James on trials and uncertainty

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

James 1:2-8

James, though a pastor comes across, at least to us as rather blunt, and certainly to the point. He doesn’t waste words. His letter is considered the one New Testament book more in line with the wisdom writings of the Old Testament: Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.

James lived during a time of uncertainty. The church was young and he was the first pastor of the church in Jerusalem, Peter certainly a pastor, but more of an apostle to the Jews at large in the world of that time. God had given the church as he does today the gift of the Spirit to be a witness to the gospel by deed and word, first by the difference evident in their lives, and a witness as to what makes that difference.

Fast forward to today. We live in a different time for sure. And depending on where we live, possibly quite different circumstances. But one thing is for sure, as evident in this passage: trials will come, and many kinds of them.

As this passage makes clear, our response to such will determine whether or not we grow in Christian maturity, and to what extent we do. None of us will get this perfect. And there will be moments and maybe even times when we don’t consider such pure joy. But when, apart from our feelings, thoughts or anything else we choose to consider such pure joy, then we can begin to enter into what God has for us in the midst and through such trials.

We’re invited when we lack wisdom, which in ourselves is always the case, to ask God for it. That’s a relief, because left to ourselves, we more often, or at least I more often than not resort to something that is less than that, and can even be foolish. I’ve seen that time and time again in my life, since I’ve either failed to ask God for it, or operated as if God wasn’t much in the picture. Maybe a bystander who created everything, but then is not involved in that creation, certainly not the God of the Bible. It’s interesting how we might believe something intellectually, but act as if we don’t. We need to then ask ourselves if we believe it at all. God can help us with our lack of faith, as we call out to him, like the man did to Jesus.

So there’s purpose and encouragement in this passage, both short term and long. This is true regardless of what we face, whatever trial it may be. As we respond in faith according to God’s word here, God will be with us, and continue to mature us, giving us the wisdom we need. In and through Jesus.

a need for today: wisdom

The beginning of wisdom is this: Geta]”>[a] wisdom.
Though it cost all you have,b]”>[b] get understanding.

Proverbs 4:7

When I look at my own life, hopefully prayerfully in the light of God’s word with God’s help, I see growth only by God’s grace of course, over the years, but I also see deficiency and the need for more wisdom. And when I consider society today, specifically in the context of American politics, I see a lack of wisdom all too often, and too often I’ve been part of that.

Wisdom is basically knowing what is best to do and not do. It is for all aspects of life, for life itself. It begins with the fear of God, and involves accepting God’s embrace of love in Christ at the cross. We can live in God’s wisdom only in and through Christ, who himself is wisdom to us from God. We have to read all of Scripture in light of that. But still we have to see each part as well as we can within its own context.

In this passage in Proverbs (click above link for entire chapter, the subtitle in the NIV being “Get Wisdom at Any Cost”) the importance of wisdom and along with basics are shared. We have to go back and back again to passages like this, and let its truth soak in and change our priorities.

The decision to receive and essential ongoing follow through in walking in the way of wisdom God gives us will be life changing. It’s a decision which means a new direction for us in life. The clearer that is to us, and the more intentional, the better off we’ll be, and the more true success from God we’ll find.

Of course we won’t be perfect in this pursuit, and will stumble along the way. But that should make us all the more determined by God’s grace to continue to move in this direction. Wisdom is what we need, and what God wants to give to us. In and through Jesus.

keeping our mouths shut

Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent,
and discerning if they hold their tongues.

Proverbs 17:28

One of the great secrets of true success in life is learning to keep our mouths shut, instead of blurting out our true thoughts, things we would like to say. It often seems right at the moment, but if we give it some time, and pause, we’ll know better, and most of the time, we’ll be grateful we didn’t speak.

We have to be careful, too, because we “non-verbally communicate” as well. It’s amazing how oftentimes people around us can pick up our true attitude toward them. So we need to guard our hearts and be in prayer, that we might not have an attitude which is ungracious, and cuts others down and off.

