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Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food. Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls . . . Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, And He will make me walk on my high hills.

Habakkuk 3:17-19

This letter is from James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. I am writing to the “twelve tribes”—Jewish believers scattered abroad. Greetings!

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.

James 1:1-8


Joyful Troubles?!!

Randy K’Meyer

I know these texts tell us to be joyful when trouble comes, but between you and me I think Habakkuk and James were a little off! From where I’m sitting . . . neither one was playing with a full deck. Trouble . . . trouble . . . who wants trouble?

When we see trouble coming our way, we begin to run in the opposite direction. We wish to avoid it at all costs. We’re not looking for trouble, no sir-ee bob. Trouble usually causes us to worry and fret and stew, and lose sleep too. When trouble comes our way, we want you to know, Habakkuk, James, we definitely do not agree that it’s time to have a happy fizzy party.

uh uh, no way . . . end of story!

But we do agree with them that as long as there is life, there will be troubles.

Notice James doesn’t say “If troubles of any kind come your way,” but rather “When” (James 1:2).

Don’t let anyone ever tell you that once you become a Christian, ‘now your troubles are all over and you can fly like little birds all the way to heaven.’ Poppycock! In some respects, people in the faith have more difficulties than those who are not; just ask anyone who has ever been persecuted for their faith.

Jesus warned His disciples, “In this world, you will have trouble” (John 16:33). If you’re experiencing troubles right now, my Christian friend, you’re not the exception, you are the rule! And if you’re not experiencing troubles right now…

Trouble is one of those products where the supply certainly exceeds the demand.

The big question then is, ‘How does a faithful Christian handle trouble in a joyful way that serves his or her faith in God well?

And James says troubles put our faith to the test, and that’s a good thing.

Why is it a good thing? “For you know that when your faith is tested your endurance has a chance to grow” (James 1:3).

And lest we think that James is daft, we should probably recognize that Paul agrees with James. In his letter to the Romans, he writes,

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.

Romans 5:3-4

You see, both of these guys know that troubles are a means to a greater end: a deeper relationship with Christ as we learn to trust Him more and more. If it weren’t for troubles, many of us wouldn’t be where we are spiritually. Troubles have a way of dropping us to our knees and drawing us closer to the Lord than we’ve ever been in our life.

The great preacher, whom Lincoln was especially fond of Henry Ward Beecher said, “Troubles are tools by which God fashions us for better things.” 1

So when, not if, trouble comes our way, we have a choice to make. We can respond by becoming bitter or better. James would have us become the latter.

Where do we begin James?

And James responds in verse 5, ask God for wisdom.

I would define the kind of wisdom James is talking about here as, “looking at life from God’s point of view.”

And what is His point of view about the origin of troubles?

We don’t need to look any further than the Book of Genesis, where after Adam and Eve sinned, God said,

Then he said to the woman, “I will sharpen the pain of your pregnancy,
and in pain you will give birth. And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you.”

And to the man he said, “Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat, the ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains. By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat until you return to the ground
from which you were made. For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return.

Genesis 3:16-19

The Bible would have us know that all troubles stem from the curse upon sin. We can trace all human suffering to the effects of sin; our own sin, the sins of others, and the general fact of living in a fallen world. All of our troubles are ultimately due to the consequences of human sinfulness.

And, although through our faith in Christ God has removed the ultimate curse of sin from us, as long as we are on this earth, God will allow suffering from sin to continue until He decides at last to make everything that’s wrong with the world right.

In the meantime, when trouble comes we return to our theological roots, counting our blessings. What blessings? That God loves me so much that He sent His Son to die in our place; that Christ has removed the sting from death, and in that sense, we can learn to bear smaller troubles because He’s already so graciously taken care of our biggest problem.

That there is peace in the midst of troubles when we pray.

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-6

And that no matter how hot the flame of my troubles gets, we are not alone. He will never leave us nor forsake us, He will see us through.

Sometimes I turn to memorized scripture:

Psalm 46:1: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”

Isaiah 41:10: So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Sometimes I sing a song:

“When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow,
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee . . . thy deepest distress.” 2

“Thy troubles to bless?” Yes. Which leads to the next point about viewing troubles through God’s eyes.

Embrace the truth that God can receive glory from our troubles.

John 11 tells the story of the raising of Lazarus. When Jesus learns that Lazarus is sick, He says, this “happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this” (John 11:4).

You may recall He said the same thing two chapters earlier when he was about to heal the man born blind. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him” (John 9:3).

The Apostle Paul was faced with troubles. He had a physical aliment of some sort . . . what it was doesn’t matter. He prayed, ‘Lord take this trouble away from me’” (II Corinthians 12:8). He might have added, Lord you know I have given my utmost for Your highest. He could have reminded the Lord of his litany of pain, “Lord I have suffered so much for Your Kingdom that I really don’t deserve the trouble I’m in.”

But all of that didn’t matter either. What mattered was the Lord’s answer: “My grace is all you need . . . for My power works best in weakness.”

