLOWED IN ORDER TO PRODUCE STRENGTH.

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James gives these battle hardened soldiers in the churches he is writing to some good strategic advice. When they pray, “(they) must ask in faith without doubting.” (6).  I know a lot of preachers have taught this text as if it is saying that if you ask God to deliver you from your hardship, you have to really believe or God is going to let you keep experiencing the hardship until you do.  I do not think that is what James is saying at all.

Let’s look at the text again:

5           But if anyone is deficient in wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without reprimand, and it will be given to him.

6              But he must ask in faith without doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed around by the wind.

7              For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord,

8              since he is a double-minded individual, unstable in all his ways.

What are we encouraged to ask for in this text?  Wisdom (5).

What, then, should we expect to receive (7) if our prayers are answered? Wisdom!

A prayer for wisdom is a request for insight that will help me endure the tough times I am going through.  If I pray for this wisdom, I should expect the Lord to give me wisdom enough to endure the tough times.

What happens when a double-minded person goes through tough times? Either they only ask for deliverance, or they ask for wisdom, doubting that God would ever give them this wisdom. They are unstable, immature.

The reason this is so important is that God does not guarantee me or anyone else that he is going to fix things.  What he guarantees is that he will give us wisdom enough to endure the tough times in peace. But this wisdom and peace is not automatic. With each new trial, the potential for wisdom and peace is there, but we have to keep asking for it.

Paul said something similar:

“Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7 NET).

Again, notice that the outcome is not “God promises to fix all my problems.”  The real outcome is that even though we go through tough times our hearts and minds will be guarded from anxiety and given peace!

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LORD, mature us. Show us how to respond to all the tough times we face with a determination to know your wisdom as we face them.  We are not praying for easy lives. We are praying for you to make us into strong people.

 

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