Sermon by Rev. Donald Van Dyken
Trinity Church of Tri-Cities
September 21, 2008
TRIALS AND TESTING
Scripture: James 1
Perhaps we, along with most industrious Americans, have gotten comfortable riding on the wave of prosperity. It doesn’t take an economic genius to realize that there is a real possibility that we will experience hard times in the years to come. The dark clouds of unsecured mortgage debt, credit card debt, the balance of payments figure each month ending in the negative, added to our astronomical federal debt, warn of financial hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes to come.
We live in the time between the times. The between the first coming and the return of Jesus Christ. That time began with the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. That time began a new age, the age of grace and life, the beginning of the eternal reign of our victorious King Christ Jesus. . .and as He devotes His unlimited authority in heaven and on earth to the care, preservation, and expansion of His church, we may be confident that He will lead us always to triumph if we but follow His commands. His commands about testing will be the focus of our attention this morning. My text is James 1, inspired by the Spirit of Christ. My theme is TRIALS AND TESTING.
1. Have the right mind about them.
“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2-4) Here Christ encourages us to face life, to face trials and testing with the right frame of mind, with the right attitude. We can have the attitude of defeat, saying, as our children do sometimes, “I know I can’t do it,” which in turn becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Or we can have the attitude of a Paul who said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Have the right mind about trials and testing.
Most Christians are quite familiar with this verse, and actually try to make sorry jokes about it. They say, “I never ask God for patience, for then He’ll test me, send me a hard time.” But this is not to be the attitude of the Christian. (By the way, we should be very careful that we don’t use the material inspired by the Holy Spirit to make jokes.)
Christ tells us that we are to count it all joy when we fall into various trials. Such a command should not face us as a surprise coming from our Savior, for truly He told us before that those who follow Him may expect tribulation, hard experiences, difficult times, when He said, “Whoever will follow me must deny himself, and take up his cross.” Truly a crown awaits all those who love His appearing, but before the crown is the cross. We are not above our master.
So first, let us be convinced that our Lord Christ is sovereign, He is King, all authority is His, and every trial and test we face comes from His hand. That’s the first thing to get firmly embedded in your mind. That should choke off your initial reaction of complaint.
Second, remember that testing and trials come from the hand of Him who loves you. Do you believe this? “Greater love has no man than that he give his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do whatever I command you.” Christ Jesus laid down His life for you, and His command is this, “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials.” Mark it on your calendar, make it a red-letter day, a special event day, a day to remember. Of course, that’s only a joyous time to reflect upon if you’ve won.
Third, we must cultivate a winner’s attitude. It is so easy for us to have the wrong attitude about tests and trials. Our heart can tell us we are almost sure to lose, to fail. We are pessimistic. We can almost think that God likes to see us fail, and just has some kind of delight in proving that we are sinners and always fail in trials.
One of the Psalms says that the sun comes up every morning and rejoices as a strong man to run a race. Why do strong men enter races, for a race is a test of speed and endurance, for a race is a contest? Is it true that, as they say, it’s not important whether you win or lost? That’s rubbish! You enter a race to win. Your coach enters you into the race to win it. Your coach makes you practice hard, increasing your distance, and calling you to shorten your time each practice. Does he hate you? Is that why he makes you exert yourself so hard? Why do the Marines and the Army put their men through such tough tests? To cultivate failure? To cultivate endurance. . .for that is what the word “patience” in our text means. Perseverance, sticking to the race, to the task, until it is finished, until you win. The objective, our Lord’s objective, is to make winners of us, of course.
Fourth, in order to have a winner’s attitude, you must be a winner. How can anyone start out with a winner’s attitude if they’ve never won yet? The answer is in covenant. What Paul says in Romans 8 is true of every Christian, everyone baptized into Christ, “We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” How is this so? When God ordered our fathers to enter into Canaan to conquer they were already winners. How so? They had defeated the greatest world power of the day, Egypt. How had they done this? Their God had done it for them. They hadn’t lifted a war finger, and yet the cream of Egypt’s army, horses and chariots, Pharaoh himself, were vulture bait on the shores of the Red Sea.
Hebrews says that Christ, in our flesh, for us, was tried in every same point that we are tested, and yet without sin, without failure. He conquered all. When you see the triumphs of Christ you see a list of wins that He credits to all those who believe in Him. They are yours. . .they are the record you begin with. You win as you start and then start to win. You are identified with Christ, you are Israel. . .overcomers in Christ.
Consider Christ’s father David. He was a young lad of sixteen or seventeen. He saw a contest that no one wanted to enter, single combat against Goliath. Just see him there, itching to get into the contest. You won’t find any evidence at all of anything accept utter confidence. . .he would win. How could he think that way? We know what the odds looked like. He had a winner’s attitude because he saw what the contest, the test was all about. Goliath had challenged the armies of the living God. Goliath was a loser before he began. David came to him in the name of the Lord, the God of armies. David came because the God of heaven was his God, and so David’s cause was the Lord’s cause.
