Holiness, Me and the Church – Part 8

Patience in suffering

Based on a sermon from Sunday 17th July 2022

James 5:7-12

Patience is a virtue.  Who has heard of that saying?  I said this often to my daughters when they were growing up.  They often wanted something there and then; they couldn’t wait.  “I want it now, Daddy!”  Patience is something we need to practice.  For many of us it doesn’t come easy!  How often have you got angry when things are not working out the way you want them to?  Perhaps someone has let you down, or some vital part you ordered has not arrived and you can’t complete what you are doing.  I get impatient when I can’t get something to do what it is supposed to do.  It causes me stress, like for example, when one of my first smart phones wouldn’t connect properly to the internet, and oh boy was I impatient!

This morning’s passage from the Epistle of James is entitled “Patience in Suffering”.  In the verses before this, James rebukes the rich oppressors and warns them that the Lord sees their evil.  Now James turns his attention to the believing oppressed, – those who are suffering unjustly in a broken and sinful world at the hands of broken and sinful people, – and he wants to encourage them not to give up.

There are times when I have experienced suffering at the hands of others and my natural reaction is to lash out, but this is not what James is teaching.  Instead, James is encouraging us to “be patient and stand firm”.  Anyone planting seeds has to be patient; they are not going to grow whilst you stand and watch them  You have to wait patiently for the land to yield its valuable crop!  The farmer doesn’t take matters into his own hands. He doesn’t get down on the ground and start berating the seeds for not growing.  He waits.  However, whilst being patient, waiting, we are to stand firm, i.e. we are not to waiver from what we know to be true about Jesus as found in Scripture, not to waiver from who He is and not to forget His promises to us, particularly that He will return, for “the Lord’s coming is near”!  Christ’s return will happen, we can be certain of this, and so we need to live in the certainty of this, a certainty that the Bible never questions.

The battle for us is often because we don’t live in this certainty, so we need to “stand firm” in Christ, and not to be tossed to and fro by every wind, difficulty and evil that comes our way.  We are to take a stand against the world, and the schemes of the devil, the prince of the air, by establishing in our hearts the promises and character of God.  Much of which we have been looking at over the last few weeks as we have journeyed through James.

We do this by walking in the way of Jesus, who Himself received the greatest level of oppression and mistreatment the world has ever known, yet for our sake he trusted in the promises and character of His Heavenly Father.  If we have hope of Christ’s soon return, we should cease petty conflicts to which James alluded in chapter 4.  As children in a school classroom look out for their teacher’s return, God’s children should be on guard for Christ’s return.  In so doing, good behaviour and mutual harmony are essential, so don’t “grumble against each other”.  When we grumble we turn inward, become selfish, and lose sight of the hope we have in Christ.

James reminds us that when we are being mistreated it does not give us license to sin.  The Christ we await with eager expectation is the same Christ who delivered us from the punishment and the power of sin.  So, establish your hearts with patient expectation.  Wait eagerly for Him to return and for Him to execute judgement.  That’s His job.  And just like the farmer has other work to do while he’s waiting for the rain, so do we.

As we wait, we are to persevere.  When we undergo trying circumstances may we be comforted to learn that others have endured worse situations.  “The prophets” stood loyal to their Lord, suffered for it, and now their experience encourages us.  James reminds us that, though they suffered, the outcome of their lives was worth it in the end.  So, the Lord honoured Job’s endurance and perseverance with multiplied blessings (cf. Job 42:12).  Job showed steadfastness, endurance, perseverance (hypomonēn, cf. James 1:3; Col. 1:11).  He “stood firm”. Yes, he lost property, family, and health, but his patience demonstrates the purpose of character of his Lord: that He permits suffering, because it leads to His excellent purposes (Rom 8:28; Phil 1:6).  Moreover, while critics blaspheme God because of human suffering, Job’s record shows the Lord to be compassionate and merciful.  Suffering, then, must be attributed either to the means for God’s ultimate purposes or, more often, man’s own doing through corrupt leaders or personal sin.

