There are three kinds of people in this room this morning. Some of you are in a trial. Others of you are coming out of a season of troubled waters, life has been difficult, but you are coming out of it, the seas are growing more calm. The third group of people who are among us this morning are getting ready to enter a trial and you have no idea that it is coming.
Last weekend Sonny Melton and his wife Heather were celebrating their one year anniversary in Las Vegas. Dr. Heather Melton is an Orthopedic Surgeon at the Henry County Medical Center just outside of Nashville. Sonny was a registered nurse who worked alongside his wife while she performed surgeries. They were attending the Route 91 Harvest Festival when gunshots rang out. When they realized that the noise was gunfire and not fireworks, Heather said, “Let’s get down.” Sonny said, “No, we’ll get trampled, let’s go.” Sonny wrapped his arms around his wife’s back and the two began to move when Heather felt Sonny get shot in the back. The two of them fell to the ground. Heather saw that Sonny had been shot and was unconscious. The surgeon knew what to do. She began to give her husband CPR, but she knew he was dying because he was bleeding from his mouth. Heather began to scream for help. A stranger came, loaded Sonny on his back, and put him in the back of a pickup. He performed CPR on Sonny all the way to the hospital where Sonny died. In the days since Sonny’s death Heather says she has been taking it one day at a time. Heather said,
Nobody teaches you how to do this. Life just happens and I don’t know, I feel like at this point it’s almost breath by breath. Sometimes it feels like you can’t breathe and other times you just cherish the moments that you had together. I lost half my heart. It was a love that I had never experienced before. It was the kind of love that fills you up every single day. We loved being together and people felt how much we loved each other. I will carry that with me forever. I don’t know that I’ll ever experience that kind of love again. But the days I had with him were worth every minute. (Dr. Heather Melton)
Sonny and Heather, when they boarded the plane to head to Las Vegas, had no idea of the painful trial they were getting ready to experience. The same can be said for all of us here this morning. Oftentimes we receive no warning, we get no time to prepare for the the trials we will have to go through in life.
Sometimes the trials of life come and go quickly, We recover quickly. Then there are those trials that come and stay. Their impact on our life seems to be inescapable. We try with all of our might to lift the heaviness from our minds and hearts, but we just don’t have the strength. Jesus was so right when He said, “In this world you will have trouble…” How will we make it through these troubled waters of life? If you will turn with me to James 1:5-8 and let’s read our Scripture for this morning.
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. 6 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. (James 1:5-8 NIVO)
I want to remind you of the situation that the early followers of Jesus were facing when they had this letter from James read to them. They were men, women, kids, families, old and young alike. They had fled their city, Jerusalem, their homes, everything familiar to them because of the persecution that followed the killing of one of Jesus’ followers, a man named Stephen. They left Jerusalem and fled to Judea and Samaria to try and find safe surroundings only to find that more hardship was awaiting them when they arrived. How would they make it through the painful season of their lives? James gave them good counsel and it’s still the best counsel there is for people like you and me who find ourselves going through the fiery trials of life. Let’s read verse 5 once again.
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. (James 1:5 NIVO)
We need to understand something that is very important for us to learn and never forget. Wisdom is not knowledge. A high IQ doesn’t insure that one will be wise in respect to God’s definition of wisdom. Knowledge without wisdom is useless if you don’t know how to apply knowledge to the living of life. Paul contrasts the wisdom of the world with the wisdom of God in 1 Corinthians 1:18-24. Read along with me.
18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” 20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18-24 NIVO)
Biblical wisdom is something altogether different than the wisdom the world values. For unbelievers wisdom is gained through education, piling one degree on top of another, and climbing the ladder to the top of your field. Biblical wisdom is skillful living, living in obedience to God. Dr. Bruce Waltke who has taught extensively about wisdom, the Hebrew word, “???????” (chokmah), writes that the word,
Denotes acting upon moral-spiritual knowledge out of internalization, thereby enabling its possessor to cope with enigma and adversity, to tear down strongholds, and so to promote the life of an individual and/or community. (Waltke, Bruce K. and Yu, Charles. An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007, pg 913.)
The wisdom God offers to us is a divine gift that can only be received through humility, by those who desire it more than anything else in life. Turn with me to Proverbs 3:13-15 and let’s read together.
13 Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding, 14 for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. 15 She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. (Proverbs 3:13-15 NIVO)
People will sacrifice their families, their health, their integrity, and anything else that stands in the way of their getting a bigger bag of gold. They make movies about these supposed success stories. They get their names attached to buildings, stadiums, and companies. Yet, God’s Word tells us with absolute certainty and clarity that wisdom is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold; nothing we can desire in all the world can compare with godly wisdom. Let me give you an example of godly wisdom.
The late Warren Wiersbe told a story about his secretary who was going through a painful trial in her life. She had suffered a stroke, her husband had gone blind, and then he had to be rushed to the hospital. It didn’t look like he would recover. Dr. Wiersbe saw the woman in church one Sunday and let her know he was praying for her. She caught him off guard when she asked, “What are you asking God to do?” Dr. Wiersbe said, “I’m asking God to help you and strengthen you.” She said, “I appreciate that, but pray about one more thing. Pray that I’ll have the wisdom not to waste all of this!” Dr. Wiersbe said, “She knew the meaning of James 1:5.”
