Joy – Keeping it
Central idea: We can keep our joy during our trials, if we embrace them as an opportunities to grow in our faith with God’s help.
Passage from James 1,2-5:
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 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. (NIV)
Good evening from me as well. We are in our second sermon in our series about joy. Last time we looked at how to find joy. Where to find joy. And today we want to move to the question of how to keep this joy. How to keep it even when circumstances or feelings might try to drag us away from it. And to see what difference God can make in all of this for us. Before we start, I would like to pray with us. And if it’s possible for you, I would ask you to stand with me.
— Prayer —
When I moved to Frankfurt, I took on a position as the co-coach of a boys’ soccer team. The boys were around 9 years old and, in the beginning, it was a nightmare for us coaches. Because although we wanted to help the kids to get better, they did not want to practice at all. Because all they cared about was having fun. And practice just stood in the way of that. It was exhausting and sometimes even painful. And so they did whatever they could to avoid it. They played around during practice. Told each other jokes. Sometimes even threw themselves on the ground. Because for them practice was nothing to enjoy, just something to get through with as little effort as possible.
But as the months went by, the team started to lose more and more. At one point it got so bad, that I had boys running of the field crying, because the lost so badly. More and more boys started to lose their joy in soccer. So, one practice day, the main coach and I sat the boys down and explained that if they wanted to enjoy playing again, they would have to practise. That although it was exhausting and sometimes not fun, it was their only way of getting better. The only way to enjoy winning again.
So they started to put in more effort. Did the exercises we asked them too. And for the rest of the season they did not lose a single game. And that changed their view on practice completely. They started to enjoy practice almost as much as the games itself. The practice itself didn’t become easier. If anything, it probably got even harder. But the boys enjoyed it now because they could see the purpose behind it. They could see the difference it made in their games. To them, practice was not an unnecessary evil anymore, but an integral part of their joy of playing soccer.
And I notice that I usually deal with trials in my life like these boys did with their practice at first. Because for me they just stand in the way of my joy. Trials are painful. They are exhausting. All things, that make it seemingly impossible to enjoy my life. So to keep my joy, I try to avoid them as much as I can. Try to get rid of my trials as soon as they come up. Because I feel like I have to decide between joy and trials. And to keep one I have to lose the other.
And here God wants to offer us a different way to deal with our trials. A way where we can face our struggles and keep our joy at the same time. Because for him our trials serve a purpose. They are opportunities to let our faith in God grow.
And in our passage for tonight, James starts off by showing us, why this way of looking at our trials is so important. Because just like the boys in my soccer team, we will not keep our joy, if we try to avoid our trials.
1. We will face trials
Read with me verse 2:
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,
I don’t know if you noticed, but James says whenever you face trials. Not if, but when. What he wants to say is: It’s useless to dodge trials. Trials are not optional. No matter how much we try, we all will face them at some point in our lives.
And to his original hearers, this was certainly not a surprise. Because James writes to Christians who are being persecuted for their faith. They have trouble to find work. Some of them are becoming so poor that they don’t even have enough food to feed their family. They are outcasts of society, lonely. For them the trials were too real to oppose what James is saying here.
But I think today for us it’s a little bit different. Because we have become masters in avoiding our trials. In making our life as comfortable as possible to keep our joy. If we don’t like our job or your co-workers, we go online and start searching for a different position. If you feel like you are happier with a different partner, it has never been easier to get a divorce. If I am bored on the commute, I can download my favourite show Netflix to entertain myself. People even switch churches if they enjoy the worship music or the preaching more at another church. As soon as we are confronted with trials, we are used to look for ways to avoid them. Because getting rid of our struggles is the only way we really know how to keep our joy.
But if we are honest, we know that this is nothing more than a temporary fix. Because no matter how hard we try. No matter how much money or influence we have. James says, no matter even if we believe in God. Eventually we will face trials that we can’t avoid. Maybe it’s unexpectedly losing your job or a loved one. Maybe you are going through a breakup of a relationship you had hoped for so long would work out. Maybe you had to leave your family and friends behind because your company is moving you to a different city or even country. Maybe an illness that you have had for a long time and that won’t go away. Whatever it might be. We notice that avoiding our trials won’t keep our joy forever. At some point trials will come and take our joy away.
So, if we want to really keep our joy, the question for you and me tonight can’t be: How do we avoid trials? But how do we react, when we inevitably face them?
And to that James says: Consider it pure joy when you face trials!
And when I first read this, I thought: How does this make sense? How can he combine two words that contradict each other so much?
And I often talk to people who misunderstand James here. Who think that God wants them to be happy about the trials. That they should push their negative feelings aside. That as a good Christians they should always keep up a smile although they are hurting inside. That God expects them to be happy with whatever comes their way. But this is not what James wants to say here.
James tells us to consider it joy, when we get into trials. To keep our joy during these periods which themselves are not enjoyable. Because some situations just suck. It sucks to feel alone in a new city. To have to leave friends or family. To lose your job or partner. There is no denying that. And its only human to feel sad or even angry about it.
But this is exactly why James says consider it joy when you get into trials. What God offers us is a decision to embrace our initial feelings, but not stop there. To not push them aside or flee from them, but on the other hand not let them drag us down either. Because with God we can see a purpose behind our trials. They don’t need to be unnecessary evils anymore but can become an integral part of our joy.
