These are my notes from a sermon series I did through the gospel of Mark. It has not been proofed for spelling or grammatical errors. I present it to you as-is.
Once upon a time there was a shipwreck and the only survivor was washed up on a small, uninhabited island. He prayed with great intensity for God to rescue him, and every day he scanned the horizon for help, but no help was ever seen.
Exhausted, he eventually managed to build a little hut out of some wood on the island in order to protect him from the elements, and to store his few possessions. But one day, after hunting and scavenging for food, he arrived home to find his little hut in flames, the smoke rolling up to the sky.
The worst had happened; everything was lost. He was stunned with grief and anger. He looked up to the sky and said, “God, how could you do this to me? Why did you let this happen?”
Early the next morning, he was awakened by the sound of a ship that was approaching the island. It had come to rescue him. “How did you know I was here?” asked the man. “We saw your smoke signal and came to see if someone needed help.”
It is easy to get discouraged when things are going bad. But we shouldn’t lose heart, because God is at work in our lives, even in the midst of pain and suffering. Remember, next time your hut is burning to the ground… it just may be a smoke signal that ushers in the blessings and grace of God into your life.
We all go through problems and hard times, but how does God want us to react when facing difficulties? What does God want you to do when you find yourself on an island or when your hut is on fire? When you feel rejected, abandoned, and left alone? When you are going through one problem after another, one trouble after another, and one trial after another? God, through James, gives you three things you should and can do when facing problems.
We are told in James 1:2-5, “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. 4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. 5 If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and He will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking” (NLT). From those few verses let me highlight three responses we all should have when facing problems.
Respond with joy
Number one, respond to problems with joy. When responding to problems James begins with what sounds like a strange suggestion, “Consider it an opportunity for great joy.” You are to “consider” (hegeomai) your troubles as an opportunity. To consider something means to think through it, study it, and reflect on it.
Your natural tendency will be to worry about it, become afraid, or to become angry this is happening. However, God wants you to evaluate your problem from a divine perspective.
The word “consider” (hegeomai) comes from an accounting term that means “to evaluate.” Accountants add up the numbers to make the balance sheet come out right. Sometimes your trials don’t add up from a human standpoint. They don’t seem to make sense; the balance sheet seems to be off. You start thinking things like, “This is not fair” or “Why is this happening to me?” When God tells you to consider what’s happening to you, He is telling you to put away your human calculator and use His. He wants you to evaluate your trials from the perspective of joy.
Jesus had this attitude when He faced the cross. Hebrews 12:2 says, “We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne” (NLT). There is joy awaiting you on the other side of your cross, your trial, your problem. Disregard the shame or embarrassment that your problem may be causing and keep your eyes on Jesus who is leading you to your joy on the other side of your trial. You don’t rejoice for the problem, you rejoice in the problem because you know the end result will be for God’s glory and your growth.
Respond with knowledge
Number two, you are to respond to problems with knowledge. There is something very significant stated in verse 3 that can be easily overlooked. James says, “For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.” The word “know” (ginosko) carries the idea of full understanding of something that is beyond simple facts and often comes from personal experience. Your faith has already been tested in the past. It may have been in small ways, but it was tested. Your faith was tested with your finances, health, children, finding a job, and a host of other items. When you look back on those times of testing, “you know” based on experience, that your faith grew and you became a little stronger in your walk with God as you experienced His faithfulness in your life. You experienced God’s guidance, experienced God’s provision, and experienced God’s strength. Here’s the point. When your faith is being tested by a trial, think back on the other trials you have gone through and remind yourself of how God provided, guided, and encouraged you through them. He will do the same in this new and more intense trial you face. Confront your problems with knowledge, experiential knowledge. “You know” God will get you through and make a way.
Have you ever seen that show “The Biggest Loser”? Well, Pam and I used to watch that show and loved it. One season the show decided to have former professional and collegiate athletes who had gained a lot of weight and wanted to lose it. Among the athletes was a gold medal Olympic athlete, a two time NFL Super Bowl champion, an NFL quarter back, and several Division 1 college athletes. About half way through the season, the show gathered the three trainers who had been doing the show for a few years and they were asked, “Is there any difference between training former athletes and normal people?” All the trainers immediately agreed upon the same answer. They said, “The difference between athletes needing to lose weight and other contestants is they already know what it takes to get in shape. They have been there before. As a result, their motivation is higher, they complain less, and they work harder at it.” That’s interesting to me. What I’m hearing is, their personal experience in the past changed their attitude and perspective about their current pain because they had been here before and they had worked through it with success.
That’s what James is saying to you, “For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.” Your faith has already been tested in other situations in your past. You already know the results. You have experienced God’s success in other areas of your life. You have been here before. Draw upon that experience. Draw upon those lessons learned. Remember how God got you through. Remember how you thought it was hopeless, but God someone turned that page and a new chapter started for you.
There are some scripture on your outline, but we will need to look at those another day.
Respond with prayer
Number three, you respond to problems with prayer. Anytime is a good time to talk to God, but especially when you have problems. When you are going through a trial, what do you pray for? God tells you in verse 5, “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and He will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking” (NLT). God is saying that when you go through a problem, you need wisdom. Ask Him for it. In verse 5, James addresses three thoughts you might have when thinking about talking to God.
- I’m not sure what to pray for
First, you may think “I’m not sure what to pray for.” You are told to pray for “wisdom.” What is wisdom? “Wisdom” (sophia) is the ability to perceive the true nature of a situation and to implement the will of God in that situation. Wisdom is the ability to judge correctly and follow the best course of action, based on knowledge of God’s Word and understanding of its application. Wisdom is the God-given ability to perceive the true nature of a problem and to implement the will of God in that problem. In other words, wisdom is knowing what God wants you to do in the midst of your trial. Wisdom is knowing what God wants you to say or not say, do or not do toward the person who seems to be causing pain in your life. Wisdom is knowing what God wants you to do and not do during your argument with someone, your financial hardship, your battle with cancer, or after the loss of a loved one. Wisdom is knowing exactly what God would have you to do in the midst of your problem. Wisdom is not knowing everything you need to do, but what the next step is that God wants you to do. So, God is saying to you, “Ask Me for wisdom.”
- I’m not sure that God will give it
Another thought you might have is, “I’m not sure that God will give me wisdom.” Are you going through some trouble? Then ask God for wisdom because He is a “generous God” when it comes to handing out wisdom. This means God wants to give you wisdom and He will not hold back, “He will give it to you.” He wants to tell you exactly what you need to know and do. It delights Him to share wisdom with people like you.
- I’m not sure God wants me talking to Him
A final thought you might struggle with is, “I’m not sure God wants me talking to Him.” James concludes this encouragement about asking for wisdom with what first appears to be a strange statement, “He will not rebuke you for asking.” Why would James tell you that God will not rebuke you when you ask for wisdom? It could be because you might think that God will not give you wisdom because the mess you are in is your fault. Even if the troubles you are facing are because of your poor decisions, God’s Word clearly states that God will give you wisdom to make it right and “will not rebuke you for asking.” He will not tell you how unworthy or undeserving you are of His wisdom. He will not rebuke you for not asking sooner. Instead, without hesitation or reservation “He will give” the wisdom you need to face whatever it is you are facing. So, go ahead and ask God for wisdom.
We are told in James 1:2-5, “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. 4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. 5 If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and He will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking” (NLT).