Believers often tell unbelievers, “Give your life to Jesus. Go to heaven.” They often leave out the middle, the hard part called “life.” But James is more forthright, saying it’ll get harder before it gets easier, and sometimes the closer you are to Jesus, the more difficult it’ll be.
2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
How did he do it? How did Jesus live the life he lived? Have you ever read the Gospels and wondered, “How did he do it?” Every time he was tempted, he said no to sin. Every time Satan opposed him, he held his ground steadfast. Every time a critic came against him, he endured and weathered that storm. How did Jesus do it? How did he know what to say and what to do without denying his emotions? There are times that he grieved. There are times that he wept.
How did he do it? I want to know how he did it. I want you to know how he did it. I want us to know how he did it so we would not just admire his life, but we would enjoy his life, that we’d follow in his life, that we’d have a life patterned after his life.
I have got something wonderful to share with you. It’s in Luke 2:40. It tells us how Jesus did it, and it gives hope for all of us today. Here’s what it says: “And the child [Jesus].” So, the picture here is that he’s young. He’s not yet a full-grown man. This is at the beginning. This is where it all started. It says, “He grew and became strong,” as you and I must grow and become strong. And that’s my hope and my prayer for you today.
“Filled with wisdom.” That’s what it’s going to take. To live a life like he lived is to live by the wisdom that he had. And where did it come from? Where did he get his wisdom for his life? Where do we get our wisdom for our life? “And the favor of God was upon him.” And this is Luke’s language for the Holy Spirit: The person and the work of the Holy Spirit is the source of wisdom in our life. Jesus is God; Jesus is the second member of the Trinity.
God became a man, he set aside the continual use of his divine attributes, and he lived humbly as we must live. He had to grow as we grow, he had to learn as we learn, he had to endure as we endure. Jesus never cheated. He lived the perfect human life. God did that. God became a man to identify with us, to set an example for us, and to empower us to become like him. And he does that by the power of God the Holy Spirit.
So Mars Hill, today the question is, for you and me, how do we not just be absolutely overwhelmed and astonished by his life, but experience and follow in his life? We can grow. We can grow in wisdom because the favor of God is on the people of God through the Spirit of God.
I am really excited to teach you today in one of the most practical sections of the Bible, and it’s written by Jesus’ little brother. James was there when no one was there. Before the disciples were there, before the critics were there, James was there. James was there as Jesus’ little brother to see him learn, to see him grow, to see him resist temptation, to see him overcome trial.
And James learned from his big brother Jesus, and then James became a pastor and author of the Bible, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, he is going to teach you and he is going to teach me about how his big brother endured not just the best days but the worst days, not the easy days but the hard days, not the joyful days but the painful days.
He started in James 1:1 basically telling us, “My name is James. I serve Jesus and any Christians wherever they are.” And then in verse 2, he immediately leaps forward for you and me, starting at the book of James on the hard days, the dark days, the difficult days, the painful days.
I love that he starts here. He says, “Christianity works when you need it most.” Jesus works most when you need him most. The Holy Spirit works when you need him most. And there are certain days that we need God like we’ve never needed him, and what happens on those days? What do we lean into on those days? Where do we look on those days?
That’s what we find in James chapter 1, beginning in verse 2. He starts by telling us that life is sometimes hard. How many of you, if you’re not even a Christian, are like, “I agree with that first point. I agree with that one. I don’t know about the rest of this sermon, but life is sometimes hard.”
We don’t do a good job sometimes as believers telling unbelievers that sometimes, even with Jesus, life is hard. We tell them, “Life is hard. Give your life to Jesus. Go to heaven.” We forget to tell them about the middle, OK? That’s called life. Life is hard. You meet Jesus. It’ll get harder, and then it gets better when you see him. The Christian life is the best life, but it’s not the easiest life, and sometimes the closer you are to Jesus, the more resistance you receive, just as Jesus did.
I don’t want to lie to any of you, and I love that James starts there. He’s a pastor, and a pastor is somebody who loves people and wants to take the truth of God and apply it to the people of God for their good. I love you. I’m your pastor. I really want to help, love, and serve you today.
I’m so excited because this section of Scripture was a particular gift to me this week. It’s incredibly practical, insightful, and helpful. And I love that James starts realistic, “Life is sometimes hard.” So, don’t be shocked when you have a bad day, hard day, tough day. “Why? Why?” God’s like, “I wrote a book. It’s in there. I told you it was coming. In fact, I put it in verse 2. I wasn’t sure you were going to read the whole thing, so I put it up front so you couldn’t miss it.”
OK, here’s what he says: “Count it all joy.” Don’t say it like that. What a—“joy.” “Count it all joy,” OK, “my brothers.” That includes the sisters. It’s God’s people. “When you meet trials of various kinds, for you know”—we need to know something—“that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect”—don’t quit too quick—“that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Life is sometimes wonderful, sometimes painful.
Now, let me say what he’s not saying, because when trials come—here’s the theme today: trials and wisdom through the trials. When trials come, we can feel more than we think, and we need to feel what we are feeling, but think about what God is saying.
Before we examine what God is saying through James, I want to examine what you might be feeling in the midst of your trial. Are you in a trial now? How many of you are in a trial right now? It’s a tough season, hard season, difficult, dark, devastating, discouraging season. When those seasons come, our emotions tend to be very elevated and escalated. We feel sometimes more clearly than we think. And I want to tell you first of all what he’s not saying, then we’ll return to the text to see what he is saying.