We can trust Christ in suffering and even remain faithful to His calling in our lives because He is good for it!  His character is proven.  His promises are sure.  Even in a fallen world living with the opposition of fallen people, we are called to faithful endurance.  Establish your heart with patient expectation … with faithful endurance …

This passage from James is, at its core, an invitation. 

  • It invites us to see and trust that Christ is faithful to His promise — He is coming back to defeat the wicked and to deliver the waiting.
  • It invites us to see His character — His compassion and mercy, His love and justice, His uncompromising holiness.
  • It invites us to follow in His footsteps. –- He is the one who shows us what it looks like to “stand firm”.

Standing firm is what Jesus did when He “resolutely set out for Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51) as His time approached for Him to be taken up to heaven. 

  • His was a determination to go to Jerusalem to take the condemnation that you and I deserve.
  • His was a steely resolve to bear the weight of brokenness that your sin and my sin caused.
  • His was an inner persistence to trust in the Father’s plan, knowing that one day He would return and finally put all our enemies under His feet.

He stood firm and established His heart to accomplish yours and my salvation.  He has promised to bring it to completion on His return.  The invitation for you and for me is to trust the work He has already done, and patiently endure until He returns.

Living thoughts

This is an opportunity to spend time alone with God.  The more time you spend with Him the more you will get to know Him as He reveals more of who He is to your heart, soul and spirit.  This time will be personal and wholly unique to your faith journey with Him.

Re-read the Bible passages above and the sermon before considering these questions…

Digging into God’s word

  1. Why does James use the example of a farmer to illustrate the principle of patience (5:7)?
  2. What does the “coming of the Lord” have to do with patience (5:8)?  Is it merely about awaiting His arrival, or is it also relevant to how we decide to act now?
  3. Why is complaining against others detrimental to Christ’s work among us (5:9)?  What happens to us when we complain against others?  What risks to we run?
  4. In what ways is God calling you to persevere (5:10)?
  5. What message does God have for you in the story of Job?  What does Job’s story teach us about God (5:11)?

Prayer Response

Lord, we praise you for your straightforwardness.  You make it plain to hearts that want to know what you are saying and foolish to those who just want to fight you.

We thank you for the power we have in Christ, to choose peace even when peace is not offered from others.  We always have the choice of how we will react; whether to sow peace or harshness.  May we believe your truth and put it into practice: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word provokes anger.”

Give us the strength, wisdom, and courage to sow in peace so we can reap a harvest of righteousness.

In the One who was tortured for our sins, yet still asked for us all to be forgiven, realising we didn’t know what we were doing – Amen.

Holiness, Me, and the Church – Part 3

An introduction to James

“MIRACULOUS!” …”Revolutionary!” … “Greatest ever!”  We are inundated by a flood of extravagant claims as we shop on-line, flip through television channels or magazine pages.  The messages leap out at us.  The products assure us that they are new, improved, fantastic, and capable of changing our lives for the better.  For only a few pounds, we can have “cleaner clothes”, “whiter teeth”, “glamorous hair”, and “tastier food”.  Cars, perfume, diet drinks, and mouthwash are guaranteed to bring happiness, friends, and the good life.

But talk is cheap, and too often we soon realise that the boasts were hollow, quite far from the truth.

‘Jesus is the answer!” … “Believe in God!” …  “Follow me to church!”  As Christians we also make great claims but are often guilty of belying them with our actions.  Professing to trust God and to be His people, we cling tightly to the world and its values.  Possessing all the right answers, we contradict the gospel with our lives.

James confronts this conflict head-on.  It is not enough to talk the Christian faith; he says we must live it.  “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save him?” (2:14).  The proof of the reality of our faith is a changed life.

Part of the good news is that a genuine faith will inevitably produce good deeds.  This is the central theme of James’ letter, around which he supplies practical advice on living the Christian life. 

The book of James is considered to be written by James the brother of Jesus, which makes what he writes even more powerful.  Why?  Because James tried to stop Jesus.  His family (brothers) thought He was crazy and didn’t believe Jesus when He said He was the Son of God!