Cultivate a winning attitude towards tests and trials. Christ our King is sovereign, He brings them. He loved us on the cross and loves us still. Cultivate a winner’s attitude. Understand what it means that you have been baptized into Christ, you are in covenant with Him who rose from the dead. Believe, for in Christ you have won before you begin.
2. Get help for them.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5) Wisdom is the ability to apply our resources successfully. Your trial may be a flat tire. You may have a jack, a lug wrench, and a spare tire, and yet you may be completely ignorant how to use them. You need wisdom, You need help.
Wisdom is the ability to apply our resources successfully. Your teacher has given you a research project. You have all your books before you, a pad of paper, and a pen. You sit there, paper blank, mind blank, not knowing what to do. You need wisdom. You need help.
Your mother comes by and says, “Why aren’t you doing anything? You can’t just sit there. Start writing.” You say, “I can’t. I’ll never get this done. I don’t know what to do.” “Well,” says your mother, “ask your sister. She’s really good at it.” You reply, “No, I don’t want any help.” Why is this? Why are we so reluctant to ask for help? Is it pride? Are we so reluctant to admit we don’t have the ability to do something by ourselves? In big trials and in small trials, so often what we call a sense of independence prevents us from asking for help. But let’s not dignify it by calling it an independent spirit and call it what it is, sinful pride.
We face problems at work, in our families, in the church, in our communities. We are tried, tested when our children are stubborn, when the battery is dead on Monday morning because the children left the dome light on all night, we are wrongly accused of loosing dad’s tools; we have sicknesses that won’t go away, we lose our job; we face unfaithfulness in others. What do we do? We fret about them, worry about them, complain about them, but seldom ask advice, or ask for help. We have eaten of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and by nature really think we are as wise as God.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” We are His children, and He delights to come to our help. But do we ask? Do we pray? I want you to remember the career of David. From the age of about 20 until he died at 70, he constantly faced trials and tests. Yet, as you follow his career, his trials with Saul, with the many enemies that surrounded Israel, trials in his own house, betrayal by his friends, you will find David a winner. In fifty years of combat David never retreated, never lost.
What was the secret of his success? Go back to your Bible and read the Psalms of David. In almost every Psalm you find David praying for wisdom, asking for deliverance, for help from the Lord. At every turn David cried to the Lord his God.
“What about Bathsheba and Uriah?” you say. “What about the time that he numbered Israel? Weren’t those failures, were those not losses? Didn’t David go down in defeat before those challenges?” Yes and no. Yes, because he did fail. He did yield to the temptation to lounge in Jerusalem when all Israel was fighting the Ammonites at Rabbah. He did yield to his lust to possess another man’s wife. He did yield to the follow-up temptation to cover his sin. He went the final mile down that path by ordering the death of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah. And in the final census of Israel, yes indeed, David gave up the contest against pride and insisted, against the advise of Joab, that Israel be numbered.
And yet. . .and yet? Could still be said of David what Paul says of New Testament Christians, that we are more than conquerors through Him what loved us? Why yes, for the one who loved David sent Nathan the prophet and Gad the seer to convict David of his sins. For this is another trial, a real trial in the court of the Lord. And when we plead guilty, the mercy of the Lord presents us with Jesus Christ, and we can hear the verdict as David did, “The Lord has also taken away your sin, you shall not die.” Did David win in that trial? Why yes, for David yielded to the Lord, and whenever we yield to the Lord we are overcomers.
Consider our Savior, “who,” says Hebrews 5:7 , “in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save him from death, and was heard because of his godly fear, though he was a Son, yet he learned obedience by the things he suffered.” Are you a disciple. . .a follower of Christ? Are you greater than your master? He has passed all the trials and tests, and now is a High Priest for us, who sympathizes with our weaknesses, if we have the grace to admit them. He calls us to come boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb. 4:16)
3. Look forward to the prize.
“Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” (James 1:12) In the tests, the contests of life that Christ gives us, He rewards winners, both now and when He returns. When Christ entered the trials and testing of His earthly suffering and death, the Father held before Him a glorious incentive, and Christ reminds us that He gives incentives to us as well.
What was the incentive the Father held before Christ? We read in Hebrews 12 that Christ, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, and despised the shame. What was that joy? That joy was that the Father set Him at His right hand, gave Him all authority in heaven and on earth, all principalities and powers made subject to Him. That joy Christ knew of from Psalm 110, when the Lord declared the decree, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” That joy Christ knew from Psalm 2, that He would ascend to rule the nations with a rod of iron. That joy Christ knew when God gave Him a name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow. That joy God gave to Christ, a bride, a people from every tribe and nation. That joy Christ had and will have when all those whom He purchased by His blood are unfailingly gathered in.
