Faith and Wisdom
My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.
~ James 1:2-4 (NRSV)
Today in Household Huddle, we talked about the way that we feel when things don’t go our way, when our dreams don’t come true, when we don’t get what we want, and when we face bullies and people that aren’t nice to us. We talked about what it feels like to be mad, or sad, or frustrated, because we all feel that way at one time
The truth is life is hard sometimes, isn’t it? We face trials and tribulations, difficulties and struggles. We get stressed out and overburdened and sometimes we don’t know which way to turn. That’s when we usually throw up our hands and say, “What more can happen? Why me God? What did I do to deserve this?” And we ask that age-old question, “God why do you let bad things happen to good people?” But my friends, the truth is Jesus never told us that life would be easy. On the contrary, in the book of John 16:33, Jesus said, “In this world, you will have trouble, you will find sorrow and tribulation.“
I wonder, how many of you are facing a trial in your life right now, or have faced trials in your past? I don’t mean a legal trial in court, but a difficult time, a struggle, a “personal storm.” as they sometimes say. The truth is, throughout life, we all face different kinds of trials and difficulties. They can be financial, or emotional, vocational, or physical, psychological, or marital, or even spiritual, or theological. And the truth is, what I might consider a trial or a struggle might not be a problem for you. Because just as God has given us different gifts and abilities, we all have different weaknesses too, and we all struggle for different reasons.
Now some of you might be “numbers people,” and you might find it easier to work with numbers than with people. For me, I would choose sitting with a grieving family over balancing a checkbook any day. Because as I always say, “I do ministry, not math!” What is difficult for me may be easy for you, and vice versa. So, one thing that I would ask of all of you is that you never compare your trials with the trials of others, because they simply aren’t the same even though they may look like it on the outside.
Let’s take a look back at today’s scripture lesson for just a minute. This morning, we heard from the book of James. It is believed that James was the younger brother of Jesus. James watched Jesus very closely and learned from him first-hand. So James teaches us not so much of what faith is, but more about what faith does in our lives. And he writes not so much about what to believe, but more about how to live a life as a believer. James tells us that being tempted and tested isn’t the worst thing that can happen.
Do you remember how today’s scripture reading began? “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy.” Unfortunately, this is one of the places where Christians tend to get a bad name, because where if we don’t look deep enough, we get the wrong message. At face value, it sounds like James is telling us to simply be cheerleaders, to be happy all the time, because God is going to fix everything for us. And that is simply not true.
Being a Christian is not a promise that life will be easy. It’s not a promise that God will clear all struggle and pain out of your life. It is not a promise that every day will be filled with sunshine and rainbows, or that if you just walk around and talk about joy and grace and the love of God that God will take care of everything.
On the contrary, being a Christian is a promise that when you face trials – did you hear that? I didn’t say “if you face trials,” but “when you face trials,” because you will! – it is a promise that through those trials and through your struggles, your faith will be tested. Now I know you are sitting out there right now saying, “That’s not good news! Pastor Kelly is just supposed to share good news with us, so we can go out into the world filled with happiness and joy and we can share that happiness and joy with others. But hold on for just a moment folks, because believe it or not, there is good news in being tested.
I remember when I was just out of high school and I was about to start my first year at Rhode Island College, I had to go early to take a week-long workshop because I had been labeled as having “test anxiety.” You see, whenever I knew that I would be tested on something, I was always afraid that I would fail. And if the test was timed, like the quizzes we had in elementary school to see how many math facts we could complete in a minute, I would just break down, because when faced with a test, I worried about my weaknesses instead of celebrating my gifts. During that test anxiety course, I finally learned that a test is not a punishment or a judgment. It is simply a chance to show who you are and what you know. It is a chance to show your strengths, and the same is true when we face struggles in our lives.
My friends, when something bad happens and life is hard, we need to remember that God isn’t punishing us. God isn’t failing us. God hasn’t abandoned us, and God isn’t making bad things happen to us. On the contrary, God’s heart breaks with us when we suffer. But God also won’t step in and make it better if we simply pray, and God won’t answer every question for us. You see, God doesn’t promise to change things; God promises, through faith, to change us! So, through our struggles, our faith is made stronger. Through our trials, we learn to endure and to persevere.
Friends, I wonder, how many of you want to be like Jesus? And how many of you want to face trials in your life? Unfortunately, those are actually the same question. To think we are going to be like Jesus without facing trials is like saying we want to lose weight, but we don’t want to give up cake and cookies and pizza and cheeseburgers. Or that we want to learn something new without studying or reading books. It just doesn’t work that way. There is always cause and effect. We reap what we sow. And through endurance and perseverance, when we keep on trying no matter what, we eventually find maturity. Remember what today’s scripture said, “You know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”
I told you earlier that in Household Huddle today, we talked about what it feels like to be angry or frustrated or sad. Sometimes it makes you want to stamp your feet or scream or cry out loud. And that’s okay. This morning we took some pieces of construction paper and we imagined that we were really mad, so we ripped up the paper into pieces. But after we did that, we found that all we had were lots of little pieces of paper to clean up. So we thought about today’s scripture reading, and we remembered that in the translation we read in Household Huddle, it said: “Consider it a gift, friends, when things are difficult. Because under pressure, your faith teaches you to show its true colors. Don’t walk away from things just because they frustrate you or make you mad. Keep working so you can grow even stronger in your faith.”
We also thought about the fact that God is always with us, in good times and bad, and that God loves us unconditionally, no matter what. So, we decided to pick up our ripped-up pieces of paper and make them into something that would remind us that even when things happen and we get mad or frustrated or sad, we are never alone. And God is always there in whatever trials we face, loving us and guiding us through.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, try to look beyond the difficult situations that you find yourselves in to catch glimpse of the strength and the possibility that lies within you. Because that is when you truly begin to understand that the trials that you face only make you stronger. So, don’t be afraid when you find yourself angry or sad or frustrated or being tested. Just use it as an opportunity to show others the amazing gifts of grace that God has given you!
May it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!