Greg Laurie - How To Deal with Trials and Temptation
Maybe I'm talking to somebody going through a fiery trial right now. Seemingly out of nowhere, the bottom just dropped out, and you're facing problem after problem and you don't know why this is happening to you. You're saying, "What's wrong with me? What have I done to deserve this"? Let me have you look at it a little differently. Instead of asking "What's wrong with me," maybe you should ask "What's right with me". Because the reason you're being attacked is because you are a threat to Satan and his kingdom and the devil wants to stop you. So God's allowing these trials in your life for a purpose. It's been said, "Christians are a lot like tea bags, you don't know what they're made of until you put them in hot water".
Maybe you're in the hot water of temptation right now or you're going through a big trial. But someone else would say, "Well, I'm not going through any trials, I haven't had any hardships and I can't remember the last time I was tempted". Oh, you just admitted you're basically worthless. Ever hear the expression you don't need to kick a dead horse? See, the devil doesn't need to waste his time with an immobilized compromised Christian, instead, he's gonna focus his energies and his attacks on those who are a threat to the kingdom. But here's the good news, Jesus said, "The gates of hell will not prevail against us".
Have you ever wondered what that means? See, think of it this way, have you ever seen one of those movies where an army is storming a castle and they close the gate, and as the army gets closer, they pour boiling oil over the side, right? But then what does the army do? They pull out their battering ram and they push it through the gate and finally the gate breaks and they go inside. So when Jesus says, "The gates of hell will not prevail against you," we're the invading army. We've got the battering ram of the gospel and we're breaking through the gates and we're going to break through those gates and those gates will not prevail against us because we're on the winning side with the message of Jesus Christ. That's what that means. But if you choose to live that way, you will be opposed, but that's good news, it's confirmation you're on the right track.
All right, so back to the book of James. This was written to the Jewish people who had been scattered. The 12 tribes of Israel were flung far and wide. They were no longer ruling their own nation as they had in the past with kings like David and Solomon. Now, they're under the rule of the occupying force of Rome and Caesar and it's a hard time for them and they're suffering. And maybe I'm talking to someone that's suffering right now. If so, this book is for you. The book of James was written by the half-brother of Jesus, James.
Now Let me explain, half-brother. The mother of James was Mary, the father of James was Joseph, but his half-brother, if you will, was Jesus because the mother of Jesus was Mary, but the Father of Jesus was God the Father. And his Son was supernaturally conceived in the womb of Mary. Mary was not sinless, Jesus was not born of what is sometimes called Immaculate Conception. Mary was a sinner like everyone else yet she was handpicked by God to have this great privilege of being the mother of the Messiah. But Joseph, was a stepfather and clearly an earthly father figure for Jesus and I think he was a great dad. And we talk a lot about Mary and her life but we shouldn't forget Joseph because of all the men God could've chosen, he said, "I want that man to be the father figure to my Son".
And so, Jesus had siblings because sometimes we hear it said, "Jesus had no brothers and sisters". No, he had brothers and sisters. And James was one of those brothers. But you would think they all believed in him. I mean, who was a better kid than Jesus? He always did all of his chores, no rebellion, no back talk, he was the perfect young man, the perfect teenager, the perfect young adult. He was the greatest example of all time yet we read that his own family did not believe in him, in fact, they came to take him home on one occasion because they thought he was crazy.
And so, that brings me to my first point if you're taking notes, even living a perfect Christian life will not convince some people. Even living a perfect Christian life will not convince some people. Who lived a more perfect life than Christ himself? He never lied, he never stole, he never lost his temper, he never even sinned inwardly. But look at how James and how he starts his Epistle. James chapter 1, verse 1, "James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: Greetings. My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing".
Okay, point number one: Even living a perfect Christian life will not convince some people. Point number two: Make a choice to rejoice when you go through times of trial. Look at verse 2, "My brethren count it all joy when you fall into various trials," or another translation puts it this way, "Count it pure, unmixed, complete and total joy". What kinda weird thing is that to say to a suffering person? Here's what he isn't saying. He's not saying enjoy it when you suffer, I don't think any of us enjoy suffering. He's not saying that the trials themselves are joy because they are not, in fact, Hebrews 12:11 says, "No discipline seems pleasant at the time but painful". What James is saying is, "Consider it pure joy," or as I said, make a choice to rejoice.
You see, it's a matter of will not emotions. "The more we rejoice in our testings, the more we realize there're not liabilities, but privileges ultimately helpful, not harmful, no matter how severe they may appear". There are times in life that we go through hardship, but we make a choice to rejoice. Take Jesus as the ultimate example. It says in Hebrews 12, "For the joy that was set before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and now has sat down at the right hand of God".
