What to do with the Tough Stuff.
James! August, 2019
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The year was 2008 . . . the month June. I received a phone call from an acquaintance, rocked by the extreme amount of stress going on in his life, particularly in his company that does business on an international level. His business partner had just physically collapsed in Portugal . . . and while he had been able to bear up under it himself, this seemed like the ultimate blow. 'What is going on? Is this spiritual warfare?' He wanted to know.
This led a to a face-to-face meeting, first just he and I, and several days later the business partner too. Two Christian men, wanting their business to count for more than just the bottom line, but also to honor God-within the business itself and in the marketplace.
I did not beat around the bush with them. 'Based on what you told me, I have to ask some straight-up questions then. As Christian men, do you make time to study God's Word for yourself? How's your prayer time? Oh, and do you worship God with your family in church on the weekend?' Their answers were admittedly marginal - the guys would like to do all three of those but were regularly on international flights; they weren't even sure where to start with Bible reading and church? Well yeah, sometimes.
Back to their original questions, no, I did not think it was spiritual warfare . . . as trials, stress and pressure are all a part of life. The bigger question I will address here:
how do we become Christians, not in name only --
but actually believers in a living relationship with Jesus Christ,
growing in the knowledge of his Word,
with roots going down deep in a solid faith?
And so, Morning Briefings were born. Based on what was happening in their lives, and the very practical nature of the small book of James in the New Testament, I decided that was the place to start. I would take a few verses, set the context of when and to whom those verses were written, and then draw the application to life today, and send it to the two businessmen early each morning.
Here in James 1, Jesus' half-brother leads with a greeting typical of the letter writing style of the first century: James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings.
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.
Things had really heated up in Jerusalem for the Jewish believers - Stephen had been stoned to death before their very eyes. Neither the Jewish religious leaders nor Rome were loving the fervor of the Christ followers, and the heat had been turned up (sometimes literally by Emperor Nero). So, James picks up his pen to encourage his fellow believers that no matter where they found themselves, their very real trials and the testing of their faith, would make them stronger, and ultimately, they would find themselves forever in the presence of God.
Not too long ago, I was on our weekly prayer conference call, (yes, these same businessmen plus a few more), when one of the other brothers said, 'It really sucks because the truth is, Man, without the hard stuff, without these hard times, we really do not grow!' I considered softening the verbiage, but then it would not have been a direct quote.
Are you going through a difficult time - sickness, sadness or an incredible amount of pressure in the workplace, like my corporate guys? In times of trials, times of stress, the Christ follower knows where to turn; and in our turning to God, we trust him because he is able; his heart is good and his intentions toward us are always good. I can actually 'give thanks in everything', as Paul instructed even in the trials, knowing that when I go to God, he will help me endure and I will be stronger as a result-stronger in faith, stronger in character, able to stand.
Thank you, James, for showing me the purpose in the tough stuff; thank you for showing me that I am not alone.
Because there is much to learn from James . . .
and we are on the journey together,