Here’s what he’s not saying: when life is hard, God is punishing you. True or false, it can feel like that? Hard day, God must be punishing me. You look back in your life, “OK, what did I do. I must have done something wrong. God is going to punish me to pay him back for what I have done or failed to do.” That’s a lie; it’s not true. You may feel it, but don’t feed it. God does not punish his people because he’s already punished his Son.
Jesus went to the cross, took upon himself all of the sin of all of his people, and suffered and died in their place for their sin. It would be unjust for God to punish Jesus and you, much like sending two people to prison for the same crime. It’s injustice. We reap what we sow, we make bad choices, we live with the implications and complications of our own folly, but God never punishes his people for their sin. He’s already punished Jesus. I need you to believe that.
Number two, God is not failing you. “God, you said you love me. It doesn’t feel like it. God, you said you’d provide for me. I’m not seeing it. God, there are some promises from you but they don’t come true in my life. You are failing me.” You may not say it like that, but you may feel it.
How many of you have truly been in or are in a season where it feels like God’s failing? Now, he’s not failing them. You can look over the fence into someone else’s life and say, “I think God’s certainly good for his promises there, but not over here.” God is not failing you. God may not be done with you, but God is not failing you. God is not without power and God is not without a plan. And when you’re hurting, you need to grow in trusting, and that’s what faith is.
Number three, when life is hard, it does not say that God has abandoned you. It’s easy sometimes to believe that God is near when times are good, and it’s hard to believe that God is near when times are hard. You need to take God at his word. Jesus says, “I’ll never leave you. I’ll never forsake you. I’ll be with you always.” That’s one of the last things he tells us before he returns to heaven. He sends the Holy Spirit so the presence and the power of God is available to us through the person of the Holy Spirit.
God has not abandoned you. You are not an orphan. God is not a Father who looks at you and says, “Well, good luck kids,” and walks out the door, perhaps even like your own earthly father did. Your Heavenly Father’s not like that. He doesn’t abandon you.
Number four, God is not acting evil toward you. And sometimes, when evil comes upon you, it can feel like God is acting evil toward you. It can feel like that. You can get there theologically very quickly, very erroneously by thinking in this way. “God is sovereign. “Everything that happens must be his will. Evil happens, ergo God is evil.”
Not true. There are things that happen that grieve God, that break the heart of God, that are rebellion, folly, and sin against God. Not everything on the earth is as God intends. Genesis records the days when everyone did what was only evil all the time, and it grieved God in his heart. Jesus shows up and he cries, he weeps at what he sees. God is not smiling and pleased with everyone and everything. There is much that breaks his heart in addition to breaking his law.
God is not evil. God doesn’t do evil. God is not like the Eastern religions would teach us or like the more animistic, native, pantheistic, and panentheistic religions would teach us, good and bad. God’s only good, God’s always good, and God is dealing with the evil. And the evil is not representative of God; it’s war and rebellion against God. But it can feel this way. In addition, when life is hard, it is not saying that God will make it all better for you.
Some of you have more of a greeting-card Christianity than a biblical Christianity. And the greeting-card Christianity is this: it’s hard, it’s going to be great, just wait, OK? How many of you have been waiting a while? You’re like, “It’s not going there. It’s not getting better.” God doesn’t promise that things will change, God promises that you can change. God doesn’t promise, “Well, life’s hard. Just wait, it’ll get better.” Maybe not. It might get worse.
When life is hard, it does not say that God will answer every question for you. When life gets hard—a trial, a test, a storm comes—it’s easy to have a list. God’ll care. “I’ve got questions. Why, how come, where? “I don’t understand this. Reconcile, please explain, clarify, I need to see.”
God says, “Live by faith, not by sight. Look to me, don’t look to the answers.” You’re not going to get all your questions answered in this life, I promise you. Many of them, most of them are answered in God’s Word, but some of them you’re going to need to wait for. Paul tells us that we see in part, not in full. And he says until we see the face of Jesus, we’re not going to have all our questions answered. It doesn’t say that when life is hard, God is punishing you, God is failing you, God has abandoned you, God is evil toward you, God is going to fix it all for you, or that God needs to give an answer to you. What does he say?
Back to the text, James 1:2-4. What he does say is that life is sometimes hard. “Count it all joy.” “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” You’re going to see that word twice here. It’s a big, important word. “And let steadfastness”—there it is again—“have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Three things he says. “When trials come.” He doesn’t say “if.” How many of you were hoping for “if”? You’re like, “Man, I was hoping for ‘if.’” “If”—like, what’s the over/under in Vegas that I might get a trial? You know, what are my odds? A hundred percent. You’re going to get trials. A hundred percent. New Christians, don’t be shocked by this. “Oh my gosh, a trial came. Christianity isn’t working.” No, it’s working. James starts there, all right? Welcome to 101. It’s going to hurt. “Oh really, OK. OK, then I guess I expect it’s going to hurt.” When trials come.
So, point number one, when trials come, don’t say, “God, how come, where, why? I don’t understand. What? I had no idea. Had I known this, I would have—what, what?” God says, “No, I told you they’re coming.” Some of you are in them right now. Some of you see the clouds on the horizon.
