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How Can I Profit From My Pain?

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How Can I Profit From My Pain?

James 1:2-8

Richard E. Powell

November 23, 2008

Fort Caroline Baptist Church,

Jacksonville, FL

            Years ago I read the story of a woman and her parakeet named “Chippie.” According to a newspaper article, the woman was cleaning Chippie’s cage with the hose of her canister vacuum cleaner. She was in a hurry, so she decided to leave Chippie in the cage while she vacuumed out the bottom with the open end of the hose. While she was cleaning the cage the phone rang. She turned and reached out to answer the phone when she suddenly heard the horrific sound of Chippie being sucked up into the vacuum cleaner.

            Horrified at what she had done she dropped the phone, turned off the vacuum, and opened it up. Thankfully she found Chippie alive but stunned. Chippie was a sight to behold. He was covered from beak to claw with dirt, dust, and debris. His frantic owner wanted to clean him up as quickly as possible so she scooped him up and took him to the bathroom where she plunged him under a running faucet. Now Chippie was clean but he was shivering. His owner picked up the blow dryer, turned it on and held poor Chippie under the blast of hot air until he was dry. The newspaper reporter asked this final question of the woman, “How’s Chippie doing now?” The woman said, “Well Chippie doesn't sing much anymore. He just sort of sits and stares.”

            Have you ever had a day like that? Has life ever left you feeling sucked in, washed up, and blown over? If we are honest, most of us would say, “I can relate to poor Chippie.” Life has a way of trying you and testing you. We are minding our own business when suddenly we are sucked into painful circumstances that try our faith and patience. It may be that your marriage that started out as the ideal has turned into an ordeal. It may be that you get a visit from your doctor who tells you that you have cancer. It may be that you get laid off from your job. It may be that your former friends are mistreating you.

            Whatever the circumstances, they try our faith and patience. We are not sure how to handle them and how to square our theology of a loving God with our painful trials. You ask yourself, “What good could possible come out of this?” It may comfort you to know that you are not the first to feel this way or to ask this question. The apostle James wrote a letter to Christians in his day in part because he wanted to help them profit from their pain. His letter is preserved in the Bible. Open your Bible to James 1:2-8. Today you will see that you can joyfully profit from your pain when you remember God’s purpose of developing your spiritual maturity.

(READ PASSAGE)

            It sounds like James is mocking us with his instruction to “count it all joy” when we fall into various trials. Unless you are a masochist, you do not enjoy painful experiences. I know they say in the body-building world, “No pain; no gain.” But my philosophy is, “No pain. What’s wrong with that?” I don’t like pain or problems. What does James mean when he says I am to count it all joy? Read the verses carefully and you will see that he is saying you can joyfully face your problems because you know something. The joy is not in the problem you face, it is in the knowledge you possess. As a Christian you know that God can make all things work together for your good (Romans 8:28). God does not cause all the painful trials that test us, but He does allow them and He can bring something good out of them. The good he seeks for you is that you would become a stronger believer, spiritually mature, and living by faith. Let’s walk through these verses again and see what James wants us to know and how he answers the question, “How can I profit from my pain?”

            First, James says if you want to profit from your pain you must… 

I. Realize The Purpose Behind The Pain (James 1:2-3). 

            Before James tells us the purpose behind the pain, he reveals that…

             A. We Are All The People of Pain (James 1:2).

            James is writing to the “brethren,” to God’s family. By calling them his brothers, he identified with them. He says, “I am one of you. We are in this together.” James wants these believers to know that they are not alone in their suffering. It is still true today. You are not alone. Look around this room and you will see that each of us are either in a problem now, coming out of a problem, or are headed into one soon! That is one of the reasons I come to church---misery loves company! No, but it does comfort me to know that I am not alone. In fact, our Lord and Savior stands with us as one of the people of pain. He was a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3b). And notice that James said, “when” you fall into various trials, not “if.” It is not a matter of if; it is a matter of when!  

            We are all the people of pain, and… 

            B. There Are Many Producers of Pain (James 1:2).

           James also mentions the producers of pain when he mentions the “various trials.” The word “various” mean multi-faceted, variegated, and diverse. There are more pain producing experiences in life than colors in a child’s kaleidoscope. Perhaps the reason James did not try to list the producers of pain is because the list is innumerable. And if he had tried he may have left your particular trial off the list and you would say, “See, no one knows what I am going through. My trial is unique in all of human history!”

