How to Persevere in Tough Times

How to Persevere in Tough Times

It’s human nature to avoid things that we don’t like. This starts from childhood. Vegetables, exercise, people who only eat vegetables and exercise. And sometimes avoiding things we don’t like won’t hurt us, like watching a scary movie. My sister loved watching scary movies as we were teenagers, but me not so much. But she wouldn’t watch them by herself so guess who watched them with her. I was her only sister, I was it.

However, they terrified me! So much now, that when a commercial comes on for a scary movie, I turn my head or mute the TV. One time, mom left us stay up to watch a scary movie while she went to bed, during a thunderstorm mind you. As we were watching it, a bolt of lighting struck right outside our living room window within feet of our house. You want to see how fast two teenage girls can run? We leaped up those stairs and jumped in bed with mom!

So there’s lots of things that if you don’t like them, you can avoid them, and it won’t hurt you.  But there are somethings that you don’t like that if you avoid them, they have the potential to hurt you.  Now, this is going to come as a surprise to some of you, so please don’t judge me harshly, but there are actually statements in the Bible that I’m not particularly fond of.

Today, I need to talk about one of them because this particular statement answers a very important question. It’s a question that’s relevant to all of us. The problem is, I don’t like the answer. And if you don’t like the answer to this question either, just remember this is not my answer, this is God’s Word. I am just the messenger, so don’t shoot the messenger.

Now, the question that the author is going to answer for us is actually a question we’re all asking. What do we do when there’s nothing we can do? When it is what it is. We don’t particularly like it, but it is what is. What do we do when there’s nothing we can do?

Which is like now. This whole last year has felt like there’s nothing or at least not much that we can do. Proms and graduations still aren’t happening like normal. You’re still required to wear masks into certain places or if you aren’t vaccinated. Our economy is hurting as prices are rising and people are not returning back to work. Almost every place you go, you see help wanted signs and businesses still closed only because they are short staffed.

And we can’t wait for things to get back to normal. At this rate, it’s going to be awhile. And then along comes James with this advice or instruction that honestly, strikes me as a bit insensitive.

The reason I’m not keen on his answer is because it’s hard when things seem to just keep getting worse. Don’t get me wrong, somethings are getting better like some of the restrictions in PA are finally lifted. But then we have what’s going on in Israel, the crisis at the border, the government spending issues. And if you don’t think those things are affecting you, just wait.

And the reason it strikes me as insensitive is James doesn’t know what’s going on in our world right now, and James doesn’t know what’s going on in your lives, that James is going to give us advice without hearing our stories, that’s always a bad idea. It’s a bit like when you read in the New Testament where Jesus says, “Don’t worry about tomorrow,” and you want to raise your hand and say, “Hold on a minute, let me tell you about what’s coming up in my tomorrow.”

It just seems a bit insensitive to just give these big blanket overarching statements. But regardless of how much I don’t like what James says and regardless of how much maybe you won’t like what James says, we would be fools not to take his instruction seriously. And here’s why. Because this is James, the brother of Jesus.

And more specifically, this is James, who believed his brother was his Lord because he saw his brother crucified, and then he saw his brother after He rose from the dead. And this is James, the brother of Jesus, who led the church in Jerusalem, get this, for about 30 years after the Resurrection. He believed his brother was his Lord throughout his entire life and while he was in Jerusalem leading the local church, things were not going well.

During those 30 years, remember, the church in Jerusalem was primarily Jewish. These Jews that had chosen to follow Jesus were considered blasphemers. Liars against the one and only God. They were ostracized from society and from the Temple, and because of that, they were poor. Things were very difficult for this group of people, and this was the group of people that James was responsible for leading.

In fact, things were so bad in Jerusalem for the Jesus followers that the Apostle Paul would travel around the Mediterranean rim collecting money from Gentile Jesus followers to take back to help the Christians in Jerusalem because they were so impoverished, just because they had decided to follow Jesus. So for 30 years, James carries this weight, and he sees the difficulty and the trials that these Jesus followers are facing every single day. And this is what gives him credibility, James was surrounded by and he was actually responsible for a community in crisis.

And with all that going on, here’s what he told the first century Jesus followers, his friends, to do, and here’s what he tells you and me to do.

