One time I heard a preacher say that we were all either coming out of a hard time, in the middle of a hard time or about to go into a hard time. That sounded a bit too bleak to me, as if every smile came with a frown close by.
I’ve heard plenty of other preachers say the exact opposite. If you are a Christian, they proudly proclaim, you are the King’s kid and the King’s kids do not suffer. All you have to do is claim your destiny.
As I grew and spent time waiting and praying with loved ones in hospitals and funeral homes, I learned that the first preacher was closer to the truth. Hard times are always close by. Planes fall out of the sky. Sometimes they get shot out of the sky. Cancer comes back. Marriages dissolve.
It really can be a bleak world that we live in.
But that doesn’t mean that we have to be bleak. Christians, perhaps more than any other group of people, know what it means to suffer. And Christians, certainly more than any other group of people, know what it means to have hope when everything seems to be falling apart.
The book of James begins by reminding us of that hope. And this is no pie in the sky hope. Inspired by God, these words come from the pen of a man who knew what it meant to live a hopeless life. They come from a man who knew what it meant to suffer. They come from a man who considered it all joy.
Since we are all either coming out of a time of pain, living in a time of pain or about to enter into one, we would be wise to listen to what James has to say to us about hope. Here are four things for Christians to remember when it gets tough.
1. God is working on you.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4 (ESV)
James is not telling you to be happy about your cancer or your husband’s affair.
“Hooray for cancer!”
That’s not joy. It’s phony happiness. James is reminding us that the source of our joy is the One who sets us free, not the circumstances that we live in. When he tells us to be joyful as we endure various trials he is reminding us that God is working on us to bring us to maturity. That’s the source of the Christian’s joy in trials.
When we suffer, we are tempted to think that God has abandoned us. A careful look at Scripture reveals just the opposite. If we pay attention we can see that it is in our times of suffering that Jesus makes his presence most known.
He is working on you.
He is making you more like him.
Consider it joy.
2. God is guiding you.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. James 1:5-8 (ESV)
A few years ago, I decided to start taking God at his word on this one. I started praying for him to give me his wisdom. Nothing reminds you of your need for more wisdom quite like when your three-year-old asks you how dinosaurs make babies.
When I started asking God for wisdom, the strangest thing happened. He gave it to me. Just like the Bible said that he would. Generously. No rolled eyes. No huffing. Generously. Sometimes his wisdom would come to me before I could even finish my prayer. Other times my request would be given in a few weeks. God never promised how or when he would give us his wisdom. He just said that if we ask, he will give it.
There is one condition. We should not bother asking if we aren’t willing to believe that God will give us his wisdom. This is an easy trap to fall into. Even the strongest believers can experience times of doubt. Some Christian leaders have even tried to turn doubt into some kind of a spiritual discipline.
According to James, doubt is a roadblock. It’s an indication of a faith that is divided between Jesus’ sovereign control over his universe and our worries regarding this life. But we should not let our tendencies toward doubt to keep us from praying. Instead, when doubt creeps in as it often does during trials, we should pray with the man who desperately wanted to see his son healed. “Help my unbelief” (Mark 9:14-29).
Suffering and trials require wisdom. God has not left you alone. He has promised to give you his wisdom. Just ask him for it in faith. It’s one of those prayers that he loves to answer.
3. God has something better for you.
Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits. James 1:9-11 (ESV)
Maybe you’re flat broke. You have no idea where your next paycheck will come from. You’ve lost count of all the people you owe money to. When the phone rings, you panic.
God has something better for you.
He has not promised riches to his people on this earth. But he has promised a life in eternity where we will never be in need. And he has promised to be with us and give us satisfaction as we wait for that day to come.
Maybe you’re filthy rich. Perhaps your biggest problem is trying to adjust your schedule because the guys who are supposed to install the gold countertops in your third house said that they can’t make it out until Wednesday afternoon.
God has something better for you.
Being filthy rich is not a sin. But it can lead you into sin if you start to center your life around your possessions. To help keep that from happening, remind yourself that no matter how good you have it here, your possessions will not last. Remind yourself that God has something better for you in eternity.
4. God will see you through to the end.
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. James 1:12 (ESV)
It may be the most frequently debated topic in all of Christianity. Can a true Christian lose his salvation? All of the debating has left a lot of us confused. But the Bible could not be more clear.
James did not say, “He might receive the crown of life but we’ll just have to see how things work out.”
For those of us who truly belong to Jesus, God has given the promise of eternal life. He does not break his promise just because we fall short. Instead, he keeps us. He restores us. And for that reason, we have hope.
You can lose all of your money.
You can lose your family.
You can lose your health.
You can lose your church.
But Jesus can’t lose you. If you really belong to him, you belong to him forever. Remember that as you endure trials of various kinds. And consider it joy.
Whatever happens, don’t give up.
Jesus is not finished with you.
That’s why, no matter how bad things get, there is no such thing as a hopeless situation for followers of Christ.
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6 (ESV)