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Jack Graham - Turning Your Trials into Triumphs

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    Jack Graham - Turning Your Trials into Triumphs
TOPICS: LifeWorks, Trials, Hard times

Turn to the book of James chapter 1 and the title of the message is: "Turning Your Trials to Triumph". It's really a continuation of the message that we began last week on trials. "What Works when Life Doesn't". We know that Christianity works, more specifically, more personally we know that Christ works, God works when life doesn't. The Christian life is not just a best life; it is the only life to live, but it's not an easy life. And throughout the days in our journey we experience hardships and hurts and trials and all of us know that the difficulties and the demands of life, call it trial in the Scripture can destroy and defeat us if we allow it to do so. I've discovered in the Christian life that pain is inevitable but misery is optional. That's why James says, "Count it all joy", when you add it all up, when you grow through it, when you add it all up it is unspeakable joy, and therefore we can say, "Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice". But that takes prayer, and more specifically, prayer for wisdom. Praying for God's wisdom.

Let me show you what I mean by just reading this text to you. In fact I'm going to read it from a paraphrase of James chapter 1, beginning at verse 2. The Phillips Paraphrase, it's a good one, it's an oldie but goodie, because I think it's a new way of hearing this for us today. So you may want to watch the screen. We have it for you there: James 1:2-8: "When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don't resist them or resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! (I love that.) Realize (that's the old English spelling, by the way) that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance. But let the process go on until that endurance is fully developed, (You must endure to mature.) and you will find you have become men of mature character with the right sort of independence. And if, in the process, any of you does not know how to meet any particular problem..."

How many of us would say there are many times in my life that I don't know how to meet the problem in front of me? I would. So what do you do? "Any of you has a particular problem, you only have to ask God - who gives generously to all men without making them feel foolish or guilty - and he may be quite sure that the necessary wisdom (note that word in your Bibles) wisdom will be given him. But he must ask in sincere faith without secret doubts as to whether he really wants God's help or not. The man who trusts God, but with inward reservations, is like a wave of the sea, carried forward by the wind one moment and driven back the next. That sort of man cannot hope to receive anything from God, and the life of a man of divided loyalty will reveal instability at every turn".

So what do you do when life hurts? Number one, you pray, and you pray for perspective, pray for and with perspective; because he speaks here of wisdom. He said, pray for wisdom. Through the years I've said that wisdom is seeing things from God's perspective. Knowledge is looking around; wisdom is looking up. Knowledge is good but knowledge isn't good enough. Knowledge is learned; wisdom is lived. Knowledge is theoretical; wisdom is practical. Knowledge is belief; wisdom is behavior. Knowledge is what I learn; wisdom is how I live. It is knowing the truth and having the wisdom to act on that truth. That's wisdom. Wisdom is the ability to apply knowledge. It's the right use of knowledge. Therefore wisdom, real wisdom can only come not from man, but from God. There's man's wisdom and there's God's wisdom. Man's wisdom, James tells us later in his letter is from below, but God's wisdom is from above.

And so as Christians we seek God's wisdom. He is the source of all wisdom. "Jesus who grew in wisdom, stature and favor with God and man", is the wisdom of God. He is wisdom personified. Jesus is the wonderful Counselor who lights the night with His presence, Immanuel, and guides us and guards us. He is wisdom. Paul prayed beautiful, powerful prayers, and on several occasions he prayed that we would have the spirit of wisdom. So wisdom is a spiritual experience. Remember, when trials come our way and we are to count it all joy, the only way we can do that is to wise up and to move from experience to wisdom. And wisdom is understanding; it is understanding God's ways and God's will.

Moses once prayed, "Lord, teach me Your ways". We can look around us and see God's works, and they are powerful and wonderful. But we must pray and go deeper to know God's ways in our lives. That's a prayer to pray; it's a prayer for insight, for understanding. And when we cry out to God in prayer with wisdom, He hears us and answers us. It's not always the answer we want, but it's always the answer that we need. James in reminding us that more than anything else in our trials, in our troubles, in our tests, we need to pray and start with the fact that we need help. The most basic prayer of all, a prayer that any Christian can pray, is this: "Help! Help me, God"! Because it is the realization that we can't help ourselves. We get in situations that we cannot solve, that we cannot fix! We try, we do our best, but only God can give us wisdom as to how to respond to these trials in our lives. And when you're going round and round in one of these storms in your life, and you feel like you've got spiritual vertigo; you don't know which end is up, pray for wisdom.