James 1:1–5, 12
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings. 2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,

Not if ever, but whenever. You can’t pray them away, you can’t obey them away, you can’t faith them away. Trials are going to come. Because when sin entered the world, sin held the door wide open for sorrow, death, illness, and suffering. They just walked right in.

The little Greek word translated face is a really interesting word, as it carries the idea of being taken by surprise. In fact, it’s used in the context of being robbed in other Greek literature. So he says, “Whenever you are surprised by trials.” Whenever you wake up one day and get that call, get that information, your son or your daughter calls, or perhaps the doctor calls, you’re surprised by the trial.

He says, “Whenever you’re faced with many kinds of trials, consider it…” Meaning adjust your perspective, adjust your thinking, rethink your trial in such a way that you can begin to see it as…again, this isn’t me talking…as a source of joy.

How can he say this without knowing the circumstances of our lives? He tells us.

3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.

He’s saying when you stop to think about it, when you pause long enough to catch your breath, when you’re able to see beyond your immediate circumstances, there’s something you’re going to discover.

Think about what a test is? Testing is the process used to determine the authenticity of something. Test it to find out if it’s real. That means the trials you’re facing, the trials that we’re all facing are testing the authenticity of our faith because trials expose if our faith is real.

And the term faith in this particular context, actually is referring to our confidence in God. So it could be restated this way: Trials expose the authenticity of our confidence in God. That’s very true, isn’t it?

When you’re facing a trial of any kind immediately you discover something about your faith. You discover in that moment what you believe, what you really believe, or what you were pretending to believe, or what you were taught as a child but you never really embraced as an adult. In that moment, without doing anything, the authenticity, the genuineness of your faith is being tested. It just happens.

To put it another way, when circumstances begin to deteriorate, artificial faith and what’s-in-it-for-me-faith deteriorates right along with it. You’ve seen this happen to other people. Perhaps this is your story.

And James is telling us, whether we like it or not, there is joy in discovering how real our faith really is. There is joy in discovering that even though I wouldn’t sign up for this trial, I’m discovering something about myself I could not discover any other way. See faith is not how we get God to do stuff. That’s not the point of faith. Faith isn’t a super power.

Faith is simply confidence that God already did something. Faith is simply confidence that God is who God reveals himself to be in the New Testament, and that He will do everything He’s promised. Faith is ultimately a response to God. It’s not a way to leverage God or to get God to do something He wasn’t originally intending to do.

So when you’re facing a trial, you immediately discover something about you, about your faith, and ultimately, you discover something about your Heavenly Father.

So whenever you face trials of many kinds, consider that whole process pure joy because here’s what you already know, you just have lost sight of it, so I’m reminding you, you know that the testing of your faith does two things: It demonstrates something and it produces something. It demonstrates whether or not your faith is real. And over time, the trials that you’re facing will produce perseverance.

Perseverance is the ability to hold up under pressure or under stress. In other words, trials even though we don’t sign up for them, make our faith stronger. And trials make our faith stronger because trials automatically exercise our faith. It’s like exercising a muscle. The more you work it, the stronger it gets. But here’s the challenge. This is not an exercise you choose, this is an exercise that chooses you.

And then James says the most interesting thing. He says, “Don’t leave the gym early.” Well, that’s not exactly what he says but that’s what he means. Look what he wrote next.

4 Let perseverance finish its work…

In other words, don’t bail out in the middle of the process. You don’t want to short-change the process or you’ll miss out. Think about the thing you want removed right now from your life. Yet that thing that you want removed is the very thing that God has chosen to use to strengthen your faith. The thing that we’re trying to pray out of our life, which is completely understandable, is the thing that until God chooses to remove it, is the thing God is using.

And I can prove it. This trial, this difficult time that you’re going through, this thing that you wish would change, it has your undivided attention. This is what you’re praying about. In fact, perhaps you haven’t prayed in a long time and suddenly you find yourself praying. Why? Because that’s what trials do. They exercise our faith and are at epicenter of what God is up to in our lives.

So, don’t stop believing because there is an outcome. Here’s the outcome, James continues.