Did Paul argue, “That’s not fair … that’s a raw deal … I thought you loved me?” We wouldn’t have blamed him if he might have been thinking that at the time, but after he cogitated on the Lord’s answer for a while, he wrote, “So now I am glad to boast about my weakness so that the power of Christ can work through me” (II Corinthians 12:9).

Max Lucado talks about a friend of his whose cancer was consuming not only his body, but also his faith. Unanswered prayer perplexed him. Well-meaning Christians confused him. “If you have faith,” they said, “you will be healed.” No healing came; just more chemo, nausea, and questions. He assumed the fault was his small faith.

Lucado suggested another answer. “It’s not about you, it’s about Him. Your hospital room is a showcase for your Maker. Your faith in the face of suffering cranks up the volume of God’s song.”

Oh, that you could have seen the relief on his face; to know he hadn’t failed God and God hadn’t failed him made all the difference. Seeing his sickness in the scope of God’s sovereign plan gave his condition a sense of dignity. He accepted his cancer as a heavenly assignment: missionary to the cancer ward. Bingo … his cancer paraded the power of Jesus down the Main Street of his world.

And Lucado concludes, “God will use whatever He wants to display his glory
heavens and stars, history and nations . . . people and problems.” 4

Rather than begrudge your problem, explore it, ponder it. And most of all, use it . . . use it to the glory of God.

Pastor and author, Tim Keller, has written what I believe to be one the best books on the subject of pain and suffering.

Trusting God in suffering also glorifies Him to others. When believers handle suffering rightly, they are not merely glorifying God to God. They are showing the world something of the greatness of God . . . and perhaps nothing else can reveal Him to people in quite the same way. “It is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering out of a conscious commitment to God,” writes Peter (I Peter 2:19). Patient endurance of suffering, when onlookers know that the sufferers are Christians can reveal the power of God. 5

Just ask anyone who knows Deborah Haumesser. She will not allow her illness to diminish her enthusiasm for giving God glory in the midst of it. Thursday evening, I was telling her what I was preaching about today and she said, “That’s what I’m all about; I pray that God gets glory through me.” And I was secretly thinking, “Wow, James, here’s one . . . here’s one; Deborah Haumesser is one whose ‘endurance is fully developed’ just like you said.”

And there’s another one over there James, do you see him? His name is Ron Thomas, and that gal sitting next to him, Rena Thomas. My, my, aren’t you proud of them, God?

When trouble comes into the life of a Christian, it provides an opportunity to reflect the glory of God. The way we handle trouble is potentially our greatest witness. People who don’t know Christ will see the way we handle trouble; with calm assurance that God still loves us, that He is going to take care of us and they see that we have something that they do not, which leads to the last point I wish to make today.

What both Habakkuk and James are talking about is finishing well.

James says that being able to handle trouble leads to ‘endurance’ and “when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” In other words, he joins other NT writers in telling us that one aspect of living the Christian life is about finishing well.

Don’t you want to leave a legacy that exemplifies both the grace and glory of God? Don’t you want your children to tell your grandchildren that when troubles came your way you didn’t run and hide, you didn’t complain. Rather, you met them head-on, you learned to tackle them. And you used those opportunities to bring God glory!

Can you imagine the kind of witness we would make, the legacy we’d leave, individually as well as collectively, if all of us made a concerted effort to approach our problems, our troubles, our difficulties from this perspective?

Think about all the people you know without Christ in their lives, who would benefit greatly by observing the glory of Christ shining through our troubles.

How very difficult it must be for them when trouble rears its ugly head. They have no Savior, no foundation, nothing to hold on to, no peace. Imagine being without the Lord and hearing the worst kind of news from the doctor or from the policeman knocking on your door in the middle of the night. Don’t get me wrong, we too would be rocked back on our heels by such news. But then we would turn to our firm foundation and we would lean hard on Him and we would begin to experience the peace that passes all understanding that comes to one who does. And you better believe that they’ll be watching and wondering.

William Sangster was a pastor, an author, and a missionary. When in the prime of his life and ministry he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. For 3 years he slowly lost the ability to move any part of his body; until just before the end he could only move one finger. Everyone wondered how he would respond to the situation. But his attitude didn’t falter for when he was first diagnosed he made three resolutions:
“I will never complain.
I will count my blessings.
I will try to turn my troubles to gain.” 6

And thus the grace of God was on display; not only during his life . . . but also in his death.

“The soul that on Jesus stills leans for repose
I will not . . . I will not desert to its foes,
That soul . . . though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never . . . no never . . . no never forsake.” 7

1 https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/425221.Henry_Ward_Beecher

2 From the Christian Hymn How Firm a Foundation. Published by John Rippon, 1787.

3 Timothy Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, [New York, New York: Penguin Books, © 2013]. Page 264.

4 Lucado, Max. It’s not About Me: Rescue from the Life We Thought Would Make Us Happy. [Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, © 2004] Pages 15-16.

5 Timothy Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, [New York, New York: Penguin Books, © 2013]. Page175.

6 Shouting “Christ Is Risen!” – William Sangster by Vance Christie,
March 23, 2016

7 From the Christian Hymn How Firm a Foundation. Published by John Rippon, 1787.