Number two, he says, “When the trials come, know this.” It’s very strong. “Know this.” Don’t forget this. Hold this truth in your hand. Cling to it. Here’s your life vest, right? Like, keep it close. Know this: when a trial comes, it’s a test. A test can be a good or a bad thing. It depends on how good you are at taking the test. If you pass the test, it’s actually really encouraging. How many of you have taken a test, maybe even in school? You’re like, “I took the test. It was a little stressful. I got a good grade. That was pretty awesome.” Life is filled with tests, spiritual tests. A trial is a test.
Here’s what it means: it’s an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to prove who you are in Christ, to see who you’re becoming in Christ. When it first hits, a trial feels like an attack. And he says, “I want you to know this. It’s a test.” It’s a test.
You need to know this, that the trials are of various kinds. Financial, emotional, physical, spiritual, mental, relational, marital, vocational. Various. He says, “Various kinds of trials.” You know what this means? You don’t know where it’s coming from next. It could be coming from anywhere. Any aspect of your whole life, a trial could come from there. And they don’t always come one at a time.
How many of you have noticed that? Ouch, ouch, ouch, hey! Various kinds of trials. And sometimes what happens is, you get through a trial in one area of your life, you’re like, “Glad that’s over,” and then there’s a trial in another area of life. I got my finances in order, and then my relationship fell apart. Now I’m in another trial.
So, here’s what I don’t want you to do: I don’t want you to compare your trials with other people’s. See, some of you, you have great wisdom and experience in other areas. Conversely, other people have other wisdom and other experience in other areas. So, some of you, let’s say, financially, you’ve got a massive capacity. If a financial trial comes into your life, you have some wisdom on what to do with that.
Some of you are like, “I don’t know, once I get past ten, I take my shoes off and try and count, but I’m not good with numbers. So, when it comes to balancing a budget and setting my finances, I feel very overwhelmed very quickly.” Well, it’s not fair for this person to say, “That’s not a big deal. That’s a little trial.” It’s a big deal to them.
Conversely, this person might have an enormous emotional bucket and capacity for relationships, trauma, and drama, and this other person might have a thimble—an emotional thimble, right? Like, two strained relationships and they’re in the fetal position reading Lamentations, right? They’re done, right? Well, it’s not fair for this person to say, “Well, hey, come on, just roll with it. You need to be, you know, more emotionally present and compassionate.” They’re like, “Ah, numbers. I like numbers, not people.”
We’re all different. We get various kinds of trials. And God doesn’t cause evil to come upon us, but he’ll use evil for our good and his glory. And sometimes God allows a trial to come in in our area of weakness. And so what’s hard for you is easy for someone else, and the same is true conversely.
So, he’s telling us that trials will come. We need to know that they are a test and that we shouldn’t compare our trials to others. And ultimately if we’ll avail ourselves to them, it could produce two things: steadfastness and maturity.
Steadfastness is this perseverance, this fortitude. The Bible uses the language elsewhere of, “Stand firm.” It’s like a command to a soldier, “Hold your post.” Steadfastness. You endure, you persevere, you weather the storm, you make it through, you don’t give up, you don’t give in. And he says, “If you will receive it as a trial, a test, and an opportunity, and produce steadfastness, then it’ll result in maturity.”
What this means is you’ll become more godly, you’ll become more like Jesus. The trial will be used to transform you. OK, how many of you want to be more like Jesus? How many of you want a trial? OK? Just so you know, they’re the same question. Right, it’s like, “I want to be buff without working out. I want to learn a lot without reading books.” It doesn’t work that way. Cause, effect; reap, sow. Steadfastness produces maturity.
The reason why some of you are immature is because you have no steadfast—you have no steadfastness. So, relationship can—relationship—I’m so excited I’m speaking faster than my mouth. And for me, that’s quite a thing. But I really love you, and I’m really excited, and I really want to help you, and I really think this is God’s word to you today. In fact, I’m sure of it.
But if you have a hard relationship and quit, and have another hard relationship and quit, and have a hard job and quit, and have another hard job and quit, and go to a church and have a conflict and quit, and go to another church and have a conflict and quit, you know what you don’t do? Mature, because you don’t have steadfastness. Paul says it this way: “Perseverance produces”—what? Character. James is saying the same thing. Steadfastness produces maturity. Same thing. Same thing.
What that means is your godliness is not in spite of your problem or around your problem, it’s what God will do in and through you through your problem. And he says, “I need you to know this so that when you’re in the middle of it, you receive it as an opportunity from God and not an obstacle.”
He says, “If all of this happens, you can count it all joy.” When religious people say this word, I want to extend the right hand of fellowship in an ungodly way to religious people when they use this verse. This is like religious people’s favorite verse, and they use it wrong. “Count it all joy.” Just the way they say it. And what they make it sound like is, “Every Christian’s a cheerleader. Yay, count it all joy!” I’m not going to cheer for you because I’m not that flexible or encouraging, but you get the big idea. “Count it all—” right? Like, “Oh, you meet Jesus, get pom poms. Just, count it all joy. Count it all joy. I get hit by a car, at least it wasn’t a bus. Count it all joy, count it all joy.” Right? Religious people quote verses in ways that make you want to do violence against them, OK?
What does it mean to count it all joy? Christians will tell you there’s a difference between joy and happiness, and I agree with this. And they’ll say, “Oh, well, you know, happiness . . . joy.” No, look, let me start with happiness. Yay, happiness, right? If we’re voting, I am pro happiness. Happiness is because of your circumstances, OK?