2. Trials are our practice
And we can see how in verses 3+4:
3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
If we chose to embrace our trials with God, James says that our faith will gain perseverance. The idea behind the Greek word for perseverance is to carry a heavy load over a long period of time. So, the purpose of our trials, the reason why James can tell us to consider these times joy is, that God can use our difficult times to strengthen our faith in him. Our faith is like a muscle that is strengthened through carrying a heavy load.
Because if we want our muscles to grow, we need to work them out. Use them. Put pressure on them. Put them to the test. To do that we go to a gym. We do exercises that are exhausting, sometimes even painful. But because we have our goal in mind, we do all of this gladly. We enjoy our workout, even the sore muscles afterwards. We are proud of them. The next day we tell our co-workers all about this hard workout we had yesterday. How we can’t even lift our arms anymore. All because we enjoy how much we have accomplished. How much our muscles, hopefully, have grown. And with the goal in mind, we can even find joy during the painful time of practice.
And the Bible says that our faith works the same way. We will not learn to trust God more when our lives are easy. When we avoid trials and stay in our comfort zone. In those times our faith in God is not challenged. Is not put to the test.
But if things are going bad. When we feel like God is distant from us. Like we can’t get out of the mess we are in. When we are about to lose our joy. That’s exactly where our faith can grow. Because there God wants to show us how he takes care of us. How much we can trust him, if ask him for help when times get rough.
I experience that every time I prepare for a sermon like this one. Because there are always moments, where I get stuck. Where I don’t know how to continue. Where the time pressure stresses me out and I my feelings tell me to just get out. Just to avoid this difficult situation. But if I decide to stay in my trial and ask God for help, I can see at the end how God has taken care of me. How he gave me the right idea just when I needed it. Sometimes only the night before. But every time I can look back and see how God took care of me. And that let’s my trust grow more and more.
And God wants to do the same for you, too. When you lose our job and money is running tight, God wants to show you how he provides for you. Maybe in ways you wouldn’t have imagined. When you feel alone after a breakup, God wants to comfort you. Maybe you struggle with a challenging boss or a co-worker at work. Then God wants to give you the patience and love for these people to deal with them.
With God we can keep our joy during our trials. Just like the boys in my soccer team enjoyed the time in practice again, we can now have joy during our trials, because we see a purpose in them. We can see our trials as opportunities to grow our faith. Instead of getting worried and try to avoid them, we can ask God to help us and trust, that he will lead our trial to a good end. Consider our trials as joy, because we know, that whatever happens, it will be to our best. Trials don’t need to be unnecessary evils standing in the way of our joy, but are integral parts for keeping it. We can keep our joy even if our trial is exhausting and sometimes painful. Because we know the purpose behind it. Even if we can’t see the result already.
And maybe you think at this point: But Nico, that’s exactly the problem. What you say sounds great in theory. But right now, I can’t see God working in my trial. It just hurts and it’s getting harder and harder to keep my joy. What if my faith isn’t strong enough to carry this load. To trust that God still wants to take care of me.
And if you are having these doubts, then I hope that verse 5 can encourage you. Because:
3. God helps us to keep our joy
And look with me in verse 5:
5 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.
God knows how hard these trials can be on us. How easily we are drawn back to seeing trials as something to get out of. How quickly we lose our trust in God, when difficult situations intimidate us.
But even when we doubt, God won’t leave you. He is not a coach that throws you out of the team because you can’t finish his practise. He doesn’t expect us and our faith to be perfect already.
So if you feel, like you can’t keep your joy anymore. Like you can’t trust God, that he will lead this difficult time to a good end. Then talk to him about it. Tell him what you feel. Your doubts. Your fears. And ask him to readjust our view. Show you again what your trials really are. The joy you can have in him and his training. To give you wisdom to see that he won’t leave you, no matter how hopeless your trial might seem.
His biggest reminder was when he sent his son Jesus Christ to earth. God himself became human and died on the cross to help us in our biggest trial. The trial that we broke the relationship to God. Cut him out of our lives by doing what we think is right, instead of following his will. By doing what the Bible calls sin. But when Jesus died, he offered us forgiveness for our sins. Offered us a way back into a relationship with God if we believe in him. To see trial as his practice again and keep our joy during it. Because if God dealt with our biggest trial, he won’t let us down in the smaller ones either.
All that is left for us to decide is: Do we want to trust this God? Face our trials as an opportunity to see him at work? Trust that he will turn our trials into a blessing and find joy in that?
Maybe tonight for the first time. Maybe you are in a difficult situation and are struggling to keep your joy. Trying to get out, but not seeing any improvement. Then I want to encourage you, to ask this God for help. He is only waiting for your invitation to build your faith in this difficult time. To not avoid your trial, but to face it with God and experience what joy we can have even during these difficult times. If there are any questions that you want to talk about, please ask them. I will be in the front after the service. Come to me or Dietrich. We would love to talk to you about this decision.
And maybe you are already living with God but are facing difficult times right now. Then I want to encourage you not to immediately look for a way out. Not to ask God to change your situation right away, but to first ask him: What do you want to teach me here? How can I see this as an opportunity to grow in my faith? And then wait for God’s answer with the joy of knowing, that it will all work out for your best. Remind yourself every day of the joy, that God is in control. Even if it seems different to you right now. He wants to build your faith during this time. And him not taking you out of certain difficulties is sometimes exactly how he shows his love to you. God values your growth more than your comfort. And although it might not feel like it: Trials are his training to help us grow.
And with God on our side, we can keep our joy, no matter what trials we face. Because we know that God will take care of us and turn our trial into a blessing to grow our faith in him.