Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
July 20, 2014
You have got to be kidding!
Life is difficult. One trial after another seems to be the norm. And how do we react to trouble? You know the answer. We ask the question, “Why did God allow this to happen to me?” Or we blame someone else for our troubles.
Christians tell us we can find help for our trials in the Bible. So we turn to the New Testament. We learn that Jesus says, “In this world you will have trouble, but be of good cheer.” It’s the “good cheer” part that causes us difficulty. How do you manage to be cheerful when your world is falling apart?
James, the brother of Jesus, should be able to help us. He was close to Jesus. So we turn to James’ New Testament letter and finding him saying we should welcome our troubles with joy! To which I must say, “You have got to be kidding!”
James, however, is not kidding. He says joy and he means joy. And his advice carries a lot of weight. After all, his teaching comes from the Bible, the greatest book ever written. So let’s wrestle with what he says and try to make sense of this business of being joyful in the midst of stress.
James puts a lot of stock in faith. But faith does not prevent trouble. James tells us that God tests our faith with trials. He allows trouble to test our faith. But during these tests God is with us; James is confident that in the midst of our trials, God is with us!
That makes sense. And that is a comforting thought. After all, God’s name is Immanuel, the beautiful name that means “God with us.” As long as we can believe God is with us we can handle most any trial that comes up.
James teaches that God uses our testing times to make us stronger. And he uses our trials to teach us patience. This is similar to Saint Paul’s teaching that “tribulation produces patience.”
Sometimes we jokingly say, “Lord, I believe I am patient enough; please do not send me any more tribulation!” Even so, we have to admit that we learn more, and grow more, from difficult times than we do when life is easy.
Recognizing this we gradually learn that what we really need is not an easy life but a life filled with God working in us – to make us what we ought to be. That brings to mind that wonderful Gaither song for children: “He’s still working on me, to make me what I ought to be.” That is a marvelous idea: that the God who made me, who loves me, is forever working on me! And often he uses sand paper to rub off our rough edges!
Questions arise in times of testing. But instead of asking why God allowed our troubles to happen, we might more wisely ask, “What does God want me to learn from this test of my faith? Perhaps that is why James urges us to ask God for wisdom. God alone can help us understand why certain trials come. Human wisdom is not enough.
Godly wisdom helps us better understand the true meaning of patience. To be patient is not simply to take things in stride, stoically. The patience James speaks about involves strength of character and the faith to persevere rather than surrender.
Thomas Samford, legal counsel for Auburn University for 30 years, demonstrated to his family and friends that one can welcome trials with joy. Diagnosed with terminal cancer, and advised he had about a year to live, Thomas refused to think of himself as a victim; he welcomed his affliction with joyous faith. Remarkably, he lived a dozen more years though in a continual struggle with cancer.
I was one of Thomas’ pastors. He and I began to meet with a few other men at 6:30 on Wednesday mornings. This time of sharing and prayer became one of the great blessings of my life and the other men shared this conviction. I never had any difficulty getting up early on Wednesday mornings, knowing that a man who was struggling with cancer and chemotherapy would be waiting for me to pick him up. His remarkable courage inspired all who knew Thomas.
We will never forget Thomas saying, “I thank God for my cancer. My cancer led me to know God. Except for my cancer, I would have missed meeting the Master. I am not fighting cancer,” he would tell us. “I am simply asking for grace and strength to teach His Word until He is ready for me to come home. Whatever time and energy He gives me, I will use to please Him.” And he did!
When Thomas died I realized that as much as anyone I have ever known he had lived out the wisdom of James: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.”
At Thomas’ funeral I quoted these words from James: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”
Thomas had “stood the test” and I believe he received from God the promised “crown of life.” Ever since Thomas departed this life I have been asking God to help me welcome my trials with joy so that one day it can be said of me, “He stood the test – and he stood it with joy.” + + +