Archive for : December, 2021

James: Joy and Wisdom for Difficult Days

Trials are a part of life, but the inevitability of suffering doesn’t make our pain any easier. Though we recognize that difficulty and suffering are to be expected, sickness, disaster, and despair can still show up and hit us like a freight train. No one can truly be prepared for the various trials of life that come our way. Life can be turned upside down at any moment by cancer, tornadoes, viruses, or a whole host of horrors that occur in our world. In an instant, our lives can become totally jumbled and ridden with strife, anxiety, and grief. This can be a deeply unsettling thought. Our lives are incredibly fragile.

The letter of James firmly acknowledges the difficulties of life and the instability of our physical existence. Indeed, James writes that our life is “a mist that appears for a short time but vanishes” (4:14). If we were to read that without the rest of the letter, it would be quite disturbing and disheartening. We suffer and hurt and then our lives float away into the wind. We slog through life knowing that it can be taken and vanish at any moment. Yet, this is not the whole story. James offers us resolute hope in God. In fact, he opens his letter with these striking words of encouragement:

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

Joy is not the natural reaction for most when they are met with various trials. Even so, Christians can have joy even as we experience very real sorrow and pain. Why? It’s because our

suffering is not meaningless. Though our physical life is indeed like a vapor, our souls do not vanish into dust. God is shaping us for eternity, and he can and does use our various trials to produce in us the kind of character that can hold up and endure. In our unstable reality of suffering in this life, we need to have something sturdy and steady that will hold us. Money, status, fame, and success provide an illusion of security and safety now but offer no true hope that will last. For the Christian, however, a character built on the foundation of Jesus and his grace is something that is substantial. The kind of person who learns to endure with hope and faith in God will gain the reward of eternal life:

“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12)

This great promise of God allows us to see our trials with new eyes of joy because those trials can produce in us steadfastness, maturity, and greater love for God. God does not waste our suffering. He uses it for our good to shape us into the image of Jesus, if we trust in him. Our trials now are nothing in comparison to the unshakeable glory that God has prepared for us.

Even though this eternal mindset comforts us and instills in us joy, there still remains the issue of actually facing our trials. We may be able to intellectually understand that our trials can be used for our good, but we might still be overwhelmed by the reality of whatever has come our way. We don’t know how to pick up the pieces. We don’t know what to do next. We don’t know the right words to say. In these moments, we certainly can and should look to our eternal hope, but we also have to figure out what to do in the present. We must walk through the stormy reality

of the current moment. This can be quite daunting, especially when we feel totally inadequate to meet the moment. We don’t feel prepared enough, knowledgeable enough, or strong enough.

God not only offers eternal hope and joy for us; he provides for what we need in the present as well. Consider James 1:5:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”

When we seek to tackle the vastly complex issues of life on our own by our own wisdom, we will inevitably falter. But the God of heaven is wise and powerful when we are woefully not so. And not only is he wise, he delights in generously giving that wisdom to his children. It is a never ending fountain for those who trust in it. Proverbs tells us that God used wisdom to order the entire universe. It is that same wisdom that can help us make sense of our own messy lives. As we look to God for help in our trials, our Father often does not take away our difficulties, but he does give the wisdom we need to make us into the kind of people that can stand the test with grace and courage. God always gives us exactly what we need, even when we can’t begin to fathom what we need. James 1:17 says this:

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

James reminds us that our Father above is unchanging. In a world of shifting shadows, he is an unchanging, brilliant light shining into our lives. There is no variation; there is no wavering.

We can trust him when everything else feels shaky under our feet. This is the one who gives every good and perfect gift. Everything God does for us is for our good. He will not give us a stone or a snake if we ask for bread. He is not out to trip us up, hurt us, or punish us. He offers his good gifts of wisdom and mercy in our time of need so that we can endure and display his glory to the world.

