You can listen to the audio of this sermon HERE
In praying through this passage, I was really asking the Lord to help me to see how it is a word for US today. So our approach to it is not going to be as much a “verse-by-verse” commentary on the passage (as some of the James Sermons have been). Rather, let us look at the general approach it teaches to take when suffering arrives.
James’ letter is written to 1st century Christian facing persecution and the disruption and horror and poverty that it unleashed on them. James wrote this part of his letter to them.
But by the grace of God and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit we realise today that God also wrote this for us!
So, what direction does James give to us, his 21st century readers, when we enter those “if only” seasons of our lives. By that I mean those seasons of life when suffering and difficulties have arrived in our lives uninvited and unexpected. We find ourselves wishing:
- if only life could be the way it used to be
- if only this wasn’t happening
- if only life could just be normal again
- if only the pain would go away
- if only the suffering of the one I love could disappear
- if only people could get on and stop fighting with one another
- if only my marriage could be happy
When suffering of any kind arrives, our basic human reaction is “IF ONLY”. Life becomes uncomfortable and unpleasant and often downright horrible. What instruction or direction does this passage give us?
I would like to frame my presentation of James’ answer with three phrases. I see in these verse that James answered: When suffering arrives:
- LOOK IN
- LOOK AHEAD
- STAND FIRM
Around about this time last year I had a beautiful prayer encounter with the Lord, as I took an early morning walk reflecting on Psalm 46. Having read it in a few different versions, I decided that my favourite was the NASB. So I spent time memorising the opening verses and then recited them aloud as I walked. Soon I found myself praying those verses into the lives of the 6 particular people on my prayer list who at that moment in time were all battling cancer. I prayed into the lives of these people, that they would experience the reality of what I am about to share with you; viz. Psalm 46:
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change
And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea;
3 Though its waters roar and foam,
Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride. Selah.
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
The holy dwelling places of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved;
God will help her [f]when morning dawns.
6 The [g]nations made an uproar, the kingdoms tottered;
He [h]raised His voice, the earth melted.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah.
Psalm 46:1-7 is, I believe, poetically inspiring us for those moments when suffering comes and our world is turned upside down.
I believe it is saying what James is saying here: LOOK IN
LOOK IN … not because you are human and you are strong and the answers to all your problems lie with in you. NO. That is a satanic twisting of the glorious truth. Look IN not because of you.
LOOK IN because, believer, God is in the midst of YOU. There is a river in the heart of every believer … the river of life, the Holy Spirit … just like there is a river in the heavenly city of God. That city of God is the holy dwelling place of the Most High … but believer … YOU are the holy dwelling place of the Most High. God is in the midst of YOU. YOU will not be moved. God will help YOU. When YOUR life falls apart and the earth collapses beneath YOUR feet and everything YOU once thought was so safe and secure has collapsed all around YOU … like the mountains falling into the heart of the sea … GOD IS STILL IN THE MIDST OF YOU and if you will only LOOK IN and realise that then YOU WILL NOT BE MOVED.
James says, “Be patient … because the Lord’s coming is near.” In fact, he says, the Judge is standing at the door. In times of suffering he is pointing us to the presence of the Lord … right there with us. But most importantly of all, he says that “the Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”
The Lord who is with us … the Lord who is within us … (friends) He feels our suffering with us. That is compassion. He feels it with us … HOW? … because He is within us. Every suffering we endure, HE ENDURES within us. We are never alone in our suffering as children of God through faith in Jesus.
But even more glorious (friends) … is that He is full of mercy. Does that ring a bell. It should. Because in James 4 when James taught us that heavenly wisdom is full of mercy we learned that mercy is the practical outworking of compassion. It is compassion in action. The Holy Spirit … the Spirit of Jesus within us … is not only feeling our pain with us but He is at work to strengthen us in the midst of that pain … to endure it. He is full of mercy towards us!
So when suffering arrives LOOK IN … LOOK IN to find within you the indwelling Holy Spirit of Jesus who will walk with you through the suffering and empower you to endure it.
James also makes it clear that a key to making it through the season of suffering is LOOKING AHEAD. He wants his readers to remember that their current reality is not the end of the story.
