James 1:2-4, 12
In James, chapter 1, verses 2 to 4 and 12, we read: “Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. Anyone who meets a testing challenge head-on and manages to stick it out is mighty fortunate. For such persons loyally in love with God, the reward is life and more life.”
Some time back I officiated at a memorial service for Norma, a member of the church staff I led. For most of her life, Norma was a single Mom who worked full-time jobs and raised four kids on her own. For the last eight years of her life, Norma fought against an ovarian cancer that eventually moved to her bowel and chest cavity, ravaging much of her body. Her testimony of courage, perseverance, positivity, joy in the face of the most serious of trials and her deep, powerful, abiding, unwavering faith under pressure left a powerful impression on me and on others who were privileged to know her. You never heard her complain; you never heard one word of self-pity. Even on her most trying days, when she was in great pain, her thoughts were for others and what she could do for them.
In her last days – as she began her leave-taking from this earth – she had no fear and she was ready to go home to the Lord. For the service celebrating her life, the sanctuary was filled to the brim with folks who loved her, admired her and learned from her.
I contrast her testimony of faith with another person I know who has had genuine troubles in her life – some medical but many troubles of her own making – and she takes every opportunity to complain to anyone who will listen, railing on and on about every ill in her life, choosing to feel sorry for herself, choosing to be miserable, choosing not to change. If she continues on as she’s going – alienating everyone and leaving destruction in her wake – she will come to the end of her life and she will be completely alone.
When troubles come, and they will, what is left to us is the choosing. What will we do when we encounter troubles, trials, tests and temptations?
Victor Frankl, who was a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp, wrote a magnificent book about his experience entitled, Man’s Search for Meaning. In that book he shares, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing; the last of all human freedoms, the freedom to choose. Every person can choose how they will face the troubles of life. We have the power to choose our attitude in any given set of circumstances.” He concludes, “If anyone has a why to live – they can endure any how!”
I have officiated at a number of weddings over the years and there comes a moment in each service when the man and woman vow to love each other for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death would take one or the other home to the Lord. We seem to know that every marriage, at some point, will have troubles, trials, tests, and temptations. What folks do when they utter their marriage vows is to make a commitment not to deny the reality of troubles, but to outlast the problems that troubles can bring into a relationship.
The same is true in all of our relationships. James is saying that true faith in God not only abides in trouble but is actually strengthened by it. If we trust God in the shadows, God will bring us light.
So one point to make today is that in this life we must face the fact of trouble. Open a Bible and you’ll see that many of God’s servants – from Noah to Moses, to Amos, to Jeremiah, to Daniel, and even our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ – experienced moments of trouble and trials in their journey to do and live out the will of God in their lives.
The Christian faith gives us the power and perspective not to focus on the trouble, but to focus on how best to overcome the reality of trouble.
Troubles are part of our growing up and maturing.
In the book A View from the Zoo, Gary Richmond tells about the birth of a giraffe: “The first things to emerge are the baby giraffe’s front hooves and head. A few minutes later the plucky newborn calf is hurled forth, falls ten feet, and lands on its back. Within seconds, he rolls to an upright position with his legs tucked under his body. From this position he considers the world for the first time and shakes off the last vestiges of the birthing fluid from his eyes and ears.
“The mother giraffe lowers her head long enough to take a quick look. Then she positions herself directly over her calf. She waits for about a minute, and then she does what would seem to be the most unreasonable thing. She swings her long, pendulous leg outward and kicks her baby, so that it is sent sprawling head over heels.
“When it doesn’t get up, the process is repeated over and over again. The struggle to rise is momentous. As the baby calf grows tired, the mother kicks it again to stimulate its efforts. Finally, the calf stands for the first time on its wobbly legs. Then the mother giraffe does the most remarkable thing. She kicks it off its feet again. Why? She wants it to remember how it got up. In the wild, baby giraffes must be able to get up as quickly as possible in order to stay with the herd, where there is safety. Lions, hyenas, leopards, and wild hunting dogs all enjoy young giraffes, and they’d get them, too, if their mothers didn’t teach their calves to get up quickly and get with it…”
Now, humans are not to train their children in quite the same way – we’re not to kick our children or throw them as, I was saddened to read not that long ago, one couple did with their toddler. But we can relate to the need to not do everything for our children; parents need to let their children face their own challenges. Before our daughter acquired the ability to walk she had to crawl, and then she began the process of getting up and falling down, getting up and falling down, getting up until she learned to keep her balance. We encouraged her through all the falling downs and getting ups. She’s grown now with her own children and she and her husband are now training their own little ones in the process of getting up when you’ve fallen down.
The Christian life is not all bright sunshine. It is not hope without a struggle. On the other hand, it is not a struggle without hope. The Christian journey is hope in the midst of the struggles–and strength resulting because of the struggle. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, “Muscles never develop and grow unless they push against a great force that will force the muscles to grow and become stronger.”
You can spend your life counting your troubles, replaying over and over who hurt you, and how miserable you are OR you can allow troubles to do a good work in you producing a strong character, spiritual maturity and a well-developed faith. You can pick yourself up, dust yourself off and begin remaking yourself today. It’s your choice. Choose well.
Featured image: Masai Giraffe by Trisha Spears