10th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, in the name of Jesus who bore His cross to rescue and save each one of us, dear friends in Christ, All I have to do is push one button on my smart phone and I can instantly call any phone number I want, I can read a text message and have it sent to anyone, I can tell it to navigate me to anywhere in the United States and within milliseconds have the fastest route there. It can look up any information that I want it to. I can go home and have fresh coffee made within minutes, I can warm up any leftovers within seconds in my microwave. I can flip a little switch and instantly have light in my house. More and more it becomes a bit uncomfortable for us to be out of cell phone range, to have the battery in our electronic gadget die, or to lose electricity for hours or days (as some of you did this past week). We live in a world where trillions of dollars and countless hours are spent in finding ways to make life easy. But there’s a caution. We can become so accustomed to an easy life that we begin to feel that life should be easy. Do you think that?
Or, perhaps you’re looking at this lie that, “Life should be easy,” and you’re thinking to yourself, “Now this one, I surely don’t believe. I know that life isn’t easy, trust me. I have many personal reminders of the difficulties and sinfulness of life. All I have to do is watch the evening news and see the problems and difficulties in the world. All I have to do is look at my yard that perhaps is covered with trees that were knocked down or damage or debris. Or, I’ve lost a loved one, I’ve endured sickness, I’ve experienced the stress and frustration at work, I’ve experienced marriage difficulties or tried to parent my children – believe me, I know how difficult life is, I know that life isn’t easy.”
But consider this, even though we know we have difficulties and should expect them, do we want our life to be easy? Do we want things to just work out for us? Part of falling into the trap of this lie is when we see other people who seem to have better lives than we do. Maybe a friend tells you about their wonderful family or a coworker fills you in on all the intricate details of their incredible vacation or your neighbor tells you about his perfect job. Or maybe you begin to think that everyone else seems to have it put together, “why does this always have to happen to me!” No one else has marriage problems like I do, no one else seems to experience the parenting struggles like I do, no one else is as stressed as I am, no one else seems to have as bad of money problems as I have. Other people are smarter, skinnier, have more money, a better spouse, a better job than me. Maybe once I retire I can finally live life like those people, once I get that new job I’ll finally have an easy life like those people, once my children are grown up I can finally enjoy life again. So, while we might say that we know that our life is not going to be easy, is an easy life something that we strive for or live in envy of? Or maybe we’re just plain tired of dealing with all our problems and just wat a break, we just want an easy life. We think, “Life should be easy.”
The effect of believing the lie that life should be easy is bitterness, resentment and envy. Think about it, what are we really saying to God when we’re not content with what He’s given to us and want more to be like someone else? What are we saying to God when we’re envious, resentful of others, and harbor bitterness maybe toward God or to other people for the difficulties that we’ve been through, that we’ve suffered, that we’ve had to endure which seem far worse in comparison to other people. Aren’t we really saying, “Life should be easy”? And perhaps the worst effect of believing this lie is that although we know in our heads that God is loving, powerful, and wise, in our words and actions to we give the impression that God isn’t loving or he wouldn’t have allowed this to happen, that God isn’t wise, otherwise he would have done things this way, or not powerful , otherwise he would have prevented this horrible thing from happening.
Our text this morning is a difficult pill to swallow. God is essentially saying that we should rejoice when problems and trials come into our lives. How in the world is that possible? That’s about the last thing we want to do. Typically we think it’s good if we just deal with the problems we face, let alone rejoice in them! The only way that we can rejoice even in the midst of difficulties and hardships is taking the promises of God that we know in our heads and driving them down into our hearts so that God’s promises have an effect on both on our emotions and our faith.
