James 1 v 2-4 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.
Before we begin this week, I have a few things to clear up. The first thing is an explanation for my rather “rough & ready” title. I have to confess that it does appear that I’ve written this on the back of a beer mat on a heavy night out at a public house (not guilty as charged). While I admit (like my ballroom dancing) it does lack a lot of finesse and style, it was by far the best title I could come up with. Now, before you all give up and click on the minecraft shortcut on your computer, there’s something I want you to bear in mind. This week’s title is by no means a guide to what follows. There’s some good stuff for you this week, even if the title looks like it’s been written by a insanely drunken Englishman (Again, not guilty as charged. ……Not the drunken bit anyway)
The second thing to clarify is this week’s picture. I pride myself on my ability to find the perfect picture for every title. As you can see from the rather lovely picture of chocolate fudge cake …….it didn’t work out so well this week. I knew God was leading me to write on his peace and the usual picture of doves sprang immediately to my mind. That presented a bit of a problem for me as I’m not a great fan of birds. My daughter has a cockatiel called cookie. She has some great points. She’s a beautiful bird and……well that’s the good points really. On the downside she squawks the house down, she’s messy, she dive bombs me and does unmentionable things all over my clothes. Taking that all into account I found that a picture of doves was just a bridge too far. Despite extensive searching on the Internet for a picture of a cake with peace written on it I came up empty handed (boy is the Internet useless). So I decided to go with something I personally love…..chocolate fudge cake. I truly hope that clarifies the issues for this week.
If you’ve managed to get this far without trying to have me committed…congratulations. This week I want to look at the importance of Gods peace in times of crisis. So, don’t just stand there “grab a piece of Gods peace” (That’s the last time I promise)
Whether you’re a Christian or not, times of crisis will invade your life. They take all shapes and sizes from the minor issue through to life changing situations. None of us, whether saved or unsaved has no immunity to these situations. They cross all borders of age, sex, ethnicity and class. Speaking personally, I would much rather be a Christian with insurmountable problems than not be saved and facing the same. Whatever has come my way (my life has been a train wreck at times!) I have never faced it alone. The creator of all has always seen me through. Not only has God stood with me he has also promised to supply all my needs. I accept that this doesn’t imply that he will take me out of some difficult situations but it guarantees that he will provide me with what I need to get through them. Has he.?…..Yes. Does he?…..daily. (Philippians 4 v 19).
To understand the importance of Gods peace we have to understand the nature of crisis. How do we view the problems we face? What do we think about them and what can we learn from them? If we’re continually asking God to deliver us from the problems were facing were not exactly top of the class. (Stand in the corner with the dunce hat on). If we can only see crisis for what it is our end destination (to be complete and lacking in nothing James 1 v 4) is nothing but a distant dream. Our Christian life is a journey to a destination. That destination isn’t easily reached. Just because we’re saved doesn’t mean that we can put our slippers on and watch “I’m a celebrity get me out of here”. (Please someone get me out of here). Our salvation is just the first step to a distant destination. Our calling to be Christ like, mature and complete and lacking in nothing. Put simply we are commanded to grow. (Hebrews 6 v 1-2).
When I was a young lad (still am… don’t go there. I did not star in that Hovis ad) I sang as a choirboy in the Church of England. Don’t misunderstand I wasn’t Aled Jones but I had a beautiful voice. I was about 12 when I became Head Choir boy. It was a great honour and afforded me great status. I found myself at the centre of every photo and in the front row for every performance. Then something terrible happened to me that changed my life forever. Something so profound that it’s still difficult for me to talk about. Yes, I hit puberty. Suddenly I found myself grappling with unwanted hair, stubble and the dreaded acne. Almost overnight I lost the ability to sing like an angel. My beautiful voice disappeared to be replaced by something that sounded like a broken-down cement mixer (not as pleasant as that actually). I found myself demoted from the front row of the choir and dumped in the back where no one could see me. My dream of being head choir boy was over. It was taken from me by my own body. It was time to grow.
