When Facing Life’s Severe Trials
Rev. Toh Nee Lim | On 26, Aug 2015
Scripture Reading: James 1:1-2
‘James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting. My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations.’
The name “James” is the Greek form of the common Hebrew name, ‘Jacob’. He was known by both Jews and Christians in Jerusalem as “James the Just.” Traditional evidence indicates that he was genealogically related to Jesus, being his half brother. But James did not specifically identify himself or his relationship to Jesus, which characterize his humility. The word ‘servant’ comes from the Greek word ‘doulos’ which means ‘a slave’. Operation mobilisation has a ship named ‘Doulos”. It is a ship filled with Christian books and travels round the world propagating the Gospel through Christian literature. Probably the owner of the ship, is indicating that whatever he does, he did it as a slave of God. James describes himself as the slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul describes himself as the slave of Jesus Christ and his apostle. But James will go no further than to call himself the slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.
‘Doulos’ was also the title by which the greatest ones of the Old Testament were known. Moses was the doulos of God; Daniel, so were Joshua and Caleb; so were the great patriarchs; Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; so was Job; so was Isaiah; and doulos is distinctively the title by which the prophets were known (Amos, Zechariah; Jeremiah). By taking the title ‘doulos’ James sets himself in the great succession of those who found their freedom and their peace and their glory in perfect submission to the will of God. The only greatness to which the Christian can ever aspire is that of being the slave of God.
The “twelve tribes” would be an inclusive metaphor for all of the Jewish believers. They are the new people of God, the new Israel. The term ‘diaspora” refers to them. It came to refer to Jews living outside of Palestine. In this context it refers to Jewish Christians in local churches scattered across the Mediterranean. Of course we are included in James’ address. Now the content of the message today. What can we learn from this portion of Scriptures?
1. Consider it a joy when you face life’s difficult situation
We are to consider ourselves fortunate, nothing but joy, whenever we are enveloped in or encounter trials of any sort or fall into various temptations. When we face life’s situations consider it a joy. When you give this advice to the citizens of the world, they think you are mad. Because their normal response is revenge, anger, bitterness, hopelessness and defeat. Even among Christians, I know people can get angry with this statement when you are in the midst of the trials. We even say, ‘what are you talking about?’, ‘how to be happy when the testing brings a lot of pains, and hurts, disappointment. How can I consider the trials a gift when the test and challenges come your ways from all sides’?
Vernon Brewer shared this testimony. “The doctors said, “We must operate immediately,” and they sent me home to get my affairs in order. They said, “You probably won’t survive this cancer,” – it was very advanced. They removed a five-pound tumour off my heart and lungs. In that first surgery, they removed a portion of my left lung and my left diaphragm was paralyzed. It’s still paralyzed to this day. They inadvertently severed the nerve to my vocal cords. For a year and a half I couldn’t speak in an audible voice. They said, “If you survive, you’ll never preach again.” Those were dark days: Eighteen surgeries and surgical procedures. A year and a half of chemotherapy … in and out of the hospital for the better part of two years. At one point the vein in my hand where I was receiving chemotherapy collapsed and they actually had to sew my hand to my side. I had my hand sewn to my side for a month – it was just one problem after another.’
Let’s not go very far in our example. Let’s find one example in our church. We are now bonding with the DJ Cell Leaders. Last Wednesday, a group came to our house. In the midst of conversation and fellowship, we found that one of them has Tuberculosis of the bone. She needs a 4 course injection; having one injection per month, for four month. I mean she is serving God, a DL Cell Leader, constantly going to the community. And now in the midst of serving God, she has Tuberculosis of the bone. And now James comes in and say, ‘Count it all Joy when you fall into diver temptations.’
Be very honest. Seldom do we respond to the difficulties of life with joy, let alone pure joy. On the contrary we become bitter, mad, frustrated, angry and even clinching our fist at heaven and lashing out at God, saying something like, “God I can’t stand this another minute!” James is not saying that the trials we face in life are happy experiences or joyful experiences. There is nothing joyful about cancer; it’s a terrible disease. There is nothing happy about Tuberculous of the bone. There is nothing glad about a catastrophic illness, or having health problems. Perhaps your trial is an alcoholic parent or a divorce or a financial program, or a wayward son or wayward daughter. When I think of difficulties of life, I automatically think of the Old Testament figure, Job. He lost his health, he lost his family, he lost his house, he lost his business … he lost everything. He not only faced a test, he faced an entire series of tests. There is nothing to be happy about that. That is not what James is talking about. Vernon Brewer remembered when the doctor told him “You’re going to have a year and a half of chemotherapy.” He tried to be positive; I didn’t say joyful. His attitude was: ‘Hey I can handle this, bring it on!’ He started saying to himself ‘it’s mind over matter, and the first time he received chemotherapy he said, “It’s not all that bad. I think I can handle this.” The next time he had received it, the disease had taken its toll and it was a little more difficult. The third time it was nearly impossible. The fourth time his wife and he walked up to the door of the doctor’s office — he put his hand on the handle to walk in and he could not turn the handle. My wife said, “What’s wrong,” and he said, “I can’t go in.” She asked, “What do you mean?” I said, “I can’t go in.” His loving wife put her arm around him and prayed that God would give him grace to walk through the door. That was not joyful by any means.
