James described both the poor and the comfortable encountering economic trials. Although details of their challenges differ, nonetheless both situations test one’s mettle. Furthermore, both trials go to the heart of the matter.
Fortunately, James offers us a practical path foward filled with uncommon wisdom. He turns our financial perspectives upside down. His counsel reorients us by calling us to reframe how we think about ourselves.
From the daily commute to the task of filling out taxes, from the interaction among familial relationships to those involving our work colleagues, situational opportunities abound for a seemingly endless variety of temptations. And yet, beneath the façade of variation, temptations often are quite similar.
Consider the seeming distinctiveness yet fundamental similarity of the three temptations Jesus faced after his baptism. On the surface, they appear so different. Satan tempted Jesus to make bread out of stones, cast himself off of the Temple as well as bow down to worship him.
Yet, even the tempter’s words, “If you are the Son of God,” contained in two of these temptations hint at a common underlying challenge. If we realize that Son of God not only describes Jesus’ relationship to the Father but also proclaims him to be God’s anointed King, all three temptations at their root level were challenges to Jesus’ identity and what type of Messiah he would be.
In almost a mirror image sort of way, the manifold temptations Christians face attack our identity as Jesus’ followers and what sort of disciples we will be. Since our own evil desires stir up the temptations we encounter, where do we believe we can obtain significance and security? Who or what shapes our identity and drives our behavior?
For Jesus, being the Messiah involved rejecting the allurements and self-determination this world offers in order to serve God’s will by dying upon the cross. For Jesus’ disciples, discipleship must involve picking up our crosses to follow in his footsteps by dying to ourselves in order to live for God.
The book of James is a masterful treatise on Christian living. James can edify our lives as we open our heart to his message of discipleship.
James tells us that trials and troubles are a normal part of the human existence (James 1:2-4; cf. Matthew 6:34). We can be overwhelmed as they surround us with temptations and heartache. Satan is pursuing us and will use any method he can to destroy our faith (1 Peter 5:8).
As Christians we must learn endurance skills from God’s Word so we can overcome the struggles of life. As we maneuver these minefields, we must build patience and fortitude. How can we have the wisdom necessary to make the right decisions in the heat of battle?
The fleshly mind sees James 1:2 as ridiculous. We have to elevate ourselves above the fleshly to the spiritual, if we will understand God’s will. Only with spiritual eyes can we see where God is leading us.
The wisdom we need comes from God and if we ask, he will give it to us (James 1:5).
“Let your heart retain my words; Keep my commands, and live. Get wisdom! Get understanding! Do not forget, nor turn away from the words of my mouth” (Proverbs 4:4b-5a, NKJV).
“…and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15).
We immerse ourselves in God’s Word and we learn what we need to know to remain bound to Christ. Wisdom is the utilization of knowledge. We learn from God through study, experience, prayer, fellowship and serving. The more we live in Christ, the more wisdom we acquire. We become transformed and walk in the way of the Lord (Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 4:1).
“But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6).
Through wisdom, we understand the nature of God and that he will never let us down (Hebrews 13:5). The veracity of God’s Word and the clarity of Scripture allows us to endure anything that comes against us as Christians.
Life is an assault on our patience. Problems exist in every corner. Their sheer volume can overwhelm us if we do not develop strategies to combat them.
As Christians, we should find a way to endure the temptations and tragedies we face, so we are not sidetracked on our path to heaven (Hebrews 6:4-6). On this journey, we must never lose sight of our spiritual destination.
The Apostle Paul called us to delineate between the fleshly and the spiritual. We are to “seek those things which are above” (Colossians 3:1, NKJV), rather than those things that come from the “lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).
Our spiritual existence is the only part of us that is eternal (Colossians 3:1-7). Everything else will be destroyed (2 Peter 3:10-11). We must shun those things that carry the filth of this world and hold on to that which is holy (1 Peter 1:16; 1 John 1:5).
We must choose heaven and develop a robust determination to reach that destination. We immerse ourselves in the Word and in prayer to bolster our courage and resolve by faith. As a result of the knowledge gained, we develop strategies to persevere against Satan (John 8:44; 1 Peter 5:8).
Humans live in the moment, so we inflate the importance of individual problems. We lose our focus and we are easily led away by temptation.
With a long-term view in mind, we see past the daily attacks (Matthew 6:34). We know the origin of the threats and we dismiss them as a part of the larger spiritual war (Ephesians 6:10-17).
God has an eternal mindset where time is meaningless (2 Peter 3:8). He never loses sight of his eternal goals.
Likewise, we should become singularly focused and not allow anything to distract us. We must get out of the moment and keep heaven before our eyes. Nothing is more important than heaven.
If we traveled to see a cherished loved one, we would not stop until we got there. Traffic annoyances or rude people at stores would not dissuade us. The silliness along the journey would pale in comparison to our ultimate purpose.
As Christians, our “citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). So, we should fight with every ounce of our being to make it there because that is where our loved ones are (Revelation 21:4; Ephesians 2:19).
Will we be courageous enough to make it through Christ? (Revelation 2:10).
Over the past few weeks, our immediate and extended family has been hit with multiple cases of illness and death, in one of those when-it-rains-it-pours times in our life. Before we stop reeling over one crisis, another drops in our lap. Since we live in Brazil, when bad news comes, our sense of helplessness increases.
Such an experience must be common enough to our race, however, as the rains-it-pours saying testifies.
Let me share with you three of our common pouring experiences.