What is the joy. . .what are the incentives the Lord gives us so that we may endure these trials? “He that overcomes,” said Christ in Revelation, “I will cause to sit with me on my throne, and he shall rule the nations.” To each of the seven churches Christ says, “To him who overcomes I will give…” Paul gives us an incentive in 1 Corinthians when he says to those struggling in the church, “Do you not know that the saints shall judge the angels?” That incentive Christ gives to us when He says, “Fear not little flock, it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
What are the incentives, what are the prizes Christ holds out before us? Here is one we perhaps overlook. Once upon a time God said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is non like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?” Satan said, “Well of course, you’ve made him rich, and he lives on easy street.” God gave Satan permission to take everything away. When it was all gone, the Bible says, “In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong.” So the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is non like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil? And still he holds fast to his integrity, although you have incited me against him to destroy him without cause.”
The Lord Himself triumphs over the successes of His people. Christ boasts of our conquests. The holy God Himself is proud of our victories. What an incentive to perseverance this should be for each one of us. Man may not praise us, no one may know of our painful endurance, but God marks our faithfulness in trial, and will vindicate us before men and angels.
The last incentive is one that, alas, we so often forget. When we suffer for righteousness, when, instead of being praised we are reviled, Christ told us to rejoice. Suffering in trials is also God’s way of making our identity with Christ closer. When the apostles were threatened and beaten they returned rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer for the name of Christ. In our perverse way, we think that identity with Christ, being a Christian assures us that we will be free from all sicknesses, all financial worries, and our life, if we have enough faith, so people say, will be nothing but wine and roses. The great apostle Paul said that if he was going to boast, he would boast of his infirmities, of the trials and tests he endured. Paul considered these sufferings as a mark of identity with his beloved Savior. And so we ought to do the same.
“Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” “To those who love Him.” Do you love Him? Or do you blame God for your failures?
4. Enter them with caution.
“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, not does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and entices.” (James 1:13-14) Here Christ warns us not to fall into the snare of the devil, who delights in nothing more than that you should blame God when you fail a test and fall into sin.
If your mother and father had to be away from home for a day and when they left they told you, “Look, you can play anywhere you want in the house, but do not open the door to this closet. Absolutely, positively, never touch that door.” So as the day goes on, you ask yourself, ‘why did mom say that? Doesn’t she know that what she said makes me want to see what’s inside?’ And so finally, you can’t stand it anymore, and you open that door. Whose fault is it that you disobeyed, that you failed that test? When mother comes home and says, “Why did you open that door?” what will you say? Will you say that your mother wanted you to sin?
God put our father and mother Adam and Eve in the garden, filled with wonderful trees. They could eat of every one except one tree in the center of the garden. Was there something wrong with that tree? Of course not, for everything God made was very good. God was testing them. Shall we say that God wanted Adam and Eve to fail? We may not say that, may we? He wanted them to pass the test. He wants us to pass our tests too.
But when we fail, as we do at times, we have another test to face, and that test is whether we will blame God or confess that we failed, and beg for mercy. We need to recognize that in our stubborn way when we complain that we are crabby because we are tired, when we complain that we called our brother an idiot because he stuck his big fat shoes under our chair, we are blaming God for testing us. Our fathers did the same, they argued with God so often. No one ever won an argument with God. But, by humbleness and confession, they won the mercy of God.
Life is full of tests, endurance tests, knowledge tests, in the army, in business, in school. If you fail with those test masters, you seldom have opportunity to take another. But in the life tests our Savior gives us, we have, not a cruel, unfeeling master, but one who sympathizes with us. When we stumble and fall, He is there to pick us up, to bind our wounds, and gently heal us. He does not hurl our failures in our faces, but brings His successes for us to our minds. When we fail, He doesn’t give us up, and discard us as useless for His purposes, but restores us, strengthens us, and sets us on our feet again, leading us onward.
So let me summarize. This is the precious Lord Jesus you have. He encourages you to face life, to face trials and testing, to face contests and challenges, with the right frame of mind, with the right attitude. Have the attitude of a Paul who said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Have the right mind about trials and testing. You are Israel, overcomers through Christ, through Him you have conquered the wrath of God, and the demon of death. Christ brings all tests, all contests into your life for you to win.
To overcome you need wisdom. Bury your pride, confess your weakness, and beg, pray for help. Our Father’s joy is to help His children. Success attends those who petition the throne of grace. Remember and believe that Christ holds out rewards for you, for winning, for passing each test. He gives you closer identity with Him. The angels applaud your conquests, the Father boasts of your successes, the Son makes room for you on His throne, and the Spirit witnesses with your spirit that you are children of God because you suffer with Christ.
Beloved, let us reject the complaining spirit of our fathers in the wilderness, for our Father does not lure us into sin, but when we fail, tenderly removes all our accusers from us, and says, “Neither do I condemn you.. Go and sin no more.” This is the Savior who leads us through all our trials, who never turns His back on a failing saint, but asks us, as He asked the failed Peter, “Do you love me?” that we may say, “Lord, you know that I love you.” Christ: “Peter, I promote you, go and feed my lambs.” Amen.