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Romans 8:28-29

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  Doesn’t that make you feel good?  Isn’t that just a warm fuzzy right from the pages of Scripture?  That is comforting isn’t it?  However we can’t quote that verse apart from the one that follows. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

James 1

2 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. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 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.

12 Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

Silent Prayer

When we think about the goodness of the Lord and the power He has to do anything, we love to read verses like, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you; Plans to give you a hope and a future,”  (Jeremiah 29:11) and claim that nothing bad will happen to us or that the verse is a proof text that we’ll be healed or that trials will be far from us.

When difficulty comes close to us, we’re quick to quote, “God works for the good of those who love Him,” and that must mean that something good is right around the corner.

The problem with quickly quoting verses like that as a proof text that suffering is to be minimal or short-lived in the life of a Christian minimizes or ignores the reality that God allows and even sends trials our way in order to accomplish those plans of prosperity, those plans for our own good.  Listen, our God is a “whatever it takes God” which means he will use all means necessary to bring about the transformation in your life that will cause you to look like Jesus; that will cause you to be conformed to the likeness of His Son.  Our “whatever it takes God” knows that there are some lessons that can only be learned the hard way.

God’s ultimate plan is to make you and me look like Jesus.  Everyone say, “That’s good.”  His ultimate plan isn’t to simply give us good things or an easy life.  However, because of an infiltration of a health, wealth, and prosperity gospel into the life of the church in America, many Christians have come to the conclusion that suffering has no place in the life of the believer and that any form of suffering should be rebuked in Jesus’ name or ignored so as not to admit that anything difficult could be happening in their lives.  I have come to give you the cheerful news this morning that testing has a place in the life of a believer and that it is a major part of the curriculum in the “Look Like Jesus” School.

Here’s the good news, though.  If you are going through trials by God’s design, there is a great purpose for whatever you are enduring. Look at your neighbor and say, “God wastes nothing.”  Trials, hardships, testing-it’s all good whether it feels good or seems good at the time. That’s how big our God is.

In the life of a believer, a trial is not a random, unplanned or unpleasant event approved by or delivered by the hand of God to show us who’s boss.  No, a trial is a “divinely ordained difficulty God either causes or allows in order to chip away at our imperfections and flaws in order to make us more like Jesus Christ.” Tony Evans

One of the families with us this past week on our vacation had a four and a half year old little boy who was excited to purchase a “treasure map” on Baldhead Island (named after Pastor Thom).  He just knew if he took that map back to the beach where we stayed it would lead him to buried treasure.  When we returned, Thom and I took a walk on the beach, dug some big holes, and put plastic bags of coins in the holes.  We then covered the buried treasure and let Josh and Jonathan go on a treasure hunt.

It took effort for them to follow some clues, walk up the beach and dig out the holes, but they found their sparkling treasure (four quarters in a plastic bag) and were thrilled because the process, the effort, was worth the treasure that they found.

The same is true of our trials.  Because of God’s plan to prosper us spiritually by transforming us into the image of Christ, every trial contains a buried treasure.  If you choose to believe that, James tells us there are three spiritual responses we must make that will help us uncover the treasure that God wants us to find.  The first thing we must do in order to uncover the treasure in our trial is to:

  • Count It All Joy

The original language for the word “count” is actually an accounting term.  On the left hand side of your paper, you put the word “trials” and on the right hand side you put the word “joys.”  Even before you have something to put under the word “joys” in the right hand column, you begin to thank God for whatever good purpose will come out of whatever pain you are enduring.

Now you don’t put the word “pain,” in the joy column.  There is nothing good or pleasant about pain.  You aren’t supposed to count the pain as joy.  Rather, in faith, you simply choose to believe that the process you are going through will produce something that you can be joyful about. You exercise faith.  Exercising anything makes it stronger.  If God’s goal is your spiritual transformation, any spiritual muscle He can get you to use will be to your benefit.  You see, you can’t react to physical problems on a physical plane and have success. You have to react to physical problems in a spiritual dimension if you are going to have victory.  Look beyond the pain and look for the purpose which will give you joy.

Jesus didn’t go to the cross with thrill and sheer delight about the intensity of the emotional, physical and spiritual pain he would endure.  The whole week leading up to his death was torture.  But Hebrews 12:2 and 3 say that rather than complain, Jesus counted the whole thing as joy.  “2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart”(perseverance).  Jesus wasn’t focused on the pain of the cross, but rather the purpose of the cross.  The purpose of the cross was the joy of Sunday.  A physical response would have been to complain, but Jesus chose the spiritual response which was to “count it all joy.”

