Today we are in the book of James, if you’ve got your Bible turn to chapter 1.
Our topic this morning is pain. I’ve said before that the Bible is a realistic book. Job tells us that “man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.” (Job 5:7) Trouble is inevitable. Life is filled with pain.
But the Bible does not leave us to our own resources in this world of pain. In fact the message of the Bible is that, if we will cooperate with God in our pain, we can rise above our troubles to find joy and victory – even in the most difficult of circumstances.
Let’s read James 1:2-8.
The type of pain we are talking about in James is what we refer to as a trial. A trial can be described as “trouble, or something that breaks the pattern of peace, comfort, joy and happiness in someone’s life”
The word in the Bible is used at times to refer to an external test:
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you (1 Peter 4:12). Peter might have been thinking about that dark night when his courage was tested and he denied Jesus three times.
It is also used for an internal temptation:
But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation (1 Timothy 6:9). So we are talking about trouble which can come from external circumstances or inner thoughts and desires.
In verse 3 James shows us that there is a purpose for these trials. The testing of faith.
The Greek Word is used once in the NT and 2 in the Greek translation of the OT. All three refer to the refining of gold. The testing of faith is not testing to see if faith is there, it is a refining or perfecting of faith.
So a trial is trouble which comes into our lives in order to refine and purify us.
In this life we will meet trials of various kinds. For example, yesterday while I was working in my workshop my thumb was pinched and now I have a blood blister on the tip of my thumb, right where I use it to scroll through Facebook. That’s a trial isn’t it?
You meet a trial when your beloved newborn comes home and reveals to us that he has colic and is going to shriek like a rabbit in the grip of a hawk night after night. You meet a trial when you are a week into marriage and realize that you both are far more selfish and that marriage is far more difficult than you had ever dreamed.
What trials did the original audience of James experience?
Probably the same as us. Their babies had colic, their marriages had conflict. Their thumbs blistered. Two particular trials that come up in James are poverty and persecution.
In four passages James is going to address the topic of poverty and privation.
In chapter 2 James refers to the persecution the first Jewish Christians experienced. Acts 7 tells of the martyrdom of Stephen and a severe persecution which drove the early believers from their homes.
There is poverty. There is persecution. There is a wide variety of trials and James casts a wide net to include them all.
What should I do when I encounter a trial? How should I respond? In James 1 we are going to see 5 steps to achieving victory through our pain:
1. Remember that your pain has a purpose.
2. Rejoice at the potential in your pain.
3. Reflect on your current response to your pain.
4. Resolve to respond rightly to your pain.
5. Rely on the grace and wisdom of God.
When you experience a trial, the first thing you should do is
Remember that your pain has a purpose.
According to verse 3, there is a common denominator in the great variety of trials we experience – they test our faith and they produce steadfastness.
There is a reason for the pain. There is a master plan behind it’s arrival in your life.
The plans of God are infinitely complex and full of wonder and mystery. We may never understand the depth of what God intends in our pain. But one thing is clear – trials develop steadfastness. To be steadfast is to remain under a burden for a long period of time. It is to carry a load through fatigue and difficulty without quitting. Steadfastness is strength, it is power. Steadfast people are strong and have the capacity to carry heavy loads over long periods of time.
God’s plan is for you to grow in steadfastness. And God knows how to accomplish his plans.
“These troubles, that lie heavy, never come upon us but when we have need, and never stay any longer than needs must.”
“Trials are medicine which our gracious and wise physician prescribes, because we need them and He proportions the frequency and weight of them to what the case requires, let us trust in His skill and thank Him for His prescription.”
– John Newton
The saints of God over the ages are living testimony to the reality of this process.
Elisabeth Eliot was a missionary whose husband was killed by the people they were attempting to reach with the gospel. As a young mother living abroad, this was an enormous trial. That trial became a source of tremendous power in her life. Elisabeth continued the work of missions and sought out the people who killed her husband to offer her forgiveness and share Christ with them.