After Jesus rose from the dead, he appeared to James, (1 Corinthians 15:7).  Can you imagine that conversation?  I’m sure it was filled with lots of tears, repentance, forgiveness, and Jesus’ amazing grace.  After that episode, James becomes Jesus’ biggest supporter.  As one of the leaders in the Jerusalem church (Acts 15), he bravely proclaims Jesus as his Lord and Saviour.

This letter can be seen as a how-to book on Christian living, containing tools for Christians on how to live a holy and righteous life before God.  Confrontation, challenge, and a call to commitment await us in its pages.  As we journey through James over the next three months our hope should be that we become better at being “doers” of the word (1:22-25).  We will be exploring this under the theme of Holiness, Me, and the Church.  Our verse for this term is from Psalm 51:

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”

May we hold this verse before us as together we dig into James this term.

Learning from James 1:1-18

These verses  give us some tools that are useful for us in order to become the “doer” of the word that God is looking us to be.  I will now share tools that I believe we can find in this passage.  Later you will have an opportunity on our own to re-read those verses from chapter 1 and ask God which of these tools you are struggling with in your personal and corporate relationship with God.

Pure Joy (v2)  Note James doesn’t say “if” you face trials, but “whenever” you face them.  We will have trials but with God’s help it is possible to profit from them.  The point is not to pretend to be happy when we face pain and difficulty, but to have a positive outlook (“consider it pure joy”) because of what trials can produce in our lives.  So, James is telling us to turn our hardships into times of learning.  Therefore, tough times can teach us further the importance of perseverance. Which is the next tool…

Perseverance (v3)  This is the same as patience, endurance and steadfastness.  Perseverance is persistence in doing something despite difficulty (pain) or delay in achieving success.  It’s about pushing on through to the end and not giving up.  The outcome of perseverance is growth in maturity….

Mature and Complete (v4)  God wants to make us mature and complete, not to keep us from all pain.  That can be difficult to accept, if God is a God of love then surely He will protect us from pain?  However, God always turns things on their head, so instead of complaining about our struggles we should see them as opportunities for growth.  I have found that thanking God for promising to be with me in rough times helps me to persevere and helps me to grow in maturity.  In thanking God, He wants us to ask him to help solve our problems and to give us the strength to endure them.  As we do this we need to be patient, and remember that God will not leave us alone with our problems for He will always stay close and help us grow.  The outcome of growing in maturity with God is wisdom….

Wisdom (v5)  By wisdom James is talking not only about knowledge, but about the ability to make wise decisions in difficult circumstances.  Whenever we need wisdom we can pray to God, and He will generously supply what we need.  We don’t have to grope around in the dark, hoping to stumble upon answers.  We can ask for God’s wisdom to guide our choices.

Therefore, wisdom means practical discernment.  It begins with respect for God, leads to right living, and results in increased ability to tell right from wrong.  God is willing to give us this, His wisdom but we will be unable to receive it if our goals are self-centred instead of God-centred.  To learn God’s will we need to read His word and ask Him to show us how to obey it.  Then we must do what He tells us.  As we do, at least two things happen: we grow in belief and trust…

Belief and Trust (not doubt)  To “believe and not doubt” means not only believing in the existence of God; but also believing in His loving care.  It includes relying on God and expecting that He will hear and answer when we pray.  We must put away our critical attitude when we come to Him.  God does not grant every thoughtless or selfish request.  We must have confidence that God will align our desires with His good and perfect purposes.  Our requests therefore, must be in line (in harmony) with the principles of God’s Kingdom.  The stronger our belief, the more likely our prayer will be in line with God’s will, and then God will be happy to grant answers to our prayers.

Allowing God to deepen our belief and trust means that our mind will be less likely to waver.  If we are not completely convinced that God’s way is best we will treat His word like any human advice, and we then retain the option to disobey.  A wavering mind, wavering between different opinions, actions, between allegiance to subjective feelings, the world’s ideas, and God’s Commands will lead us to act unwisely and immaturely.  When we are struggling, remember that you can trust God.  Then be loyal to him.  The way to stabilise your wavering or doubtful mind is to commit yourself wholeheartedly to God.