When I “count it all joy,” I am doing what Jesus did.  The more I do what Jesus did, the more I become like Him.  That’s transformation.  The truth is, you are either coming out of a trial, you’re in the midst of a trial or you’re headed into one.  That’s just life.  Amen?  You can choose a joyful attitude and allow your trial to work for you by thanking God for and looking for His purposes being accomplished in your life through your trials or you can get angry at God.  If you choose the first spiritual response, you’ll grow spiritually.  If you choose the second response, you’ll get stuck spiritually.

Blaming God for what we go through may be legitimate, but it won’t get us anywhere.  While some of our trials are tests that God allows and some of our trials are ones God sends, they are all tools in the hands of a loving God who knows what is best and what will work best in our lives to bring about the best outcome which is that we look like Jesus.

We don’t discipline our children the same way.  There are some forms of discipline that work for Hannah that don’t work as well for Joshua, and I’m a “whatever it takes” parent.  That means I’m not too concerned with the phrase, “That’s not fair.”  I’m not super concerned about what’s fair.  I’m focused on getting wrong behavior to stop and in training their hearts to understand what is expected.  In other words, I have a standard for their behavior and my goal is to get them to conform to that standard, not to negotiate the standard, manage the standard, get their input on the standard or to lower the standard so that the bar is low enough for them to jump over it.  My job is to get their behavior to look like the standard.

God is a “whatever it takes” parent.  His standard is Jesus, and the greatest blessing we can receive is WHATEVER transformation process is necessary to make us look like him, even if it is a trial. I can either trust that God is perfect in wisdom and that whatever comes from His hand is for my ultimate benefit or I can get mad and shout, “That’s not fair.”  What we go through may seem unfair, but God can never be unjust.  That means He’ll always do what is right. Choosing to “count it all joy” means I can rejoice that God is allowing or doing what is right in my life.  “Why me?” will bring you frustration.  “What’s in it for me,” will bring you transformation.

Our text says that when we count it all joy, our trials produce perseverance, and that perseverance is the key to spiritual maturity.  If you don’t persevere you won’t be transformed.  I know many Christians who have walked away from God because of a test.  They concluded that pain and hardship couldn’t be any kind of blessing if God really loved them.  I’m not saying they didn’t have a right to hurt or grieve or that what they were going through wasn’t awful or devastating, but what I am saying is that in those moments, we have the option to respond on a physical plane by getting mad and disconnecting from God which is never going to be a good solution or we can count it all joy and trust that God is up to something good as bad as it seems at the time and be transformed through the trial.  Since trials are inescapable, why not choose to allow them to work for your benefit in the long run by counting it all joy in the midst of them?

The second spiritual response that we can choose to help us uncover treasure in our trial, after we have “counted it all joy,” is that we can

  • Consecrate the Trial in Prayer. To consecrate something is to set it apart for special, holy use.  We can consecrate our trials to God by praying something like, “God, this stinks, but if You can gain glory and I can look more like Jesus because of this trial, then please accomplish Your purpose.  Help me to cooperate with you.”

James 1:5 begins, 5 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.

Set in the context of persevering under trial, this admonition to pray doesn’t say we should pray for the trial to end, although I think we are well within our rights as children of God to ask for anything.  However, this Scripture says we should pray for wisdom.  We need wisdom not necessarily to make sense of the trial, but in order to learn and become whatever the trial would be good for helping us learn and become.  Why a particular trial comes our way we may never know this side of heaven, but when we look back, we can see that we grew or somehow changed for the better because of the trial if we embraced it the way God intended for us to.

Perhaps you knew there was a hurricane this past week that was south of us that caused the waves to become fierce the last day we were there.  Eventually, the beach was cleared by the authorities.  Early that morning, Hannah was tubing in the waves when she came out of the water in tears to reveal Hannah’s bloody nose and lip.  Her back and neck were also hurting her.  A wave had overtaken her, even in the shallow water, and caused her to be forcefully turned about and thrown into the sand below.

That could have been viewed as an unfortunate trial by any onlooker.  However, as a mom who is quickly looking at parenting a teenage daughter, I was grateful for the conversation on the way home.  I asked Hannah to tell me how she could apply what happened to her to her life.  Her response was, “Sometimes life knocks you down, but you have to make yourself get back up.”  I was able to take the discussion further, pointing out that there will be times that she’ll have to make a choice about whether to be with a certain group of people or to participate in a certain activity.  Even if she thinks where her friends are going or what they are doing represents a shallow water place where she’ll be able to stand and not compromise her faith, a wave could come along at any time and knock her down, even when the water appears to be shallow.  In other words, you can still get hurt in shallow water.  You’ve got to be on guard and alert at all times.  A bloody nose and a swollen lip for a day or two gave us an opportunity to do some good disaster prevention for her life.  I was thankful for that.
I posted my sermon topic on Facebook and many people responded.  I asked for testimonies about difficult times in your life that in looking back you are now thankful for.