The very essence of the Christian life is trials. I want to call to your attention to the reality of trials. For those of you who are young and think you’re invincible, may I tell you that trials will come. I am not saying trials may come, but trials will come.’ None of us are exempt from problems. You are either in a storm right now – you’ve just come out of a storm – or you are about to go into a storm. You are either facing trials right now, or you’ve just come out of a trial, or you are – sometime in the future – about to go into a trial. It’s not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when.
2. 3 Major kinds of trials
Three major kinds of trials that sincere Christians face.
The first is what I would call the sowing and reaping trial. These are the problems we bring on ourselves. Galatians 6:7 tells us we reap what we sow. A lot of the problems that a lot of well-meaning Christians face, they face as a result of their own sin or disobedience. James goes into more detail about this in verse 13-16, ‘Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. Do not err, my beloved brethren.’ Well, we have legalistic preachers and Christians that will come to you and say, ‘What’s God trying to teach you … what sin is God trying to point out in your life?” If you are on a bad day, like Job, you don’t want to hear that. I remember the minute Jan had that vehicular accident … God had my attention? The minute I am all by myself, I got alone with God in my prayer closet and said, “Ok God, speak — I’m listening.” I let the Holy Spirit search my heart to see “if there be any wicked way in me?” That was the first thought that went through my mind? I think if you are truly a child of God, God has your immediate attention. So we must be careful in dealing with people that are going through testing. But may I say that all sin results in consequence. You cannot sin and get away with it, but may I be very quick to add that not every consequence … every trial … is a result of sin. But, so many times we make the mistake of assuming that just because someone is going through a problem in life there must be some deep dark hidden sin … and that is not the case. What sin did Job commit?
The second kind of trial is what I would call the spiritual trial. The kind of problem we face because of our testimony of Jesus Christ. It comes about simply because you are a missionary, you are a pastor, a leader of the church, you are involved in plundering hell and the devil is not happy. This is the kind of trial that comes simply from living a godly life, following the will of God, answering the call of God. If we are to be true disciples of Jesus Christ, the Bible tells us we are going to be out of step somewhat with society.
The Bible tells us in 1 Peter 4:12 not to be surprised concerning fiery trials and if anyone suffers as a Christian, not to be ashamed. In John 15:20, Jesus said, “that if they persecute me, they persecute you” … implying that trials are going to be a result of our walk with Christ. The devil will see to it.
Many years ago, an Indian pastor named Dori Ragh, went to that city in Owar that is called the Seat of Satan, to plant a church because there was no church of any kind in that city. The anti-Christians said, “If you don’t leave we’re going to kill you.” He didn’t leave and they killed him and his body was never found. At his memorial service, his eight-year old nephew, Solomon, stood and said, “Someday I’m going to go back to Owar and pastor a church that my uncle tried to start.” When Solomon grew up, he went to Bible College, and then went to Owar to start that church.
On the dedication of the first church building in Owar, one hundred people were there, and four people got saved that morning. It was incredible! All the city officials were there … they just thought there was supposed to be there … they had never had a church dedication in their city before. You couldn’t help but think that looking down from heaven was Dori Ragh … and I couldn’t help but think about the spiritual trials that made that church possible.
Many year ago, when Eastern Europe was under communism, An American Pastor was invited to preach in a village. As the Romanian Pastor drove that American preacher that morning to the village he said, “Today is going to be a historic day … it’s going to be our first baptismal service in 50 years at this church.” In fact the Communist government had torn the church building down three times during the last 50 years of the communist reign and all three times the church members got together and rebuilt it. He continued, “You’re going to preach the Gospel to the entire village,” and the American thought it was a figure of speech until he got there. The American Pastor preached the Gospel to the entire village and 50 people got saved and baptized 20. The Romanian Pastor continued another testimony, “Today is a historic day for another reason. Today is the first anniversary of the death of my wife. She had cancer … acute leukaemia. In fact, a group of doctors from Great Britain diagnosed her and felt very confident that they could spare her life with bone marrow transplants. They offered to pay for the expensive surgery in London, because it could not be performed here in Romania. When we went to get a visa to travel to London, the communist official said they would give us a visa on one condition … “If you renounce your faith in Jesus Christ.” The American asked, “What did your wife do?” “She did not hesitate … she did not blink … she looked those communist officials in the eye and said, ‘I cannot do what you will have me do. I will not renounce my Lord and Saviour.’ And she turned and walked out of that office and two months later she was with the Lord.” When I hear stories like that I think of spiritual trials. I believe a great many of you are going through spiritual trials. I think some of us have forgotten that all who live godly lives will suffer persecution.