James wisely counsels us in proverbial like wisdom to be “slow to speak” (James 1:19). To be slow to speak means for a time to not speak at all. To keep our thoughts to ourselves, even as we lift up a prayer to God that he will help us be kind, listen, and if we speak, speak that which is helpful for the situation. In and through Jesus.

straight paths

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

I think the note on making our paths straight from the NET Bible is helpful:

The verb יָשָׁר (yashar) means “to make smooth; to make straight” (BDB 444 s.v.). This phrase means “to make the way free from obstacles,” that is, to make it successful (e.g., Isa 40:3). The straight, even road is the right road; God will make the way smooth for the believer.

God is for us humans. That is unequivocally demonstrated in the Word becoming flesh, God becoming one of us in the Person of the Son and in that, God becoming human. And of course the life, and the death and resurrection, and all that followed and follows that.

We too often seem to equate God’s will with misery. But actually it’s just the opposite. Yes, we won’t always be happy since there is so much brokenness and tragedy in this world. But we’ll still be blessed and have God’s peace.

And God will make the way straight and yes, successful, in his will. Not success as the world would see it, though there may be some overlap since the good of God in creation touches all. God gives us what we need to live in his will as we trust and obey.

God will certainly make the way when there’s no way, what only God can do. Not just for our blessing, but that we might be a blessing. In and through Jesus.

 

finding true wisdom

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

James 3:13-18

Oftentimes, at least I can speak for myself, we need to step back and be quiet and let God speak to us. Nowadays we hear a storm of words and we can all too easily get caught up in that. Instead we need to hear God’s word to us, let that impact and soak into our lives. Then our lives even without words can speak volumes to others. A part of the wisdom available to us in and through Jesus.

 

real friends

One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Proverbs 18:24

Friendship that is utilitarian, just “what I can get out of it” is no friendship at all. True friendship is being there and committed to another person, no matter what. I have found it quite rare. You find that true on both ends. When you extend friendship to others, you might find that it’s conditional, that if somehow you don’t measure up, your friendship is no longer valued. The same is true for those who seem to extend the hand of friendship. Yet when they really get to know you, that hand is withdrawn or gone.

Instead, the wisdom of Proverbs speaks here of a friend who sticks closer than a brother. It’s not like we can be close friends to everybody. But when we develop a closeness in friendship with anybody, we need to stay true to that, insofar as the circumstances of life allow for such. And when friends let us down, we know that ultimately the Lord never does. Still we want to be a needed friend as well as have the friend or few friends we too need. Something rare indeed, something we look for. In and through Jesus.

the emptiness of mere earthly/worldly success and glory

Better a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer knows how to heed a warning. The youth may have come from prison to the kingship, or he may have been born in poverty within his kingdom. I saw that all who lived and walked under the sun followed the youth, the king’s successor. There was no end to all the people who were before them. But those who came later were not pleased with the successor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

Ecclesiastes 4:13-16

I hear of famous people who die and wonder what kind of legacy they left other than their name in the headlines for this or that reason. And it’s the nature of things to be concerned only about what is happening now.

For something to matter in the present, it should have important ramifications for the future. I think in American history of two great figures among others, probably the two that most come to mind: Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. What they did during their times set important precedent for future generations, for the nation itself. Every person sends out ripples for good or not, or sometimes sadly enough for no good at all, and maybe even evil. One good question to ask could be what one is remembered for. It’s good to have the full picture, warts and all. And in that picture, there’s hopefully some redeeming features which override what inevitable weaknesses there are.

Eternity is not isolated, or like some escape. The present is meant to impact the future (and actually, the future/eternity, the present). If we’re simply set on the present with no thought of the future, then we’re on a bad course. We may even want to be remembered for something great, preferably just good. That can have meaning not only for the present, but beyond, even an eternal impact. Possible for everyone by the redemption in and through Jesus.