So, let’s say you go into work tomorrow. Your boss is like, “I’m giving you a raise.” “Yay, happy,” right? You go in tomorrow. Your boss says, “I’m quitting.” You’re like, “Yay, happy,” OK? Happy is connected to circumstances. I’m not against happy. I’m for happy. Get happy, that’s great, praise God. Like, if Grace, tonight, comes up to me—Sweetheart, just put a little thought in your mind [sarcastically directing statement at his wife seated in the audience]—and says, “Here’s a bowl of ice cream. I want to rub your neck.” Yay, yay, yay! Just something to pray about, Sweetheart. So, I’m, at that moment, happy, happy. You know why? Wonderful things have come together at the same time. Are we against happy? No. Shake your head. Say it like this, “No.”
But what happens when you don’t get happy? What happens when the doctor doesn’t say, “You’re better”; he says, “You’re sick”? Your boss doesn’t say, “You get a raise.” “You’re fired.” Your boyfriend or girlfriend doesn’t say, “I want to get married,” they say, “I want to get married to somebody else.” All right, what do you do then? That’s where joy comes in, OK? Christians and non-Christians can have happiness. Joy—well, that’s the domain of God’s people. Joy is not because of your circumstance; it’s in spite of it.
The Bible says this—the Holy Spirit just brought this verse to mind in Hebrews: “For the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross.” I can’t think of anything less joyful than crucifixion, and Jesus counted it, considered it, reckoned it joy. Well, that ain’t happiness, because in the Garden of Gethsemane, before he goes to the cross, he is so distraught that he is literally sweating drops of blood. He’s not happy. It’s not cheerleader, pom pom, yay Jesus. He’s emotionally present, he’s hurting, he’s suffering, he’s grieving, he’s bleeding, he’s preparing to be dying, and the Bible says he had joy.
Happiness is because of your circumstance. Joy is in spite of your circumstances. It’s that peace that surpasses understanding. It’s crazy joy. It doesn’t make sense. And James says, “That can be yours, as it was my brother.” And he learned this looking at his brother, following his brother, seeing his brother. Jesus had joy—Jesus had joy even when he didn’t have happiness. And James learned this watching his big brother, and he wants you and me to share in that joy.
And he says, “Well, here’s the key: Tests and trials will come. Know that they are opportunities for you to grow.” You can become more steadfast and mature. You can rejoice, not in the circumstance but in the Lord, who will change you through the circumstance to become more like Jesus. Do you get that?
For those of you hurting, and suffering, and struggling, I need you to trust that, OK? And I don’t want to get into all of my life and gossip about others, but would you just trust that, occasionally, I get a trial? Somebody criticizes me, or I do something wrong, or I make a mistake, or something happens that I don’t understand.
I had one recently. It was a couple weeks ago studying for this. And I’m studying it, and then a whole bunch of things happened, all right? And I was so anxious, I looked down and my hand was trembling, I knew it was my hand because it was so furry. And this is a man’s hand. This is a shaking, trembling man’s hand. Trials. You’ve got to know it’s a test. That test is an opportunity. You need to learn to be steadfast. Let Jesus do a work in you. And if you’ll respond that way, there’s joy for you because God loves you.
Maybe what’s happening to you isn’t good, but God is. That’s his next point. So, his first point is that life is sometimes hard. And then he says, “But God is always good.” And this is bedrock. James 1:5-8, “If any of you lacks wisdom.” OK, let’s just stop right there. OK, just stop right there. Raise your hand if you lack wisdom, OK? Anyone who didn’t raise their hand really lacks wisdom, OK.
God’s asking, “Does anybody need help?” You’re like, “Uh, yep, I know a guy. I know a guy who needs a lot of help.” “Let him”—what? Freak out? Pick up the phone? “Ask God, who gives generously to all.” That includes you and me. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done. “Without reproach, and it will be given to him.” There’s a promise. Tether your joy to that.
“But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” He says, “OK, when a trial comes, it’s like a storm.”
So all of a sudden, he wants our imagination to be set sail out on the sea. He says, “OK, now think of a storm, like the one that Jesus and his disciples were in out on the lake.” What happens in a storm is the clouds roll in, it gets dark, you can’t see land. You don’t know where safety is because it’s not near.
All of a sudden, everything becomes very volatile and violent. All of a sudden, things become unstable and uncertain, and you feel unsafe. And now it feels like forces that are far beyond your control are in control of you, which means you feel out of control. Do you know what that feels like? It’s anxious; it’s stressful.
He says, “When those storms come”—how many of you are in a storm? Right, not just normal life stuff, storm. How many of you came through one not too long ago? How many of you are fearful because you see one on the horizon? He says, “When that happens, you need wisdom.”
I want you to know there’s a difference between wisdom and knowledge. Knowledge is not bad, but knowledge is not enough. Knowledge is knowing the truth, wisdom is knowing what to do with it. Knowledge is theoretical; wisdom is practical. Knowledge fills your mind; wisdom guides your life. Knowledge is truthful; wisdom is useful. Knowledge provides information, wisdom provides transformation. Knowledge tells you what to believe, and wisdom tells you how to behave. You can have knowledge without wisdom, but you can’t have wisdom without knowledge. That’s why wisdom has very little to do with your IQ. There are smart people who make dumb decisions.
