These are my notes from a sermon series I did through the book of James. It has not been proofed for spelling or grammatical errors. I present it to you as-is.
There is a story of a farmer who owned an old mule. The mule fell down an old well. After carefully assessing the situation, the farmer felt sorry for the mule, but decided that neither the mule or the well was worth saving. So, the farmer took a shovel and wheel barrel and began throwing dirt into the well and was going to burying the mule and fill up the well at the same time (don’t ask me why the farmer didn’t shoot the mule but decided to bury the mule alive).
As the dirt started raining down on the mule one shovel at a time, the mule began to panic and became hysterical and began making hysterical mule noises. But the farmer kept on shoveling and throwing the dirt into the well and onto the mule.
In the midst of his problem, while being burying alive, the mule had a great idea. Every time he felt dirt fall on his back, he would shake it off and stomp it. The dirt would rain down, he would shake it off and stomp on it. More dirt would rain down, he would shake it off and stomp on it. This went on for awhile and the farmer didn’t notice what was going on. By the time the well was full the old mule was standing on top the place where he could have been buried alive, but instead he decided to shake it off and stomp on it.
That’s life! What seemed like something that would have buried him, actually blessed him. The dirt actually became the way out. If we look close enough and with divine eyes… we will be able to see that the adversities that come along to bury us usually have within them the potential to benefit and bless us! Joshua in the Old Testament said it this way, “What you meant for evil, God meant for good.”
Within your life, you will feel like you are in a hole and someone is trying to bury you alive. There is a way out, there is a way up, and there is an answer to the problem. To help you deal with those times of life where you feel like you are at the bottom of the well you will NEED to have the right Biblical perspective about your problems. One of the reasons why we get so overwhelmed with our troubles is because we see them from a human perspective.
In this series called “Help!” We are going to develop solid biblical foundation and a healthy theology about problems. Here are four things that are true about every problem you face.
Look at what God tells us in James 1:2-3 “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow” (vs. 2-3, NLT). What are the four things that are true about every problem.
Problems are Inescapable
Number one, problems are inescapable. You will face trouble. They are coming and you cannot stop them, but you can be prepared for them. Look at verse 2 again, James clearly says “when” troubles come, not if they come. James does not pretend as though life is going to be easy, neither should you. He expects problems to happen, so should you. Problems are a fact of life, your life. Now, I know that you know what I’m saying is true. You already know that problems are inescapable. But, there are times we need to hear the obvious before we will embrace the obvious.
It’s kind of like school. The teacher tells you that you will have a test on this day and that day. Those you know they are coming. In life you have test that you know are coming. When you get a job, you know there are certain trials and troubles that come with that. When you get married, you know there are certain test and problems that come with that. You know those are coming. But you also have pop quizzes, these are the ones that you know are coming but you have no idea when they will happen. In life you know there are test coming, some of them you know about when they will happen and what they will be about. Then you have those pop up problems, pop up trials, and unexpected troubles that you didn’t see coming. They surprise you. Problems are inescapable.
Throughout God’s Word you are reminded to face them and expect them. Once you embrace them, you can prepare for them.
Look at what Jesus said about this. Jesus said, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NLT). Jesus said, “You will” have trials and sorrows. This will happen. You will have days where your feelings are hurt. You will have days where you will grieve because of a loss (a loss job, a loss child, a loss of health). You will have days where you are disappointed and you feel sad. You feel rejected, abandoned, or lied too.
But Jesus also went on to say, “take heart.” That means be of good cheer, be courageous and be confident. The fact that you have been knocked down doesn’t mean you have been knocked out. Just because you are at the bottom of the well, doesn’t mean your life is over. The reason you can “take heart” is because Jesus has “overcome the world.” He has overcome that well you are in. He knows how to get you out, it may not be the way you think, but take heart God is already at work.
Problems are Unpredictable
Number two, problems are unpredictable. Troubles and trials are rarely predictable. Look at verse 2 again. James says, “When troubles come your way….” The phrase “come your way” literally means to fall into unexpectedly. It is the same idea used in the story of the Good Samaritan where the man fell among thieves – it was unexpected. Trials are not planned. God doesn’t come to you and ask, “I have this problem I need you to go through in order to develop some things in your life. When would be the best time for this difficult situation to happen for you?” Problems don’t fit into our schedules. They are unpredictable, unplanned, inconvenient, and seem random. That’s what makes a problem a problem. When these unplanned problems happen, they are not the end of the world.