The writer James addresses this book to “the twelve tribes scattered among the nations.” So, he’s really writing this letter to Christian Jews scattered all over the place, they weren’t living in Jerusalem any more. That gives this letter somewhat of a unique characteristic. He’s not addressing Christians in a certain city with certain struggles, but he’s addressing Christians in general with general truths from God. And one of the things that he takes for granted is that the Christians will experience trials and difficulties. And that’s no surprise. Jesus told us, “If anyone wants to come after me he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” And in the book of Acts the apostles said, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”
So, the truth is not “life should be easy” but really the truth is “life should be difficult” – that’s what we should expect. We should expect a world full of disease and death, stress and money problems, terrorism, persecution, crime, hate. Not only in world but also in our lives. Notice what our text says, we will face “trials of many kinds.” We will face general difficulties in life, but even more, we’ll face trouble because of the fact that we’re Christian. Notice what the first lesson said, “In fact everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” So God promises that we will experience problems and difficulties and trials in life.
But along with the promise of problems, God promises something else- “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” In other words, God’s promise is that the trials we face are for our good. They make us stronger, they cause us to persevere. God’s promise is that He actually does work all things out for our good. A classic example of someone who experienced many trials was Joseph. He was sold into slavery in a foreign country, then thrown into prison, then was forgotten about in prison. There was plenty of opportunities for Joseph to become bitter, angry, resentful and envious or he could choose to trust God and serve God even in the midst of the difficulties.
Problems will come, but God has promised to make them work for our good- so when problems come, “Consider it pure joy.” It’s one thing to deal with problems, it’s another thing to be joyful about it. How can we find joy when we face sickness, when our car breaks down, when work or family problems increase? Most of us have a hard enough time to just deal with the difficult things of life let along “consider it pure joy.”
God wants us to have ultimate joy but in order for us to have ultimate joy the reality is, we must have pain. Think about Jesus. Why did He have to go to the cross? If God loved His own Son so much, why would He send him there? Jesus went through pain and torment far more than we could ever imagine on that cross- both physical and spiritual as God punished him for our sins. Why so? “For the joy set before him he endured the cross scorning its shame.” So that we could be with God permanently. Yes, we have pain and difficulty and it may be hard for us to think that things could be worse, but they could have been. We could be going from pain here to ultimate pain and suffering in hell, but God spared us from that! Instead of God directing his wrath and anger for sin at us, He directed all of it at His own Son on the cross.
So, that means that when we’re experiencing problems or difficulties in life we know they are for our good. When you suffer you KNOW that God is not punishing you for something that you did, because he already punished Jesus for your sins. So there must be another purpose for our suffering. What does God say? The “testing of your faith develops perseverance.” You are being made “mature and complete, not lacking anything.” God doesn’t send pain in anger, but in love making sure that He doesn’t lose you for eternity.
So, all that’s left is rejoicing – even and especially in suffering. That doesn’t mean that we have to jump up and down when we get sick or lose our job, but it does mean that we can rejoice that we have a God who doesn’t just want us to have a comfortable life here, but an eternity of comfort with him. We can rejoice that God loves us like a father enough to discipline us to make us stronger in our faith. We can rejoice that God has the power to even use the sinful things of this world for our good. We can rejoice that God has the wisdom that He can even turn our own mistakes into a way to help us and maybe even others. We can rejoice when we face problems because it’s a reminder that this world isn’t our home. True rest, true joy, true happiness for our souls is found only in Jesus, not in our outward circumstances.
There’s a neat illustration about two trees. One tree was out in the middle of a field and the other tree was growing right next to stream. Through dry spells and droughts the tree in the middle of field had to struggle to get water it had to put its roots down and deep to find water through difficult seasons. The tree by the stream, however, had it really easy, had a constant supply of water didn’t have to struggle much. But then a storm came – like the storm we had this past week- and the tree in the middle of the field that struggled through dry spells and droughts withstood the strong winds because it had deep roots. But the tree that had it easy by the stream was uprooted by the wind.
No, life should not be easy, life is difficult, God’s promised that. But God also has promised to use every difficulty and trial for our good, to strengthen our faith and drive us closer to Him for He is our God who is all-wise, all-powerful, all-loving and with him as our God we can be content and even consider it pure joy when we face many kinds of trials. Amen.