James is being really nice when he writes, “If any of you lacks wisdom…” We all lack wisdom about so many aspects of life. There’s no class in middle school that can prepare a young boy or girl to handle the pressures, pettiness, and proclivities of their peers. There’s no manual that even if memorized can help us avoid the pitfalls and perils of raising children. There’s no checkbook big enough to give us comfort during the uncomfortable times, heartbreaking times, of losing someone we love, being told there is nothing else the doctors can do, dealing with financial disasters, divorce, and the other debilitating dilemmas of life. James says we need wisdom, God’s wisdom, the skill that will equip us to go through the troubles of life in such a way that God will be glorified and we will be comforted and reassured.
Where can we find this kind of wisdom? You won’t find it in the halls of academia, in USA Today, or on the 24 hour news channels. You will only find it in a deep, abiding, growing relationship with Jesus because He is the embodiment of the wisdom of God. Paul wrote to the people in Colosse and encouraged them with these words,
2 My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Colossians 2:2-3 NIVO)
Paul didn’t try to convince them that they could have “complete understanding” about everything in life, or about the troubles they were facing in life. He wanted them to know Jesus and to know Him more and more and more with each passing day. We gain wisdom through walking with Jesus, trusting in Jesus, staying in God’s Word, and allowing the Holy Spirit to take God’s Word and apply it to our situation in life.
I hope that by now I’ve convinced you that you and I desperately need this wisdom that is available only through a relationship with Jesus. Some of you might be wondering, “To whom is this wisdom made available?” Is it only for the holiest among us? Is it for those who have not blown it in life? Is it for those who are smart, capable, successful, and accomplished? James answers our question for us. Read along with me from James 1:5.
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. (James 1:5 NIVO)
If you are in need of wisdom, you should ask God. James tells us He gives generously to all without finding fault. That’s such great news isn’t it?! It doesn’t matter who you are or what you have done or failed to do in the past. God will provide you with the wisdom you need to make it through the trial you are facing. Those who help us in this life will eventually reach their breaking point if we keep going back to them again and again, but God never tires of pouring out wisdom to His people who desire it. There is a caveat that we need to be aware of if we are going to ask God for His wisdom concerning the trials we are going through in life. James writes,
6 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. (James 1:6-8 NIVO)
This past summer while on vacation I read John Bunyan’s, “Pilgrim’s Progress.” The book was originally published in 1678 and it is a classic. Bunyan wrote the allegory while he was in prison, imprisoned because of his faith. It’s the story of a man named Christian who is journeying from his home in the “City of Destruction,” which is in reality any city in this world, to his goal of reaching the “Celestial City,” or heaven. Christian runs into many characters who seek to distract and destroy him. When I read James warning to those seeking wisdom from God, not to be double-minded doubters, I thought of Mr. Facing Both Ways. James Anthony Froude was an English historian and novelist. In 1873 he wrote, “Short Studies on Great Subjects.” In the book he wrote,
…of all unsuccessful men in every sense, either divine, or human, or devilish, there is none equal to Bunyan’s Mr. Facing two-ways–the fellow with one eye on heaven and one on earth–who sincerely preaches one thing, and sincerely does another, and from the intensity of his unreality is unable either to see or feel the contradiction. He is substantially trying to cheat both God and the devil, and is in reality only cheating himself and his neighbors. (Froude, James Anthony. Short Studies on Great Subjects. 1873)
When James urges us not to be double-minded when we go to God to ask for wisdom, he’s not describing those who have questions about their struggles like Job, Jeremiah, or the Psalmist who was so troubled that he asked,
1 Why, O LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (Psalm 10:1 NIVO)
James is describing those who find themselves in the crucible of a fiery trial, open the Bible or seek counsel from a Christian friend or pastor, and if they don’t like what they hear they turn and do what they want. James is describing the person who says “pray for me,” but what they really want is for God to do for them what they want. The pollster George Barna labels these people, “notional Christians. His poll concluded that 39% of those who call themselves Christians are shaped and guided primarily by their own ideas and opinions and not by the Word of God. James says these people should expect to receive nothing from God.
On the other hand, those who are struggling, agonizing over the trials they are experiencing in life can go to God with tears streaming down their faces, weary and worn out, and know that God will provide them with the wisdom they need and the strength to endure. In Mark 9, a man came to Jesus with his son who had been tormented by a spirit. The boy was unable to speak, he was suffering from what we would most likely describe as seizures. He would fall to the ground, foam at the mouth, and become rigid. He had suffered from the affliction since he was a small child. The man said, “Jesus if you can do anything to help him, please help my son.” Jesus said, “If you can? Anything is possible for him who believes.” Then, in one of the most honest and heartfelt confessions in all of God’s Word, the father said, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.” (Mark 9:17-24) And Jesus healed the man’s son.
