12/10/2016

Horrible Days (James 1:1-4)

(The Way to Maturity [Perfection] and Completeness)

"James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus the Messiah (Christ), to the twelve dispersed (scattered) tribes: greetings.
My dear family, when you find yourselves tumbling into various trials and tribulations, learn to look at it with complete joy, because you know that, when your faith is put to the test, what comes out is patience (perseverance, endurance). What's more, you must let patience have its complete effect, so that you may be complete (mature, perfect) and whole, not falling short in anything" (James 1:1-4, N.T. Wright).

Theme of James (Consider Trials a Complete Joy): Persevere joyfully in trials because of God's reward and blessing (Jas 1:2-4, 12).
James wrote his letter to Christians who were facing very tough and difficult times, for they were persecuted and scattered among the nations after the death of Stephan (Acts 8:1; A.D. 34). So the entire letter of James focuses on the trials, hardships, difficulties and disappointments that they were encountering and experiencing.

How do you deal with a horrible day? With ongoing horrible days? What do you do when some horrible thing happens unexpectedly?

Surely, many of us have had to face a horrible day, or have encountered several horrible days over the years.

As a physician, I've had several unfortunate occasions of witnessing a patient receiving some very horrible news about their health. A senior citizen was informed that she had terminal lung cancer. A rich, young and very successful lawyer in the prime of his life was informed that he had esophageal cancer which was incurable and that he had four months to live. Needless to say, and understandably so, their response to the horrible news was one of sheer shock and palpable grief.

On Nov 9, 2016, when the election results came in and that Trump won and Hilary lost, it was a most horrible, even horrific day for half of our country. Their responses were understandably predominantly marked by both alternating grief and anger that seemingly permeated out entire nation.

In 2005, when I realized that I had lost over a million $$ to a conman (My Worst Sin: Losing $1 Million), it was a day that I can never forget. Yes, it vividly exposed my sin of pride and greed. But what was most agonizing to me was the amount of grief and pain and disappointment I brought to my wife and children.

What does James say to do "whenever you face trials of many kinds" (Jas 1:2, NIV) and when unexpected troubles come your way?

James' words are quite shocking, even painful, to read: "Consider it pure joy" (Jas 1:2, NIV), look at it with complete joy, "consider it an opportunity for great joy" (Jas 1:2, NLT), "Count it all joy" (Jas 1:2, ESV).

Are we supposed to say, "I'm so happy I have incurable terminal cancer!" If you voted for Hilary, do you say, "I'm so happy that Trump won!" In 2005, should I say, "I consider it all joy that I lost $1,000,000 and hurt my wife and family!" Are we to be masochists taking pleasure in pain? Is this some kind of psychological gimmick? Is this a case of "grin and bear it"? "Put on a happy face" and ignore the problem? Find "the silver lining"?

No, no, no! James says to consider it, count it, think your way through it. "Think thoroughly through tough times and tough things together!"

Why? Because God is making you what you long to be. Through this trial God is making you gentle and kind and stable and peaceful and trusting and loving. Through the trial he is making you wise and encouraging and pure and strong. Read James 1:3-4.

God's process of making you what you long to be—"mature and complete, not lacking anything" (Jas 1:4)—unfolds in two steps. First, the trial is designed to develop perseverance, stick-to-it resolve, endurance in your faith. Second, this perseverance, or hanging in there, will lead you to complete godliness and maturity. The first step is perseverance (endurance, patience)—submission to what God has brought, willingness to endure it as long as God intends, and not fighting or rebelling against him. And then, when perseverance has finished its work, when you're steadily enduring for as long as God intends, the results begin to show—maturity, completeness, Christlikeness.
Mature (perfect): that means fully grown, fully developed, fully godly—at the end of the process in full strength. 
Complete: that means not lacking anything, having all the parts of godliness in place, with every area of life developed into Christlikeness, and not being deficient in any quality, not lacking in any grace or godly character.
That's a goal to be desired, that's a goal to arrive at: mature (perfect) and complete, not lacking anything (Jas 1:4).
How might that come about in your life?
If a sick patient with terminal cancer counts and considers (thinks through) their final limited days of life a "complete" joy, the quality of their life in their remaining days would be memorable and meaningful, rather than sad, sorrowful, dark and bitter.
If a Trump supporter counts and considers dejected Hilary supporters with sympathy and empathy, oh how this would promote love and unity far more than regarding them as sore losers and cry babies.
If a Hilary supporter counts and considers happy Trump supporters with joy rather than resentment and bitterness, our nation could begin to heal and truly become great.
If you are going through a really difficult and rough patch in your own life and consider it as "perfect joy," you will become "mature and complete, not lacking anything" (Jas 1:4).
Finally, consider this. Even Jesus was such a man who literally went through hell, for he endured the cross and made light of its shame (Heb 12:2). As a result, he learned obedience from what he suffered (Heb 5:8) and became a source of blessing to all people (Heb 5:9).