Many of you probably don’t know that John and Lisa divorced each other and remarried each other later.  Lisa told me on Facebook, “I am actually thankful now that we went through that time because I’ve been able to talk to so many people with marriage problems and share how God brought John and I back together and worked a miracle in our relationship. Our marriage is so strong today, and it wouldn’t have been if we hadn’t gone through that rough patch.”

Dr. Kristi Hensley from the Southwest Church of God wrote, “When I was pregnant with my first child, I prayed that my husband would have God’s favor at his job and receive advancement. I wanted to feel less pressure myself to work and have more freedom to be a mommy. When my daughter was 6 wks old my husband was fired from his job of 16 years. Quite the opposite if what I had prayed. We lost our health insurance with a small baby. He was devastated to say the least. After 2 years, he now has a job that he truly loves. I now know that God moved him because he would never have left his old job and was not happy there. We went through a major struggle because we did not take the time to see God working through this.”

A friend of mine from OH wrote, “I remember standing in my kitchen when the Lord spoke to my heart. He told me that He had allowed the sexual abuse in my life so that I could help my daughter through the same thing. It wasn’t about a generational curse it was about a generational healing! He not only helped me help my daughter He also helped me forgive my mother for what happened to me.”

Barbara Burford wrote, “I had to cancel my place on a work camp to Trinidad because of my mother’s failing health led to Jack getting to take all three of our adult children to Trinidad with him.  And I will never forget the days I got to spend with my mother.  What a double blessing that was!”

Another was when “Our oldest son was at the very bottom in his life – even asked us to stop praying for him -which we did not.  We kept telling him there would be better days ahead – and there were. He came to Christ, and not only that, brought his wife with him.  The battle he had with life before Christ was a battle for all of us.  Now, we praise God for Ted’s daily witness.

Some of you know Jack and Barbara lost a daughter a few years ago who was my age.  Barbara wrote, “Even with Tammy’s death.  Two days after she passed away, and we were preparing for her funeral, God placed his arms around me and I have never sensed such peace in all of my life.  He simply said, “It’s alright.” And I knew at that moment things were alright.   Read Hebrews 12:18-24.  It’s enough to make me start praising the Lord right here at my computer!”

What does the song say, “Through it all, through it all.  I’ve learned to trust in Jesus.  I’ve learned to trust in God.  Through it all, through it all.  I’ve learned to depend upon His Word.  I thank God for the mountains.  I thank God for the valleys.  I thank Him for the storms He’s brought me through.  If I never had a problem, I wouldn’t know that He could solve them.  I wouldn’t know what faith in my God could do.”

In praying for wisdom regarding a trial, Pastor, Author, and Speaker, Dr. Tony Evans says we should pray, “Lord, in this present difficulty, how do I respond in a way that reflects how you want me to respond, so I can get the maximum spiritual benefit?”

We gave each of our kids 20.00 to blow on vacation.  Hannah looked and looked from store to store, carefully counting the cost and thinking of how she could strategically get the most bang for her bucks, whereas Josh wanted to spend it all on the first piece of junk that he found.  He had to have this treasure trunk that had two smaller treasure trunks inside of it.  Because we were on Baldhead Island the day he saw this trunk he just had to have, we asked him to wait until we were ready to leave the island to purchase it so that we didn’t have to carry it around all day in the scorching heat.  He did everything in his power to convince us that he should purchase that treasure trunk immediately and that he would carry it.  History had taught us better, and we stuck to our guns.

That boy moped and scowled and didn’t enjoy any of the time on the island.  He refused to speak to me as I was the last of the two of us to tell the little negotiator that he wasn’t getting his own way.  So there he was, on the journey with us, but disconnected from us and the journey because he didn’t get his own way.  He really missed out.  By the way, when we left our resort, the treasure chest he just had to have was nowhere to be found.  He came home empty handed.

That’s often how we are when we go through a trial.  We want something to happen or change, and we want it now.  But if God allows our situation to continue, it’s because He knows it is best.  The physical plane response is to pout and disconnect from God, giving Him the “silent treatment” and miss what we could gain from the journey, getting through it by merely enduring it, but coming out of it empty handed.  However, the spiritual response is to accept that God knows best and to ask for wisdom to see it from His perspective.

The true essence of God’s blessing isn’t something we can hold in our hands or possess physically.  The true essence of God’s blessing is something we become; conformed to the image of Christ.