“And I learned in that experience who God is in a way I could never have known otherwise. And so I can say to you that suffering is an irreplaceable medium through which I learned an indispensable truth: God is God. Suffering is never for nothing.”
Suffering is never for nothing. God always has a plan.
Nick Vujicic is a motivational speaker who was born with no legs or arms. That is an enormous trial. As a child, Nick was constantly bullied and ridiculed at school. He was angry and bitter, but a passage in the NT changed everything for him.
“I realized I have a choice either to be angry at what I don’t have or thankful for what I do have. I had zeal of change in me and a zeal for life and a passion for really living my life to its fullest potential in Christ. I was 15 years old when I read John, Chapter 9, about a man who was born blind and no one knew why he was born that way. Jesus said he was born that way so that the words of God would be revealed through him. That’s when I’m like, ‘Wow, if He has a plan for a blind man, then he has a plan for me.’ I didn’t really need to know what that plan was at the time, but I just trusted. I asked him [Jesus] to come into my life, forgive me of my sin and give me His peace.”
Vujicic’s has reached millions of people around the world and transformed countless lives. It is impossible to calculate the difference he has made. If God has a plan for a man with no arms or legs, do you think he has a plan for you in your trials?
When you experience a trial, remember that there is a purpose for your pain. And then
Rejoice at the potential in your pain.
Count it all joy, James tells us. Pure joy. Not only joy, but pure joy. Real joy. It’s a radical message isn’t it?
James is not the only one to invite us to find joy in our pain.
Paul did it in Romans 5:3-4
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,
Peter did it in 1 Peter 1:7
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials . . .
How? How do you rejoice when you’re buried in a pile of troubles? How do we consider a trial a joy?
It’s all a matter of values. Your values determine your joys.
“Our values determine our evaluations. If we value comfort more than character, then trials will upset us. If we value the material and physical more than the spiritual, we will not be able to ‘count it all joy!’ If we live only for the present and forget about the future, the trials will make us bitter, not better.”
This question of values is ABSOLUTELY essential to your experience of trouble in this life.
The only way you can find joy when meet at trial is if you value growth and progress more than comfort and ease. We like ease and comfort in our culture, don’t we?
We have Sleep Number beds and My Pillows, smart home controls and remote starters.
The problem is ease and comfort can do nothing for your soul. They do not produce steadfastness and endurance, they do not produce discipline and power, they do not produce faith and holiness.
Only trials do that.
We are carrying loads.
You are carrying the load of a difficult marriage. You are carrying the load of a child with needs and challenges that others don’t have and other’s can’t understand. You are carrying the load of waiting for a blessing that God keeps holding back on. You are carrying the load of fighting against temptations and weaknesses that come from brokenness in your past.
There are days when the load is too much and you want to walk away. If you quit today you’ll never see what God has planned for tomorrow. You may not see it but you are getting stronger. You are becoming more mature. If you walk away you’ll never experience the person you are on the verse of becoming.
One of the greatest challenges we face in the time we live in is the expectation of ease and comfort. We think life should be easy. When life is hard we ask, “why me?” “Why is it so hard”
It’s hard for everyone. Maybe not in the same way, but life is hard. This is a fallen world. Everything that is good requires effort. Some of us need to quit asking why? And start asking how. We need to come to terms with the fact that God is not going to baby us. He’s not going to allow us to remain immatures. It’s going to be hard and it’s only going to get harder.
The place you find this attitude on full display, the place where people understand the value of pain is the Crossfit Gym. Crossfit athletes are a rare breed of people who love and value pain. Walk into a gym and your senses will be assaulted with the smell of sweat, the sounds of agony and the sight of bodies sprawled out on the floor.
Yet these people come back again and again.
Crossfit teaches you that pain leads to progress. Physical pain is the path to physical perfection.
Isn’t it the same with our souls?
What is this life for you?
Are you a consumer with limitless opportunities to create a private space of comfort, luxury and entertainment.
Are you a sojourner, making your way through a journey filled with obstacles and challenges designed to test and shape you into heroic life.