At the beginning, I told you that Jesus grew in wisdom by the power of the Holy Spirit. What James, Jesus’ little brother, wants us to do here is to grow in wisdom by the power of the Holy Spirit. You think of all that Jesus faced, all the storms that came against him. Satan tempts him, family doubts him, friends betray him, critics oppose him, everything is against him. Perfect life, sinless life, an emotional, passionate, present, not disconnected, detached, disoriented life. How did he do it? By wisdom. By wisdom. And James is saying, “When the storm comes, you need to get wisdom.” This is how you get your sea legs.
How many of you have ever been sea sick? You ever been seasick? It’s horrible, isn’t it? You feel unstable. That’s his language. He told us, “Steadfastness, steadfastness.” Here, he’s going to juxtapose that with “unstable.” What happens when you’re out at sea, and you don’t have your sea legs, and you’re sea sick, and you’re out of your element, you’re unstable in all you do. You’re disoriented, you’re not clear, you’re not planted, you’re not rooted, you’re not grounded. For some of you, your life is like that.
I’ll give you an analogy—or an illustration, I should say, from my own life. Some years ago—many years ago, I went and taught on a cruise. They said, “Do you want to teach on a cruise?” “I don’t want to teach, but I want to be on a cruise, so if that’s the deal, I’m in.” So, I got on this cruise we set sail, and in the middle of the night, we hit a huge storm. So, they sent us all back to our room to throw up. So, we all went back to our room to throw up. And this cruise ship, it’s—I mean, you look out, it’s just dark, and there are clouds, and there’s a storm, and it’s dangerous, and stuff’s falling of the shelf, and it’s just overwhelming. And it feels out of your control, which I don’t like.
Finally, the cruise was over. Very glad about that. I’ve never done a cruise since, and it’s not by accident. So, I got off the cruise and I was—no drinking, but you couldn’t tell, right? Whoa! Grace’ll tell you, this was me for about a year, OK? What the heck? Unstable. I was disoriented. Never got my sea legs. It was so bad; I would drive, and my depth perception was off—I’m just—I go out to play catch with my son. He throws me the ball, and then I put my glove up. Like, my instincts are off, OK?
I went to a video store. Let me explain this for you kids: it’s where we used to go when we wanted to watch a movie. We would ride our pet dinosaur to this place called the “video store,” and we’d rent a video. So, I went to the video store, and I kid you not, I’m sitting at, I think it was Hollywood Video. I’m looking at the movies, and then there was a movie, like, down on the bottom shelf. So I looked at it, and I fell over. I’m laying in the aisle at Hollywood Video.
I got up, I’m like, “You know, I think something’s wrong. My spidey senses are tingling. There’s something wrong.” I’m laying—I’m like, I can’t—so, I go to a bunch of doctors, specialists. I’m like, “What’s wrong, what’s wrong?” They finally did a bunch of tests and diagnosed me. Something called Mal de Debarquement Syndrome, OK?
I asked the guy, I’m like, “Well, OK, doc. What is that?” He said, “You’re dizzy.” I’m like, “Yeah, and I’m obviously not alone. Right, like, OK, so, what is this thing?” He said, “Well, it’s very unusual.” I said, “OK, is it going to get better?” He said, “Yeah, I think eventually it will.” I said, “Well, what causes it?” He said, “Well, it’s very unusual.” He wouldn’t really give me an answer.
Finally, he said, “It usually only happens with middle-aged menopausal women after a cruise.” I was like, “No, that can’t be it. I think I have too much testosterone.” He was like, “No.” I said, “Well, I know it’s not menopause. I’m sure of that.” The least exciting diagnosis that I could have gotten. Very humbling. I don’t put it on my résumé. But what it was, was him explaining, “Your body got disoriented, and it doesn’t know what normal is, and it doesn’t know how to find its equilibrium, its balance, its center.”
The same thing that happened to me physically can happen to any of us spiritually. We became or become unstable in the middle of the storm. You get it? So, what do we do? What do we do when the storm comes? It doesn’t say “if.” What do we do when we’re feeling unstable? Because we will. And don’t let the religious people come up and give you the verse, “Count it all joy.” No, count it all joy that you can do this: get wisdom.
And wisdom will explain, Here’s how it happened. Here’s what’s going on. Here’s what you’re supposed to learn. Here’s how you can get your sea legs. Here’s how you’re going to feel. Here’s how you find your equilibrium. Here’s how you’re going to persevere through this. Here’s how you’re going to become more like Jesus. Here’s how he went through it. Here’s what the Holy Spirit can do in you.
OK, now I count it all joy. Not the storm, but the goodness of God in the midst of the storm. So he says to do something. He says to ask God. And I love this, friends, because it really comes down to two options: self-help or God help.
Our life is filled with self-help. You go to the bookstore, self-help, a whole section. Let me just say, I don’t find that encouraging. I created a lot of problems, and I am here to fix them. Didn’t I—wasn’t I the one that created the problems? Anyway, you need more than self-help, right? You need God’s help. You need God’s help.
This is where the teaching of the Scriptures here are unique. It’s different from other religions, philosophies, psychologies, sociologies, anthropologies, and histories. It’s theology. You need help. You need help from God.
So what God says is, “Ask me for help.” Don’t you love that? God says, “Ask me for help.” Here’s what he says: “If any of you lacks wisdom”—I’ll raise my hand for that—“let him ask God.” God says, “Hey, come ask me.” “Who gives”—what? “Generously.”
