James 1: 1-10 “James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings. Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away.
Have you ever been in “cruise” mode? It happens when people ask you how you are, and they don’t really want to know, and you say, “Fine” because you don’t really want them to know how you are. We often have valid reasons for brushing off these attempts at connecting – but sometimes we just start living without really looking around us. My favourite story of this happening is when those seagulls play “chicken” on logs going down the Niagara River. The gulls land on the logs above the falls and bob along as the rough river waters carry them both to the brink. The gulls then fly off just as the log goes over the falls and think it is great fun. Again and again they do it, but then winter comes, and this one bird isn’t paying attention. As he stands on the log bobbing about in the waves, going forwards, then backwards, he doesn’t realize the water is lapping over his feet and then freezing. When the falls come he gets a totally different experience because he wasn’t paying attention. He allowed himself to drift, and got royally baptised as a result of his feet freezing to the log.
We can do this in many places of life. We can ignore that light on the dash of our car until one day we get stuck on the freeway because the vehicle just up and quit. We can spend and spend and spend without paying attention to mounting debt and bills until we become overwhelmed. We can allow relationships to develop without a second thought until one day we are faced with very drastic actions and decisions, and finding ourselves in a place we thought we would never be – all because we weren’t paying that much attention. It happens spiritually – we skip doing devotions or praying here and there because of busyness, or a vacation, or sickness; and then one day we discover God seems very far away.
Isn’t that tragic? We let the simple little things go and down the road we run into major upsets as a result. How do we combat that without making a list of do’s and don’ts, without pulling the burden of the Law back over our shoulders? The answer is very simple, actually, and found in several places in the Bible. Turn to that passage we read earlier in James 1 and look again at verse 2: “Consider it all joy…”. What the brother of Jesus was stating here comes from a Jesus “focussed perspective”.Consider a Bike wheel. You have the hub, and all these spokes radiating out, and then the rim which holds the tire upon which you travel. What if half these spokes said, “I don’t want to be connected to the hub, I just want to hang around and do my own thing”? The wheel would collapse, because when all the attention is not focused on the hub, everything about the wheel becomes unstable. That focus and connection to the hub creates tension from one side to the opposite, allowing the tire to function and support a great weight.
But back to this “count it all joy” thing, what does that mean? As I mentioned earlier it is about a perspective that knows God is in control. It is based on a faith that allows for questions about God, but stands firm in the existence of God. Job went through all the garbage of losing family, money, houses, herds and possessions with a testimony of not sinning, of not blowing it. While he questioned God why and where and such, you never find in that book the query, “Are your there?” or “Do you even exist?” We get so used to putting God in a box. In our materialistic Western society we think close to God means close to riches. We think a successful bottom line is the same as God being in our life. This means we tend to look at the “down and out” as less spiritual than ourselves. It means the working poor are not as sanctified as us, and we couldn’t be further from the truth. God is not in stuff, He is in us, in relationships. When money and finances go south, as they have especially in the last couple years, we are left to wonder why God isn’t answering our prayers for help. We somehow connected our stuff with God’s presence. They are not the same. Any stuff you or I have is given as a steward by God for His use in our lives. Don’t close your fist on it and try to hold it because it is fleeting. There are greedy people out there thinking up new ways to get it from your hand to theirs, and sometimes they succeed. So don’t let stuff take your eyes off Jesus, the Author and Finisher of your faith. Make the focus of your life Jesus and let everything else in life flow out of that.
Count it all joy not only means to look at life from God’s perspective, it also means you need to be thankful in all things. Did you know that is a direct command? In 1 Thessalonians 5:18 it says, “In everything give thanks for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” How many other things can you think of that the Bible specifically says, “This is God’s will”?
There is Romans 12:1-2 where we find “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” as a key to understanding the will of God. 2 Corinthians 7:10 seems to connect this renewing process with salvation, that it is the will of God as a follower of Jesus that you become like Jesus in thoughts, words, and deeds. Ephesians 6:6 refers to the voluntary surrender of our will to Him is part of His will for us. Colossians 1:1 infers that there is a will of God for each of us as individuals. For Paul that meant Apostle. For me it means pastor. For you it could be school teacher or retired or almost anything God has been leading you to. Then in 1 Thessalonians 4:3 we are told sanctification or holiness is part of God’s will. That is included in that whole package of becoming more like Jesus. All these verses are bundled together in a package much more valuable than any of Sasktel’s bundled stuff. It is the will of God that you become more like His Son Jesus Christ, conformed to His image.
So when you look at the phrase “will of God” in the New Testament it is not so much about which school or job you will attend, but about surrendering the whole of your life – your hopes and dreams, your stuff, your gifts and strengths, all of it, to God. As Nazarenes we firmly believe that God can change your life. You are not destined to be angry or to struggle with a habit or addiction, or prone to gossip and sin for the rest of your life, because the power of God is at work in you through the Holy Spirit and he will change you. CAN YOU CHANGE? YES YOU CAN< BY THE POWER OF GOD! You are destined to be conformed to the image of Jesus. So when Paul says, “It is God’s will to be thankful”, it connects us to the life-changing presence of God. When you are thankful for something you are recognizing the giver. The thankful heart goes beyond the troubles of life to the hope of eternity. While death and frustration and all that negative stuff thrives around us, we focus our attention on Jesus and see the eternal values available. We are thankful not for being sick, but for the truth that God can and is using that sickness to make us more like His son Jesus. We are thankful not for the lack of money or job, but for what God teaches us and how He sustains us in those times of difficulty. So we consider it all joy when we encounter various trials because we know that is all part of the process of becoming more like Jesus in our thoughts, words and actions. So here we are – Thanksgiving Sunday. I remind you to give thanks, to be thankful; but I also remind you that to be truly thankful, it needs to flow from your rock solid commitment to following Jesus with everything you got. Take this truth home this week with this quote from CS Lewis in Mere Christianity: “The real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussing and fretting; coming in out of the wind.” This week, each morning before you start your day and in the quietness of your sleepy head, say “Good Morning” to your God, and listen for a spell to his reply.