“How can I look to be at home in the enemy’s country, joyful while in exile, or comfortable in a wilderness? This is not my rest. This is the place of the furnace and the forge and the hammer.”
When you are committed to growth you are on the lookout for resistance and adversity. You purposefully embrace pain in order to achieve the rewards waiting on the other side. When you are committed to growth you welcome trials with joy.
The good news is whether you want it or not, God is going to make you grow. God loves you as you are, but he’s not going to let you stay that way.
He is a master craftsman and he has plans to craft you into something glorious. His plans for you are perfection – perfect and complete. Verse 4 provides a full picture of God’s plans for your character. Perfect means pure, without flaws. Complete means whole, lacking nothing. This is God’s plan for you. That’s what Jesus taught us in Matthew 5:48 – “you must be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect”.
God accepts and embraces you as you are, but he won’t let you stay that way.
God’s trials are not sent to make you acceptable, they come because you have been deemed acceptable. God sends trials for your perfection.
God does not test his children in order to see them fail. He intends to finish what he started.
There is dross in you that God is going to remove. There is untapped potential in you that God is going to develop.
When you experience a trial remember that there is purpose in your pain, rejoice at the potential in your pain and
Reflect on your current response to the pain.
What is my trial revealing about my character?
What am I doing with my pain? Here are some things we can do in response to pain we can
- Medicate with pleasure.
- Escape with distraction.
- Stew in anger.
- Wallow in self-pity.
- Stall out in quiet desperation
But there is another way. Rather than resisting pain, you
Resolve to overcome your pain.
James is calling for an act of the will. Consider it pure joy. Let steadfastness have its full effect.
God tries in order to purify.
God tests in order to transform.
Sometimes we aren’t joyful because we can’t see the potential in our lives.
Sometimes we aren’t joyful because we’ve quit believing the potential is possible. Sometimes we aren’t joyful because we love comfort and ease more than we love growth and strength.
What do you want at the end of the year?
Do you want to look back on long hours sitting on the couch? You want to look back on hours spent aimlessly in self-medication, escape and emotional rot?
Or do you want to look back and see change and progress? Do you want to be a better husband? A more patient father? A more holy and pure follower of Christ?
There is potential in you that you have not imagined.
Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.
– Napolean Hill
For the follower of Christ, shaped and molded by God’s trials, the best is always yet to come. You are more than a conqueror. God will finish what he started in you.
What’s your plan for your next encounter with your trial? What will you do to respond rightly? Write it down, discuss it with a friend and work out your plan.
I have heard there are troubles of more than one kind.
Some come from ahead and some come from behind.But I’ve bought a big bat. I’m all ready you see.
Nowmy troubles are going to have troubles with me!
What if I have tried that? What if I’m at the end of my rope and I can’t figure out how to do those things? The Bible NEVER leaves us to our own devices. You will come to the end of yourself at times in your trials. That’s when you need
Rely on the grace and wisdom of God.
When you don’t know how to go on, when you don’t know how to do it differently? When you can’t imagine how any good can come out of your pain, you can come to God and ask God for wisdom.
Because God gives generously and God gives graciously.
God does not reproach us in our weakness. He does not respond with disapproval or disappointment. He knows that we are dust and he is ready to supply what we lack.
God is not asking you to figure it out. He’s asking you to trust that he already has.
That means you can come to God in prayer when you don’t deserve it.
It means you can come to God in prayer when you have done nothing with your trial but medicate with pleasure, escape in distraction, stew in anger, wallow in self-pity or sit in a rut of apathy.
God does not reproach, but James does in verses 6-8. James does not want us to dishonor the grace and generosity of God with doubts about his goodness or power. A mind full of doubts is a mind adrift, blown like a rudderless boat in the waves and wind.
Once again, James calls for a decision of the will. When you come to pray, resolve to set aside your doubts. Resolve to cast yourself completely on the grace of God.
Life is hard. Life is pain. The struggle is real, but so is Jesus.
We’ll close this morning with the Philipps translation of James 1:2-4:
When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realise 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, and you will find you have become men of mature character with the right sort of independence.
Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown