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Jack Graham - What Works When Life Doesn't?


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    Jack Graham - What Works When Life Doesn't?
TOPICS: LifeWorks

This is a brand-new series on the book of James. So many of you as I've seen you out and about tell me you're looking forward to this series. I hope that when you get what you want you want what you get because I'm telling you, James is an in your face, straight up, no holds barred kind of message. The entire book of James is practical, it's personal, it's pertinent, all the subjects that we're dealing with in our daily lives we find in the book of James. And so you would think that one of the toughest subjects that we could face, the subject of suffering and trials and evil and why we go, you would think that he would sort of lead up to that, right. Deal with lesser, lighter subjects but, no, right out of the shoot James is saying trials.

And verse two says: "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet (or fall into) trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing". The goal of the book of James, and beyond that, the goal of the Christian life is Christian maturity. The development of our Christian character, Christ's likeness. The goal always for us is godliness! That we would be perfect and complete in our lives before Christ and before the world. James comes at us in his letter with a lot of imperatives, not declaratives, but imperatives. In other words, commands. For example, there are four of them in the passage that we're looking at today. You may want to take your marker or your pen and mark these. And I would encourage you to take notes in our series on James all the way through.

My daughter-in-law Toby told me yesterday, "Daddy Jack, I got me a new journal and I'm ready to go. I'm ready to take notes". You talk about pressure, you know! Okay, so maybe you'd like to take some notes or mark your Bibles for sure. But there are four imperatives, four words that are in the imperative tense: count in verse 2. See it? Then in verse 3, know or knowing- know this. Verse 4, the word let, "Let patience have it's perfect work". And then in verse 6, ask - If you need wisdom you should ask of God. So there are four imperatives that prompt us how we should learn and grow and develop in our Christian life and faith.

Here's the message, the sermon in a sentence, if you want to write it down: You can face trials with a sense of joyful confidence and faith when you understand God's purpose in the trial. I'll say it again. Here's the message today, and really over the next two weeks. You can face life's trials with a sense of joyful confidence and faith when you understand God's purpose in the trial. Let's talk for a moment about the reality of trials. Verse 2 says: "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet various kinds of trials". Not if, but when! Not maybe so, but count on it that trials in the Christian's life are non electives but required in the curriculum of Christ. Every trial that we face is to prove us and test us. So when we face trials, it's not time for us as believers to curl up in the fetal position but to learn everything we need to learn in the midst of that trial so that we can grow through it. Not just go through it, but grow through it.

I can remember when I was battling cancer in 2009, and one of my friends said to me, "Jack, I'm praying for you that you will learn everything you need to learn in the midst of this trial in your life". I've never forgotten that. It became my prayer. "Lord, teach me what you want to teach me". And frankly He taught me a lot more than I think I wanted to know at the time. It was tough curriculum, but I learned so much. And these are trials! Trials are tests that authenticate our faith, that prove the genuineness of our faith. Think of a trial as a test, like the proving of or the testing or the refining of gold and silver. Job said, "When I am refined I will come forth as gold".

Trials are painful and as painful as they are in our circumstances, they strengthen our faith and build our character, and move us forward in Christ's likeness. There is an advantage in adversity. Trials are storms, they are disciplines, they are disappointments. Trials can be pain and suffering, heartache. They are designed to produce a deeper work in us. And notice, they happen, and life gets hard, and life doesn't work the way we thought it was going to work, for it says: "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet (or fall into) various trials". The idea that James is giving us here is we're walking along, the blue skies, we're singing "Zip-a-dee-dah, Zip-a-dee-day, My, oh my what a wonderful day". And then BAMMMM! Out of nowhere, out of the blue we find ourselves in the middle of a trial, a test, and a storm. And we're in the middle of it.

Some of you, I know I'm preaching to people right now, you're in the middle of a trial. It's been said that for every Christian, you're either in a trial or you're coming out of a trial, or you're going into a trial. Welcome to life! That's life! Trials for the believer are inevitable and inescapable. Don't think that Christianity is immunity! Anybody tells you that the Christian life is all easy, sunshine and roses, either they don't know their Bibles or they are false advertising. Because we know when we read our Bibles we realize that life can be hard and pain can be excruciating, and trouble, suffering is real.

