Why Bad Things Happen To God's People
Good morning, it is hard to believe that this is the first Sunday in 2019. As I get older I now understand why people always told me that time flies as you get older because it surely does. I cannot believe that Courtney and I have lived here in Monroe County for six months now as of yesterday. It is just hard to believe. If you would turn in your Bibles this morning to the book of James the first chapter. We are going to looking at a set of four verses this morning. James 1:2-5 if you would please stand, turn to someone and give them a handshake or even a hug and say, stay strong.
James 1:2-5 please remain standing for the reading of the Word.
2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
Thank you, you may be seated.
Brother Paul and I had a great conversation in his office about a week ago about some things going on in our culture and our church and, let me just take a moment to say this, we have a great pastor. He loves this church and loves everyone here today. Be thankful for him. Make sure you tell him that, don’t just assume he knows how much you love him, tell him, and tell him often.
But after our meeting last week, I had planned on bringing you a message this morning about the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6. So, this being the first Sunday of the year and almost a week into the new year, I had planned on talking about resolutions and goals and how by this point we may have already fallen short of keeping those resolutions. How in 2019 it would be appropriate to make our resolution to better our relationship with God through prayer. That, of course, is still an appropriate resolution to make and perhaps I can preach on that another time. But last Monday evening everything changed. I think that we can all agree that it has been a tough week in Monroe County hasn’t it? It’s been a tough week for our whole community, our extended church family at Gamaliel, and for the family of Leah Carter. And yesterday we got the news we all feared but hoped wouldn’t be. I don’t believe that any of us thought, or even imagined, that this is how 2019 would start. But God knew this is how it would begin. He was not surprised by any of this.
What has happened in our community this week is the kind of thing you hear about on the news happening in other places making headlines but you never imagine that something like this will happen here. And when it does happen, if you are like me, you find yourself in shock asking God, why Lord? Why do tragedies hit your people? Why do things like this have to happen? Why is this the plan?
Well by the time we leave this morning I think we are going to see why these trials are put into our lives. It doesn’t make it any easier, but I hope that it will give us understanding and insight as to how we are to respond to things the various trials that come into our lives.
So what is James saying to us in this passage? First I want to make sure we understand who James is. You may not know but James was the half-brother of our Lord Jesus Christ. He was son to Mary and Joseph. He grew up with Jesus and likely knew Him intimately. So James knew what trials were, he knew persecution. He saw it happen to his brother as he was betrayed, tortured and crucified. He saw other disciples go through trials and persecution. And ultimately he went through trials himself.
But James tells us to count it all joy when you go into trials. So point number one this morning is this, plan on having trials in your life. You will notice that James doesn’t say count it joy if you go into trials. No, he said to count it joy when you go into trials. Trials for the Christian is a given. It is guaranteed. In fact, trials for everyone in this world should be assumed. It is the nature of the fallen world. Bad things are going to happen. And anyone who has lived any amount of time knows this, can we all agree? So we need to plan on having trials in our life. Now there are some preachers out there who say, hey, if you are a Christian and you are truly following Christ, nothing bad will happen to you, you are going to prosper, life is going to be nothing but great from here on out. But the Scriptures teach the exact opposite.
Consider for a minute the story of Job. If you have not read the book of Job recently I challenge you to do that early this year as a reminder of how and why trials may come into our lives. Job was a wealthy man and the Scriptures tell us that he was a blameless man who was upright, feared God and turned away from evil. And what happened to Job? To make a long story short, Satan came to God and challenged God on the topic of Job and said, and I’m paraphrasing here, that Job only loved God because he had no trials in his life that would cause him to curse God. So God permitted Satan to test Job. I want to summarize this testing, Job’s family was taken from him, his livestock died off, his crops died, he had physical afflictions such as boils on his skin, his friends mocked him. In fact, Job was pretty much left with his life and nothing else. Yet, through all of this, Job kept his faith. That doesn’t mean that he was not in anguish. No, if you read the book Job even says that he wishes he had not been born. But in the midst of all the grief and torture we read Job 19:25-27 where Job says:
25 For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. 26 And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, 27 whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!
Job understood that God is in control and has a perfect plan through his trials. And James says to count it joy when we go through these trials. Now the word joy can also be translated as the word rejoice. In other words, give thanks. Be glad in the trials. Now, be careful to note what the text does not say. It does not say be happy about the trial itself. That is not what James is commanding us to do here. No, he is saying rejoice, be glad, be thankful while you are in these various trials.
