Faith that Gets Its Hands Dirty part 1
Tough Days
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
January 6, 2008


Main Passage: James 1:1-12

Included in bulletin notes:

The Epistle (letter) of James is one of the General Epistles of the New Testament. It was a circular letter, meaning it was meant to be passed around and read in different churches.

Author: James, the brother of the Lord Jesus (Gal. 1:19) and the leader of the Early Church (Acts 15). James did not support Jesus at first, and only became a follower after the Resurrection.

Date: James was martyred in AD 62 or 63. This Epistle was written sometime between AD 45-62. If it was written early in this period, it may be one of the first New Testament books written.

To Whom: The "twelve tribes" referred to in 1:1 were most likely Jewish believers (see also 2:1) who were scattered from Jerusalem by the persecution in the early chapters of the Book of Acts.

Background: James would have known many of these Jewish Christians before they fled from Jerusalem. As a leader in the young Church, he felt responsible for the spiritual life of Christ's followers wherever they were.

Purpose: To give practical counsel concerning attitudes and actions affecting the spiritual life of the church. James wished to expose hypocritical practices and to teach right Christian behavior.

Play Song – Bad Day by Daniel Powter
Where is the moment we needed the most
You kick up the leaves and the magic is lost
They tell me your blue skies fade to gray
They tell me your passion's gone away
And I don't need no carryin' on

You stand in the line just to hit a new low
You're faking a smile with the coffee you go
You tell me your life's been way off line
You're falling to pieces every time
And I don't need no carryin' on

Because you had a bad day, You're taking one down
You sing a sad song just to turn it around
You say you don't know, You tell me don't lie
You work at a smile and you go for a ride
You had a bad day, The camera don't lie
You're coming back down and you really don't mind
You had a bad day, You had a bad day


Pain knocked upon my door and said
That she had come to stay,
And though I would not welcome her
But bade her go away,
She entered in.
Like my own shade
She followed after me,
And from stabbing, stinging sword
No moment was I free.
~ Martha Snell Nicholson ~

Those words penned by that poet express a deep anguish and hopelessness. They reveal a life of misery and hurting caused by the trials and turmoil of life. Pain had entered her life, and simply would not go away.

We’ve all had days like that, haven’t we? We’ve all had tough days. We've all had days when we didn't understand why things were going the way they were. When we wondered why we were going through a time of difficulty or trial. Perhaps in those moments we even felt like giving up.

This morning we’re going to talk about these tough days. How do we handle them? Is there any benefit to them? We’re going to try to answer those questions as part of a new message series based on the New Testament Book of James.

In your notes this morning, you’ll see a section giving you some of the basic information about this book… who wrote it, why he wrote it, who he wrote it to… and you can read that on your own. But the thing is, the Book of James is a very practical guide to real-life Christianity. It’s about developing a hands-on faith… one that’s not afraid to get its hands dirty with the messiness of life.

And the very first section in the book of James deals with the trials and the hazards and the pain that we all face in our lives. Jim just read those verses for us. So we're going to look at the instruction and encouragement that James gave to the early church and apply to our own lives today. Okay? Let’s start by just talking about what trials are…

What are Trials?

They are external pressures, afflictions, and persecutions that we face. They are the annoyances and griefs of every day.

And we all face them. Some days are worse than others, some of us seem to get hit harder than others, but ultimately, we all face trials. And they seem to come at the most inopportune times and in various ways. This is what James said… in chapter one verse two…

James 1:2 (NIV)
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds…

When you face trials of many kinds. Here’s something I found interesting. The Greek word used here to express “many kinds” is the same word from which we get "pok-a-dot." Doesn’t that really describe trials? They come in all kinds of colours and sizes and they’re sprinkled throughout our lives. They pok-a-dot our lives.

And they take different forms. In fact, I would say there are three primary categories of trials…

Types of Trials:

•    Physical Trials

This would include things like illnesses, accidents, disabilities, living in poverty… those kinds of things. And then you have…

•    Emotional Trials

These are the trials that arise in the form of family struggles, or stress, or loss, or loneliness. And beyond these emotional trials, you find…

•    Mental Trials

Depression… fear… a sense of betrayal. Trials that attack your mental state of being.

