Pentecost 13c

Preached: September 29, 2013

Count Your Trials as Opportunities for Your Faith
James 1:1-8

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

What makes you happy? What would you list as the joys in your life? How would you complete the sentence: “Consider it a great joy whenever ...”? Maybe thoughts of family, all home safe and sound, well-fed and content. Maybe thoughts of relaxation, that weekend away or out in the woods, waiting for that deer. Maybe thoughts of excitement and celebration, your team winning the victory or an unexpected windfall. Maybe thoughts of accomplishment, a job well-done, a successful season, an outstanding report card. Maybe even thoughts of worshiping together here on earth and some day in heaven before the throne of our Lord Jesus Christ.

But how did James complete that sentence? “Consider it a great joy ... whenever you experience various trials” (James 1:2 HCSB). That would not have been my first thought.

Listen to the words the Holy Spirit gave James to write. Let them shape the way you think and feel about trials.

James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ:

To the 12 tribes in the Dispersion.

Greetings.

2Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, 3knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.

5Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him. 6But let him ask in faith without doubting. For the doubter is like the surging sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8An indecisive man is unstable in all his ways. (James 1:1-8 HCSB).

Count your trials as opportunities for your faith. That's the theme today. Count them as opportunities for your faith to be trained in endurance. Count them as opportunities for your faith to pray for wisdom.

A. Opportunities for your faith to be trained to endure

The James who wrote this letter was probably the James who became the leader of the Christian church in Jerusalem. This is not the James we know from the trio: Peter, James, and John. That James was the brother of John, the son of Zebedee. He was the first of the twelve disciples to be martyred, killed by King Herod as recorded in Acts 12. But in Acts 15, we meet this James who is leading the council at Jerusalem, elsewhere referred to as James, the brother of our Lord. Since he was so well-known in the church, he could simply identify himself as James when he wrote this letter.

He writes to Jewish Christians that had been scattered or dispersed from Jerusalem. Think back to your Bible history. On Pentecost the Apostles began preaching the Good News of Jesus in Jerusalem. Thousands believed. Over the next few years the church continued to grow in Jerusalem as more and more Jews believed in Jesus as the Messiah. But then one of the leading Christians, a man by the name of Stephen, was arrested by the Sanhedrin. As he called them to account for their obstinacy and pointed them to Jesus, the Righteous One, angry madness overwhelmed them. They dragged him out of the city and stoned him to death, as he prayed, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60 NIV84).

That marked the beginning of intense persecution against the Jewish Christians, not from the Romans but from their fellow Jews. Many Jewish Christians fled Jerusalem, scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. As a leader in the Jerusalem church and in concern for these scattered Jewish Christian, many of whom he may have served as a pastor, James writes to them with these words given him by the Holy Spirit.

What a trial those early Jewish Christians experienced! They had to flee from their homes in fear for their lives. Who knows what they left behind? They were hated by their fellow Jews, some probably once close and dear family members. What a heavy burden for following Jesus! How tempting to give up!

But James writes, “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:2, 3 HCSB).

When things are going well, how easy for me to imagine that my faith is pretty strong. Maybe you know that feeling that imagines you can face anything. And then the trial strikes like a blast and fire, and it feels as if my faith has evaporated into nothingness. “Why is God letting this happen? It was so much easier to believe before. How come he's undermining my faith like this?”

But do you know, dear friends, what he’s actually doing for me through that trial? He has exposed how shallow and self-centered my faith was. I might have thought my faith was strong, but I had been trusting more in myself rather than in my Lord. He could have left me slip entirely into that self-faith and be lost, or he could send that trial to train my faith to endure and persevere by trusting him alone. Now which of those truly leads to joy? “Consider it a great joy … whenever you experience various trials.

Iron mixed with clay is brittle. It does not last. But iron tempered by fire with its impurities burnt away endures. Faith endures only as long as what it's trusting lasts. Faith that's trusting in myself is trusting in a fragile clay jar that came from dust and will return to dust. Trials expose how worthless such a faith is. Only Jesus and his word endures forever. Only his love and forgiveness lasts for eternity. Trials train me not to trust myself but rather Christ alone.

Or consider the marathon runner. How will he finish the race if he doesn't train? And training isn't easy. It takes time, effort, and straining. There will be soreness, aches, and pains. But through it all he or she matures as a runner to endure those 26.22 miles. Count your trials as opportunities for your faith to be trained to endure.

What a joy! What a joy that our Lord Jesus Christ has the compassion to send those trials to train our faith to endure and temper it to persevere. He desires for you to grow and mature in your faith. He longs to show that your faith does not lean on earthly props but trusts in him and his word alone.

But do you and I have the wisdom to see our trials in this way and count them as pure joy?

B. Opportunities for your faith to pray for wisdom

Here's the answer James gives, “Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him” (James 2:5 HCSB). Trials are an opportunity for your faith to pray for wisdom.

Do you recall how James introduced himself back in verse one as a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ? Jesus had redeemed him to be his own, purchased him with his blood. What a gracious, self-sacrificing Lord! He has done the same for you and me, dear friend. Why would we not go to him in prayer? Why would we doubt that he who gave himself for us on the cross would not now give what is best? Or consider how God the Father kept his promise to send his one and only Son to be our Savior. Won't he also keep his promise to grant us the wisdom we need when we ask him? Why imagine that he would criticize or rebuke us for asking him just as he has invited and commanded us so to do? Why doubt such a generous Father who’s whole-heartedly focused on our best interest? Why doubt such a gracious Lord who ransomed us while we were still lost and condemned creatures?

For when we doubt his word, we become like a wave on the surging sea tossed and blown every which way. Doubt takes our eyes off of Jesus. Think of Peter. As he focused on the Lord's invitation, he walked on the storm-tossed water out to him. But when he became indecisive and double minded, thinking not only about Jesus and his word of promise but also about the waves and the wind and the worries of drowning, he began to sink.

Pray for wisdom. Pray with your faith focused only on Jesus and his word of promise. Pray for wisdom knowing that Jesus answers that prayer through his word, the Bible. Take his word to heart, think about it, mull it over, ponder it, inwardly digest it, put it into practice, live it. For as the Apostle Paul reminded Timothy, it's the Holy Scriptures that make us wise for salvation and fully equip us with all that he need, including the wisdom we pray for in times of trial.

Pray: “Heavenly Father, you know all things and nothing is beyond your power. I feel so weak and helpless. Doubts trouble me when I look at the trials in my life. I don't know what to do. Give me the wisdom that follows your Son, my Savior, Jesus Christ, who endured the greatest trials and suffering for me. Give me the faith that follows him to the cross as I bear my cross. Let me see your wisdom, grace, and mercy shining out from your word into even the darkest spots of my life. Enlighten me with your word, so that my faith matures, as I grow up in your grace and knowledge. Grant me the endurance and the wisdom to count my trials as joyful opportunities -- opportunities for my faith to show the greatness of your forgiving love in Christ Jesus my Lord, just as Stephen did. Amen.”

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313

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