God’s like, “I’ll give you wisdom. That’s fine. Not a problem for me, right? Hey, not a problem for me. You come ask me, I’ll give it to you. It’s not a thing.” “Without reproach.” God’s not going to look at you and say, “You’re stupid. You failed. You made your mess; you pick it up.” God’s not going to look at you and say, “I told you that a while ago. You didn’t listen to me. See, I told you so. Figure it out the hard way. Do it yourself.” God’s not like that.
See, some of you, you don’t bring your requests to God because you don’t understand the Father heart of God. God’s a Dad who loves you. You come to him and say, “Dad, I need help.” He’s like, “I know. I see it. Thanks for asking. Now it means you’re humble and teachable. I’d love to help you.”
God’s a Dad like that. He’s not going to shame you. He’s not going to discourage or dissuade in any way. OK, know that. I say, “A storm is coming.” Ask God. He loves you. He’s there to help. There’s joy in that.
“And it will be given to him.” This section of Scripture I pray more than any section of Scripture. I pray this all the time. I have my entire ministry career. In a counseling meeting, I’m like, “I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to do. Let’s pray. Let’s do James 1. God, we need wisdom. We don’t know what to do here.” Going to make a decision for my family, the church, or whatever. “OK God, I don’t know here. I’ve never been here. This is all new to me. I need help. God, give me, give us wisdom.”
See, in the Old Testament, there are whole books that form the “Wisdom Literature.” Job is about suffering, and Proverbs is about wise versus foolish living, Song of Solomon’s about love, Ecclesiastes is about the meaning of life. James is the wisdom book of the New Testament. It’s what to do when a storm comes. It’s really practical. And sometimes the theologians will look at it and say, “Well, it’s not very systematized. It doesn’t organize itself very well.” Because it’s about life.
How many of you have found that life does not put itself into an organized chart very well? You’re like, “It’s kind of a mess, and two things collide at once, and I don’t know what this is, and it’s a little complicated.” Life is like that. Life is not a syllogism, right? Life is not an outline. Step one, step two, step three. Some days it’s like, step infinity. You know, it’s complicated. And so the Wisdom Literature is talking about the complexity of life with practical solutions: who God is, what he’s done, and now what we’re supposed to do to follow in his path and plan for us.
Here, it begins with, “Ask God for wisdom.” If you don’t know what to do—and here’s the truth, we don’t know what to do. So, you need to be humble here, not arrogant. You can’t say, “Oh, I know what to do.” Oh, you need to pray twice, OK? First for humility, and then for wisdom. We all need God’s wisdom, amen?
“But let him ask in faith.” You’ve got to believe that God’s going to hear that. You’ve got to believe that God’s going to answer that. You’ve got to believe that God is—if I could use an analogy—he’s like a Dad, sitting on the edge of his seat, leaning forward with his ear outstretched toward you, like, “Please ask,” all right? He’s not ears covered, eyes closed, leaning back, “Don’t bother me.” Not like that.
“With no doubting, for the one who doubts is like the wave of the sea, double-minded, unstable.” “God, help me. I’m not sure you exist. God, tell me your will. I’m not sure I want to do it. God, I know what you say, but I read this book by somebody who doesn’t know you. God, I know that you think I should do this, and the godly person said to do it, but I have this non-Christian friend, and they made a really good point.”
Any of you feel like this? The problem’s with you. You lack faith. When a storm comes, you can have fight, “I’m going to get tough”; flight—“I’m going to run for my life”; fright—“I’m going to freak out”; or faith—“I’m going to trust God.” And James is saying that what that does, that puts both feet on the ground. OK, what do I need to do? How do I need to be steadfast? What is Jesus trying to change in me? How can I count this all joy if I pass this test? Do you get it? It doesn’t mean it’s easy; it means it’s wonderful. Sometimes the hardest things are the best things. And you don’t feel that way in the midst of it, but you do on the other side of it by the grace of God. That’s what he’s saying.
Some of you are very unstable. You’re emotional, you’re volatile, you keep changing your mind, you keep altering your life. You get wise counsel and foolish counsel, and you try to integrate both. Our world is not lacking in information; it’s lacking in wisdom.
So the question is, if you pray and if you ask God for wisdom, and you trust that he’s going to give it, here’s what I want you to do: I want you to ask, trust, seek, and write, OK? Ask God for wisdom, trust that he’s going to give it, seek the wisdom he gives, and write it down so you don’t forget it.
That’s what James does. Any wisdom he’s received from his big brother, the Holy Spirit, the study of Scripture, and his life experience, he’s captured it and collected it so that he can revisit it and share it. This is what we need to do. This is where the church, as we learn wisdom, could share it with one another.
Here’s what I want you to do: I want you to know that when God gives you wisdom, it’s so that you can make a plan. OK, faith is not opposite of planning. Faith gives you wisdom to make the plan.
Some of you live in a life where it’s like, “I don’t need a plan; I trust the Lord.” Well, even trusting the Lord is a plan, I hate to break it to you. I plan to trust the Lord. God gives you wisdom to make a plan. So, faith is trusting that God will give you wisdom, then receiving that wisdom to make a plan, because wisdom is about what you do. You get that? It’s no good to read a book on nutrition if you don’t change your diet. It’s no good to read a book on financial planning if you don’t change your budget. It’s no good to read a book on parenting if you don’t invest in your kids. It’s collecting this information, making a plan so that you can obey God practically and daily.