            The word for “trials” is translated “temptations” in the King James Version. But the Greek word literally means fiery tests or troubles of any kind. Sometimes we mistakenly believe that all of our problems will disappear when we become Christians. But that is not the case. You will face financial trials, relational trials, physical trials, emotional trials, or spiritual trials.

            After James identified the people and the producers of pain, he promised that… 

            C. God Has An Ultimate Purpose For Pain (James 1:3).

            “The testing of your faith produces patience” (James 1:3).

           Our Heavenly Father knows there are certain lessons of faith that we can only learn in the testing times of life. God often has our attention more in testing times than in good times. And He teaches us things about our relationship with Him that we would not learn otherwise. Perhaps you have heard me quote that well-worn poem that says:

            I walked a mile with pleasure,

            She chattered all the way,

            But I was none the wiser

            For all she had to say. 

            I walked a mile with sorrow,

            Not a word said she,

            But, oh, the things I learned from her

            When sorrow walked with me. 

                        1. Trials Disclose the Genuineness of Your Faith.

            “The testing of your faith…” It is easy to declare your faith when life is good. It is easy to say you are a person of faith in this air conditioned sanctuary. It is easy to say you have faith when you have money in the bank, food in the pantry, and a stable job. But genuine faith is disclosed during life’s testing-times. Genuine faith is disclosed in the funeral parlor by the casket of a loved one. Faith is disclosed in the counseling office when your marriage seems hopeless. Faith is disclosed as you stand vigil over your child in a hospital room. Trials separate the men from the boys, the possessors of faith from the pretenders.

                        2. Trials Develop the Persistence of Your Faith.

            The word for patience that James uses means, “perseverance or staying power” (Bible Knowledge Commentary). He is saying that through their times of testing their faith will be strengthened. You will have a steadfast fortitude. This is what they have to know in order to consider it all joy when they fall into various trials. They have to be convinced that they will be stronger Christians on the other side of their trials.

            It was said, Jesus, “for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus was able to face the agony of the cross with joy because He saw that on the other side of that agonizing cross an empty tomb, a triumphant Church, and the throne of God! Jesus looked beyond the cross down the corridors of time and saw you here in His house, saved by His grace, praising His Name, and He saw you with Him in Heave one day—and for the joy set before Him, He was able to endure.

            James wants his readers to know that they will be better able to patiently endure the hardships of life as a result of going through trials. God will waste none of their tears. He will use their problems to strengthen their faith. We have to look beyond our circumstances and see the glorious masterpiece that God has for us on the other side---the masterpiece of becoming more like Jesus.

            Often we do not value the quality of patience and endurance in the Christian life. However, we value the parent who endures the difficulties of raising children. We value the Olympic runner who endures the agony of the marathon. We value the soldier who endures the hardships of battle. How much more should we value believers who stand up under trials because their faith is in God? There is a watching world who will take notice when believers have a sense of peace and well-being as they face their trials.

            Church, if we truly want to reach our community for Christ then we will show people the difference faith in Christ makes during the trails of life. They turn to the bottle when they face trials, seeking to drown their sorrows. However, they soon learn that every problem they have can swim. You cannot drown your problems with alcohol. Others turn to pills to medicate the pain. Others turn to pleasures or other people to mask the pain. But we can show them a better way. We can show them a strong faith in our Savior and in His purpose for our lives.

            Once we realize the purpose behind the pain we must also… 

II. Remember To Let Patience Be Perfected (James 1:4).

            The quality of Character that God seeks to develop in us is not fully formed overnight. James instructs his readers to let patience complete its assigned task of bringing them to maturity. He warns them not to rush the process.

            A. Do Not Stunt Your Spiritual Growth Through Impatience.

            A Red Wood tree can grow to a height of 379 feet, but it does not get there overnight. Many of these trees have been around for 2,200 years. In the same way, we cannot expect to find short-cuts in becoming the strong Christians God intends for us to be.

            Someone has said that the school of patience never gives honorary degrees. If you become impatient with God during times of testing you will only stunt your own spiritual growth. James says you must let patience do its job of bringing you to spiritual maturity.