Look at what Peter in 1 Peter 4. He said, “Don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12, NLT). Even though problems are unpredictable doesn’t mean you can’t prepare for them. You may not know when a tornado will hit your street, but you can be prepared for it. You may not know when the tornadoes of life will show up, but you can be prepared for it. You don’t need to be surprised by the problems of life, just be prepared. That’s what this “Help!”
Problems are Diverse
Number three, problems are diverse. Problems come in a great deal of variety. They are numerous and vary in intensity. In verse 2, James refers to “troubles of any kind.” One translation phrases it as “trials of many kinds.” The idea here are problems of multi-colored or multi-flavored and was used to describe something that is diverse and varied. This means they will come in all shapes, shades, intensity, and duration. They will have different effects on us and those around us. Some will be minor inconveniences and others a major crisis.
When I was a kid, we had a Baskin Robbins Ice Cream shop in town. Back then, there slogan was “Home of 31 Flavors.” It was the Ice Cream Shop to go to, no body else had 31 flavors. You could go in and try the small bite size samples, a cone with one scoop, a bowl with two or three scoops, a large bowl with five or six scoops of various flavors, and if you really were series you could by a five gallon bucket of ice cream.
Your problems are just like that. Sometimes they come in bite size pieces, sometimes they come at you one or two scoops, sometimes they come to you in a large bowl of 6 six scoops and before you can deal with them they are start melting together and becomes a mess and occasionally you get the five gallon bucket problem. Problems are diverse, they come in all shapes and sizes and they all have different affects at different levels on each of us.
Look at what Jesus said again. Jesus said, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NLT). Be confident. You are not alone. Jesus has overcome these “many trials and sorrows” and He will help you overcome them as well.
Problems are Purposeful
Number four, problems are purposeful. Every problem has a purpose behind it. God knows that pain can be productive. Pressure produces. Suffering can accomplish something in your life. God deeply understands this and that is why He allows you to go through various kinds of trials. James describes some of the purposes this way, “When troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing” (James 1:2-4, NLT). Regardless of what you are going through, God will use it to bring about your spiritual maturity. You will be a stronger and deeper follower of Jesus because of them. Learn from them.
Let me introduce these three purposes for your problem and then later in the series we will unpack them in greater detail.
- First, problems prove your faith. Verse 3 says that your “faith is tested” by troubles. The word “tested” (dokimion) has the idea of testing something in order to prove its strength or authenticity. For example, for me to prove to you that this chair can hold my weight I will apply my weight to it. For God to prove to you that your faith in Him can hold you up under the weight of troubles God will allow some troubles to come into your life. Your faith will be proven genuine and strong under the weight of those trials.
- Second, problems increase your endurance. Verse 3 also says that when troubles come your way “your endurance has a chance to grow.” It’s that part of you that continues to carry a heavy load even though you want to drop it. It’s that part of you that continues running when you would prefer to quit. It’s seen when you persistently keep saying no to sin and yes to righteousness. It’s experienced when you faithfully sacrifice for others when you would prefer to be selfish. It’s spiritual endurance.
- Third, problems help you grow spiritually. Verse 4 says, “You will be perfect and complete, needing nothing” when “your endurance is fully developed.” God’s goal for your problems is to use them to help you be mature, to reach spiritual adulthood. That does not happen without some discomfort, sweat, and tears. Imagine a young person announcing, “I want to be a surgeon, but I don’t want to spend all those years in medical school!” That’s not how it works in life and that’s not how it works in your spiritual life. To mature, develop, and become complete you will need to go through some trials, troubles, and problems.
Every problem you have is an opportunity to become stronger and wiser as a follower of Jesus.
- Your problems are inescapable; therefore you will face them with faith in God and see them as an opportunity to become a stronger follower of Jesus.
- Your problems are unpredictable; therefore you will not be surprised or taken off guard when problems occur. They are a normal part of your life and by faith you will be ready for them.
- Your problems will come in many shapes, sizes, lengths, and intensities; therefore by faith you will endure them, rise above them, and glorify God through them.
- Your problems have a divine purpose; therefore God will use them to demonstrate that your faith in Him is real, to increase your spiritual endurance, and to deepen your fellowship with Him.
With all that said, let’s wrap our time up with 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 which says, “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. 4 He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us” (NLT). Once you shake off that dirt, stomp on it, and step out that hole you have been in then God is going to use you to help others. Don’t waste that hole. Don’t waste that dirt. Don’t waste that problem. Learn from it and let God do some amazing things through you.