Hardship can hit at any time and from anywhere. It’s not a matter of if, but when. They can pack a punch that disorients and discourages. And if discouragement sets in, it can be dangerous. As Howard Hendricks said, “Discouragement is the anesthetic the devil uses on a person just before he reaches in and carves out his heart.”
If we “lose heart” – we lose hope – and it gets dark quick!
Hope is fuel for the future. The fuel for change. The fuel to fight the good fight of faith! James Chapter 1 addresses how to have hope amidst adversity. It is one of the most important lessons in life to learn and to re-learn.
Has hardship hit you? Hear this!
First, God will never fail you in hardship. James writes, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” (James 1:2-3) The word “count” speaks of using mental muscle to think differently about trials. We are to see them as a testing of our faith. What exactly does this mean?
My grandfather was a Navy test pilot and a leader of a squadron at North Island in San Diego. A few days before Pearl Harbor he was testing a plane when shortly after take-off the engine failed and tragically my grandfather lost his life. It was the plane that failed the test, not my grandfather. The point? We should see adversity as a testing of our faith and therefore an opportunity to experience God’s faithfulness that never fails. His promises never fail us. His love never fails us. His strength never fails us. God never fails! It’s one of the reasons James says to count it all joy!
What does the faithfulness of God look like?
We know Jesus is true. (John 14:6) We know that the Lord will never leave us nor forsake us. (Heb. 13:5) We know that He indwells us and works through us. (Rom. 8:11) We know that He will provide for our needs. (Phil. 4:13) We know that the power of Christ rests upon us in our weakness. (2 Cor. 12:9-10) We know that when we don’t know how to pray the Spirit intercedes for us. (Rom. 8:26) We know all things work together for the good in transforming our lives more like Jesus. (Rom. 8:28-29) We know that nothing shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:39) We know that God “...has not given us a spirit of fear but of power, love and a sound mind”. (2 Tim. 1:7)
The testing of our faith moves us from knowing the truth about the Lord to afresh experiencing the truth of who He is. Be encouraged, there is hope!
Second, the Lord’s aim is to work a heroic perseverance and staying power in your life. James says “the testing of your faith produces patience.” The word patience carries the idea of enduring under pressure. Our natural inclination amidst adversity is to escape to some “zero gravity” black hole of distraction, self-medication or reactive anger which inevitably results in atrophy of growth and godly character.
The Lord wants us to trust and obey Him amidst the hardship and not “bail-out” or escape because growth is developed when we persevere and trust God in the struggle.
The growth can mean not to look back but look forward and press on as the Lord has called us to! It can mean being more available to God and saying, “Here I am Lord, use me!” It can mean having greater dependence on God declaring in worship and prayer, “Lord nothing is too hard for you!” It can mean being committed to listen and learn and understand amidst relational conflict! It can mean to forgive and to love unconditionally. James says, “But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:4)
Think of the apostle Paul who went through a process of learning a “God-sufficiency” in whatever circumstances he was in. (Phil. 4:13) When Paul’s life was threatened he responded, “to live is Christ to die is gain!” (Phil. 1:21) When he suffered from a debilitating “thorn in His flesh” he held onto Jesus’ promise, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9) When Paul was arrested and imprisoned he didn’t give up on making Jesus known but wrote the inspired Word of God that impacted not only his generation but thousands of years of World history. (2 Pet. 3:16) Paul wrote, “…I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content…I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil. 4:11-13)
The Lord doesn’t want us to be a puppet of our circumstances and feelings but rather to persevere and watch His faithfulness and power on display in our life!
Third, the Heavenly Father promises to answer the prayer “Lord give me wisdom”. Wisdom is different than knowledge. Knowledge is the accumulation of facts. Wisdom is the right application of knowledge. Knowledge says “that animal with a white stripe down its back is a skunk”. Wisdom says, “I’m outta here!” Pr. 16:16 says “How much better to get wisdom than gold….”
Amidst adversity we need wisdom. We need the right application for life! And the Lord promises to give it to us, “… liberally and without reproach...” (James 1:5; 17-18) It is a guarantee that the Lord will answer the prayer “Lord give me wisdom”.
So give the Lord a blank page to speak into your life. He wants to get really specific with you.
The promise is not necessarily to change the circumstances, but to change the way you think, to change you, to refine you in the hard places. Yet changing the way you think, more often than not, is the beginning of changing the circumstances.
A few years ago the Jerusalem Post ran an article on a man named Avi Yaron who was involved in a motorcycle accident. After being taken to the hospital to care for his injuries they discovered that unrelated to the accident, he had an inoperable brain tumor. The doctors told Avi that they were years away from the technology they needed to bring his healing through surgery. So, how did Avi respond? Well, his adversity led him to think differently, which then led him to spearheading his own company that developed the technology that saves thousands of lives globally.
God can use your adversity to inspire you to think differently which can then lead to potential change in your circumstances. The Lord will give you wisdom. There is hope!
Fourth, when hardship strikes it is important to choose what is permanent over what is perishable. Adversity has a way of revealing what is of permanent value. It has a way of saying that nothing lasts forever except the throne of God, the will of God, the Word of God, the love of God, the man and woman of God, what we do for God and the Kingdom of God!
In context James encouraged those who were suffering in poverty to focus on their spiritual wealth in Christ. And to those who were materially wealthy to change the way they think, humble themselves and pass the test of having right perspective to what is truly permanent “…because as a flower of the field he will pass away. For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits.” (James 1:9-11)
If hardship has hit you, know that the Lord promises the “crown of life” (the crown of the overcomer!) to those who are patient under the pressure and persevere while trusting in the promises of God. James says, “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” (James 1:12)
It is important when thinking of the crown of the overcomer to think of Jesus.
At the Cross, a crown of thorns was placed on His head. Thorns are symbolic of sin. That Passover, Jesus gave His life for the sins of the world. After He cried on the Cross, “It is finished”, He yielded up His Spirit and the veil in the Temple that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies was torn from top to bottom! (Matt. 27:50-54) It was a demonstration that now everyone has direct access to the Heavenly Father through Christ and as Paul wrote that God’s peace plan for man is in the Jewish Messiah. “For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation … so as to create in Himself one new man from the two …through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.” (Ephesians 2:14)
Jesus first came to bear the Cross, but when He returns, He will come back as the crowned KING OF KING and LORD OF LORDS in a “love rescue” amidst the darkest hour in human history bringing justice and shalom to the world. (Rev. 19:11-16)
Jesus is the King of reclamation! Jesus is the King of renewal! He is the King of Resurrection! There is always hope in Christ no matter how difficult the hardship. Never give up!
Greg Denham has been a lead pastor for thirty years and is presently the Senior Pastor of Rise Church (a new church plant in San Marcos, Ca.). He is the founder of “The Context Movement”, an author, and spearheads yearly “Friends of Israel Weekends” to fight anti-Semitism and champion friendships between Christians and Jews.