So that’s what I want you to do. And this is why in Proverbs and the Wisdom Literature, it oftentimes talks about wisdom and a plan. So, where is wisdom to be found? When God gives wisdom, where should you be seeking it, looking for it. You say, “OK God, I trust you. I need wisdom. I’m in a storm. I need wisdom. Give me wisdom. I trust you to give me wisdom.” Then open your eyes and start looking. “OK God, where is it? I believe that it’s there. Where is it?” And go seeking it, looking for it, and expecting it.
There are more categories, but here are some that I would share with you. Wisdom is found in Scripture, amen? You say, “I need to learn, God.” Open the Scriptures, open the Scriptures, open the Scriptures, open the Scriptures. Right, the fool closes this book. The one who wants to grow in wisdom keeps it open. Spurgeon used to say that the Bible that is falling apart usually belongs to the person whose life is not.
Some of you are like, “God, give me wisdom.” He’s like, “I wrote a whole Book.” Please open the Book, read the Book, study the Book, memorize the Book, get into Community Group, talk about the Book. There’s so much wisdom here, and sometimes we’re looking for individual revelation rather than the Scriptures that God has already given.
Number two, it comes through prayer. And when he says, “Ask God,” that’s prayer. “Lord, I need wisdom. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve never been here. I’ve got no experience. I need your help. I need your help.” Sometimes a good, faithful, biblical prayer is this: “Help!” God’s like, “I know what you’re talking about. Answered.”
Some of you only want to bring your wins to God, not your losses. You only want to bring your solutions to God, not your problems. God can handle it all. He loves you. You’ve got a great Dad. You’re not a burden; you’re a blessing. You’re not a burden; you’re a blessing. Ask your Dad.
Number three, the Holy Spirit. We saw that Jesus, Luke 2:40, grew in wisdom, and he did so by the power of the Holy Spirit. You can grow in wisdom by the power of the Holy Spirit. In fact, when Paul writes to the Corinthians, he calls the Holy Spirit the Spirit of Wisdom. Saying, “Holy Spirit, you gave wisdom to Jesus. Bring me wisdom. I don’t know what to do. I need you to teach me how to live a life that is pleasing to Jesus and patterned after his.” And the Holy Spirit always answers, “Yes.” Always answers yes. He’s happy to help. He’s happy to serve.
Number four, general revelation. Special revelation is the Bible. It’s perfect, but there’s also general revelation where common grace allows people who are perhaps not even Christians to have some knowledge of things and some wisdom regarding how things work, that can be insightful and helpful to the Christian. You say, “My health is struggling.” Go find a good doctor. You know, “I don’t feel well.” Go find a good nutritionist. “I don’t know how to get myself in shape.” Go find a good personal trainer. “I don’t know how to balance my checkbook.” Go find a good accountant or financial planner. There are people that, because of general revelation, they know some stuff that could be really helpful to you.
We put everything under the authority of Scripture, and this is the Supreme Court, and we’re talking here about lower, lesser courts, but if they don’t conflict with the highest court, then consider it as part of God’s wisdom gift to you. Part of God’s wisdom gift to you to help you live the life that God intends for you because he loves you.
Number five, obviously wisdom comes through teachers. The Holy Spirit gifts some people to be teachers. This might be a class you could take, a podcast you could listen to, a curriculum you go through, a book that you read. Whatever the case may be, somebody has some wisdom that they can impart to you.
But let me say this: beware of what I will call “The Mentor Myth.” The mentor myth is this: there’s one person, and if you listen to them, you’ll learn everything you need to know. Not true. That’s why we have more than one author in the Bible. Not one person could teach you all the wisdom that you need to know. You’re going to need teachers. Not just a mentor that you anticipate will give you all the wisdom you need for your life, but teachers.
Oh, well, this person’s got a great marriage, and they’re good with their health, and they’re good with their finances, and this person really knows the Bible, and this person raised great kids, and this person really made an impact in ministry, and this person’s built a great company. Great, they’ve got wisdom. And avail yourself to teachers and wisdom wherever you can find it.
Number six, experience. You can look back on your life and ask, “What did I learn there? What did God teach me there?” And this is where I would submit to you that the spiritual discipline of journaling is very helpful. It’s very, very helpful. Many years ago, a very wise man that I’ve learned a lot from, he said, “You need to always carry a journal and write everything down.” I said, “Why?” He said, “Because you’re going to forget.” He’s right. He’s right. He’s absolutely correct.
As you go through life and you have experiences, you’re like, “OK, what am I learning? What is God teaching me? What is he showing me? What Scripture is he bringing to mind? What people has he brought in my life? What resources has he put at my disposal?” And then when you hit another storm, you can go back and look at your journal, your note taking, whatever that process and system looks like for you, and say, “OK, when I went through this last time, boy, I did that wrong. Don’t want to do that. That actually was really helpful, need to do that again.”
Because we become very forgetful, and sometimes, let’s be honest, in the middle of the storm, we get overwhelmed, we get anxious, we get emotional, we freak out, we forget that we’ve learned some things in the past, and we can go back to those, and those can be deposits and gifts to us as well. I believe, in part, that’s what’s happening in James. He went through his storms and he learned. He saw his big brother Jesus go through his storms and he learned. And he wrote it all down, and now 2,000 years later, you and I are being blessed and benefited by the fact that he not only applied it to himself, but recorded it to share it with others.