At the first judgment, man and woman discovered pain. The woman’s pain at childbirth was magnified. The man’s sweat and toil would be necessary to raise a crop. We have those days when everything seems right with the world, but more often we feel the pain — emotional, physical, spiritual — that runs through the fabric of life. “In the world you have trouble and suffering,” Jesus said (John 16:33 NET).
Through pain, specifically, the suffering of Christ, we learn the mercy of God. Probably, pain more than joy drives us to consider our need for God, so Ecclesiastes says the day of mourning is better than the day of partying (Ecclesiastes 7:2; 7:4). But at every moment, we need God, whether we realize it or not.
In that great song, “I Need Thee Every Hour,” Annie S. Hawkes wrote,
I need thee every hour in joy or in pain,
Come with me and abide or life is vain.
George Matheson wrote in the song we know as “O Love that Will Not Let Me Go,”
O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.
As Matheson’s poem hints, heaven is the place where there is no pain. I’m not a person who feels constant physical pain like some; mine tends to be more mental anguish at the sorrows and tragedies of life. So can’t we all appreciate that Place where pain is absent?
Death comes to all, as a part of the curse upon our race for opening the door to sin. Paul writes that “sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all people because all sinned” (Romans 5:13).
But there’s good news. God has power over death. “Our God is a God who delivers; the Lord, the sovereign Lord, can rescue from death” (Psalm 68:20). How does he deliver in the ultimate sense? Not by keeping us from dying, but by guiding us through the door of death into the safe haven of eternal life. He saves us from the second death.
Paul has more. “My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11). When our life is in God’s hands, when our feet follow the path of the Lord Jesus, when our aim is to serve the kingdom exclusively, then our death has meaning, makes a difference, becomes, when we embrace it, a means of grace for grace.
Jesus, so to speak, fought fire with fire. He conquered death by dying. He released us from the fear of death, because death cannot now do its worst.
Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil), and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15).
So, like pain, death is banished from heaven.
Paradoxically, life in Christ increases our struggles on this earth. We enter the fray against sin, to keep it at arm’s length by the power of his Spirit.
“No trial has overtaken you that is not faced by others. And God is faithful: He will not let you be tried beyond what you are able to bear, but with the trial will also provide a way out so that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
No one suffers more than another saint. As my good brother Ricardo Santos said just yesterday after our meeting in Taubaté, “Each person has his own fight.” Though the particulars may differ, we all, without exception, face our inward battles and trudge through the outer trials.
No Pain, No Death, No Temptation
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying: “Look! The residence of God is among human beings. He will live among them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will not exist any more — or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the former things have ceased to exist” (Revelation 21:3-4).
Every day heaven’s glory grows brighter, as the weights of this world break our bodies and worry our souls.
Ponds are interesting places. As a young boy growing up in New Jersey, sometimes I would wander down through our small orchard on hot muggy summer days to a wooded area with two small ponds. This was my private place for practicing skipping stones as well as enjoying the effects of a rock slamming down into water.
Undoubtedly you too have watched a perfectly glass smooth surface be destroyed by a single rock making its stupendous splash entry. Then the concentric ripples begin to expand until they strike the shore only to bounce back again. And if you launch a whole chorus of rocks out onto a pond, tranquility is shattered by visual chaos.
Your Life as Your Pond
The next time you are tempted to speak or act in a manner unbecoming of the calling we have received to serve God, remember what a rock does to a pond. Ungodly actions and words are very much like throwing rocks into the pond of your life. Whoever thinks that “this rock will not make any difference” is only foolishly deceiving himself. Although at first a person might not even perceive the consequences, they do follow. The more that a person succumbs to throwing rocks in his or her pond, the choppier, more chaotic and complex he will discover life to become.
To Throw or Not To Throw – That is the Question
Since God is not mocked because a person really does reap what he sows and God’s word points us to the truly good life, why do we encounter such strong urges (temptations) to hurl rocks into our ponds? There are several reasons including the fact that the soul under assault will often focus on some immediate gratification instead of giving thought to the long term effects and how this will affect his service of discipleship.
It is easy to focus upon the promises of such pleasures as: reveling in the thought “they will know that I’m in the know” (gossip), savoring the idea of seeking revenge, saving our own skin by deliberating omitting some of the truth (lying), lustfully contemplating some immoral fantasy, or simply being driven by the promise of what “having more” will mean (greed). When the drive to satisfy such internal desires is strong, it is common for a person to feel “confused” as his or her craving wages war against the knowledge of what is right.(2)
Preserving & Restoring Your Pond
Through Christ, God has made it possible for our lives to be restored so that we can have peace with God and live with a pure conscience. Tranquility can be returned to our souls. There is real hope for lives trapped in the chaos of sin.
However, the cleansing blood of Christ does not erase all of the consequences of our behaviors. Reputations might still be destroyed. Not all human relationships may be restored. Physical ailments might continue to linger. Some of the effects of sin will continue to ricochet.
Although our guiding motivation should be wrapped up in lovingly serving God and not be merely shaped by what we consider to be pragmatic, nevertheless a heart caught in the struggle of temptation can find additional encouragement to pursue godliness by remembering the continuing power ungodly ripples have for disrupting life. Since desires are fueled by thoughts, pondering the future havoc a rock can wreck upon life can assist a contemplative person to remember that God’s ways truly are seeking our best interests while also quieting the evil impulse to throw more rocks in the pond of life.
The next time we are tempted to speak or act in a manner unbecoming of the calling we have received to serve God, remember what a rock does to a pond. Let’s remember the real consequences, both practical and spiritual. Let’s avoid the temporary illusion which fuels the desire and which comes from just focusing on how good we think we will feel.
(1) Galatians 6:7-8; Deuteronomy 10:12-13
(2) James 1:14