4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

He’s saying let the process play out. Let perseverance complete its work so that you will be complete. So that you will have mature faith. And let’s face it, the only way to have mature faith is to experience God’s faithfulness in that trial. So ask God to use this until God chooses to remove it.

Now, James knows how challenging this is, and he knows that for many of us, and for many of the folks in his original audience trying to imagine how something good could come from something so bad is almost unimaginable. And James says, “I understand that.”

So if you can’t imagine how to find joy in your trial, and you can’t imagine that it’s worth what you’re going through, if you lack the perspective you need to see this the way that God sees it, to see that God is doing something in you and through you, James says, I get it. Here’s what I want you to do then. You should ask God for what?

5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

Now, here’s the problem. When I’m going through a tough time, I don’t want wisdom, I want relief. But James says, look, I understand that. But if you’re having a hard time seeing that there’s anything good that could come from this, then you need to ask God for wisdom. This is a prayer that God will always answer. Ask God to give you His eyes to see this the way that He sees it.

“Give me your eyes to see me, my friends and family, my work situation, my finances, the way that you see it. Give me wisdom to see as you see.”

Oftentimes when we have the ability to see as God sees, we are more inclined to do as God says. And then you will have the perspective you need to persevere.

So consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds. How can we do that? Because you know that the testing of your faith demonstrates if your faith is real. And it also produces perseverance, that God is faithful, and ultimately you will have stronger faith. Don’t bail out early, let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

But if you get to the point where you just can’t do it any longer, if you get to the point where you’re thinking, “God if you’re real, you’ve got to demonstrate your love for me. I got to hear something. I’ve got to see something I can’t see. In those moments, don’t give up. Instead, ask God for wisdom, the God who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

Now, let me ask you this, have you ever met someone like this? Have you ever known someone, maybe you’re related to someone, who faced trials of many kinds? Trials that made you think, “How would I respond if I were going through that?”  Cause you watch them walk through the trials with extraordinary faith and confidence of God. They face things you hope you never have to face, yet their confidence in God never wavered.

Do you know people like that? When I was writing this message, I began to think about the people I’ve met and know who were like this. And before I knew it, I realized how blessed I am to have met so many people like this, because I think you would agree, those are the most inspiring, hope-giving people I’ve ever met. I am inspired by people whose faith is tested and endures. I’m more inspired by people who get a “No” from God and their faith endures than I am by people who always seem to get a “Yes” from God and live somewhat of a wrinkle-free life.

And the reason we’re so inspired by people like that is that they leave us with confidence that it is possible for us to have faith and confidence in God that can endure anything too. The people whose prayers go unanswered but their confidence in God remains firm. When you see it, you never forget it. When you see it, it marks you for life.

The first person like this who made a huge impact on my life was a dear woman named Jeannine. At a young age, I saw how special her faith is.

As a young mom, when her children were quite young, she fell while carrying one of her children. What they thought was a bruised hip, ended up being TB that basically ate away at her hip bone. It was 6 months until they properly diagnosed it as TB, and then she underwent a surgery that put her in a body cast. She ended up being in that body cast for 18 months due to other issues that came along. So for nearly two years, she was bedridden.

She later was injured in a car accident and had the same hip infused leaving her unable to bend it. Later she was hit by a car as she was getting her mail out of the mailbox. Her injuries were again pretty intense. And on top of that she’s had cancer several times, yet keeps on going.

It’s not so much that she keeps surviving through all of these huge trials that impacts me as much as it is that her faith never wavers. Never. Her understanding of her relationship with God and how the sufferings of this world are not from Him, has strengthened her so greatly that at every trial that comes her way, she stands tall and faces it knowing that her confidence is in God and what He’ll do with that trial.

Pat is another beautiful woman who has been struck with many trials. She has had 9 back surgeries, both knees replaced, breast cancer, leiomyoma removed from her leg, and more recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and has had a deep brain stimulator placed in her skull to relieve some side effects. She recently had issues with her elbow, was to have surgery but that got pushed back due to COVID and now it’s too late to do the surgery.

Yet Pat’s faith amazingly never wavers. She’s seen God get her through so many trials, through so many rehabs, through so much healing that she knows that no matter what else comes her way, He’s absolutely going to get her through that too.