Do you recognize any of those? Can you identify some of those trials in your own life? Sure you can, because we all face them. The rich and poor both experience trials, the godly and the ungodly do, the educated and the uneducated do… we all face trials.

1 Peter 4:12 (NLT)
Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you.

There's nothing strange or bizarre about having trials in your life. Everyone encounters them. They are a part of life. Sometimes they’re small and relatively easy to handle; sometimes they’re of the larger variety. But we all face them. So when we do, how should we handle them?

Two things we should do…

How Should we Handle Trials?

A.    Persevere

Persevere. Press on. Patiently endure it until you come out on the other side.

James 1:12 (NLT)
God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation.

And before you get the wrong idea, the point here is not to just grit your teeth and bear it. It’s not just about allowing things to run their course. It’s not about passively sitting back and taking it on the chin. It’s about taking what life throws at you and turning it around. It’s about using it to your advantage. It’s about converting your greatest trial into your greatest triumph. Perseverance is the ability to absorb the trial and move on despite it.

So you’ve got to persevere when trials come. And the second thing you’ve got to do will seem a little strange…

B.    Rejoice

James 1:2 (NLT)
Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.

It can be hard to understand how we can rejoice in the face of difficulty, but James tells us to consider it pure joy when we face trials.

How is that possible? How is it possible to have joy in the face of trial? Well, I think that it's important first of all to realize that joy is not the same thing as happiness. Happiness is dependent on the things that are happening in our lives, on our circumstances. The circumstances of our lives dictate whether we’re happy or not.

But joy is not dependent on circumstances. Joy is a realization that whatever life may throw at you, you’re all right with your Saviour, you’ve got a future full of hope and promise, and even in the midst of trials you can see that God is using them to build your character. We just looked at verse two where James told us to rejoice. Now let’s look at the next couple verses where he explains why…

James 1:3-4 (NLT)
For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

He says, “Rejoice, because your trials are actually good for you. They’re helping you. They’re shaping your character.”

Our trials are not worthless. We can grow through our trials. We can learn from them. And we can grow closer to God because of them.

So let’s go with that. What can we actually gain because of our trials? How do they help us? Well, the first thing we gain is…

What Can We Gain from Trials?

1.    We Develop a Stronger Character

That’s what we just talked about. One thing that you can gain from times of trial is a stronger, more mature character.

On screen:
James 1:4 (NLT)
…when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

But you know, that’s not always true. It’s not an automatic result. You have a choice in the matter. You choose whether you will become resentful or if you’ll become stronger. You choose whether you’ll become bitter, or if you’ll become better.

But if you choose to respond with perseverance and with joy, then you will grow stronger in your character. You will mature.

So how does this happen? How do trials help us grow? Well, they cleanse and purify our faith. They make us confront our doubts. They force us to establish what we believe and where our faith lies. They help us to sort out the important from the not-so-important in life. And they help us to set goals to strive for.

Think about it like a weight-lifter. When you’re just starting out, you can't lift very much weight. And what you can lift, you can’t do it for very long. You get tired quickly. You get sore. You wake up stiff the next morning. But after a few work-outs, you notice that you're improving. You can add a few more pounds to the dumb-bells. You can do a few more reps. You're gradually getting a little better and becoming stronger. Why? Because you persevere through the difficulty and the pain because you know the end result is worth it.

What happens when you’re lifting weights? Well, you’re tearing muscles. And then those muscles grow back stronger. Their trials make them stronger.

Now, when you first become a Christ-follower, you’re excited about it, you’re focused, you’re intent, you’re enthusiastic… and all that’s great. It really is. And you’ve got an inner drive to become stronger spiritually. But the thing is, it's going to take a while. You’ve got to exercise your spiritual muscle. You'll need to undergo some pressure and some pain. But as you do, you will grow stronger a little bit at a time until you are fully mature and complete before God.

So one of the things we can gain through our trials is a stronger character. Something else we gain is an awareness of our…

2.    We Become Aware of our Dependency on God

That’s something our trials do very well—they make us aware of our need for God.

During a particularly trying time in my life I wrote a song, which was simply an expression of my prayer to God. These are the words I wrote…

Here I am, coming before You,
Feeling so alone, so abandoned.
Here I am. I hasten to your feet.
Staring at defeat, I'm incomplete.

