At my church, we have been studying through the book of James. I’m a fan of James, because he says it like it is. He doesn’t pussyfoot around issues, he hits them head on. He seems to be all about “the bottom line” and getting straight to it. As he opens up his letter, after the usual greeting and pleasantries, he tells the letter’s recipients to “consider it all joy whenever you face trials of many kinds.” Interesting! He’s really just continuing the words of his half-brother who said, “In this world you will have trouble. But I have overcome the world.”
Trouble is pretty rampant around us. Some of the trouble that we find ourselves in is self-induced, some is others-induced. Even when it’s self-induced, we desperately try to make it someone else’s fault. Who really wants to admit that they got themselves into the mess that they are in? Turn on the TV or read the newspaper, check out your church’s prayer list, and you will find out that this world is full of trouble and we will encounter it.
It seems like we ask ourselves some obvious questions when we’re in trouble. Of course, there’s the “who’s to blame?” one. But we also want to know how to get out of trouble, as fast as possible. If we have any sense about us whatsoever, we eventually might ask “what am I supposed to learn from this trouble?” In my geometry days, I learned that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. When we find ourselves in trouble, we want to get out…..fast. We are willing to cut corners and take as many shortcuts as possible to find our way out.
But that’s not always God’s way for us. Google “Israelites Exodus Journey” and look at the maps that come up. The route that the Israelites took from Egypt to Canaan was hardly the shortest distance or a straight line. It seemed like the scenic route….through the desert. While some may see that as fodder for the musings of a sadistic God, it’s hardly that. In fact, the Israelites had a lot to learn before they got to where they needed to go.
Why is it that the first place that we need to go when we are in trouble is the last place that we end up? We try to find our way out in whatever is humanly possible, somewhat ironic if we were the ones who got ourselves into this mess to begin with. Psalm 121 paints a picture of looking to the hills and seeing the help of the Lord come from them. He is the first place that we need to run to in times of trouble.
When we pray in our troubles, God gives us perspective. Sometimes he helps us to see that our troubles are not nearly as grave as we thought that they were. Other times he leads us to people who have it far worse than we do. When we spend time looking at God instead of ourselves, we realize that as bad as we think that we have it, there’s always someone worse off. While we may be worrying about the state of our 401K or IRA over the next 30 years, there are some in this world who are worrying about what happens in 30 minutes after they eat their last piece of bread. There’s perspective for you!
With no apologies whatsoever to Joel Osteen, we will face troubles in our lives, even trouble that isn’t self-induced. Sometimes we understand it, other times we don’t. We will face sickness, and despite people’s interpretations of James 5, healing doesn’t always happen and when it doesn’t, it isn’t due to a lack of faith. Despite popular belief, "My Best Life Now" doesn't mean that I'm happy all the time and that I never encounter troubles in the world. We live in a world that is marred by sin. Romans 8 is pretty clear that the fall of humankind did not just affect humanity, but all of creation. Sickness and death are a result of sin and whether we want to believe it or not, will ultimately be used for God’s glory. We are moving towards glorification, a new body, a new earth. There is nothing that we can do to make that happen other than putting our faith in God.
Over the last week, I have sat around with some other people talking through and praying for many in our church who have cancer. I don’t understand it and as I get older, it seems that the people who are impacted are getting younger and younger. Part of that is perception as I edge closer to 40, but part of that is true. If I did some research, I bet that I would find that 20 years ago there were not nearly as many cases of cancer in people aged 50 and below as there are today. We obviously haven’t learned whatever it is that we were supposed to learn, but we also haven’t figured out a “manmade” way to combat the effects of sin. Without Christ and what He offers, it’s downright depressing.
But salvation is about so much more than just “I’m going to heaven when I die so let’s crank up the Gaithers and have a good ol’ time.” Salvation is about a freedom from sin and death, a freedom from the “trouble” that we have gotten ourselves into. Problem is, we need to acknowledge that our salvation is nothing that we can do in our own strength. As the Apostle Paul pleaded with God to take away his “thorn in the flesh” whatever it was, he heard God say to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Total reliance on God is not weakness, even though that’s what the world says that it is. Total reliance on God is the quickest way to get out of trouble and find a strength and power that is perfect, completely outside of ourself.
I don't know what kind of trouble that you have or that you will have in the future. I may never be able to sympathize of empathize with you. I don’t know where you run when you’re in trouble. I do know that I often run everywhere but where I should go: to my knees. Whenever you find trouble or trouble finds you, don’t forget the words of our Savior, “In this world you will have trouble, but I have overcome the world.” It won't necessarily take away the trouble, but it will help you to get a perspective that extends far beyond yourself.