So he says:
- 7 Be patient until the Lord’s coming
- 8 Be patient and stand firm because the Lord’s coming is near
- 11 Remember that when Job persevered in faith, God brought about a 7-fold blessing after the suffering.
What is his point? In seasons of suffering it is important to remember that the God who is with you and within you and full of compassion and mercy towards you is also the Lord who ultimately writes the ending to the story!
The God who is with you now is the God will bring you through.
Friends, let’s be honest about this:
- God brought Job through the season of suffering and the blessing came in this lifetime. We can hold on to that in our own season of suffering, looking ahead to a coming season of our lives when God will have moved in power in this world and given us back our “normal”. In our season of suffering, we can hold on to hope and look ahead to that possibility … and pray fervently for it to come.
- But in Christ we can also hold on to what James calls, “the Lord’s coming.” When Job was at the depths of his despair, he too prophetically held on to a truth he could not fully have understood. He said: “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth.” (Job 19:25) We know because Jesus has promised us that He will return to establish His perfect Kingdom where there is no more suffering. And so we LOOK AHEAD knowing that even if there is no deliverance in this lifetime and our suffering should end in death … that is not the end. There is eternal glory awaiting us at the coming of the Lord!
During the week we read from Hebrews 11, this long list of faithful people who endured incredible suffering, because they were looking AHEAD. It is striking that there … both of the “endings” to which we might look ahead are represented:
- Of some of them, Hebrews 11 says: “Through faith they conquered kingdoms, administered justice and gained what was promised; they shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames and escaped the edge of the sword; their weakness was turned to strength and they became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. They received back their dead, raised to life again.” (v.33-35” That is the JOB kind of ending to the season of suffering … a suffering that is compensated in THIS world.
- But of others, Hebrews 11 says: “There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning;[a]they were sawn in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and ill-treated – 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground. 39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” These people did NOT receive the promised deliverance IN THIS LIFE … they will receive it with us all … after death … in the coming Kingdom of Christ.
Notice both forms of “ending” right there.
It would be unfaithful to our passage not to end with this.
In our season of suffering … LOOKING IN and finding there the compassionate presence and merciful power of the Holy Spirit … and LOOKING AHEAD to the promised restoration and compensation of the Lord’s coming … is not something we are to do as an end in itself. James calls us to do these things so that we will be able to STAND FIRM in our faith and in the way we live … even in suffering!
Therefore, interspersed with grand concepts of Christ’s presence and promised return, are two typically down-to-earth instruction:
- Don’t grumble against each other. When the pressure is on, it is easy for us to turn on each other. Stressful situations have a way of bringing out the worst in people. We feel the pain of our suffering and take it out on each other. Don’t do this, James says. Stand firm! Stand together, supporting each other in love and stand firm!
- Don’t compromise truth – let your “Yes” be yes and your “No” be no. When the pressure is on it is also a great temptation to compromise … to at least make life a little easier by maybe sacrificing our integrity. Those people in Hebrews 11, we are told, “refused to be released so that they might gain a better resurrection.” Why would they do that? Because, history teaches us, they were being offered release if they would just deny Christ. I’m sure the temptation within them was: “Just lie. Just say you don’t believe in Jesus to save your life … and you can be released.” But they stood firm and they refused to compromise the truth. James says to us too: Do not compromise when the pressure is on – Stand firm.
It’s very practical… but let us not lose our main focus today … that practical faithfulness to each other and to Jesus even in the midst of suffering … standing firm in the face of seasons of suffering is only possible when we:
- LOOK IN and find there the compassionate presence and merciful power of the Holy Spirit … and
- LOOK AHEAD to the promised restoration and compensation of the Lord’s coming to find within you the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, and
When you do this you will have the power to STAND FIRM, PATIENTLY ENDURING EVEN THE HARSHEST SEASON OF SUFFERING.
Perhaps a good way to end is with a quote from Victor Frankl, a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps who said in reflecting on his experiences there:
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
What attitude will you choose? Which ‘way’ will you choose? James 5:7-12 would plead: Choose the way of looking in and looking ahead and standing firm.