Yesterday I had the opportunity to preach to my local church and address the Coronavirus pandemic. Click here to hear what I said.
Every once in a while I get the privilege of preaching at my church. In a couple of weeks I’ll step into the pulpit. I have been preaching through a series on James, so on Tuesday I opened my Bible browser online to look at the next passage, and it was this:
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial,
for when he has stood the test
he will receive the crown of life,
which God has promised to those who love him.
Tears welled up in my eyes. Just over a week ago I had noticed a putrid smell coming from my basement. My in-laws had just arrived for a visit, and after a few days of fun together the sewer backed up. Things got messy.
Then this week one of my daughters had asthma and congestion issues. Two nebulizer treatments later, and after several rounds of her throwing up, I found myself holding my little girl in the emergency room at 2 AM with my father-in-law seated next to me. When it rains, it pours (by the way, she is OK now).
So the tears in my eyes may have come out of sheer exhaustion, but they were genuine. It’s hard for modern American Christians to grasp the truth of this verse, that we are actually blessed when trials overtake us. The prosperity gospel tempts us to find our satisfaction in health and wealth, fame and fortune; but Christ offers something better.
Trials have a wonderful way of clarifying what is most important in life. When life is easy, we tend to get caught up in petty little issues that don’t really matter. We are tempted to indulge our selfishness and pride. So God humbles us and turns the focus back on him. That’s what this verse is about—learning to see and savor eternity with God. You could say it this way, “Blessed is the man (Christian) who remains steadfast under trial, for he (or she) has stood the test he (or she) will receive the crown, which is life.” The crown James talks about was most likely a laurel wreath that athletes in ancient times would receive as a reward for winning arduous physical competitions. James compares our eternal life with a reward we receive at the end of a race. You see, in the midst of trials eternity becomes so much sweeter. It is our reward.
And it’s a reward that would thrill any person who “loves God,” as the text says. If we love God, we will want to get as close to him as possible. You can’t get any closer than heaven. Though life may disappoint you, God can always satisfy you. He’s the constant while everything else in changing. Is that bitter lesson to learn? Yes. But it is a very, very good lesson to learn.
So if you are being sifted right now, take this to heart. You are blessed. Remain steadfast. Savor God right now, even when the truth is hard to swallow. And know there’s a reward for those who love God. There’s eternal life.
My wife gave me a drone as a gift this past Christmas. I immediately learned the benefits of drones when an unsuspecting neighborhood cat walked into our back yard. Unfortunately, it was my first flight, and in an attempt to scare the cat away I crashed the drone in the woods behind our house. Flying a drone is tricky to learn- it can fly up, down, backward, forward, right, left, rotate right, rotate left, and any combination in between. Every time I started to lose control, I panicked, and my drone would crash to the ground. And I have the live video footage to prove it.
It doesn’t matter if you are crashing a drone or overcooking tonight’s supper, losing control is a very frustrating thing. Do you yearn for control over your own life? It’s a common temptation, perhaps propelled by a natural desire for security or an inordinate hunger for power. We all are, to some degree or another, control freaks. We may go about it quietly through subtle manipulation, or we may throw our weight around to get our own way. It’s the way our sinful flesh works; we all are control freaks.
But control in life is as finicky as learning to fly a drone. You may feel like you have started to figure things out, but in a split-second life may spiral out of control. And it does. We all know it does. Our inability to control life is a good thing, though. We weren’t meant to be in the driver’s seat.
Not Even a Co-Pilot
You may have seen the bumper-sticker that says, “God is my co-pilot.” Those words actually represent a low view of God. God is the Pilot. Life is automatically under His control. When we pretend we can somehow control all of this, we ignore reality and place a weight on ourselves we were never meant, or able, to carry.
I love the words to the song Our Great Savior by J. Wilbur Chapman. The fourth stanza reminds us that we aren’t the pilot. Of course, he’s not talking about flying drones but rather steering a ship. And in this ship called life, we aren’t even a co-pilot. No, God is the Pilot, and we cry to Him when life spins out of control.
Jesus! what a Guide and Keeper!
While the tempest still is high,
Storms about me, night o’er takes me,
He, my Pilot hears my cry.
Hallelujah! what a Savior!
Hallelujah! what a Friend!
Saving, helping, keeping, loving,
He is with me to the end.
God controls all things. He, your Pilot, hears your cry. So Psalm 3:8a tells us, “Salvation belongs to the LORD.” And this deliverance is both personal and corporate. Think of a young couple’s quiet, hidden struggle with infertility. Then think of our nation’s horrendous, grotesque promotion and practice of abortion. One struggle is personal and may be relatively unknown. The other is very public. Yet in both situations, God’s people desperately need help, right now!
I don’t know your struggle, but I do know God is in control. In the Psalms David and other writers model for us how we can approach God when life seems to be spinning out of control. Let me share a few verses that may help you start your conversation with your Guide and Keeper. May you rest in our great Savior as the Pilot of your life.
Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD!
O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!
~Psalm 130:1-2; 142:5a, 6-7a
I cry out to God Most High,
to God who fulfills his purpose for me.
~Psalm 57:2; 142:1-2
O Lord, God of my salvation;
I cry out day and night before You.
Let my prayer come before You;
incline Your ear to my cry.
~Psalm 10:17b; 17:6; 31:2a; 45:10a; 71:2; 78:1; 86:1a; 102:1,2c
But I, O Lord, cry to You;
in the morning my prayer comes before You.
~Psalm 88:1-2, 13