Thursday, February 25, 2016

NTDS (78): Trials, Perseverance, Wisdom and Faith

James 1:2-3 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.

James 1:5-6 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…NIV

Have you been through any trials lately? Are you going through one currently? It often seems like life in this world can be just one trial after another. When life is like that, we often get very weary and discouraged. We begin asking God the two common questions, “Why am I going through this” and “when will this end?” Since we do not always get these questions answered, we can become even more despondent.

There may be a better question to ask. One that has a definite answer. “Does it always have to be this way?” James would say to us an emphatic NO! In this first chapter of his epistle, he gives us a radically different approach to facing the trials in our lives.

He starts by telling us that we should consider it joy when we face trials. “What, is he crazy? Why in the world would I be joyful to have a trial?” He explains why in verse 3. A trial is a testing of our faith. It will give us feedback on how much we really trust in God. He already knows our level of faith and trust, but we don’t. It is important for us to find out whether or not we are willing to trust God during the toughest times of our lives.

The good news is that James does not just give us an impossible command, and leave us with no help in how to follow it. In verse 5 he implies that we will need wisdom to endure a trial with joy. He then tells us that there is a simple solution to that. Ask God! James guarantees us that if we ask, we will receive God’s wisdom, on one condition. That condition is, that we trust God to deliver it. He also guarantees us, that if we doubt that God will give us what He promised, we will not receive it.

You may be thinking, “That’s not fair. Just because I doubt a little, God won’t give me wisdom?” Well, let me ask you a question, why would He? It would be a waste of time since you won’t believe it is from Him. It would be worthless to you, because you would not respond and act upon that wisdom. You would just go back and forth like a wave in the sea, trying to figure out if it was really God giving it to you. It shows a lack of faith in God and His written word when you do that. So, when you ask God for wisdom, expect to get it and be ready to act upon it! That is how faith works and that produces endurance in our lives.

A common question that comes up is, how goes God deliver that wisdom to us? I believe it generally comes in four different ways.

1.   Through His Word- The general wisdom given throughout God’s word will help us to discern His guidance in a particular situation. Often times we can even find a very specific answer to our need in a passage of scripture.
Ps 119:105 Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path. NASU

2.   Through other believers- though we want to always seek God first, He may choose to bring you wisdom through another believer.
Prov 11:14 where there is no guidance the people fall, But in abundance of counselors there is victory. NASU

3.   Through The Holy Spirit, speaking to our heart- many examples of this are found in scripture
Acts 11:12 The Spirit told me to go with them without misgivings. (Peter speaking)
Acts 13:4 So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they (Paul and Barnabas) went down to Seleucia… NASU

4.   Through arranging of circumstances, sometimes leaving you with no other options. The story of Jonah is a good example. Also read about Paul’s experience of being shipwrecked in Acts 27

Finally, there is a great reward in going through a test of faith, trusting God, applying the wisdom He brings to you and not giving up. James 1:4 says, “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. NIV

What a promise and what a reward to look forward to! I pray that the next time you face a trial, you will choose to find the joy of going through that trial, by trusting God, seeking and acting upon the wisdom He promises to give you and enduring to the end.

God bless you,

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

NTDS (77): Empathy

Heb 13:3 Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. NIV

In the 13th chapter of Hebrews, the writer is summing up several areas of Christian behavior. He prefaces these with the general statement, “keep on loving each other as brothers.” He will then give many examples of what this love looks like.

The examples in verse three are particularly important, not because of the specific acts suggested, but because they delve into the attitude of our hearts when we attempt to be obedient to biblical instructions.

The writer shows us two areas of ministry that the church must be involved with. One is to remember (I believe he is speaking of remembering in prayer and in visitation), those who are in prison. In context, the prisoners spoken of here are most likely Christians that had been imprisoned for their faith.

That may not be on our heavy on our hearts, because we might not personally know anyone who has been incarcerated for their faith. Certainly though, we know that there are thousands of Christians around the world who face this kind of persecution.

We are also to include in our remembrance, those who are mistreated and suffering. This could be speaking specifically of the many Jewish believers who had been thrown out of their synagogues, excluded from doing business and ostracized from their communities for following Jesus, but I believe it also applies to all believers who are being mistreated. I am certain we can all think of people like that.

I think it is safe to say that when we hear of these situations, we might quickly offer up a prayer for them. That is good, but the author tells us that we need to do something more. In the first scenario, we are taught that as we remember those prisoners, we should picture ourselves in their place, as if we were in a cell with them. In the second, we should put ourselves in the position of one who is suffering. If it is one who has been shunned, think of yourself as being shunned. If it is physical suffering, think of yourself as one in physical pain.

What the writer is teaching us is that we need to  “empathize” with those who are suffering, especially those whose are suffering for their faith in Christ. Webster’s dictionary defines empathy as, “the feeling that you understand and share another person's experiences and emotions : the ability to share someone else's feelings.”

Be honest, if you were in prison with another believer, do you think your prayer for comfort, peace and deliverance for them might be a little more fervent? If you were living on the streets, being ridiculed, going hungry, strictly because you confess Jesus Christ as Lord and another homeless believer came up to you and asked for prayer, do you think you might be a little more apt to entreat the Lord heartily for help, rather than just pass by? I know I would.

Empathy is one of the great qualities we seen in our Lord. Matt 9:36
says about Jesus, “Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.”
 Heb 4:15 tells us that, “we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.”

Because Jesus lived among men, He could look upon them and place Himself in their situation. He was filled with compassion for their sufferings and continues to see us in the same way. We are told to have no less empathy, no less compassion than He had towards those who were suffering.

I am sure that most of us could say that we fall short in our ability to empathize with other people’s situations. That is, until we find our self in the same or similar circumstance. Then, all of a sudden our ability to empathize becomes much greater!  But God, by means of the Holy Spirit, can give us the empathy we need at all times, so that we may truly minister to people. That ministry blesses God because it comes from the heart, rather than from obligation.

I pray that God would help all of us, by the power of His Spirit, to have a heart of empathy for those who are suffering, in Jesus name, Amen.

God bless you,