We live in a world that is full of pain and suffering. In Romans 8 we're told that all creation groans. Mother earth is groaning in childbirth, in preparation for the new birth of planet earth that is coming when Christ comes again. But now, this side of eternity we live with suffering and pain and heartache. And we are often in the middle of those trials. But secondly, notice the response of the believer to these trials, for verse 2 says: "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you fall into various trials"! What? James, come on! I promise you when I walk into hospital rooms or homes where people are grieving, I don't walk in with a big old smile on my face, saying, "Count it all joy, everybody"! So why would James offer this very difficult, really impossible command. "Count it all joy".

Well, you've got to remember, number one, that joy and happiness are two different things. Happiness is a byproduct of joy, but happiness depends upon our circumstances; upon what our happenings are; what happens to us. If you walk into your office on Monday and your supervisor says good news, you're getting a raise, ah, happy, happy, happy, happy! But if you walk in and you get a pink slip- unhappy, unhappy, unhappy, circumstances. And therefore, what happens to us determines so often our emotional response. If I say it just so happens that what happens to you happens to make you happy, then it will just so happen that you'll happen to be happy.

But if it just so happens that what happens to you happens to make you unhappy, then it will just so happen that you'll happen to be unhappy. You get it? It's all about circumstances. That's happiness. I'm not happy all the time. But I have an incredible joy in my life that comes only from Jesus. Someone called it artisan joy. I like that. A well of joy that is within us. Jesus said, "My joy I give to you". In the midst of the trial, facing the cross, He said, I give you My joy. It was for the joy that was set before Him that He endured the cross despising the pain. That joy that was before Him. And Jesus said that joy is your joy. It's not a superficial happiness; it is a supernatural joy that Jesus gives. And therefore, when we face these trials our response should be joy. Joy is the spiritual pleasure that comes from His presence.

Here's what the psalmist said in Psalm 16:11 "In Your presence, Lord, is fullness of joy; in Your right hand are pleasures forevermore". It's in the presence of God when we start counting on the presence of God that we experience His joy. The joy that comes from Jesus. Now notice, He says "Count it all joy, my brothers". And you can certainly add sisters there. Count it all joy, people who are in Christ. Joy is the unique promise and privilege to believers and followers of Jesus. If you don't have Jesus in your life then count on the next fifteen minutes of pleasure you have because that's all you got. There's pleasure in sin for a season, then oops, it's over. But joy lasts a lifetime in spite of pressures and problems.

No wonder the Apostle Paul, from prison, I would call that a trial, from prison because he preached Christ, said in Philippians 4:4: "Rejoice in the Lord always. And again, I say rejoice". Rejoice evermore! Never give up on your joy! Don't let anyone or anything steal your joy! Nehemiah said, "The joy of the Lord is my strength". If Satan or if circumstances can steal your joy then your strength is gone. Have you ever noticed when you're down, when you're miserable how exhausting that is? When you're depressed and defeated, how tired you are? The joy of the Lord is your strength. This is not just putting a plastic smile on your face. This is just not a little motto for your coffee cup, "Count it all joy"! But the word there count, again imperative, means compute or add it up.

James is doing a little mathematics here. He says when you add it up, the sufferings of this present time, as the Bible says, "are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is before us". God is at work. And if you know Jesus, you know that God is good and God is gracious and God is present no matter what you're going through, no matter what you're going through. That there's never been a time in your life that you haven't been loved by a heavenly Father who daily walks with you and lives in you. So don't trade what you don't know for what you do know if you know Jesus.

Psalm 27:13 says: "I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living". This was actually a verse that became very near and dear to me during my battle with cancer in 2009. "I would have despaired unless I had believed"! Know what you believe! The psalmist is saying, "My trial would have overwhelmed me, it would have killed me unless I believed". This is faith that works. You say, "Okay, pastor, I get it. Trials are real, trials are raw, but what the reasons for trials"?

I have in closing, we'll mention them briefly. We're going to do a second part in this message on trials, but five reasons for trials. You may want to write them down. The results of a trial: Number one, stability. That's why He gives the word steadfastness there. "For you know the testing of your faith produces steadfastness", which means to remain under pressure; To be steadfast is strong, immovable, to stay strong in the Lord in the power of His might! It means to remain under pressure.

Now that's difficulty because what's the first thing we want to do when we get into trouble or when there's pain or when there's a problem? What do we want? Out! Out, as fast as possible. I do, and so do you. But we don't need to get out of the penalty box as it were till God says we're out, and until patience, steadfastness produces stability in our lives. God wants to bring us to the place where we don't fall apart when bad things happen, that we're not crushed by some crisis in our life. It's like a trainer. The idea here is under pressure, it's like exercising with a trainer and weights, staying under the weights and staying with it, and maybe your trainer, if you work on weights will say, "Come on, get one more, get one more, stay with it! You can do it, you can do it"! Veins are popping out on the side of your neck. "You can do it one more time"!