As belief and trust grow, we can grasp better the concept of God’s promise that we have received the Crown of life (v12)  The crown of life is like the victory wreath given to winning athletes (1 Corinthians 9:25).  God’s crown of life is not glory and honour on earth, but the reward of eternal life – living with God for ever.  The way to be in God’s winners’ circle is by loving Him and staying faithful even under pressure.  So we move on to the next point..

Love of God (v12)  This helps us to overcome temptation.  Temptation comes from evil desires inside us, not from God.  It begins with an evil thought and becomes sin when we dwell on the thought and allow it to become an action.  Like a snowball rolling down hill, sin grows more destructive the more we let it have its way.  The best time to stop a temptation is before it is too strong or moving too fast to control.  What helps us to stop temptation is to know the….

Word of truth (v18)  God’s Word is truth and it gives us new birth, the ability to resist temptation, to give direction and power to become the “doers” of the word God is always calling us to be.  The Word of truth sets us free from our past, rebirths us into new life by the truth of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.  As believers in Christ, we are the recipients of God’s best and sweetest gifts.

Living thoughts

I encourage you to read James 1:1-18.  As you do, ask God which of these tools you are struggling with in your personal and corporate relationship with God.  As an aide-memoire this may help

  • Are you struggling with considering it pure joy when you face trials?:
  • Do you give up easily, and wish you had better perseverance?
  • Are you lacking in maturity?
  • Do you struggle to make wise decisions?
  • Do you lack belief and so doubt God’s promises?
  • Do you feel that the crown of life is just outside your grasp, that you are not good enough for it?
  • Does temptation get in the way of your love of God?
  • Are there things getting in the way of you believing and trusting the word of truth?

As you ask God and let Him speak to you, acknowledge where you are struggling, where the enemy is using his evil schemes to tempt you.  Then confess to the Lord the harmful impact these are having on your life, receive God’s forgiveness, rebuke the schemes of the enemy and replace what you have rebuked with opposite of what you have confessed.  So for example, if God has shown you that you lack His wisdom, pray that you will be blessed by His wisdom so you are able to make wise decisions in your life that are in line with His plumb line truth.

Holiness, Me, and the Church – Part 1

An introduction to James

Based on a sermon from 1st May 2022, and James 1:1-18

“MIRACULOUS!” …”Revolutionary!” … “Greatest ever!”  We are inundated by a flood of extravagant claims as we shop on-line, flip through television channels or magazine pages.  The messages leap out at us.  The products assure us that they are new, improved, fantastic, and capable of changing our lives for the better.  For only a few pounds, we can have “cleaner clothes”, “whiter teeth”, “glamorous hair”, and “tastier food”.  Cars, perfume, diet drinks, and mouthwash are guaranteed to bring happiness, friends, and the good life.

But talk is cheap, and too often we soon realise that the boasts were hollow, quite far from the truth.

‘Jesus is the answer!” … “Believe in God!” …  “Follow me to church!”  As Christians we also make great claims but are often guilty of belying them with their actions.  Professing to trust God and to be His people, we cling tightly to the world and its values.  Possessing all the right answers, we contradict the gospel with our lives.

James confronts this conflict head-on.  It is not enough to talk the Christian faith; he says we must live it.  “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save him?” (2:14).  The proof of the reality of our faith is a changed life.

Part of the good news is that a genuine faith will inevitably produce good deeds.  This is the central theme of James’ letter, around which he supplies practical advice on living the Christian life. 

The book of James is considered to be written by James the brother of Jesus, which makes what he writes even more powerful.  Why? Because James tried to stop Jesus.  His family (brothers) thought He was crazy and didn’t believe Jesus when He said He was the Son of God!

After Jesus rose from the dead, he appeared to James, (1 Corinthians 15:7).  Can you imagine that conversation?  I’m sure it was filled with lots of tears, repentance, forgiveness, and Jesus’ amazing grace.  After that episode, James becomes Jesus’ biggest supporter.  As one of the leaders in the Jerusalem church (Acts 15), he bravely proclaims Jesus as his Lord and Saviour.

