Coping with Trials

If the links don’t work for you, here is John’s video presentation Perseverance and the song Reckless Love.

Todays reading is James 1:1-18Open Link in New Window

Here is today’s reflection by Ian.

Today we start a mini-series, looking over the next few weeks at passages from the letter of James. We’ll break this on 31st May for one week when we celebrate Pentecost.

I have titled our reflection this morning, the beginning verses of chapter 1, ‘Coping with Trials’, which seems appropriate for our times. Next week Richard will be looking at the first half of chapter 2.

The letter is full of practical advice, encouragement and exhortation for the Christian life. Thoughts come thick and fast. Like much of scripture there has been a lot academic debate about the letter of James over the years. But it is likely that it was written by James the brother of Jesus, and probably sometime before and close to 62 AD, when James died as a Christian martyr for his faith.

So, how do we respond to trials and difficulties of life, and what does that response look like?

James challenges us by saying ‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds …’ (verse 2). He then deals with trials faced in daily life, and in the last few verses of this section with the temptations of life. We are to distinguish between what are trials, and what is temptation. God doesn’t always cause our trials, but the ways in which we respond to them can strengthen and deepen our faith. I am focusing on trials.

Firstly, it’s interesting to note in verse 2 that James says, whenever you face trials of any kind’. He doesn’t say, ‘if you face trials…’. Reality is that troubles and trials happen, and every generation experiences them. The present pandemic is one such trial. Last weekend we remembered the sacrifices of those who fought for freedom and justice in the Second World War. That is another. And of course, there are many personal trials experienced every day.

James also says that trials and troubles can be purposeful—not something that we find easy to accept. It’s difficult to see purpose when we’re stuck in something awful, when we’re in pain, when we feel abandoned. But our response to trials can show God at work in our lives in new and extraordinary ways.

James says, ‘…the testing of your faith develops perseverance…’

We don’t go looking for troubles, but when we face them with trust in God’s grace, and when we persevere through them—with good grace, this refines, develops and matures our faith. God is interested in our character.

Do some of you remember the film, ‘Chariots of Fire’? It received an Oscar for best Film in 1981. At first glance, it seemed improbable that a film based on this story would have achieved such popularity and such acclaim. The film is simply the story of Eric Liddell, a man who would not run an Olympic race on Sunday.

In 1924 Eric Liddell had a preliminary draw on a Sunday. He refused to run, casting doubt about his loyalty to his king and country and about the balance of his mind. He was subsequently moved from the 100 metres race to the 400 metres. Just before he ran the race someone gave him a piece of paper with a Bible text: ‘Those who honour me I will honour’ (1 Samuel 2:30Open Link in New Window). He ran. He won and broke the world record for the 400 metres.

Eric Liddell stayed true to his faith, persisted, endured and persevered by God’s grace. He was a Christian missionary in China who gave his life for what he believed.

In the remaining verses of this section, James doesn’t just say, ‘stick at it.’ He makes four suggestions for how we might persevere through troubles. And I am summarising here.

Firstly, ‘live with joy’ (verse 2). Someone said, ‘Life is difficult. Suffering is inevitable. But misery is an option!’. When we see people responding in extraordinary ways to adversity, it is a beautiful thing.

James says, ‘Live expectantly’ (verse 5). Ask God for the help you need, in the expectation that he hears your prayer and will equip you to cope.

Thirdly he says, ‘Live in trust and submission to God’ (verses 6-8). If we live with and react to our own doubts and fears all the time, we’ll be buffeted about like ‘a wave in the sea’. And as one of life’s natural born worriers, this verse speaks to me deeply!

Fourthly James says; ‘live humbly’ (verses 9-11). Don’t trust in material things which can be lost in an instant. Trust in the grace and love of God.

There is so much richness in this letter and these verses. Do spend some time reading it through for yourselves. And be encouraged.

If we persevere in this way, says James, we will know God’s blessing, even when times are tough—this blessing being the ‘crown of life’ which comes so all who faithfully follow Jesus Christ, the promise of being with God forever. It’s what we trust in and what keeps us going. By keeping our eyes on this glorious inheritance, you and I can find strength to cope with whatever trials life may throw at us, and not just cope, but grow in faith, wisdom and understanding.

Returning to running a race, someone once said, ‘Perseverance is not a long race. It is many short races one after another’. Keep going with the help and grace of God.

Oh, turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.

Ian Tomkins

There will be a video version of the service and a podcast of the sermon.

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