Well, James is like your personal trainer here. He's saying, stay under it until the perfect work is done, until the faith muscle is built in your life. God wants you to be strong and stable and steadfast. God doesn't want you just to go through trials, as I said, but to grow through them. And so as long as you're there, let patience do a perfect work.

As a personal testimony I can tell you when I was sick back in '09, I would literally sometimes I would sit and look at the clock. We have a big round clock in our house and I would look at that, wanting it to move faster. I wanted this to be over. You know. Didn't matter, though. I could go and move the hands of the clock to another time, it's still the same thing, it's still the same time. And so you gotta stay there as long as God keeps you there. But guess what? Just like when He was with those three Hebrew children, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace, the fourth man in the fiery furnace. God knows, as Warren Wiersbe says, "the time on the clock and the temperature on the thermostat, He knows how long and how hot it needs to be".

Stability. Then, maturity. Verse 4 speaks of this perfect work, this complete work. He is completing His work in us. God is finishing us off to the full. And when we persevere, we mature. When we endure, we mature. He's working on us from the inside out. And remember, what's the goal? Perfection which is Christ-likeness. Now this side of heaven we know that we'll never be like Jesus, but if your goal to be like Jesus, then let God keep working and maturing you and developing you. Unfortunately too many Christians are not growing.

We had the grandkids over last night, some of them. It's so much fun seeing the sheer joy. They're tearing up our house. Our house looks like a tornado has come through it. Cars and toys and planes. But the laughter in our home, it was just so much fun. They were shouting, having the greatest time, being little kids. But if they're doing the same thing twenty years from now, that's a problem. Cause you want your children to grow up and your grandchildren to grow up.

And God wants His kids to grow up. But some of us are not growing. You don't know your Bibles. You're still on the milk of the Word, not the meat of the Word. You really don't know much about praying except some SOS prayer when you're in trouble. Your prayer life is ridiculous. You can't even remember the last time you ever shared your faith with somebody. Giving? Ha! Maybe if someone appeals to you, you'll through a little bit in the plate, but the idea of tithing and giving? You're out! You need to grow; you need to grow in your faith. I've been told that a wasp is bigger at the time the wasp is hatched than at any other time in its existence. A lot of Christians are like that; they're bigger when they're born again than any other time in their Christian life, and that's every unfortunate.

See, I told you James was tough. And if you're going to live the Christian life then you've got to commit to growth. And if you're not growing, guess what's going to happen. Anybody have an idea? A trial's coming to try to wake you up, try to stir you up, try to get you up and get you going. More about that next week. The third thing is clarity. James here speaks in verse 5 of wisdom. He said ask and you will be given wisdom. When we are in trials, there's something about trials that clears our thinking, understanding, a perspective comes when God gives us wisdom. When you pray your eyes get opened to what God may be doing in your life. You don't always know exactly why the trial is there, but you get some perspective in the trial. There's clarity. More about that next week.

Then there's vitality. "James, a servant of God and our Lord Jesus Christ, Count it all joy, brothers (and sisters) in Christ" Vitality prepares us for greater service. Pain produces spiritual power for ministry. I know this: the people that I respect the most in their Christian walk and witness are those who've been through the deepest trials and struggles, and have come through them stronger and better. And I've seen that many times as a pastor. People who go through the most horrendous things, and yet their joy remains and their faith is in tact and stronger, and therefore, their service to the Lord, their test becomes a testimony and their mess a message cause they've been through some things and God has sustained them and strengthened them.

I know this: God rarely if ever uses anybody in a great way who hasn't been broken. And so God may send a trial in our lives to break us that He might bless us in ways that we can't even imagine yet. God wants to use you in a greater way, so it's like the crushing of the grapes. The crushing of the crucibles of life, you are prepared for something better and greater in your life than you ever thought possible. It's not over. God's getting you ready for something better, something greater in your life.

And one final thing: these trials produce humility. That's why James said, "I'm a servant". He is the remarkable testimony of the humility in which we serve God. And you know, when we go through trials we can be living high, wide and handsome, arrogant, full of ourselves, and then a trial comes and shows us we're not all that. Our hearts get broken, our lives get broken and we're crushed. But it brings us to our knees and on our faces before God, and in that humbling moment we receive in the trial the experience of knowing God like we've never known Him before, as He becomes Lord of life and Lord of all.
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