This letter can be seen as a how-to book on Christian living, containing tools for Christians on how to live a holy and righteous life before God.  Confrontation, challenge, and a call to commitment await us in its pages.  As we journey through James over the next three months our hope should be that we become better at being “doers” of the word (1:22-25).  We will be exploring this under the theme of Holiness, Me, and the Church.  Our verse for this term is from Psalm 51:

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”

May we hold this verse before us as together we dig into James this term.

Tools from James 1:1-18

These verses  give us some tools that are useful for us in order to become the “doer” of the word that God is looking us to be.  I will now share tools that I believe we can find in this passage.  Later you will have an opportunity on our own to re-read those verses from chapter 1 and ask God which of these tools you are struggling with in your personal and corporate relationship with God.

Pure Joy (v2)  Note James doesn’t say “if” you face trials, but “whenever” you face them.  We will have trials but with God’s help it is possible to profit from them.  The point is not to pretend to be happy when we face pain and difficulty, but to have a positive outlook (“consider it pure joy”) because of what trials can produce in our lives.  So, James is telling us to turn our hardships into times of learning.  Therefore, tough times can teach us further the importance of perseverance. Which is the next tool…

Perseverance (v3)  This is the same as patience, endurance and steadfastness.  Perseverance is persistence in doing something despite difficulty (pain) or delay in achieving success.  It’s about pushing on through to the end and not giving up.  The outcome of perseverance is growth in maturity….

Mature and Complete (v4)  God wants to make us mature and complete, not to keep us from all pain.  That can be difficult to accept, if God is a God of love then surely He will protect us from pain?  However, God always turns things on their head, so instead of complaining about our struggles we should see them as opportunities for growth.  I have found that thanking God for promising to be with me in rough times helps me to persevere and helps me to grow in maturity.  In thanking God, He wants us to ask him to help solve our problems and to give us the strength to endure them.  As we do this we need to be patient, and remember that God will not leave us alone with our problems for He will always stay close and help us grow.  The outcome of growing in maturity with God is wisdom….

Wisdom (v5)  By wisdom James is talking not only about knowledge, but about the ability to make wise decisions in difficult circumstances.  Whenever we need wisdom we can pray to God, and He will generously supply what we need.  We don’t have to grope around in the dark, hoping to stumble upon answers.  We can ask for God’s wisdom to guide our choices.

Therefore, wisdom means practical discernment.  It begins with respect for God, leads to right living, and results in increased ability to tell right from wrong.  God is willing to give us this, His wisdom but we will be unable to receive it if our goals are self-centred instead of God-centred.  To learn God’s will we need to read His word and ask Him to show us how to obey it.  Then we must do what He tells us.  As we do at least two things happen: we grow in belief and trust…

Belief and Trust (not doubt)  To “believe and not doubt” means not only believing in the existence of God; but also believing in His loving care.  It includes relying on God and expecting that He will hear and answer when we pray.  We must put away our critical attitude when we come to Him.  God does not grant every thoughtless or selfish request.  We must have confidence that God will align our desires with His good and perfect purposes.  Our requests therefore, must be in line (in harmony) with the principles of God’s Kingdom.  The stronger our belief, the more likely our prayer will be in line with God’s will, and then God will be happy to grant answers to our prayers.

Allowing God to deepen our belief and trust means that our mind will be less likely to waver.  If we are not completely convinced that God’s way is best we will treat His word like any human advice, and we then retain the option to disobey.  A wavering mind, wavering between different opinions, actions, between allegiance to subjective feelings, the world’s ideas, and God’s Commands will lead us to act unwisely and immaturely.  When we are struggling, remember that you can trust God.  Then be loyal to him.  The way to stabilise your wavering or doubtful mind is to commit yourself wholeheartedly to God.

As belief and trust grow, we can grasp better the concept of God’s promise that we have received the Crown of life (v12)  The crown of life is like the victory wreath given to winning athletes (1 Corinthians 9:25).  God’s crown of life is not glory and honour on earth, but the reward of eternal life – living with God for ever.  The way to be in God’s winners’ circle is by loving Him and staying faithful even under pressure.  So we move on to the next point..