I haven’t shared my intimate story of puberty with you to put you off your kebab. (Apologies if I have done though…..please send all unwanted kebabs to the address below). I’ve shared it because my growth as a human being was inevitable. I could not stay a child forever. The natural process is for a boy to become a man. I am now a mature and complete man (despite what my wife says) I have completed the full cycle of human growth.
The Christian walk bears many parallels to our physical existence. They are so profoundly similar that I can’t but help to smile at Gods amazing intellect. The greatest parallel is the requirement for growth, both physically and spiritually. They both lead us to complete our natural and, more importantly, our spiritual cycles. To be physically mature is unavoidable. To be spiritually mature (especially in regards to how we view crisis) is essential (Romans 5 v 3-4)
Peace is the most vital component to the believer in times of crisis. If we all think back to pivotal problem in our lives, ask yourself this. What was the first thing you lost? (apart from your hair, sanity and sense of humour). I guarantee it was your peace. The minute we dwell on crisis and see it as that we lose our peace. God allows difficulty to get us focused on peace not to lose it. (Isaiah 26 v 3) The believer who can face their storm with the peace of God is truly mature, complete and lacking in nothing. I count my Dad in that illustrious group. While he was dying I have never seen a man more at peace than he. I had no peace. He had Gods peace. While I saw only difficulty and sadness he saw opportunity. While I climbed a mountain of doubt he came down the same mountain in the cable car of faith. He was truly complete and lacking in nothing.
It’s hard to pick a single Christian characteristic that’s the most important in regards to trials. Is it faith, hope, joy or forgiveness? I think these all play their part when built on the correct foundation. Jesus himself reminded us of the importance of our foundations in Matthew 7 v 24.- 27. In John 14 v 27 he says this: Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
By his very words it becomes clear that anxiety, worry and trouble are things that Jesus wished us to avoid. Whilst he never made a promise that we wouldn’t face crisis, here, in these words, he provides us with what we need to face it. The correct foundation for crisis must therefore be peace. If peace is our foundation faith, hope, joy etc work in perfect harmony. Without peace there is only despair. If you exist on despair you lose all hope. Without hope faith is lost. Without faith it is truly impossible to please God. (Hebrews 11 v 6)
Acts Chapter 16 v 15 – 40
Acts 16 v 25- “About midnight Paul & Silas were praying and singing hymns to God and the other prisoners were listening to them”.
As we return to Philippi with Paul & Silas I am continually amazed at how much they can teach us. They are 2 spiritual Giants we would each do well to emulate. Here we find them, stripped, beaten, robbed, imprisoned and bound with chains like animals. This situation is desperate to say the least. Its insurmountable, indescribable and impossible. Despite this, we find them in verse 25 in this extraordinary state of mind. It’s the complete opposite of what we’d expect. This is no natural human response to the Situation they face. It’s a supernatural response. It’s the response that mature believers have to crisis. (James 1 v 2-4). It’s a response built of the peace of God which resides in each of them. (Romans 15 v 13). That same peace that says this is opportunity not punishment. This is chance to grow, to mature, to be complete and a step closer to the goal that God has set me. This is the true power of Gods peace and this is why it must be our foundation in times of crisis. Like us, God didn’t take Paul & Silas out of this situation immediately but he provided them with everything they needed in order to get through it. He provided his perfect peace. (Psalm 29 v 11)
The strange thing about peace is that so few of us have it in times of crisis. I am as guilty as anyone of this fact. It’s strange because Jesus was so specific about its availability “my peace I give to you” (John 14 v 27). If we don’t have peace in our crisis today it’s because we haven’t accepted what’s already been freely given. It’s like leaving unopened presents under the Christmas tree. We have always had access to the same peace that my Dad, Paul & Silas had. If we are viewing our crisis with anything other than Gods peace we need to take a step back. We need to reach out and accept what God has provided to get us through this difficult time. As we do, this will enable us to see our crisis for what it really is. Opportunity, growth potential and another step on that journey to becoming mature and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1 v 4)
Only those who know Gods peace can truly “consider it pure joy when they face trials of various kinds” James 1 v 2.