The third trial is the senseless trial. Not that it doesn’t make sense to God, because God has everything under control. It just doesn’t make sense to us. This is the most difficult trial for us to accept to consider pure joy. The problem is there is no rationale or logical reason for this kind of ordeal. You will find yourself asking? “Why me? Why cancer? Why now? Why my leg, if you have called me to preach … that doesn’t make sense?” And God had to remind us from Isaiah 55:8, “My ways aren’t your ways, and my thoughts aren’t your thoughts.” This is the kind of trial that Job faced. His friends thought he was facing trials because of some sin in his life. His wife was certain it was God’s fault. She said, “Why don’t you curse God and die.” Job asked many of the right questions, but he still did not know the why. And by the way, when we prayed the “Why God?” … many times Heaven is silent. Sometimes there are no answers. And sometimes, answers aren’t enough. When answers aren’t enough, there’s Jesus … and it doesn’t have to make sense.
We must constantly realize that no experience of life will ever touch us without God’s permission. It’s not God’s fault, but God is in control. I believe that it was Charles Spurgeon who said, “God is too kind to do anything cruel, too wise to make a mistake, and too deep to explain Himself.” That is why we should consider it pure joy whenever we face the trials of life … even when they don’t make sense, because we must constantly remember that God is ultimately in control and He cares. That is why at a time when life doesn’t make sense … the only place we can turn is Jesus. And trust that that the trial is working toward ultimate good. (See Romans 8:28-29) A Pastor thought he was dying of illness. And he was invited to a musical concert. As he walked in and sat down in the aisle seat and as the lights went dark, no one knew what he was feeling that night, but he was feeling like life was passing him by. He was having thoughts like — I’ll never see my daughters’ wedding … there are so many experiences of life that I’m going to miss. Nobody understands the fear that I’m living with — nobody understands the uncertainty. He was feeling isolated, alone and scared. Then on the stage Sandy Patty started singing, of all things, a song in Spanish, “Down the Via Delarosa walked my Saviour” … and a light came on. Wait a minute. There’s someone who understands what I’m feeling. There’s someone who understands what it feels to face death and isolation. There’s someone who prayed, “Father, if it be possible let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not my will but thy will be done.” That was one of the most powerful moments of his life to realise that Jesus cared. We must take great comfort in knowing that Jesus knew what we are going through, even if no one else did.
3. The Process of trial
When facing life’s toughest problems, it’s important to understand two things: Number 1 – God has a purpose for our trials, and Number 2 – He has a process he wants to take us through. James describes this suffering as a process. Since partnering with lsbc, I have come to appreciate the word process. I mean for the past 29 years our works, activities has always been project based. Our project based activities have always been successful. But the success is for a particular moment and that is it. E.g. The one good meal. 1000 people came but after that. Almost nothing. But process is what matters. Today we still have activities, projects but the purpose is to process with each individual. What does it do? It brings growth, maturity.
James 1:2-3 says ‘My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations. Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.’ There are three words I can to concentrate on; trying, temptations, and patience; all three found in this 2 verses.
The word ‘trying’ is ‘dokimion’ – genuine, unalloyed. Like that of a gold coin. To purge all impurities. It will produce unswerving constancy (or steadfastness as the Revised Standard Version translates it).
The word translated temptations is ‘peirasmos’ in Greek. Peirasmos is not temptation in our sense of the term; it is testing (trial in the Revised Standard Version). Peirasmos is trial or testing directed towards an end, and the end is that he who is tested should emerge stronger and purer from the testing.
The corresponding verb ‘peirazein’ in Greek, which the King James Version usually translates to tempt, has the same meaning. The idea is not that of seduction into sin but of strengthening and purifying. For instance, a young bird is said to test (peirazein) its wings. The new born deer test its legs. The Queen of Sheba was said to come to test the Wisdom of Solomon. God was said to test (perirazein) Abraham, when he appeared to be demanding the sacrifice of Isaac. When Israel came into the Promised Land, God did not remove the people who were already there. He left them so that Israel might be tested (peirazein) in the struggle against them. So my remaining around the citizens of this world is to test my faith, loyalty, love for Christ. It is to make a man out of me. The experiences in Israel were tests which went to the making of the people of Israel.