You're my Refuge and my Strength,
I need You now more than ever.
I've been stretched out past my length,
I cry to You to deliver.

For You are God.
You will not let me fall,
Though the earth give away.
So here I am.

It was a time in my life when I felt like I had hit rock bottom. My dreams had been destroyed, I felt betrayed, and I didn't know what to do. But during that time, I became more and more aware of my need for Christ in my life. I knew that I needed God.

Psalm 46:1 (NLT)
God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.

Several years ago, Andre Crouche wrote a song that quickly spread to churches throughout North America. And I think the popularity of the song is due to the fact that people identified with it. This is what he wrote:

I've had many tears and sorrows,
I've had questions for tomorrow,
There've been times I didn't know right from wrong.
But in every situation,
God gave me blessed consolation
That my trials come to only make me strong.

Through it all, through it all,
I've learned to trust in Jesus, I've learned to trust in God.
Through it all, through it all,
I've learned to depend upon His Word.

Our trials make us aware of our dependency on God. What did James say? Well, he said that we need to persevere through our trials, and if we lack the wisdom to know how to do this, this is what he said to do…

James 1:5 (NLT)
If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you.

And again, you’re learning about your dendendency on God. The third thing you gain through your trials is…

3.    We Gain a Clearer Perspective on Life

During his discussion about the trials we face, James said…

James 1:9-10 (NLT)
Believers who are poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them. And those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them.

Trials put us all on equal footing. They help us to recognize weaknesses in our lives. They also help us to see strengths. They keep the rich and powerful from becoming too prideful, and they keep the poor from wallowing in despair because they learn that God is there to help them.

R.C.H. Lenski wrote a commentary on this passage about how the trials of life bring perspective for both the rich and the poor…

“As the poor brother forgets all his earthly poverty, so the rich brother forgets all his earthly riches. The two are equals by faith in Christ.”
~ R.C.H. Lenski

So our trials give us the opportunity to develop a stronger character, the remind us of our dependency on God, they leave us with a clearer perspective on life, and the fourth thing we gain is…

4.    We Receive the Promise of Heaven

James 1:12 (NIV)
Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

“...When he has stood the test...” Back in Greek culture, that phrase right there referred to the testing of coins to determine if they were genuine or counterfeit. Kind of like today when you go to some stores, you see signs telling you that they have counterfeit detectors on the premises. Well, James is saying that the trials we face in life test the genuineness of our faith. Is it real or is is counterfeit?

So James says, “If you persevere through your trials, if you grow through them, if you keep your eyes of Jesus and continue to depend upon Him, and if you prove yourself to be genuine… He will bring you through victoriously, and when all is said and done you can experience eternal life in Heaven.”

That’s the crown of life. That’s the promise of God. That’s why we look forward to the day that we hear our Saviour say…

Matthew 25:21 (NLT)
“Well done, good and faithful servant! …Come and share your master's happiness!”

Our tests prove that we are genuine and worthy of the crown of life.

This is the first Sunday of 2008. And of course one of the things that we have to look forward to this year is the summer Olympic games. Well, as you all know, the Olympic Games have their roots in ancient Greece. (I have some of that under my kitchen counter.)

In those days, when a competitor won a race or a contest, they would be presented with a crown of olive leaves. Those ancient Olympics were first started around the 8th century BC and continued until about the 4th century AD. So they were still going on right about the time James would have been writing this letter. He would have been familiar with the Olympic Games. So that’s the imagery he uses here… he says, “Once you have come through all the trials of life victoriously, you will be presented with a crown. But not just a crown of leaves; you will receive a crown of life!”

So what does all this mean for you and for me? Well, it means that we don’t have to be discouraged or defeated by the trials of life. Instead, we can realize that trials do more than just complicate our lives and present us with hardship and frustration. They bring us opportunities - opportunities to learn, to grow, and to rejoice. They help us get life in perspective, they help us grow stronger and mature. And as you prove yourself in the face of trials, you will gain the crown of life.

Let’s pray.

[Note: This message series uses a variety of source materials, primarily "A Faith that Worls" by Rick Warren, "Faith for Pedestrians" by Laurence Croswell, and "James: Hands-On Christianity" by Charles Swindoll.]



Copyright © Greg Hanson, 2008