You remember the story of Joseph in Genesis.  His dad favored him.  God had given him dreams of a special plan for his life.  His brothers were jealous.  They sold him to slave traders and told their dad an animal had killed their brother.  You have to really be hated to be treated that way by your family.  Joseph found himself in a caravan that eventually led him to the land of Egypt where he endured years of trials.  He’d get out of a trial and enjoy a moment of blessing only to be pulled under the strength of another trial in no time.  He’d come up for air again only to be pulled under again by another wave.  When he was in prison at Pharaoh’s orders, no one could have predicted he’d become the Director of Homeland security, second in command to Pharaoh himself, but that’s what happened.  Though during those years of trials, Joseph couldn’t see how those dreams he had as a child could ever come to pass, nowhere in Scripture do we see that he blamed God and let anger and pity overtake him.  On the contrary, repeatedly, Scripture says God was with him and he remained God’s servant.

When his brothers came to Egypt to seek food during a famine, Joseph had every right to cuss them out, have them beaten, imprisoned or killed.  He could have told them to turn around and go home and starve to death, but he didn’t do any of those things.  He simply said in Genesis 50:20, 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” That is a spiritually mature perspective.  He could only have come to that conclusion if in the midst of the pit of prison he had sought the wisdom of the Lord and concluded that God was up to something that would ultimately be for his good.  Human nature would have dictated a completely different response.  No, Joseph had been dealing with his physical earthly trials on a spiritual plane or he would have annihilated his brothers in an instant.

The final thing you have to do in order to find hidden treasure in your trials is to

  • Commit to Your Relationship with Jesus For a Lifetime

When Thom and I got married, we made a lifetime commitment to each other.  We stood before God and witnesses to say that we would stay together for richer for poorer, for fatter or skinnier, (maybe we should have put that one in there ) in sickness and health, ‘til death do us part.  I believe that trials in marriage are one tool that God uses to transform people.

In a good marriage, which is one where both people are submitted to God and each other fully, both people mature over time because of their commitment to endure even in the tough times.  When those commitments are in place, when the for poorer comes, or the for fatter comes or the in sickness comes, there is a maturing of the love, a strengthening of the relationship and a greater oneness between the two that develops as a result of weathering life’s storms.  It’s also been noticed that each person in the marriage begins to think and act more like the other, reflecting that oneness.  That depth, that oneness, that unity, that transformation couldn’t have happened if the commitment to stay together had never been made.  Relationships will constantly be tested, but there is a great blessing that is realized by those couples who pass those tests.

James 1:12 says, 12 Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”

Because you counted the final outcome of your trial as joy, because you persevered, the text says you’ll receive the “crown of life.”  A crown goes to the best of the best.  A crown goes to one who has trained and prepared and been refined.  A crown goes to a winner.  Trials serve to produce winners. We become winners by going through trials.

The purpose of a test is to see if you know the material.  No worthy instructor will simply take your word that you have studied and could apply your knowledge.  No, you have to demonstrate that you know and understand it by taking a test.  If you refuse to take the test, you’ll never pass the course and never get the diploma, the crown that is given to those who graduate.

I collected lots of shells this week.  You see them displayed here before you.  They are all different.  Some are smaller.  Some are larger.  Some are chipped or broken.  They are all beautiful.  They’ve all been tossed by the waves.  They’ve all been hurt by hard places in the sea.  For me to be able to collect and possess them, however, whatever was inside had to die.

Some of you are chipped or broken.  Some of you are being tossed right now by the waves of life.  Some of you are being hurt by hard situations in life.  I want to suggest to you that there is a hidden treasure in your trial.  If there wasn’t, God truly would be mean.  He’d be evil.  Pain without purpose is heartless.  Pain with a purpose will shape your heart and give you a reason to celebrate.

While this song is being sung, I’d like you to consider applying what you’ve just heard.  There is a plain sheet of paper in your bulletin this morning.  Would you consider writing a note to God about something you’ve gone through or something you’re going through now?  Maybe you’re angry with God and you need to let go of that anger.  Maybe you’ve been focused on the pain so the exclusion of looking for the purpose.  Maybe you want to ask for wisdom.  Maybe you want to thank God for bringing you through something and tell Him and remind yourself what you learned.  While this song plays, will you consider writing something?  Then, as a way to consecrate the trial to Him, for His use and glory, would you bring it up and lay it on the altar.  After you give Him your note, would you take a shell of your choosing simply to represent that you are ready to receive the treasures inside of each trial that God has for you?  Keep it where you can see it and be reminded to “Count it all joy,” to “Consecrate all of your trials to God,” and to “Commit to Jesus for a lifetime.”

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