Love of God (v12)  This helps us to overcome temptation.  Temptation comes from evil desires inside us, not from God.  It begins with an evil thought and becomes sin when we dwell on the thought and allow it to become an action.  Like a snowball rolling down hill, sin grows more destructive the more we let it have its way.  The best time to stop a temptation is before it is too strong or moving too fast to control.  What helps us to stop temptation is to know the….

Word of truth (v18)  God’s Word is truth and it gives us new birth, the ability to resist temptation, to give direction and power to become the “doers” of the word God is always calling us to be.  The Word of truth sets us free from our past, rebirths us into new life by the truth of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.  As believers in Christ, we are the recipients of God’s best and sweetest gifts.

Living thoughts

I encourage you to read James 1:1-18.  As you do, ask God which of these tools you are struggling with in your personal and corporate relationship with God.  As an aide-memoire this may help

  • Are you struggling with considering it pure joy when you face trials?:
  • Do you give up easily, and wish you had better perseverance?
  • Are you lacking in maturity?
  • Do you struggle to make wise decisions?
  • Do you lack belief and so doubt God’s promises?
  • Do you feel that the crown of life is just outside your grasp, that you are not good enough for it?
  • Does temptation get in the way of your love of God?
  • Are there things getting in the way of you believing and trusting the word of truth?

As you ask God and let Him speak to you, acknowledge where you are struggling, where the enemy is using his evil schemes to tempt you.  Then confess to the Lord the harmful impact these are having on your life, receive God’s forgiveness, rebuke the schemes of the enemy and replace what you have rebuked with opposite of what you have confessed.  So for example, if God has shown you that you lack His wisdom, pray that you will be blessed by His wisdom so you are able to make wise decisions in your life that are in line with His plumb line truth.

Sharing suffering

Photo by Jack Sharp on Unsplash

The book of Job shows how not to help others who are suffering.  Job’s comforters get so many things wrong.  They try and take control.  But if the storm is raging, only God can calm the storm.  Our role is not to take hold of the tiller and try and steer the boat, but to be in the boat with our friends.  Everyone feels pain and suffering in a different fashion, meaning it’s dangerous to use generalities.  God is a personal God who deals with His children equally but differently.  God has no “one size fits all”. Sometimes all that can be done is to be quiet and listen.  We tend to shy away from people in suffering because we feel awkward and embarrassed.  We need to overcome and accept this feeling and reach out to them.  It’s also fine if – as is more often the case – we don’t know the answers.  Sometimes just our presence is good enough.

Weeping and crying is good: Jesus weeps at the tomb of Lazarus.  I have wept on many occasions with people as I have ministered to them and when I have been ministered to.  Sometimes it is because of their story, sometimes it is because of my story!  We may feel its “unbiblical” to cry. But grief is godly and natural.  Sadly, our culture doesn’t like mourning.  But Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3).  In the process of walking through pain and suffering it is not up to us to tell the sufferer when they are done.  Sometimes people will never stop grieving.  But ‘God gave His people a counsellor who wept with them, put the pain of their loss into words, ministered to their guilt and grief, and brought hope and healing from the ashes of their loss.’  (Colin Smith, senior pastor of The Orchard Evangelical Free Church).

As I’ve said before, the Bible doesn’t shy away from suffering.  On its pages we find suffering from natural disasters, suffering from other people, suffering from disease, suffering from relationships, suffering we bring on ourselves, and many more scenarios.  So, when we experience suffering what are we to do?  Well, there is no better place to start than with God’s word.  It could be helpful to read to a suffering friend suitable Bible passages.  For me the best place to start in the Bible is the Psalms which cover the whole gamut of human emotions.  These words were prepared by God thousands of years ago and have been used ever since to provide comfort in times of need and suffering.  Sometimes in Psalms there isn’t even an answer.  Last year I spent time reading the Psalms, starting at the beginning and going through to the end.  At times I was shocked as some seem to end bleakly.   Psalm 88 is one such example, it ends bleakly, without even the hint of an answer let alone a ‘happy ending’ and that’s true sadly sometimes in life.  The Bible doesn’t flinch from reality and it doesn’t always wrap things up neatly.