What do you do when you don't know what to do? How do you find a way when there seems to be no way? You pray and wait on God's wisdom. There are nine Hebrew words in the Bible for prayer. There are five New Testament Greek words that are translated prayer, but the simplest and the most ablest of all of the words is simply this word that James uses, Pastor James says ask; just ask. All you have to do is ask. Verse 17 of James 1 tells us that God who is the Father of all good things, "All good things come from Him", will answer when we ask. The only prayer that is unanswered is the prayer that is unasked. James will tell us later in the letter, "You have not because you ask not". And if you don't have wisdom today it is because you have not prayed with perspective, asking for wisdom.

When God gives us wisdom in prayer, He most of the time does it through His Word. There is no situation in your life, no subject in your life that is not dealt with in God's Word. So if you want wisdom, it's in the Word. And if you have a Bible, this is a brand-new Bible but if you have a Bible like some of mine that are falling apart, if your Bible is falling apart, your life probably isn't, because you are asking God to speak to you. And prayer by the way is not just our speaking, it is our listening and God speaks to us by His Spirit through His Word and how many times when God gives us a promise or gives us a principle or a precept in God's Word does He give us wisdom as to what to do, how to act, even if that wisdom is just to stand still and see the salvation of God, to wait on God.

Wisdom is finding and fulfilling God's Word and God's will in your life. So pray like that. And God who is good and God who is generous to supply all of our needs, James tells us, look at it there in James 1, He will give us generously or lavishly or liberally. It's a beautiful word picture. The word give lavishly or liberally, it means with an outstretched hand, with an outstretched arm. Beauty! It is as though God is stretching out His arm to help us or setting a table, a banquet of blessings. Don't think of prayer as overcoming God's reluctance, but rather laying hold of His highest willingness and desire to bless you.

Ask God to strengthen you. Ask God to help you. Ask God to get you through. And then watch a flood of wisdom fill your heart, and ultimately you will come to a place of peace and rest to trust in God who knows what He's doing. Pray for perspective and with perspective. And then pray with patience. He talks in this passage about enduring and persevering. And when we pray, we are to pray with faith and trust and to keep on praying and not give up. That's why he says, "If any of you pray and doubt, if you doubt then you're like the surf of the sea that's blowing one way and then the other and everything is unstable". So you have to pray in faith, believing and persevering.

Last week after the message on trials I got a text from a dear friend who's been going through very severe trials in his life. And he told me in this text, it was a blessing to me, he said, "You know, pastor, I've never asked God why I've experienced all these trials but I do admit I've asked how long? How much longer? How much longer"? A lot of us have been there, right? How much more can I take? How much longer have I got to stay in this furnace? How much more? So when we pray, we pray for endurance. We pray for perseverance. James says if you don't pray like that, if you don't pray in faith, if you pray with doubting, then you're going to fail and you're going to fall because everything's going to be unstable. Pray in faith, you will receive; pray in doubt, you'll be without.

When you're in a crisis and the darkness creeps in, and you're tempted to doubt, and we all are, that's when we need to doubt our doubts and believe our beliefs. Because doubt is dangerous. If our faith fails, where else do we have to stand? Now James is not talking about saving faith here, but sustaining faith. Faith that trusts God and holds on and hangs on and remains firm. Faith that keeps on holding on and hoping on. Faith that prays and never gives up. What did Jesus say? Pray and do not quit. I presume that means there are two options, praying or quitting. I want to pray and not quit.

The opposite of faith is fear and doubt. And James therefore gives us this picture of a person like a wave, the surf of the sea driving by the waves of the sea. And he describes this unbeliever as, again not saving faith, but an unbelieving believer, if you will. He describes this kind of doubt as being double-minded. It indicates impurity, an impure heart and instability. It describes competing thoughts bouncing around in your head. Faith and unbelief. A divided mind resulting in unstable action. Unstable in all of his ways.

