Welcoming trials as friends and being a friend in trials - Midweek Message 27th January 2021
When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realise that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance. (James 1.2-3 JB Phillips)
I recently listened to a small group of Christian people relating some of the hardships they have encountered over lockdown and was struck by the variety of things that were mentioned: everything from the daily relentless demands of having school age children, and younger, at home; to health issues; to temptations to laziness and eating the wrong things; to the frustration of not being unable to sing Christmas carols; to coping with painful bereavement. Each of these would readily come under the category of ‘all kinds of trials and temptations’ that James speaks of in the opening verses of his letter (from JB Phillips paraphrase). I’m sure you could add to that lockdown list and probably with your additions, you would also echo the theme that was regularly repeated alongside these different trials and temptations and which compounded them, namely, the inability to meet and speak with others, especially in the context of the church family. There was, and is, that ongoing and aching sense of separation and isolation.
Given all of that, it would not be difficult to resent all these different trials and temptations as intruders and it could sound crazy and masochistic to welcome them as friends and yet, as we were considering last Sunday, that is what the Lord Jesus through his servant James ( see James 1.1) calls his followers to do. On Sunday, we looked at 3 reasons from what James says as to why you might do that:
a) what trials (in the hands of God’s good though sometimes hidden purposes) produce in us
b) where they point us,
c) what they expose in us
(if you haven’t listened to the sermon, you can do so here)
However, in the wake of both James’ words and listening to these fellow Christians speaking of their own personal trials in lockdown, two further things came to my mind to bring to yours.
Firstly, at the beginning of Sunday’s sermon I quoted from an article Joni Eareckson had written about the process of her coming to accept and embrace the deep and painful trial of her disability as being part of God’s mysterious and yet good purpose for her life. In that article she mentioned prayer, deep study of God’s Word and the encouragement and support of Christian friends coming alongside her, as being vital factors in enabling her to welcome the trial of her disability as a friend, rather than resenting it as an intruder. Significantly, for ourselves in our lockdown, it is one of the major frustrations and challenges in all that we are coping with that our friends cannot come alongside us – at least not physically. However, it struck me as I listened to that small group of Christians (all of whom I knew) sharing their personal trials of lockdown I was now in a better position as a friend to pray for each of them. Of course, you could argue that with a bit of imagination and empathy I probably could have guessed what might be challenging for them in the current situation! That is true and yet somehow actually hearing them say it, and share it openly and honestly, brought home the need in fuller measure and I hope will inform and fuel my prayers for them. It is one of the best things a Christian friend can do for another – bring them and their needs to the Lord in prayer.
In light of that, let me encourage you to consider doing a couple of things. Maybe in these challenging days there is someone within the church family or indeed beyond you might look for an opportunity to ask – is there something I might be praying for you just now? Or indeed is there someone you might approach and let them know of something you are finding a particular trial and ask them to pray for you? There is always a risk in opening up in these ways to someone else but these are simple and yet potentially hugely significant ways of supporting and being supported during the trials of lockdown and also in living the Christian life in general. Such mutual, prayerful support is meant to be part of the fellowship of faith, as James will point out to us as we go through his letter.
Secondly, I wanted to mention was something I came across just this morning as I went to write this message. The Good Book company sent out an email about a new devotional book by Tim Chester that has just come out in which he quotes words and prayers from Christians from earlier centuries, particularly the 16th and 17th centuries. In the advertising material some words from William Bridge (1600-70) from his book A lifting up of the downcast sounded wise and encouraging for us in our different trials, and perhaps especially in our sense of isolation:
If you want to avoid being discouraged in any condition, then never link your comforts to your condition … Hang a cloak or garment upon a rotten peg, and the peg will break, and the garment will fall. Now there is no condition that is not like a rotten peg. Every condition is alterable. No condition is so firm and fast that it is not exposed to many changes or to a rotten hold. God, however, is a pillar … If you build upon Christ himself and upon God himself then you build upon the Rock. And, though the floods and storms and winds rise and beat upon you, yet you shall not lose your comforts because they are built upon a rock.
Our trials during lockdown, and in life, will have served us well & proved good friends to us, if they drive us deeper into Christ, who in the words of another 17th century Christian, Isaac Ambrose (1604-64) is ‘the centre of heaven’s happiness – beauty to the eyes, music to the ears, honey to the mouths, perfume to the nostrils, health to the bodies, joy to the souls, light to the understanding, contentment to the wills’ of his people.
Yours in Him,