One thing Job does is he shows us that If we feel angry or upset with God, we can tell him.  God is big enough to cope with our emotions.  It is very striking that Job is angry with God, going well beyond anything that the majority of us would otherwise consider reverent or proper, yet God rebukes his comforters at the end by saying “You haven’t spoken well of me, as my servant Job has“.  We need to get over the feeling that, “I’m helping you by being strong”.  Actually, suffering will impact us all, we are all sufferers; we all need Christ’s presence.  In my previous Chris writes… I shared about the suffering we experienced through the life, birth and death of our son John.  One thing that struck me about John was that Christ shone out of him.  In his suffering he still trusted us and at the same time truly helped others through their suffering.  On one occasion he flung himself at a friend who was have a hard time of getting a job.  He’d literally just told us that he hadn’t been successful, again, and John leapt out of our arms (he was only 9 months old) and hugged our friend.  No words were spoken the hug was all that was needed for us all!  

To me this illustrates that often there is little or nothing that we can do except be present and pray. Prayer is a wonderful privilege.  A 19th century hymn sums this up so well.  The composer, Joseph Scriven, experienced suffering when his fiancée died just before they were to get married.

Oh what needless pains we bear
All because we do not carry
everything to God in prayer.

There is a story of a badly deformed person with leprosy who was very bitter and who very nervously went to a local church where a man just patted the space next to him on the pew, indicating that he should come and sit next to him. This simple act deeply touched the suffering man.

As you read through the Book of Job you see that he is continually looking for a friend, an advocate, someone to represent him, someone to support him.  We now know that he was looking for Christ.  God’s ultimate answer to suffering is not a philosophy or even theology but a person.  When nothing else makes sense, and nothing else is left, Jesus is there, and He will hold us fast.  This also means that if we are not sure what to do, we won’t go far wrong if we follow Christ’s example in dealing with suffering, above all in showing compassion. James in his letter says:

As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. (James 5:11).

Suffering helps us to develop perseverance and steadfastness.  Romans 5:1-5 says tribulation leads to perseverance, and perseverance in turn develops character, which gives us hope.  When we choose not to give up during difficult circumstances, and look to the person of Christ, we allow God to build up good qualities in our life that will keep us going in the long term.

As we suffer did you know that we participate in the sufferings of Christ?  So nothing should be more valuable for us than to know Christ (Phil. 3:8-11), and to truly know someone we have to relate to their life and experiences.

God at times allows us to suffer so we can humbly recognise how much we need Him.  When we trust His will, He uses those trials in amazing ways.

Prayer:

Lord God, You are the strength of all who put their trust in you.  Mercifully accept our prayers and, because through the weakness of our human nature we cannot do anything good without you, by the Holy Spirit grant us the help of your grace so that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in will and deed through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Based on a sermon first delivered on 28th June 2020

Perseverance

Perseverance

Week 5 of a series examining Christian virtues

We are continuing to look at the virtues of God described in 2 Peter 1:5-11. Today our focus is on perseverance; not a bad theme for Remembrance Sunday, for we are to persevere in working for peace in our life, in our home, in our communities, in our nation, and in the world.

But life has it challenges, my life can be messy, my behaviour is not always predictable, I do not always choose the most obvious path.  If I don’t guard my heart, I can quickly become cynical and despairing, ingesting the hopelessness that I see around me.  Isn’t that the same for all of us? 

This is where perseverance comes in.  I need to keep on going, focussing on God and His Son Jesus, yet… when we look around we see so much pain and suffering.  And it’s not just physical pain, there is much emotional and psychological pain too.  We cry over the brokenness of others that we know, as well as crying for strangers.  Our tears may be triggered by compassion, or a deep sense of sadness and disappointment at what we are hearing and seeing in our world.

Obviously, this is not God’s will for His children, because we are all called to be light in the darkness and carriers of His hope. The darkness of this world should not be engulfing us, but rather fleeing at our approach because of the indwelling light of Christ and His power in us. This is the biblical perspective and it is the perspective we should all choose to embrace and chase after. You see, God is always at work, whether we perceive it or not.

