God's eye view of life - James 1:1-11

This is a sermon by Richard Hawes from the Riverside Church service on 11th January 2015.

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God’s Wisdom – God’s Eye View of Life

 

Introduction: Don’t Worry be Happy (v.1-2)

 

Maybe because it’s now 2015 and I am getting on a bit

that I am starting to reminisce about my past.

And often when you reminisce you’re taken back to the music of your yoof!

Well in 1988 Bobby McFerrin came out with an annoying little song of ‘existentialist philosophy’, that once heard, would stick in your head for weeks (today such songs are called ear worms!). 

 

Well here are a few lines of his life enhancing mantra,

to be recited in the face of this hostile, cruel and unforgiving existence in which you find yourself:

 

Ain't got no place to lay your head

Somebody came and took your bed

Don't worry, be happy

The land lord say your rent is late

He may have to litigate

Don't worry, be happy

 

Is this guy on drugs?

How can I possibly have happiness in those circumstances?

I’m not worried –  I’m panicking,

not to mention homeless and about to be sued for every penny!

 

But, this didn’t stop me and my colleagues singing this song as we worked in the operating theatre:

 

The defibrillator’s broken and the patient’s flat lined

Don’t worry, be happy

The instruments aren’t ready and the surgeon’s in a rage

Don’t worry, be happy.

 

Don’t worry, be happy!  

that’s like the last piece of advice I needed right then!

 

Then! we turn to James chapter 1 verse 2:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers,

whenever you face trials of many kinds

 

What! Has this guy lost the plot too?

Has he been listening to too much Bobby McFerrin?

How can I possibly have joy or happiness in those circumstances? Wouldn’t I have to bury my head in the sand and forget about everything that is going on in order to have joy in those situations?

Do I need to move home to ‘Unreality-on-sea’?

Well, maybe that completely depends on how you view things!

 

This letter was written by James (who is) a servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ v. 1;

and according to Paul in Galatians 1:19 he was also Jesus’ brother,

so maybe we ought to hear what James has got to say?

 

You see, for those of us who are Christians, this letter of James will teach us how to view everything from God’s point of view

rather than our very narrow worldly point of view

But, maybe you wouldn’t call yourself a Christian yet,

but I believe that James will show you how God’s wisdom is far superior to the wisdom of this world,

and I’d urge you to hear James out over these coming weeks.

 

Now for James the joy he speaks of is so much more than “happiness” as we understand it.

For us, happiness is connected to ‘happenings’.

The right things happen to me and I’m a happy man.

If things go my way then I’ll walk happily along the way.

 

But Christian joy is so much deeper and much more secure than that. It’s a joy rooted in knowing Jesus and that finds true satisfaction, pleasure and contentment in Him,

even in difficulties and troubles. Joy is far deeper than happiness.

 

The Joy of Trials (vv. 3-4)

This joy is something worth having. It transforms your life!

How come?

Well for James trials are bigger than being persecuted, picked on or marginalised for being a Christian;

which if we’re honest isn’t something we really face on a daily basis anyway.  

 

I think he’s talking about the various challenges that come our way in life like

disappointments, dissatisfaction, disillusionment and even death; something I think we can all easily identify with.

These trials are things that niggle and bite at us.

They happen to us.

They do something to us.

 

So how can I consider it “pure joy” when these things are biting in so?

Well, we can consider them “pure joy” because a refining process is at work.

These things may appear to be a case of ‘bad luck’, but God in his love and sovereignty uses them for our good.

 

Did you notice that in v. 3-4 that the reason we can consider trials pure joy is:

“because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.

Perseverance must finish its work

so that you may be mature and complete,

not lacking anything.”

 

You don’t become a top athlete by reading books about athletics,

or watching re-runs of the Olympics on telly,

nor can you hope to win simply by having a one to one with Mo Farah or Jessica Ennis.

Those things might help; they might prepare you in becoming a top athlete.

After all, it’s good to know that it’s a hop followed by a skip then a jump! But at the end of the day,

this all has to be worked out on the track in front of the crowd.

 

And it’ll hurt, you will break into a sweat,

there’ll be disappointment, often you won’t come first.

But through the disappointments, dissatisfaction, disillusionment,

the times when you want to just give up,

you will be refined, you will grow in perseverance, and one day you may win gold.

But we all know that it’s never going to come easy.    

 

And I just mentioned gold.

You know, that gold has to be refined

(that’s where James gets the word for ‘testing’ in v. 3 from, it’s from the goldsmith’s workshop).

You see, you can’t just wear a lump of yellow sparkly old rock on your finger.

You have to refine gold, and to do that you have to apply heat,

1064 degrees centigrade to be precise,

that’s four times hotter than for my oven chips, that’s mega hot!

 

But once that dirty old rock of gold has gone through that intense heat, that tough old trial,

the dross, the impurities, the dirt are all burned away and out comes pure shining bright gold.

God is using trials to refine His people so that they come out purer – that is we are fashioned and shaped to be more like Jesus.

 

We can “consider it pure joy” because God is using the trials to make us more like His Son.

What greater outcome could there be when we see things from God’s perspective!

When we have that wisdom from above (the God’s eye view of life) then we can know joy in every situation and circumstance.

 

The Joy of Wisdom (vv. 5-8)

And this is why James goes on to say (v. 5):

 

If any of you lacks wisdom,

he should ask God,

who gives generously to all without finding fault,

and it will be given to him.