The Bible tells us that Jesus Christ is the very embodiment of the wisdom of God. He entered into the world to demonstrate to us what it looks like to endure the trials of life in a truly wise and joyful way. Jesus shows us that suffering is not worthless. It is not meaningless. God used the greatest pain and evil in Jesus for the greatest good and joy. And I believe that, if we ask, God will help us to be shaped more and more into people who are wise like Jesus. He will not hold back any good gift from us in our trials because he did not hold back his own Son. In our trials, let us seek the wisdom of God and trust in the one in who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Hebrews: The High Priest who Suffers with Us

To be human in a fallen world is to feel disconnected and lonely at times. To be human is to suffer. To be human is hard. In our struggles, one of the most alienating things is to feel like no one understands. Words can be powerful, but even words fail to capture the depth and truth of human experience. No one can be inside my head. No one can take on and comprehend the reality of all my experience and my suffering and my inner thoughts. And though I may try, I can never truly, fully, and intimately understand the sorrow, pain, or temptation of another. I am limited in my empathy, my knowledge, and in my capacity to fully grasp the fullness of someone else’s experience. More than that, I am often unable to process or fully grasp my own experience. If there are times where I cannot even decipher my own emotions, needs, and pain, how can I expect to really understand others? This is a lonely thought. John Donne famously wrote that “No man is an island,” but in truth we all sometimes feel like we are adrift and disconnected, surrounded by nothing but a vast ocean. We have all experienced the maddening frustration of not being able to truly express ourselves. We try and try to find the right words, but we end up feeling helpless. So where do we go to find help when no one understands? Are we doomed to isolation, loneliness, and despair?

The letter to the Hebrews offers a shining message of confident hope for those who feel like no one understands. Even when no one else gets me, hears my cries, or feels my pain, God does. The God of the universe knows all, understands all, sees all. Though we might intellectually know that God is all-knowing, we may still feel alienated. Even if he is totally aware of me and what I’m going through, what does the Almighty care about me? How do I even know if he is listening? Jesus is the resounding answer to us.

In Jesus, the exact imprint of God’s divine nature became man. He took on flesh, he suffered, and he clothed himself in weakness to demonstrate without a doubt that God is with us. He loves us, hears us, and understands us. Because of this, he is qualified to be our great High Priest and brother. And Jesus not only ministered and served his people while on earth, but he is working for us even now. Consider Hebrews 2:14-18:

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

Jesus can uniquely understand us because he is both the all-knowing God of everything and a man who became like us in every respect. He now offers help when we sin, when we are tempted, and when we suffer. And not only that, but he is merciful, empathetic, and trustworthy. He wants to help us, hear us, and deliver us. When we come to him, it is not a bother or a chore. He is not like an aloof and reluctant king giving in to the pleas of his subjects. No, he is a merciful high priest who does not stand far off, but draws near. That’s why we can come before God with total confidence:

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16)

Jesus knows every weakness, every doubt, every struggle, every temptation. He does not see us with eyes of condemnation, but with eyes of love, empathy, understanding, and mercy. And through his purifying blood and sacrifice, we have confidence to come before God for the help we need. Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters. God claims us as sons and daughters. We are not alone. We are known by the God of all creation. So when the time of need comes and we feel alone, a banquet of divine mercy and grace is spread before us. We have access to God’s own throne room in Jesus. This divine access and confidence ought to profoundly change the way that I live. Consider Hebrews 10:19-25:

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of

Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

Because Jesus drew near to us by taking on flesh, we ought to draw near to God with a true heart in full assurance of faith as we trust in his promises. We ought to hold on to our blessed hope and not waver from the path that God has called us to. We ought stir each other up to love and good works as we prepare for that day when Jesus will return.

So as we walk in the world as Christians, we never have to wonder again whether or not someone understands. We never have to guess if someone is listening. As Hagar realized in Genesis, the God we serve is the God who sees me. And in Jesus, we know he not only sees me, but he has suffered with me. He has walked alongside humanity and experienced what we experience. Yet that empathy and help is not confined to the past but continues today. Praise to God for our great High Priest and brother Jesus Christ!