The Good News is that when we surrender our lives to God we immediately become more aware of His comfort, restoration, healing, life and light.  As we grow in awareness of this for ourselves, by pursuing the God who pursues us because of His love for us, we become even more aware of His comfort, restoration, healing, life and light.  Then we begin to show more and more of His comfort, restoration, healing, life and light to those we engage with on a daily basis, whether it be spouse, partner, children, wider family, neighbours, work colleagues, those we socialise with, as well as strangers we meet day by day.

God’s desire is that through our surrendered lives to Him we allow Him to bring comfort, restoration, healing, life and light to others. Have you surrendered all of your life to God?  As you do this, perseverance will be needed if you are going to make it to the end.

The reading from the prophet Micah (Micah 4:1-5) is an appropriate one for Remembrance Sunday as he speaks against a background of armed conflicts. In 722 BC the Assyrians destroyed Samaria (the Northern part of the original nation of Israel) and 20 years later attacked Jerusalem, only for the city to escape by a miracle. Micah almost certainly lived through both of these events and appears to have been deeply affected by them. He decries the fallacy of human plans compared to the wisdom of God and His ways, and he rebukes the leaders and prophets who have led the people into this situation. He perseveres in all of this, because our reading speaks of the new hope that will be, when restoration and God’s rule comes, and God Himself will judge the disputes ‘for strong nations far and wide’.  It is then, and only then through persevering, that people will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks.

Having witnessed the horrors of war, Micah is clear that true peace can only come to the world when God’s rule reigns supreme.  In a world where many deeply desire peace, we too need to remember that it is God alone who can bring true peace, for God alone is the author of true justice and peace. Micah explains that our role in this new world order is ‘to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God’ (Micah 6:8).  In other words, we are to work hand in hand with God to bring about the peace which He describes.   We cannot engineer or create peace purely through diplomatic, political or military means.  Politics, diplomacy and armed forces can be an important supporting element for peace, but true peace can only come when God is at the centre of all our efforts.  Persevere, then, with working for Godly peace.

There is another scripture that can help the world today:

‘Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded’ (Jeremiah 31:16).

The context of this is God speaking to Israel, through the prophet Jeremiah, and it was the restoration of their nation that he was proclaiming.  I believe that this verse is helpful for us today. Many feel broken by what they see going on here and in the rest of the world, and many our crying over this brokenness. 

To me this verse paints a picture of God stooping down to us with a box of tissues and telling us to wipe away our tears. He wants us to know, that despite all we see and hear, He is indeed at work in the lives of all people, and we will see a reward for our labour. Can we hold this promise close to our heart?

The apostle Paul relayed a similar message to the Corinthians. He said, ‘So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless’ (1 Corinthians 15:58). That must have been an ‘adrenaline shot’ for the Corinthian church.

He also encouraged the early Christians to continue sowing good deeds, wherever they had opportunity, as harvest time was coming (Galatians 6:9-10). They would only reap, though, if they persevered in sowing and refused to give up.

The teachings of Jesus on perseverance are very clear: He has conquered death and it no longer need hold any power over us. For Jesus gave real hope with His promise of a kingdom which was yet to come. Jesus spoke in pictures about a time when there would be feasting and laughter. This time to come would be different, the hungry would be filled and those who had been downtrodden would be freed.  This gives us hope as we entrust to God those who have died for our broken world.

However, in his teachings Jesus also made clear that real change must start to take place now in the hearts and minds of his followers. We therefore use Remembrance Sunday to remind ourselves of our part in seeking to bring about the desperate need for change.  For Christians this Remembrance Sunday is more than an act of remembrance, it is a promise that we will do our best to serve Christ by serving others in the cause of peace, and for the relief of want and suffering.

By His Holy Spirit may He give us wisdom, courage, and hope and keep us faithful now and always.  This will be hard, but it will be well worth persevering for.  So, despite all you hear about the world today don’t giving up!  …Persevere – for giving up is not on God’s agenda!

Don’t quit, for I sense God saying; “Don’t give up, don’t quit, persevere! Keep sowing! Harvest is coming!” I repeat, “Harvest is coming, for I am at work and your efforts will be rewarded. I pass you a box of tissues right now so you can wipe away those tears of brokenness and pain.”