 

He tells us to ask for God sent wisdom.

Now this wisdom isn’t some kind of esoteric, other worldly knowledge, the sort that you might get from studying at Hogwarts.

Neither is it the kind of wisdom that you may get from reading vast amounts of theological books

(but rather this way, you can have it without doing the hard work!)

 

No! This wisdom is the insight we get from looking at life from God’s perspective.

In many respects, wisdom functions in James’ letter

like the Spirit does in Paul’s letters.

It’s the Spirit who fathoms the depths of God;

it’s the Spirit who knows what is in the mind of God.

 

So the Spirit gives us peace and insight,

he reminds us that we have a loving heavenly father who is purifying us through our trials to make us more into the image of his son.

It’s this wisdom that reassures us that our Father in heaven has everything in hand.

 

Now some of you know that I used to work in the operating theatres as a nurse and one of my jobs was to scrub up and assist the surgeon with the operation – passing clamps, stitches and scissors etc.

 

Now occasionally (very occasionally – I don’t want you to worry now!), things wouldn’t quite go to plan.

The cavity that we were working in would suddenly fill with blood from who knew where.

The surgeon would then start asking for suction, swabs, clamps, ties. From my side of the operating table I couldn’t see what was going on, and if I could my head would probably be in the way;

the only thing I could see was blood, and frantic poking about.

I had to trust that the surgeon had it under control,

and just do what he asked me to do, to put my finger where he thought best.

 

Now suppose, I didn’t trust the surgeon; suppose I doubted him;

I could have gone into panic modedropping instruments, giving him not what he asked for but what I thought best.

And generally raising the tension and danger of the situation for everyone; not least of all, the patient.

 

I couldn’t see what was going on in the bottom of that cavity,

I didn’t have the surgeon’s eye view,

and mores the point I wasn’t qualified to make those kinds of judgement calls.

I had to believe in and trust my colleague.

 

This is why James tells us, that once we have looked at our trials, (however painful or scary they might be);

Once we have looked at our trials from God’s perspective

that he knows what he is doing,

that he is refining us to become more like his son.

We need to trust (that is believe) v. 6, that he is in control,

that he knows and sees things that we can’t;

and that he is supremely more qualified than we are.

 

This is why, when we start panicking and doubting,

after God has shown us that he is actually in control, we become just

like a wave of the sea,

blown and tossed by the wind

 

We shouldn’t think we will receive anything from the Lord,

such as reassurance or comfort.

We are literally double-minded people,

becoming off balance, unstable in all that we do.

 

We become like Corporal Jones running around every which way shouting ‘don’t panic Captain Mainwaring, don’t panic!’

And like Corporal Jones our actions and our words don’t match;

we are double minded.

We ask for God’s eye view, we receive it, we trust him to work things out.

 

Wisdom in Action: God’s-eye View of Poverty and Riches (vv. 9-11)

So let’s get practical for a minute just as James does and think about a God’s-eye view of Poverty and Riches (v. 9-11).

Both poverty and riches can be trials – especially in this post Christmas period.

 

The Trial of Poverty (v. 9):

Well, what are the trials of poverty (v. 9)?

Maybe, our low position on the social ladder stops us appreciating the heights to which Christ has raised us.

We can become so entrenched in what we lack

that we fail to see how God has drenched us with His blessings.

We become so focused on what we don’t have that we become blind to all that we do have in Jesus.

That is the trial of poverty to focus on the wrong ladders

not realising the heights to which we’ve been taken in Jesus.

 

Now I don’t want to make light of people’s financial difficulties – as if I’m saying ‘don’t worry, it’ll all come right in heaven’.

But neither does James make light of the issue, - he was very aware of the plight of the poor in the communities he was sending this letter.

James has much to say to us on how the community of believers are to address the needs of the less well off in their churches

– it’s all there in chapter 2 of this letter.

 

Nonetheless, James does remind us that our identity is not bound up in our spending power, (or the lack of it).

Our identity is seated in Christ Jesus in heavenly places.

James wants us to have ‘God’s eye view’ of our situation – and God’s view is on the long game.

That way the trial of poverty does gain some perspective.

 

The Trial of Riches (vv. 10-11):

But it’s not just the poor who have trials, the rich do to! Now what are the peculiar trials of riches (v10-11)?

Well maybe our high position on the social ladder stops us appreciating how poor we are before Christ.

 

We become so entrenched in what we’ve gained materially that we fail to acknowledge that there is so much more on offer in Christ.

We become so focused on what we have that we become blind to the fact that we are nothing without Christ.

We end up with misplaced pride!

 

We forget that old Italian proverb that says

When the game is over, the king and the pawn go back into the same box.

That is the trial of wealth to think that our riches will get us somewhere.

However there is a treasure for both poor and rich who stand the test of their trials (v12).

The crown of life should dispel all self-pity and misplaced pride.

For there is no room for self-pity when such a treasure awaits us

and there is no room for pride when such a great gift has been granted to me.

This is God’s view of poverty and riches!

 

Conclusion

Now, if we are going to make progress as a Christian in the face of trials we need that wisdom from above – A God’s Eye view of things.

As James says in v. 12:

Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial (that is disappointment, dissatisfaction, disillusionment),

because when he has stood the test (that is the refining process),

he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

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