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James opens his epistle by reaching through the pages of the sacred
text and slapping his reader's faces. It is not a slap that you should
take as an insult or interpret as an act of aggression. Instead it is one
that you would more than likely say, "Thank you, I needed that" the moment
the sting begins to fade. It is a slap intended to wake the reader up and
provide a fresh perspective.
There is no coddling here, no niceties, just good ole, old-fashioned
straight talk. In the opening verses of chapter 1, James is a spiritual
chiropractor, giving his readers an "attitude adjustment." He begins by
adjusting our attitude about trials.
Look at James 1:2-4: "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter
various trials,  knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.
 And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect
and complete, lacking in nothing."
Consider it all joy? You may be thinking, "Give me a break. Does James
really think trials are joyful?" Yes, that is exactly what he wrote. Now
he didn't say, "Consider yourself lucky, or hey, don't trials make you
happy?" He wrote, "Consider it all joy." There is a difference. Joy is
a calmness that runs beneath life's storms, it is a delight that stills
the heart and anchors the soul.
Why can you have "calm delight" when trials come? Because in those trials,
God is making you into his masterpiece.
Have you ever had your dreams
shattered? Have you wondered where God was when life became too much to
bear? Have you ever thought that if you had more in life you would get
more out of life?
In his book, Shattered Dreams,
Larry Crabb wrote: "Satan's masterpiece is not the prostitute or the skid-row
bum. It is the self-sufficient person who has made life comfortable, who
is adjusting well to the world and truly likes living here, a person who
dreams of no better place to live, who longs only to be a little better--and
a little better off--than he already is." (Fresh Illustrations http://www.freshministry.org/illustrations.html)
If Satan's masterpiece is
a self-sufficient person, then God's masterpiece is a "God-dependant person."
When it comes to spiritual things, we are all bankrupt before the Father.
People who have true joy are God-dependant, not self-sufficient. They yearn
for a better relationship with Him through difficult times and find their
joy in that relationship, not the fulfillment of their dreams.
Please notice that verse
two doesn't say, "if you encounter various trials," it says, "when!" No
one is immune from hardships. Not even you. Not even me.
James teaches us to have
"calm delight" when we encounter trials. Now that's a fresh perspective.
Instead of mumbling about our trials, we enjoy a calm delight, even in
the face of hardship. But James isn't finished with us yet. In verses 5-8
he admonishes his readers to be single minded, not double-minded-he calls
on us to have a wise perspective.
James 1:5-8 "But if any of
you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and
without reproach, and it will be given to him.  But let him ask in faith
without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea
driven and tossed by the wind.  For let not that man expect that he
will receive anything from the Lord,  being a double-minded man, unstable
in all his ways."
If people easily confuse
happiness and joy, they also easily miss the distinction between wisdom
and knowledge. We live in an information age. With the click of a mouse
key and a good search engine, I can get information in just about any field.
But there is a huge difference between having access to information and
Solomon's name is synonymous
with wisdom. Where did he get his "discerning heart?"
1 Kings 4:29 answers that
question. "God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth
of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore." Why did God
give him wisdom? Because he asked for it. (I Kings 3:9)
James explains that to receive
wisdom, the petitioner must ask in faith, and be single-minded, not the
kind of person that is controlled by doubts. What kind of faith do you
have? A firm faith, or a wind-tossed faith?
Verses 9-11 provide another
fresh perspective, this time, James asks his readers to view their life
from an eternal perspective, instead of a temporal one.
"But let the brother of humble
circumstances glory in his high position;  and let the rich man glory
in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. 
For the sun rises with a scorching wind, and withers the grass; and its
flower falls off, and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too
the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away." (James 1:9-11)
Time has a way of changing
our perspective. In the early 1940's Ruth Gruber was working, on behalf
of the government, to promote the Alaskan territory to homesteaders. She
traveled by truck, dogsled, and when she was lucky, by plane.
In 1942, she was about to
board a plane headed for Nome, when she received a message from the Secretary
of the Interior. This was before the day of satellite pagers-it wasn't
an instant message-the telegraph operator had to decode it for her. The
bush pilot became impatient and told her he couldn't wait any longer, the
plane would have to leave without her.
Gruber was in a bind, she
couldn't walk away from a message from the Secretary of the Interior, she
had to wait. I'm sure she wasn't happy to miss her flight and to have to
arrange other transportation to Nome. The impatient pilot couldn't wait
just a few more minutes, which ended up saving her life. Soon after taking
off, the plane crashed into a mountain, killing everyone on board. (Fresh
For a while, Gruber was wishing
the operator would hurry up. Later, she was glad he didn't.
If time can change our perspective
like that, what does eternity do? Wealth, status, position-they all become
unimportant when viewed through the perspective of eternity.
So we don't confuse trials
with temptations, James clarifies the source of both in verses 12-18:
"Blessed is a man who perseveres
under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of
life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.  Let no one
say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God"; for God cannot be
tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.  But each one
is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.  Then
when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished,
it brings forth death.  Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. 
Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming
down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting
shadow.  In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word
of truth, so that we might be, as it were, the first fruits among His creatures."
(James 1:12-18 NASB)
do evil-are from Satan. Trials, that result in the crown of life, and every
good and perfect thing, comes from God. Something Bob Sorge is learning.
When doctors removed the
ulcer next to Bob Sorge's vocal chord they permanently damaged his throat,
leaving him with a remnant of a voice that hurts if he tries to "whisper"
more than an hour a day.
A terrible tragedy for anyone,
but the suffering was multiplied for Sorge. Rev. Bob Sorge, that is. How
can a preacher preach without a voice? For the years that followed, Sorge
learned first hand about suffering.
Sorge said: "A lot of Christians
will say, 'Don't ask why.' I am not in that camp. I am strong in asking
why. Jesus asked why. King David asked why. The psalmists asked why. The
Bible is full of people who had questions."
Really, "Why?" is a statement
of faith not an expression of doubt. It presupposes that God exists, and
that He loves us and is in control of our destiny.
"God is to be wrestled with."
Sorge continues. "He has unfolded purpose to me. He's transformed the way
I think, feel, everything about me. The crucible of suffering causes you
to be desperate for God and to press into Him." (Fresh
Why Me? Because in trials,
God makes us desperate for Him, and we learn to press into Him and find
"calm delight" in His bosom.