Hort writes: “The Christian must expect to be jostled by trials on the Christian way.” All kinds of experiences will come to us. There will be the test of the sorrows and the disappointments which seek to take our faith away. There will be the test of the seductions which seek to lure us from the right way. There will be the tests of the dangers (Christian in the Middle East; the underground Christians in China); the sacrifices, (the many sacrifices we made because of the cause of Christ) the unpopularity which the Christian way must so often involve. But they are not meant to make us fall; they are meant to make us soar. They are not meant to defeat us; they are meant to be defeated. They are not meant to make us weaker; they are meant to make us stronger. Therefore we should not bemoan them; we should rejoice in them. The Christian is like the athlete. The heavier the course of training he undergoes, the more he is glad, because he knows that it is fitting him all the better for victorious effort. As Browning said, we must “welcome each rebuff that turns earth’s smoothness rough,” for every hard thing is another step on the upward way.
The word ‘hupomone’, is translated as ‘patience’ in the King James Version. But patience is far too passive. Hupomone is not simply the ability to bear things; it is the ability to turn them to greatness and to glory. The thing which amazed the heathen in the centuries of persecution was that the martyrs did not die grimly, they died singing. One smiled in the flames; they asked him what he found to smile at there. “I saw the glory of God,” he said, “and was glad.” Hupomone is the quality which makes a man able, not simply to suffer things, but to vanquish them. The effect of testing rightly borne is strength to bear still more and to conquer in still harder battles.
Going back to the story of Vernon Brewer. He shared, ‘I remember the day I went into Ed Dobson’s office and shut the door and stated crying. He asked what was wrong and I said, “I’m afraid to die. I started out so strong and now I’m so weak. I can’t control my emotions. It’s an intense satanic attack.” And I’ll never forget his response. He said “No … that’s reality. You have a terminal disease … you may die. The way I see it, you have one of three choices.” I asked, “What are they?” He replied, “Number one, you can get bitter.” I said, “Oh no, I love God too much for that!” He continued, “Number two, you can run from reality and live in denial.” “No, that won’t accomplish anything. What’s my third option?” He replied, “Accept it from God.” I didn’t hear another word after that. I got up in a daze – left – got in my car and drove home. I couldn’t even make it home. I pulled the car over on the side of the road and we held a funeral service. And that’s the day I died. I remember taking my hands off the steering wheel and giving my life to God and thanking Him for cancer and accepting it from Him. But Vernon Brewer did not die. He survived the cancer.
A few years later, he was standing in the desert of north India and the pastor said to him, “There are 600,000 villages in India and only 50,000 have a church of any kind.” He said, “We have 1,000 pastors trained and ready to plant 1,000 churches right now. All we need is some help.” At that moment Vernon Brewer heard from Heaven. He didn’t hear an audible voice, but he heard the still small voice of God. This is what he heard, “Vernon, this is why I have brought you to India. This is why I healed you from cancer. This is why all those dark days. This is why World Help began. This is what I want you to do with the rest of your life … to plant churches where no churches exist.”
Vernon went home and told people his vision to plant 1,000 churches in the country of India by the year 2000, and build 1,000 church buildings that would seat 300 people each. People laughed at him. Someone has said, “If you tell people your vision and people don’t laugh it’s not big enough.”
People started voicing their expectations real quick. One board member said that if we only plant 200 that would be a great victory. In the early part of the year 1999, they passed the 542 mark … 542 churches have been planted and church buildings are being constructed, and Vernon believed they going to pass the 1,000 mark by December 31, because God showed him that was one of the results of his trials. He finally did plant 1000 churches.
In Conclusion, “What have I learned through all of this trial? I can tell you, “First of all, trials has not been revival experience. It hasn’t been like I’ve been off from church camp, spiritual emphasis. This has been a survival experience — this has been hell on earth — this has not been one of those glorious things.” But, you learned a few things.
Firstly, I realized that God is ultimately in control.
Secondly learn to live life one day at a time. Maximize the good days … minimize the bad days. There are some days the trials will be so bad, that it’s just a bad day. Maybe tomorrow will be better. Yesterday is gone and tomorrow may never come, but God has given us today … stop and smell the roses.
The third thing is to wait on God. It’s not an easy lesson. The words of Andre Crouch said it best, “For if I’d never had a problem, I’d never know that God could solve it. I’d never know what strength in God could do.”
The fourth thing is God does indeed answer prayer. Sometimes it’s wait, sometimes it’s no, sometimes its yes. But God answers prayer.