This is not an easy command. It is not easy to rejoice when the times are bad. It is not easy to give thanks when life around us is falling apart. So how do we do that? Well, we need to understand that our joy does not and should not come from the things that are the focus of our trials. Our joy does not come from our families, it does not come from our job, our home, our money, it comes and can only come from the Lord Himself. And joy should not be confused with happiness. Trials do not bring happiness and that is not what James is trying to say. Joy is a choice, a state of being, it is a fruit of the Spirit. It is delighting in Christ our Savior.
This brings us to our second point this morning. The first was to plan on trials, the second is to allow the trials in your life to perfect your faith. Perfect your faith. This is not necessarily something you do, but it is a result of what happens when we persevere through the trials that come into our lives. God accomplishes the perfecting of our faith in the midst of our trials because when we count it joy in the trials it produces endurance. Paul lays this out for us in Romans 5 starting in verse 1.
1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. 6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
Faith is the source of everything we have in Christ. It is how we are justified. It is the agent by which we are saved by grace. And that faith allows us to rejoice in our sufferings. And notice that suffering produces endurance. The word endurance in the Greek is the same word for steadfastness in James 1:3-4. Paul says that endurance produces character which produces hope. And what is that hope? Romans 5:6 gives us that answer. Christ dying for the ungodly. That is our hope. That is our source of joy. That is what we live for.
Perfecting our faith means running with endurance. It means standing strong in the hope of Christ during our trials. In other words, our faith in the hope that Christ gives us will allow us to have the joy that James commands us to have when we are in these trials. It is cyclical. Both ends feed off of each other to bring us to maturity in our Christian walk.
Obviously, we are still human. And there are going to be times when we do not understand why certain trials come into our lives. This brings us to our third and final point this morning. We need to pray for understanding. Pray for understanding.
James 1:5 says if we lack wisdom, and the word wisdom simply means understanding or the capacity to understand, James says that we should ask God for that wisdom and God will not rebuke us for it but give it to us. God knows that there will be times that we lack understanding. So we pray for understanding. We pray for God to reveal his will. We want God to show us why this trial came into our lives, we want God to show us how this will make us stronger, how it can be used for His glory. And church, every trial, no matter how big, no matter how small, no matter how tragic, can always be used for His glory.
Last Sunday night Courtney and I went up to her parents house to watch the movie War Room. If you have not seen this movie you need see it as soon as possible. It’s powerful. Now, since I just told you to get the movie and watch it I’m going to try not to give many spoilers here but it is a great illustration for how prayer can help through trials of all kinds.
During the movie there is a lady named Miss Clara and she is an absolute prayer warrior. She meets the movie’s main character, Liz Jordan, who is having issues in her marriage. At one point in the movie, Miss Clara tells Liz to write down everything that is wrong with her husband. She writes page after page after page and when she is done Clara tells her she doesn’t want to hear the list. Instead, she tells her that she is focusing on the wrong thing. She is focusing on her husband, her trials, rather than God. Prayer was the answer. If you want to know how it works out you need to see the movie. I don’t want to spoil it for you.
The point is that prayer is key to understanding and navigating through our trials.
So we need to plan on having trials because they are going to come. We need to allow trials to perfect our faith. And finally we need to pray for understanding.
So what does that mean for us today? We are in the middle of a trial right now. Our community is hurting. Leah’s family is hurting. Of course, Leah is no longer hurting she is in a perfect state with her Lord praise be to God. But for those of us who are left in the hurt and pain in the aftermath of the tragedy and in these times let us cling to the words of Psalm 34:18
18 The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.
Earlier I said that God can use any trial, no matter how big, no matter how small and no matter how tragic, for His glory. I think we have already seen that some this week in Monroe County.
We have seen God pull a community together in common bond in heroic fashion to try and help one of our own. There have been many selfless acts. People gave time, money, food, equipment and risked their lives at all hours of the day and night. The people of God were praying. Praying for Leah, praying for the rescue workers, praying for the community. And while it may feel like their prayers were not answered, they were. Church, Leah is safe in the arms of God. And the community, though hurting, is stronger than it was before.
God has already used this tragedy for good and for His glory, but I am sure He is not done yet. We must have faith. When people see Christians who are in this situation having faith, they will know something is different. They see a different attitude than those who have no hope. And through this, I have no doubt, that we may see people come to Christ.
So I think the thing we should take away from this and what James is trying to teach us is perfectly captured in Hebrews 12:1-2
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Church let’s run our race with endurance. Let’s persevere through this trial. Let’s lift up one another in love and compassion. Let’s have faith that God is using this story for His purposes. Let’s stay bonded together as a community in 2019 knowing that Christ is our source of joy that can get us through any trial.