The Epistle of James - Godly Values
Part 39 - The Christian response to trouble
22nd March 2019
Towards the end of his letter, James writes:
James is telling us that in whatever circumstances you find yourself, there is a godly and right way to respond to those circumstances. This week, we'll look at the first two of these instructions:
Christians are God's precious chosen people. If you're a Christian, you're far more important, far more valuable, to God than you could possibly realise. Jesus loves you. He thinks you're worth dying for. God always listens to you when you pray. He knows exactly what you're going through, and exactly how you feel.
Jesus longs for you to come closer to Him, to trust Him more, to experience Him more, to follow Him more, to become more like Him. God wants to give you everything he has. You are His heir. But it doesn't always feel like it. Sometimes, when we go through trials, we wonder, "How can this trial possibly be consistent with the idea that God loves me?" You may be familiar with this anonymous poem:
When God wants to drill a man,
I'm convinced that God knows what he's doing, but I'm aware that some of my friends are hurting profoundly. It can be difficult to hold both these thoughts in our minds at the same time. Sooner or later, every Christian heart cries out, "If God really loves me, why isn't my life more comfortable than this?" and it can be very difficult to believe that the reason your life is so difficult is because God wants to make you great, but it's true.
God wants to make you wonderful beyond your imagining. His purpose may not completed until many millennia in heaven, for all I know, but He's at work in you to make you absolutely perfect. And when I consider what I was like when I started on this journey, it's not surprising that He had to knock a few corners off me - and you. And he's still doing it. But God loves you. And that will always be true, whatever we have to go through. I hope you know that theologically, even if you don't always feel it.
The Greek word translated "in trouble" can also mean "suffering". James is asking "Is any of you suffering?" And to those of us who are suffering, James advises, "He should pray." And I want to add a word that's not in the text. I'd like to advise you that, if you're suffering you should pray first. Our first response should be to go to God in prayer.
I hope that when you're suffering, you ask God for His help. But so often, our first reaction to a problem is not prayer. Our immediate reaction might be to shout at somebody, or get drunk, or fall into self-pity. We pray eventually, but we go through anger, resentment, unforgiveness, bewilderment, trying to fix it ourselves - which generally speaking is not a good plan - before we come to prayer. How much grief would we save ourselves if we went to God the moment problems arose, and asked, "God, what should I do? How should I react?" and "What are you trying to teach me?"
When you're going through a difficult time, God is still in control. So why has trouble come? God must be trying to teach us something. God answers our prayers, but C.S. Lewis once said, "I do not pray because prayer changes things. I pray because it changes me". The first thing we need is for God to change us. If somebody hurts me, or disappoints me, I need to pray, "Lord, I'm feeling angry. I'm feeling resentful. I feel like giving up. Change my heart". Pray "God, give me a godly heart in this circumstance". "Give me a loving heart despite my pain". "Give me a faithful heart despite my exhaustion".
The first port of call is prayer, and the most important thing in prayer is that I develop a right attitude to my situation. How can I possibly respond wisely if my heart is wrong? How can I put anything right if I don't love my neighbour, if I don't trust my God?
So start with prayer. "Is any of you suffering, pray". That should be obvious, but James thought it was worth reminding us.
And I think it's also worth reminding ourselves that God's still with us on the worst of days. And God always listens. If you ask "God, this hurts, please take it away", He may or may not do that, but He will touch your heart and make you a more godly person. He will give you courage and endurance and sacrifice and love to bear it, if you will let Him. God may or may not take the suffering away, but He will shape you in, and because of, the circumstance. And He'll be with you every day of the circumstance.
I don't know why you have to go through your particular trial but I know God's there in the trial with you. We'll never fully understand God's purposes, but it's better to trust God and walk with God through the trial than to give up on God because of the trial. And we can pray, "Lord, make me the sort of person who can rejoice anyway".
Paul said, "I have learnt the secret of being content in any and every situation" (Philippians 4v12) so let's pray that we learn it, too. Paul proved in his life that you don't find contentment by God fixing the circumstances. You find contentment by God fixing you. And that only happens through prayer.
I'm not saying this is easy. I'm certainly not saying it's quick. But I am saying it works. God will give you a fresh heart, if you ask Him. He'll give you endurance, patience, trust, calmness, love, even love for your enemies, if you pray, "Father God, I hate this circumstance. But if you're going to shape me through it, so be it. Shape me the way you want to shape me. Don't let me be shaped by the world. Don't let me be shaped by the demons. Don't let me shaped by my own fallen humanity. Let me be shaped by your Holy Spirit, as I go through this trial". And he will make you a great Christian, over time.
And then James says ""Is anyone happy, let him sing songs of praise".
The Greek word translated "happy" here is occurs in Acts 27v22. Paul was sailing to Rome, and his ship was hit by a storm, and the sailors panicked, but Paul told them to keep up their courage. That's the same word.
I think James is saying, "Yes, you have difficult circumstances. Those of you who are going to God in prayer, who are triumphing despite the circumstances, who trust in God, and find courage in God, and keep going, sing songs of praise". Not because life has become easy, but because God is giving you victory over the problems. David Pawson spoke about hearing a Christian asking another how he was, and the second Christian answered, "I'm very well over the circumstances". Only a Christian would say that but, through prayer, we can live over the circumstances.
I know deep sickness, or bereavement, or other real challenges are heart-breaking. But I also know that it's possible to cling to Jesus anyway. And if we stay close to Jesus through the trials, then we will grow and grow and become beautiful people, because God is shaping us.
We all wish the difficult circumstances didn't come, but we can and should sing songs of praise to the God who sustains us through them, the God who has won us eternal life, the God who will never let us go, who has poured out His Holy Spirit upon us, and given us faith to believe in our Heavenly Father's love.
I think God values the songs of the broken-hearted Christian much more than the songs of the happy Christian. They're beautiful to Him.
If you're struggling, if your walk with God isn't as close as it might be,there are various things you can do to get closer to God and live the more victorious Christian life. One of them, of course, is to repent of any sin that's dragging you down. Another, of course, is to believe the Bible. And another is to worship God.
If you will sing songs of praise to God anyway, He'll touch your heart and make your burdens more bearable. He'll draw you closer to Him. You'll see God more clearly when you're worshipping Him. This is communion between God and man. We come to Him with our praise. He comes to us and touches us by His Spirit.
Sometimes we don't feel like singing, but take courage and sing anyway, because God deserves it, and God will do you good if you come and praise His Holy Name.