Handling Hardship

COVID-19 has brought many hardships into our lives. James is a book written by the brother of Jesus to help us handle hardship in holiness. The book starts and ends with this theme.

He begins telling us to consider all trials that we suffer to be joy. Sam Allberry says, "we are not to be joyful about suffering, but we are to be joyful in suffering." How do we obey this?

We must remember God's goal in suffering. God brings hardship into His people's lives to strengthen, deepen and complete our faith. We must submit to God joyfully in our pain.

All Christians are tested in life. As we persevere in trusting God through hardship, that's proof our faith is real. Our lifelong perseverance strengthens our hope that we will be crowned by Jesus.

Patience

COVID-19 is hard to handle partially because we really don't know when life will "get back to normal" or if it ever will. Not knowing increases the potential fear and worry. If someone says, "Hold your breath for one minute," most can do it without much hardship. If they say, "Hold your breath until I say stop," that's harder because I don't know how long it'll last.

We don't know how long this crisis will last. James is reminding us: Patience is a normal requirement for life. Don't be surprised when God puts us in situations requiring patience. We also need faith that God won't let us suffer more than we can handle (1 Corinthians 10:13).

We need an eternal perspective. Jonathan Edwards prayed, "Lord, stamp eternity on my eyeballs!" What's that mean?

We must see all in this life in light of eternity. For Christians, this means Jesus is coming to rescue us. All hardship will soon be over for us. Even if you live another 100 years, that's short compared to eternity, where you'll reign in peace and comfort forever. Thinking about this puts power into our hearts. It gives us strength to endure.

James knew hardship. He probably became the pastor of the persecuted Jerusalem church right after James the apostle (a different one) was killed and Peter was arrested and had to flee. James may have been appointed to the pastorate while in hiding (Acts 12:17.)

Out of the overflow of those circumstances, he wrote this book. He wrote to church members scattered to the winds by persecution. We're still benefiting from his insights.

Perseverance

The greatest people of all time suffer the most. Job is the greatest example of the Old Testament. He was probably the godliest man on the planet and maybe the richest when he lived.

One day God wiped out most of his business and killed all his kids. Then he became terribly sick. Job dealt with more than most of us ever have.

Job is an example of perseverance. His sickness lasted for months. He had no idea why it had happened, nor how long it would last.

We look back and count men like James and Job blessed. We should. But we mustn't forget how painful their suffering was. Thomas Manton said, "The beginning is usually Satan's, but the end is the Lord's."

It's glorious to look back on Job's sufferings. We see them in light of lessons learned and that Job's fortunes and family were restored. We look back on Acts 8:1 with joy that God used persecution to mobilize the church's spreading of the gospel to the nations. But many of us forget Acts 8:2 that says godly men buried Stephen with loud laments. They wept because they'd seen a friend and co-worker get his brains beat in with rocks.

Suffering is real and painful; often excruciating and more than we can take by ourselves. How are we to practically practice patience and perseverance? Prayer is the answer.

Prayer

Many wouldn't consider Job patient. He did well in Job 1 and 2 but then started to unravel. He fell apart. He came close to cursing God. He cursed the day of his birth and his conception.

But he kept praying. He kept directing his complaints to God. He seemed hopeless and yet the flicker of hope was that he kept talking to and about the Judge of all the earth. Do you do that in hardship?

I've got a friend who owns a small business and has many kids. Before COVID-19 struck, his wife had chronic undiagnosed pain, one child suffered depression, another seizures, another ADHD and another was way behind on reading skills. Now his business is losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales. His whole family is stuck at home on top of each other. It used to take 3-4 hours to get one child to do his homework and now they're forced into homeschooling.

He told me he has to wake up early each morning and really meet God. He doesn't start in a good place most mornings when he wakes. But if he can daily wrestle with God in prayer, he can get to a place of faith that helps him persevere with patience at least for one day.

This is the kind of prayer life that will carry us through. We don't need the going through the motions, passive, check the box prayers. We don't need the flowery, Hallmark devotional type prayers. We need the rugged, honest, all my cards on the table, Job prayer to sustain us. James was called "camel knees" because he spent so much time in prayer.

It's hard when we are in the midst of the pain and can't see any goodness first hand. Calvin says, "God seems to be far away and Satan in the meantime revels in the confusion; the flesh suggests to us that we are forgotten and lost." Do you feel this way?

Jesus felt this way. He felt forgotten and forsaken; lost and hopeless. Though sinless, he wrestled with God in prayer. He had questions about how God was working out His plan through so much pain.

Jesus was forsaken on the cross for all those who trust in Him. Because He was forsaken in our place, we can have confidence that we will never be forsaken, no matter what we go through. We must cling to this truth even when we feel totally forgotten by God.

God's thumbprint in life is turning tragedy into triumph. He did it in Christ's life. If you trust Him, He'll do it in yours.

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