            B. Do Not Lose Sight Of God’s Goal of Spiritual Maturity For You.

            The words “perfect and complete” literally mean, “finished and whole.” James wants us to keep in mind that God is using trials to mold us into all that He desires. The United States Army challenges recruits with the slogan, “Be all that you can be.” The caption is usually accompanied by a full-color photo of a soldier in a crisp, full-dress uniform. The image is designed to inspire the recruit by reminding him of the goal. James is doing something similar. He wants us to envision the day we are mature and complete in Christ, standing before God clothed in the qualities He forged in us down here. God is using your trials to do nothing less than conforming you into the image of His dear Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul declared, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified” (Romans 8:28-30) NKJV.

            Having realized the purpose behind our pain, and remembering to let patience be perfected in us, we must do one more thing, and that is… 

III. Rely On The Power of Prayer (James 1:5).

            James realizes that what he is writing is not always easy to flesh out in daily life. He is worried that his readers will depend upon themselves to face trials. He perhaps imagines them saying, “But James, I do not know how to face this trial with patience. What am I to do?” Thus, he gives them one final admonition they must heed if they are to profit from their pain. They must rely on the power of prayer. 

            A. The Request I Make Is For Wisdom To Profit From My Pain (1:5).

            James wants his readers to know that help is available when they don’t know what to do or how to handle their problems. He assures them that God is ready to hear their prayers for wisdom. This is not wisdom for picking lottery numbers or wisdom for deciding on which car to purchase. This is wisdom for handling trials and troubles.

           Whenever I find myself traveling in my car and I get lost or turned around, I can simply turn to my in-car navigation system and it will chart a course for me that leads to the correct path. God will do the same thing when I recognize that I am turned around, confused, and frustrated because of my painful situation. All I have to do is ask Him for wisdom, for understanding, for insight into how I should respond.

            In fact, James assures us that… 

            B. The Result of My Prayer Is That God Will Give Me The Wisdom I Need To Handle My Trial.  

                        1. God Will Give Me Wisdom Generously.

            God is not stingy with wisdom. When He dispenses wisdom He does so liberally. When the world needed light at the dawn of creation, God did not light a birthday candle. No! He gave a blazing sun to light the earth by day and a majestic moon to light it by night! He is a generous God. When the world needed a Savior God did not send a “Get Well” card. No! He sent His one and only Son, the darling of Heaven, who bled and died for us on the cross! We have a generous God.

                         2. God Will Give Me Wisdom Graciously.

            God is not like the impatient parent who scolds his child for asking a question. He will not scream at you with the words, “Are you stupid? Don’t you know that by now?” Instead He will say, “Dear child, I am so glad you asked. Let me help you. You don’t have to face this trial alone.”

            While God has not promised to grant all your prayers for health, wealth, or happiness, He has promised to answer your prayer for wisdom to handle your trials.

            Conclusion: On May 17, 2008, Christian recording artist Steven Curtis Chapman and his family suffered a devastating loss. Five-year-old adopted daughter, Maria, was struck and killed when Chapman's seventeen-year-old son was backing his SUV out of the family's driveway. After much prayer and counsel, Chapman recently returned to touring in promotion for his newest album.

            Chapman shared that after Maria's death, he'd reconsidered the words to all his songs and whether he could still sing—and believe—them. Instead, losing his little girl brought the meaning of some of those songs into sharper focus. One example was "Yours," which addresses how everything in the world belongs to God.

            “In this song, in particular, I had to come to a new realization,” he said. “There's not an inch of creation that God doesn't look at and say ‘all of that's mine.’” As a result of that realization in conjunction with Maria's death, Chapman added a new verse to “Yours”:

           I've walked the valley of death's shadow
            so deep and dark that I could barely breath.
            I've had to let go of more than I could bear and
            I've questioned everything that I believe.
            Still even here in this great darkness
            a comfort and a hope comes breaking through
            as I can say in life or death
            God we belong to you.
(Citation: adapted from, “Stephen Curtis Chapman on Dealing with Daughter’s Death,” www.PreachingToday.com)

God has not promised that the Christian life would be easy, but He has promised that He would be with you. Your pain will not bring you joy, but knowing God’s ultimate plan for your life will. You can joyfully profit from your pain when you remember God’s purpose of developing your spiritual maturity, of making you more like Jesus.

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