My friend, Tony Evans, Dr. Evans described it this way. He said there are three ways to approach trials: faith says yes, unbelief says no and doubt says yes and no. James says if you pray like that don't expect to receive anything from God, wisdom or anything else. If you come to God and say "Lord, I want some of your way and some of my way", I promise you God's not going to play that game. He just won't. But if you come to the Lord and say, "Lord, your way, your will, anywhere, anytime, any cost" God will show you His ways. If you want God to help you, surrender your all to Him and don't dare take it back! Otherwise, you're unstable and bouncing back and forth like the waves. Going up and down like a roller coaster; round and round. That's no way to live. Then pray with praise... (You got to listen a little faster this morning. Our time is almost done.) ...but pray with praise.

And James being a good pastor and preacher, gives us an illustration of this praying for wisdom, and he uses a rich man and a poor man as the illustration. Now he tells us in verses 9 through 11 that there is a poor man who praises God because he realizes that even though he doesn't have anything, he has nothing, that God supplies all of his needs. And so he praises God. And then there's a rich man who has everything but then he loses it all and he realizes that he really didn't have anything because he didn't have God, he didn't have wisdom. So now he praises God that God brought him to the end of himself and the end of his wealth and his resources to bring him to faith. Rich man, poor man! The rain falls on the just and on the unjust, the rich and the poor, the educated, the uneducated. And if you're poor, if you don't have anything then you can praise God who provides for your needs, and trust Him through it all.

As Andre Crouche said, "If I'd never had a problem I'd never know that God could solve them". You pray, "Lord, I don't have any money but I do have my life. I got my family, I got my kids, I got my health". And even if you are so poor you have none of that, you can pray, "Lord, I've got You, I have You". And when you get to the place in your life when you discover that Jesus is all you have, you'll know that He's all you need. But then there's a rich man who has plenty of money. He loses his health, his wife, his kids, his marriage and realizes "I can't help myself. I can't do this on my own. My money can't buy me love". (Beatle reference, #BeatleReference). I can't put down my black American Express card and buy my way out of this! "So, Lord, thank you for bringing me to end of myself and humbling me so that I could come to you".

Praise God always because whatever you need, whether you are rich or poor or someone in between He will supply all of your needs through the trials, through the years and through the tears of your life. One final thing: Pray with promise. James 1:12. I'm going to read this again from another translation. It's so good. It says: "Happy is the man who, being tested, is holding his ground. (That's what I wanted you to see, because that's what the phrase means: Holding your ground) because, having being approved, he shall receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him". This is so sweet, because when the trial is done, be it in this life or in the life to come, when the trial is over and you pass the test, you get to graduate! You graduate! And the diploma in this case is the crown of life.

Now the crown can refer to the eternal crown, and certainly we look forward to the day that we are crowned, rewarded, when we are faithful to Christ because we take our crowns and we lay them at Jesus' feet. But I believe James, really is talking about not an eternal crown so much here, but an earthly crown, a temporal crown; the crown of life. The Bible says we are to reign in life for the Lord Jesus Christ. The crown mentioned here is the victor's crown. It's the crown that was given to athletes when they competed and won the race. God rewards people with the prize who run the race and finish the course with spiritual victory, who keep pressing on!

How long is your trial going to last? I don't know. But I know when you persevere through the pain, when you keep going when you want to give up, when you keep pressing on and praising God when it hurts so bad you don't know whether you can stand it another minute, when you learn to love God by His wisdom more than ever, when you know Him better than you've ever known Him before. That's wisdom. I know this, in the trials of my own life He has seemed dearer and nearer to me than at any other time. So cling to Him, cherish Him. Experience His victory. You know we are saved when we trust in the cross, we are sanctified, made more like Christ when we carry the cross.

In basic Navy Seal training, the average class is seventy-five. An average of thirty-eight graduate to become Sea-Air-Land Commandos, this mighty military powerful force. Almost half the class quits because of the religious, because of... you could say religious, but rigorous training. Well, when Christians face rigorous training, even basic training, the tests and the trials of life, we're tempted to give up, tempted to quit. But Jesus says, "Don't you dare quit". James says, "Endure, persevere, praise Him through the pain. Worship Him when you don't know why. Sing songs in the night even if you're singing in a minor key, and praise Him all day! Be a believer and not a doubter, and in the end you will win"!
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