Now, before the “name-it-and-claim-it” Prosperity Gospel folks get a hold of you, let me tell you what this is not. This does not mean that if you believe strongly enough you will never go through the trials of life. It does not mean that you can use Jesus like Aladdin’s lamp. When James insists that we “must believe and not doubt,” he is telling us to never doubt that God will give us the wisdom we need to make it through our trials, life’s troubles, in a way that honors Him. Don’t doubt that in our troubles God will draw us to Himself. Don’t doubt that God is near, even though it may feel like He is distant. Don’t doubt that God is doing a work in us, in our fiery trial, and that He will lead us through to the other side. Don’t doubt that God will comfort us, that He alone can strengthen us, and His deliverance will come in time.
In all of the years that I’ve been walking with the Lord I’ve known people who in their sorrow and anguish chose to turn away from God. They say things like, “I asked God to help me, but it didn’t help. I asked God to heal my grandma, but she died. I asked God to put my marriage back together, but she walked out and never came back. I asked God to deliver my child from addiction, but she’s still using. If that’s the kind of help God gives then no thanks!” My friend, you are the not the first to feel like God is distant, just read His Word. When you read about those who felt the same way you will find they eventually learned just how close He was through it all. Don’t turn away from God. Cling to Him. We turn away to our own peril. The famous author G.K. Chesterton went through some dark nights of the soul and he wrote,
When belief in God becomes difficult, the tendency is to turn away from him—but in heaven’s name to what? (G.K. Chesteron)
Cling to Him. Trust Him even when your situation doesn’t change. Cry out to Him. Know His promises, promises found in His Word and not in our best thinking. He has promised to never leave us or forsake us. You hear me say that often don’t you? Do you know how I’ve learned that truth? Let me assure it, I didn’t learn it by reading fancy plaques at Mardel’s or from posts on Facebook. I’ve learned it during dark nights when I’ve felt all alone. I’ve learned it through ceaseless prayers when it seemed like He wasn’t listening. I’ve learned it when it felt like Winter would never end and Spring would never come. I’ve learned it when I’ve cried out to God for relief and relief didn’t come when I asked for it. During those times I’ve leaned into God’s Word, I’ve listened intently to the testimonies of those who have gone before me who “felt” abandoned by God, and yet, in time, they learned just how wrong they were. Job wrote about searching and searching for God and feeling like He was nowhere to be found. Turn with me to Job 23:8-10 and let’s read together.
8 “But if I go to the east, he is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find him. 9 When he is at work in the north, I do not see him; when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him. 10 But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold. (Job 23:8-10 NIVO)
I love this confession of Job because Job felt like he couldn’t find God, yet he knew that God knew right where he was and what he was going through. Job says, “I can’t find Him anywhere, but He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” I can rest in that. I can trust in Him.
Let me close by telling you a story. Pastor Tony Evans and his wife once went on a cruise to Alaska when a storm came up. It was the biggest storm the ocean liner had ever faced. There were 35 foot squalls battering the hull of the ship. People were getting sick, throwing up all over the ship as it rocked back and forth being thrown to and fro. Pastor Evans had to cancel the worship service they were having because everything was flying all over the room. It was chaotic and wild. Tony’s wife got upset and ticked off. She said, “Why in the world, with all of this high tech equipment, would this man, knowing that we were going to run into a storm, why would he leave where we were to get back here when he knew it. I’m going to give him a piece of my Christian mind.” She was upset. The Captain had to get back to port because there were other passengers waiting to board the ship at an appointed time. Tony tried to explain it to her, but she said, “I don’t want to hear about no other passengers. I’m the passenger right now on this boat.” So Tony’s wife, Lois, picked up the phone in their cabin and said, “I want to speak to the Captain.” She wanted to find out what in the world was going on. The lady said she couldn’t patch her into the Captain, but a little later she sent a message from the Captain back to Lois. And this is the message he sent back to Lois about the troubled waters they were going through. The message was, “Lady, lay down in bed and go to sleep because I’m going to stay up. I will be at the helm while you sleep. There’s no need for both of us to be up. You sleep and let me stay up. Secondly lady, this ship was built with these kinds of storms in mind. This ship is seaworthy. You go to bed.” Tony said he and his wife followed the Captain’s advice. They got in bed with everything rocking back and forth and eventually they fell to sleep. Tony said, “Lo and behold when morning came. The sea was calm. There was no more storm. When you are going through the billows of life and they are knocking you around, God is saying, ‘you go to bed, I’ll stay up.’” Call the Captain.
My friend the storms will continue to roll in. They will toss us around, try and convince us that we’re not going to make it, but call upon the Captain. Ask Him for wisdom. Trust Him to lead you through to the other side. You aren’t the first to go through the storm and you won’t be the last. Will you trust Him this morning? Will you surrender your life to Jesus as the Captain of your ship, the Anchor of your Hope? Don’t let this morning’s opportunity pass you by. Call upon His Name.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
October 8, 2017
In seasons of severe trial, Christians have nothing on earth in which to trust, and we are therefore compelled to cast ourselves on our God alone. When our vessel is tilting so far over it is in danger of capsizing, and no human deliverance can avail, we must simply and entirely trust ourselves to the providence and care of God. Happy storm that wrecks us on such a rock as this! O blessed hurricane that drives the soul to God and God alone!” (Charles Spurgeon)