Did you know that in the early days of baseball, the batter signaled the pitcher where to throw the ball? That’s right, he actually told him where he wanted it! He held out his bat and showed him. As the sport of baseball progressed, however, the batter had more and more obstacles to overcome – for example, the curve ball! As pitching the ball became more complicated, hitting the ball became more difficult. This illustration points us to a modern-day problem. Many people believe that they can determine what they want life to give them. But the believer in the Lord Jesus Christ who expects his or her Christian life to be easy is in for a shock!
I. THE GREETING (verse 1)
James addresses his letter to the Jews who are living outside the Promised Land because of the persecution of Christians. He was writing to Christian Jews. The word “scattered” in verse l is the Greek word “diaspora”, and it carries the idea of “scattering seed”. When the Jewish believers were scattered at the beginning of the persecution, it was really the sowing of seed in many places; and much of that seed bore fruit as many gentiles heard the Gospel message and received the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and Lord.
II. A JOYFUL ATTITUDE (verse 2)
James tells us in verse 2 to expect trials. He does not say, “if you fall into various trials”, but “when you encounter various trials”. We can’t always expect everything to go our way. Some trials come simply because we are human. For example, sickness, accidents, disappointments, even tragedies are the lot of the human race. Other trials come because we are Christians. Satan fights against us and the world opposes us, and this makes for a life of battles. The trials of life are not all alike. They are like the multicolored yarn that a weaver uses to make a beautiful oriental rug. God arranges the colors and experiences of life. The final product is a beautiful thing for His glory. Have you ever looked at the underside of an oriental rug? The patterns are unclear and there are loose ends of yarn dangling. We are looking at the wrong side of life! Only God sees the finished pattern! Let’s not judge God or His work based on what we see today. His work isn’t finished yet!
We are to “consider it all joy”, knowing that God is doing what is best for us. Just before the Second World War, two refugees from Germany had just arrived in the United States by ship. Though they were Christians by faith, they were Jewish by birth. They arrived here without friends, without money, and without the youth and the strength to start a new life. One of them said to an American pastor, “We sometimes think we ought to thank God for Hitler.” “Why?”, the pastor asked in amazement. And the answer came: “Because he has taught us that we need nothing but God. Hitler has taken from us everything else, and now we know that God is enough.” In the Old Testament scriptures, Job demonstrated his confidence in God when he said in Job 23:10, “But He knoweth the way that I take; when He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold”.
A lady named Ida Clark was overcome with grief as she approached the church on the Sunday morning after her mother had died. Just outside the church a 7-year-old boy met her. He stopped, planted his feet solidly on the path in front of her, and with tearful eyes looked up at her. “I prayed for your mother”, he said, “but she died.” For a moment the sorrowing woman wanted to scoop him up in her arms and cry with him, but she could see he was seriously disturbed because he thought his prayers had not been answered. So she quickly and quietly lifted her heart to God in a silent prayer. “O Lord, give me the right answer!” Then she said to the boy very solemnly, “You wanted God to do His best for my mother, didn’t you?” He nodded slowly. “Son, He answered your prayer. His best for her was to take her home to live with Him.” The lad’s eyes lighted up as he replied, “That’s right, He did.” Then off he ran to meet his friends, content that God had taken her to heaven.
Do the events in your life go against everything you think is good? Is it hard to understand why circumstances haven’t fallen into place like you prayed they would? Don’t be dismayed. Trust God and ask Him to help you learn the difficult but rewarding lesson of being satisfied with His best. There is a poem that goes like this:
He knows why we must suffer; He knows why we must grieve; He knows why days are lonely; He says only, “Believe! Believe that I your Father send each and every test; Dear child, there is a reason, For I know what is best.”
III. AN UNDERSTANDING MIND (verse 3)
What is it that Christians know that makes it easier to face trials and benefit from them? They know that God always tests us to bring out the best in us. Peter says in I Peter 1:6-7, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, that the proof of your faith being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ”.
A gold prospector brings his ore sample into the inspector’s office to be tested. The sample itself may not be worth more than a few dollars, but the approval, the official statement about the ore, may be worth millions! It assures the prospector that he has a gold mine. God’s approval of our faith is also precious because it assures us that our faith is genuine.
Verse 3 tells us that the testing of our faith produces endurance or patience. God wants to make us patient because that is the key to every other blessing. The person who does not learn patience will not learn much of anything else. We live in an “instant society” today. We have instant cash, instant food and drink. We have the ten-minute oil change, one-hour photo processing, and same-day dry cleaning. You would think that waiting must be one of life’s most trying experiences. We’ve created for ourselves instant lifestyles. If things don’t happen right now, we tend to explode inside ourselves, and often we explode on the outside also. As Christians we tend to direct our impatience toward God, especially when we are undergoing a trial. If God can create something out of nothing in an instant, why doesn’t He act? Yet He seems to take His time. Look how long He delayed before sending Jesus into the world. Yet in Galatians 4:4 it says, “In the fullness of time God sent His Son.” And there is a “right time” for God to bring us to maturity and a strong faith.
When the believer in Jesus Christ learns to wait on the Lord, then God can do great things for him or her. Immature people are always impatient; mature people are patient and persistent. A nurse in a servicemen’s hospital complained to the chaplain that she had been rudely treated by some of the patients. He answered, “Thank God for that!” “What do you mean”, she asked in astonishment. “Well”, he explained, “if you are holding a glass and someone knocks against you, you can only spill out what is inside!” When people misjudge and persecute us, we soon reveal what is in our hearts. If we are Christ-filled and controlled by the Holy Spirit, we will manifest the gentleness and patience of our Savior. In fact, God often allows us to be pushed around and mistreated so that unsaved men and women around us might be amazed by God’s grace as we overflow with love and patience. People who have studied the life of John Bunyan, the author of the book, “Pilgrim’s Progress”, tell us that he was such a devoted Christian that he actually asked the Lord to send severe trials into his life so that he might have new occasions to show his love for Jesus.
The only way the Lord can develop patience and character in our lives is through trials. Knowing this, we can face trials joyfully. We know what trials will do in us and for us, and we know that the end result will bring glory to God. Just like the athlete disciplines himself, and goes through the agony of training, in order to win.
IV. THE RESULT (verse 4)
The result, in verse 4, is “that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” In this age of “instant lifestyles”, we need to continually remind ourselves that God has a right time for everything. Dr. Niles tells about a service being held in a cathedral in Norway. Worshipers had noticed that the ceiling was low in proportion to the rest of the building. During the sermon, Bishop Bergraav told the congregation that the ceiling which they see was not the true ceiling. It was a working floor built for the artists who were painting the life of our Lord on the true ceiling. Some day the working floor would be taken down, and they would see what the artists had been doing.
As we look up and try to see what God is doing in the world, we are tempted to feel disappointed. We are looking for soaring arches and a high ceiling that reminds us of infinity and of heaven. But one day our working floor will be taken away, and then we will see what the Great Artist has been doing in our lives.
How are you handling your difficulties? Self-pity, murmuring, and rebellion will hinder your growth; but praise, submission to God and a deep faith in God’s loving purpose will produce in you a growing likeness to Jesus Christ. God is never in a hurry. Are we?