Wait, what joy? Jesus had been scourged 39 times. Jesus had his beard ripped from his face. He had been struck repeatedly with fists. He had a crown of thorns pressed down on his head. He'd lost a tremendous amount of blood, and he is carrying this massive cross. And yet, the joy set before him. What joy? That joy was you. That joy was me. That joy was us because he knew what the cross would accomplish. Jesus did not come to this earth to be a good example. He came to be a suffering Savior to die in our place on the cross and to bear our sins and then to rise again from the dead. But the joy set before him, you see?
Point number three: Trials happen to make us stronger in every way. Trials happen to make us stronger in every way. Verse 3, "Knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience, but let patience have its perfect work that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing". Okay, so the word patience is probably not the best translation and I'm using the New King James Version here. It comes from a Greek word that translates out to toughness, fortitude, endurance, or staying power. So it's implying something different than simple patience. A modern translation of James verses 3 and 4 say, "Let it grow, don't try to squirm out of your problems for when your patience is in full bloom," rather, "You're ready for anything strong in character, full and complete".
It's like going to the gym and working out. How many of you go to a gym or a health club? Raise your hand. Okay, a few more of you might think about. Just saying. How many of you that go to the gym like to go to the gym? You enjoy it. You love the release of endurance? Okay, I hope you're not in steroids, sir. I don't know. Okay, you are, no more coffee for this man over here. So, hey, I admire anybody that enjoys working out. I go to the gym. I don't like it, my favorite time is when it's done. But here's the funny thing. I'll make up every excuse as to why I don't wanna go. Even when I'm there, "I don't wanna do this". But then once I'm done, I'm glad I did it not because I enjoyed it, but it actually energizes me when I complete it.
You see, that's what trials are like. A lot of people find themselves feeling tired and lethargic. They say, "Well, I'm just getting old". That may be true but you might be out of shape or you're in a shape, you're in the shape of a pear, that's not a good shape. People even call you "The Lord's Pear" and you don't like it. So you can't fight age, you can't stop age, but you can do the best you can with your body and stay strong and get stronger physically. The same can be true spiritually as well. You might say, "Well, I don't feel any spiritual energy. I feel tired and drained, but I'm still reading my Bible, I'm praying I'm going to church, I'm even in a Harvest small group and I feel this lethargy". Well, here's my advice to you. Get off your fat, lazy boy recliner. What did you think I was gonna say? Wow, where are your head's at today?
Now get off your La-Z-Boy recliner and do something. You see the spiritual life is taking in but it's also giving out and if I only take in and I don't give out, I am gonna reach a state of spiritual lethargy. The Bible says, "Give and it shall be given unto you, pressed down, shaken together, running over with the same measure you give, it shall be given back to you". So trials are like God's gym where we're broken down in order to be built up, where we take our faith from the realm of theory to reality so we can start living at our faith in the real world. You'll always have trials in this life. They won't stop until you get to heaven. But God will be with you through every single one. Verse 2 says, "Count it all joy when you go through these various trials". It's not if, it's when. You're going to go through them.
Point number four: It is through trials that we learn great wisdom. So they not only make us stronger spiritually, but through trials we learn things that we would not have otherwise learned. Look at verse 5, "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God who gives to all liberally and without reproach and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. Let not that man suppose he will receive anything from the Lord. He's a double minded man, unstable in all of his ways".
You know, we live in a time where we can get information on demand. All you have to do is say, "Hey, Siri, what's the temperature today"? "Hey, Google, what about this"? "Hey, Alexa," you ask her a question and you talk to this Artificial Intelligence and in many ways we have knowledge that's a mile wide but an inch deep. We have knowledge without wisdom. Through knowledge we've learned how to travel faster than sound but we show our lack of wisdom by going faster in the wrong direction. See, what we need is wisdom, knowledge is good, we want knowledge, we need biblical knowledge, we need other kinds of knowledge, but we need wisdom. And the Bible says, "If any man lack wisdom let him ask of God, and he'll give it generously but when you ask, don't doubt".
So this is one of those prayers that when you pray it, you know God will answer it. It's praying for the will of God. A lot of times when we sit down to have a meeting or we make some plans for the future, we'll pray, "Lord, give us wisdom. You've told us in your Word, 'If any man lacks wisdom, let him ask of you and you'll give it generously.' Lord, we need that wisdom right now". That's a good prayer to pray. We need to know his will especially on the biggest decisions of life. One being who you're gonna marry or maybe God won't have you get married. But you need wisdom to know you wanna make the right decision there. What career path you may choose, what ministry opportunities you may respond to. You need this wisdom and when you pray, believe you will receive it.
Point number five: God will enable us to endure and get through times of temptation. God will enable us to endure and get through times of temptation. James 1 verse 12, "Blessed is he who endures temptation for when he has been approved, he'll receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love him. But let no one say when he is tempted, 'I'm tempted by God for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he himself tempt anyone.'" Look at this part, don't miss these final verses. "Each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and is enticed, and then when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin and sin when it is full grown, brings forth death". Okay, question. Where does temptation come from? Artful answer would probably be, "Well, the devil," there's truth to that, but it's not all of it. It comes from us too. We play a key role in our own temptation. Where there's no desire on our part there's no temptation. In fact, in these verses, we have the five steps to temptation.
Number one: the temptation itself. Verse 14, "Everyone is tempted when they're drawn away by their own desires," which by the way, are common to man. So, whatever you're being tempted to do, you're not the only one 'cause sometimes we may think, "Oh man, how could that thought have come into my mind? What is wrong with me"? Doesn't mean anything's wrong with you, listen, it's not a sin to be tempted. The sin of temptation is not the bait, it's the bite. If you don't take the bait, you haven't sinned, you have to bite at it. So just because a thought comes to your mind doesn't mean you're evil, it just means you're being tempted by evil.
The Bible calls it, King James, "The fiery darts of the wicked one". Years ago when I was a young preacher, I think I was maybe 18 or 19 when I gave one of my first sermons, it was at a Christian camp, Chuck Smith was there. I wanted to impress everyone. And so, I was speaking on Ephesians 6 about spiritual warfare. And instead of talking about the fiery darts of the wicked one, I instead said the diary farts of the wicked one. It's kind of an embarrassing moment, but they're not diary farts. So it really, a better translation would be "Flaming arrows," okay, "Flaming arrows".
So you know, maybe you're worshiping the Lord and your thoughts are on heavenly things. And all of a sudden... that's the sound of an arrow. That sound like an arrow? There it is, okay. All of a sudden, weird, bizarre thought, horrible thought. And the devil says, "How could you think that in church"? Well, these are temptations. You just say, I reject that, that is not from God, okay. So the temptation itself, we're all going to be tempted.
Number two: But maybe you're interested in it. So everyone is drawn away by their own desires. See, I kinda bent, I won't do it, but show me what you're offering, you know. It's like that test drive, you're looking at that car. "Let's take it out for a spin". "No". "Then you could come on now". Why are they doing that? Because you will be locked in a car with a person that will try to close that deal and make that sale or the free sample. You know, I was in a farmer's market yesterday walking along and they were offering free samples. And some guy said, "I have free sample, this soup". I'm like, "I don't want soup". Who even wants to eat soup? How can anyone make a meal from soup? Soup to me is like salad. It's what I eat to warm up for real food, right? "Try this". No, it's okay. "No, try it". Nah, okay, whatever. I take a little sip of this tiny little cup, I'll have it now, how much is it? It was great soup. It was really hearty with Turkey in it and all kinds of things.
So I bought this bag of frozen soup, Kathy's buying vegetables. "Look what I bought". She say, "Why"? "I don't know, it was good". It started with a free sample. So the devil says, "Okay, okay, I know you would never do this because you're such a godly person, but just take this thought for a spin. Just take a little nibble, it'll be fun. You would never act on it". But that's the whole strategy of temptation. It starts in the realm of your mind. Now you're almost hooked. Verse 14 of James 1, you're drawn away by your own desires that are still a way out, but you're thinking, you're processing, you're considering, and the hook is now set, and you bite. Verse 15, "When desire is conceived it gives birth to sin". And so you've acted on the evil thought.
And there's maybe the momentary pleasure that can come from certain sins but then immediately if your conscience is working, guilt kicks in, regret, remorse, that spiritual deadness. Thank God you can say, "Lord, I'm sorry, I repent", and he'll forgive you. But you know the effects of sin that can happen in your life and then the effects of sin, number five, kick in. Verse 15, "Sin when it's full grown brings forth death". The Bible says, "The soul that sins shall surely die". It also says, "The wages of sin are death". You're now separated from God. So now I wanna blame someone. "This is not my fault. The devil made me do it". No, he didn't. Devil can't make you do anything. He can tempt you, you have to cooperate. "Well, this other person, it's their fault, they tempted me". Well, maybe they did, but you're still responsible for your own actions.
That's what Adam did he blamed Eve and he played a role in it but ultimately it was Adam's decision to eat of that forbidden fruit. Okay, here's another thought, we're almost done here, when does temptation generally come? This might surprise you. When does it generally come? After times of great blessing. Remember Jesus was baptized by his cousin, John the Baptist. And then you remember that the Father spoke from heaven and said, "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. And the Spirit of God came upon Jesus in the form of a dove". What a moment, what a blessing. Now, what did we read then? Immediately after that Jesus went into the wilderness to be tested and tempted by the devil. After the dove came the devil, after the blessing came the temptation.
So it might happen after church. "Oh, I love that, great time of worship, so sermon, but still". You're in your car, someone cuts you off. "You stinky". Oh, you start fighting with your wife in front of your kids. Something else happens, "Wait, what's going on"? Yeah, but attacks often come after times of blessing. So brace yourself for that, be aware of that. And that's what's going to happen in life. But God always has a way out for us and every temptation can be resisted and listened to this, I love that verse. "Blessed is the man that endures temptation for when he has been tried, he'll receive the crown of life".