And this is what I want you to do in life, and this is what I want you to do in Community Group: As God teaches you something, I don’t want you to be haughty, and arrogant, and religious. And when you meet somebody and they’re in a storm, you say, “Oh, it’s a good thing I’m here. I know what to tell you. I’ve got a whole chart on this. I’ve been there two times and I’m an expert.”
No, no, humbly. “You know what, man, I’ve been there. I was on the boat. I felt sick. I threw up over the side. I know where you’re at. Can I share with you some things that God shared with me so that he would be glorified and you’d be loved?” There’s humility there. There’s a potential for ministry there. A lot of ministry is, “I went through a storm and I learned some things that I want to share with you in your storm because I love you.”
Lastly, it comes from experts, and people have expertise in different—some of you are great with people, you’re great with systems, you’re great with health, you’re great with finances, you’re great with relationships, you’re great with marriage, great with parenting, great with estate planning. Various people have various locations in their life and skills of expertise.
Sometimes it’s looking for that, “OK, they know what they’re doing, and they know what they’re doing,” and it’s availing yourself. But what this takes, friends, you’ve got to ask in faith and then you’ve got to pursue in faith. You’ve got to be humble. You’ve got to be teachable. It’s not like you just sit home, lock the door, and ignore the universe, and expect the wisdom fairy to come knocking. All right, Jesus talks a lot about ask and seek. That’s what we’re talking about here. Ask and seek. So, you’re in the middle of your storm, OK?
Here are my two questions: Are you in the middle of a storm? And if so, what wisdom do you need so that you can cease being unstable, and double-minded, and confused, and conflicted, and anxious, and exhausted, and become steadfast? And in that, there’s joy. I want this for you because I love you.
I would just ask you to trust me that I have failed at this. And even this week was a week where I feel that James was so helpful to me, which is why I’m so excited to share James with you. Not because I figured it out, but because Jesus has, and because James saw Jesus, and James wants to see Jesus in us by the power of the Holy Spirit.
And Mars Hill, I love you, and I want you turn from sin, and trust in Jesus, and go to heaven when you die, but until that day, I want you to live a life patterned after wisdom, and the power of the Holy Spirit, and the example of the Lord Jesus so that you don’t just endure this life, but that you can actually consider it all joy.
That being said, this is where we give you an opportunity to respond. We’re going to respond in a moment by partaking of Communion. This is where we give Jesus our sin. We remember that it’s his broken body, his shed blood, in our place for our sin that provides our forgiveness and salvation.
In addition, we’ll collect our tithes and offerings. This is where we give Jesus our stuff. So, as we’re collecting our tithes and offerings, let me share really good news with you, OK? Last year, you guys were generous. You beat budget. You beat budget.
When’s the last time you heard a church say that? OK, you beat budget, so yay for that. You guys were generous. That allowed us to relocate Mars Hill Everett, Mars Hill Olympia, Mars Hill Tacoma, and Mars Hill Huntington Beach. They exploded. It allowed us to open Mars Hill Phoenix, praise be to God. Pastor Bubba in Tacoma had maybe the most explosive growth. He sent me a T-shirt, so I’m wearing my T-Town T-shirt to represent Tacoma today. Pastor Bubba is always hustling, trying to get the news out on Mars Hill Tacoma, so I have been roped into the grand plan and here it is. So, we celebrate with all of those four relocations and the launch of Phoenix.
Mars Hill, we’re a family that’s like fifteen kids. And all the kids have family resemblances, they have strengths and weaknesses, but just like big families do, we love, and help, and serve one another. And so, hey man, if five kids had something awesome, the other ten kids should rejoice, and I want to thank you for being generous and making that happen. So, we give Jesus our sin in Communion, we give Jesus our stuff in our offering, and we give Jesus our song in our worship.
And some of you would come in here today and you say, “You know what? I am not in a great season. It feels like a storm. It’s hard for me to come in, and raise my voice, and raise my hands, and rejoice.” He says to consider or count it all, what? Joy.
This is not to deny your feelings, but to submit them to faith in the God who rules over all of your storms, and to say, “You know what, Lord Jesus? This is storm. Thanks for letting me say that so I don’t have to pretend. ‘How are you doing?’ ‘Great, I’m doing great.’ ‘No you’re not.’ I’m not doing great. Thank you, Lord Jesus, that I now know what to do. Seek you, seek wisdom. Thank you that you’re going to help me, and I can call out, and you’re going to answer. That helps. Because there’s people who won’t help me, and there’s other people who try, and they’re not very helpful. Thanks, Lord, that you will help and you are helpful.” Count it all joy.
And as we sing, it helps us to get centered and steadfast, and to welcome God to do his work in us, and through us, and sometimes even in spite of us.
So Lord Jesus, we come now to sing to you. It’s our way of counting it all joy. It’s our way of asking for wisdom. Holy Spirit, we invite you, we welcome you, we beg you, though we don’t have to, to be with us, to be in us, to be among us, to work through us. Holy Spirit, as you imparted wisdom to the Lord Jesus that he would grow, impart wisdom to us that we might grow to be more like him. And God, as we come to give you of our sin, and our stuff, and our song, we come to receive wisdom through the Holy Spirit. In the good name of Jesus we ask, amen.
Note: This sermon transcript has been edited for readability.