My dear friend, Karl. Most of his adult life he had a weak heart. The last seven years they told him it was just a matter of time. He was in and out of the hospitals, John Hopkins, Philly, trying treatments to prolong his life. He was 46 when he passed four years ago. His two boys, my oldest son’s age, were barely out of high school. And while looking for the bulletin from his memorial service, as I wanted to make sure I correctly stated his age, I found the note that his wife had printed on the back of his bulletin, a note that he had written to all of us.

These beautiful people’s faith did not reverse the consequences of life in a falling world, and they did not and do not expect it to because they understand what faith is. Faith is not a super power. Faith is not how we get God to do something God doesn’t want to do. Faith is a response to the faithfulness of our Heavenly Father.

Their faith produced perseverance and courage in the midst of a fallen world. And my friends, it’s the people who get a “Yes” from God that we so easily forget. It’s the people who get a “No” from God, but whose faith is rock solid that change our lives and change the world. And this was James’ goal for his first century audience. And it’s his goal for you and me.

In the first century, in James’ world, honestly, things did not get much better. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that they never even got good. But their unwavering faith, and their unwavering confidence in their Savior literally changed the world.

We are reminded that God will use this until God chooses to remove this. And the bottom line is that God will use whatever He chooses not to remove. Karl understood this. Jeannine and Pat understand this. You know people who understand this.

James’ instructions are an invitation for all of us to say, “God, use this until you choose to remove it, and use this to remind me that you are faithful. Use this to strengthen my faith and confidence in you.”

When we’re confused, if we’d ask for wisdom, and if we’d live with open hands and an open heart, then we will experience the amazing faithfulness of God.

Now, here’s how James finishes this section of his letter. Listen to what he writes. He says,

James 1:12
12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

Not prays it away, obeys it away or faiths it away. Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because having stood the test and having discovered that God is faithful, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him.

God is inviting you and me to see the trials that we’re facing every single day the way He sees them. Because here’s what we know with confidence, persevering faith leaves its mark on the world and it leaves its mark on the people around us. We don’t choose the trials, the trials choose us. We can only choose our response to these trials. James invites us to lean in and to allow God to purify and strengthen our faith in the midst of what we would never choose.

Now, here’s the thing, these current events that we’re all experiencing, they’re impacting all of us differently, but they present all of us with the same opportunity. They present us with the opportunity to allow perseverance to finish its work so that we may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

So with that in mind, I want to invite you to incorporate the following little prayer into your prayer life. Perhaps you haven’t prayed in a while or you’ve never prayed because you’re not sure you know how. This is a great time to start, and this prayer is a great place to start.

“Heavenly Father, use this until you choose to remove it.”

And if you cannot imagine how God could possibly use what you’re facing right now, then I want you to do what James tells us to do, I want you to ask God for wisdom because James says that is a prayer that God will answer every single time.

So one more time, James 1:2-5
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

Now, I’ve got some questions again that I’d love for you to use to keep the conversation going. Talk with each other, talk with your family or friends over these questions.

  1. Has your faith or confidence in God ever been tested? Did you pass? Did you emerge with your faith intact? If so, why? If not, why?
  2. People don’t generally lose faith because of their own suffering. People are more inclined to lose faith because of the suffering of others. Why do you suppose that’s the case?
  3. Read James 1:2. In addition to your faith being exercised and strengthened, what other positive outcome might result from your current trial(s)?

I hope you’ll spend a few minutes processing these. This is a really big deal and is something we all have in common. We will all go through trials, some personal, some as community, as a nation and the world. And again, as I said at the beginning, these aren’t my favorite verses but perhaps they’re some of the most relevant verses in the New Testament for us today.

Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, thank you for preserving these extraordinary words. Give us the wisdom to listen to them, and give us the courage to embrace them. And Father, please help all of us catch our breath so that we can step back and see what perhaps you are up to in our lives. Thank you for people like Jeannine and Pat and Karl  and the extraordinary difference they have made in so lives as we watch them endure and persevere to the very end. Thank you for leaving us with the wisdom that faith can sustain us through the darkest night. I pray that all of us would experience that, in Jesus’ name. Amen.