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S E S S I O N O N E
Every once in a while someone comes up to me and says, 'I
have a real hard time with a specific passage in the New
Testament.' Then they pull out verse two from the first chapter of James: 'Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.' They say, 'What am I supposed to do with this text in the Bible that tells me to be filled with joy over the tragedies that come into my life?' They look me square in the eyes and say, 'I just lost my job.' Or, 'I just lost my mother to a battle with cancer, and I'm pretty far from being joyful about it.'
Some people try to set me up by asking a leading question.
They say, 'Bill, do you think authenticity is important? Do you think God wants us to be genuine?' If I say, 'Generally, yes,'
they get a look in their eyes that says to me, 'I've got you now!'
They say, 'My baby was stillborn.' Or, 'My brother died of leukemia last month.' Or, 'My husband walked out on me with no warning.' And then they tell me of their sorrow.
Genuine, real, deep sorrow.
Then come the questions: 'Does this section of the Bible really say that I should be joyful and happy about this suffering?
How does this passage of the Bible fit in with what I am facing in my life?'
What I have discovered over the years is that these people are usually not looking for a biblical sparring partner. Rather, they are looking for real, deep, and lasting answers to the aching in their hearts. They want to know what God has to say to them in the middle of their pain. If there is any joy or peace to be found in the storm they are experiencing, they want to know about it.
Making the Connection
1. Describe a difficult or painful experience when your heart hungered to find meaning, peace, and even joy in the middle of the crisis.
Knowing and Being Known
Read James 1:1--4
2. How can trials and difficult times (v. 2) develop perseverance in a follower of Christ?
How have you experienced this in your own life?
3. James says that perseverance will lead to maturity and completion (v. 3). How has God been growing perseverance in your life in the past year?
How have you matured as a follower of Christ though this time of perseverance?
4. What is one area where you have been trying to persevere,
but are feeling tempted to quit? What has been wearing you down?
How can your small group members encourage and support you as you persevere in this area of your life?
An Example of Perseverance
In the nineties, there was one man in the NBA who was the most feared fourth-quarter player in all of professional basketball. If you know anything about the sport, you know his name before it is spoken: Michael
Jordan. If you follow basketball at all, and if you ever saw him play, you know that Michael never quit. When the going got tough and the game was on the line, when other players caved in to mental or physical exhaustion, he raised his game up a notch or two.You could almost feel the sense of hopelessness sweep over the other team.
When everyone else was exhausted, mentally fatigued, and bending over to catch their breath, Michael Jordan was going for steals, diving for loose balls, driving the length of the floor, and giving one hundred percent.
He never gave up. He was an opponent's worst nightmare.
5. What do you think James would say to a follower of Christ who was ready to bail out on their faith in the middle of a trial?
6. What character qualities are forged in our lives when we persevere through the fires of trials and suffering?
The Easy Way Out
I fear our generation has come dangerously near the 'I'm-getting-tiredso-
let's-just-quit' mentality. And not just in the spiritual realm. Dieting is a discipline, so we stay fat. Finishing school is a hassle, so we bail out.
Cultivating a close relationship is painful, so we back off.Working through conflicts in a marriage is a tiring struggle, so we walk away.
Sticking with an occupation is tough, so we start looking elsewhere.
---Charles Swindoll, Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life (Zondervan,
1983, p. 70)
In a world where quitting has become chronic, God says persevere!
Too many people are taking the easy way out.This is true in many realms of life, including the spiritual realm.Yet God tells us through James that perseverance through the tough times is the pathway to spiritual maturity and completion.
Read Job 1:13--2:13
7. How did Job deal with his loss, pain, and suffering?
How can this be a model for you when times of trial come your way?
A Partner in Suffering
Suppose you knew that the coming week was going to bring a very powerful trial into your life.What if you knew this trial was going to back you into a corner, bruise your heart, and test the limits of your endurance?
If you could choose one biblical character to walk with you through this time of testing (besides Jesus Christ), who would you invite? My guess is that nine out of ten would pick Job, because he went through a series of heartaches, tragedies, and trials unlike what almost any other person in history has ever experienced.
In a brief period of time, Job lost all of his sons and daughters in a freak accident. He lost all of his livestock and wealth. He lost all of his employees.
Finally, his body broke out in a painful sickness that included open and aching sores.To top it all off, three of his closest friends told him that all of this must be a judgment from God due to sin in Job's life. When Job thought it could not get any worse, his loving wife whispered in his ear,'If
I were you, I'd just curse God and die!'
Yet in all of this, Job persevered and clung to God with all of his might.
8. How did Job express trust in the character of God (Job
1:20; 2:10) through his suffering?
What is one attribute of God's character that gives you hope in times of loss and trial?
9. Later in the story, Job's friends give some poor counsel.
However, their first response is healthy and helpful. What positive examples do you see in the response of Job's three friends (Job 2:11--13) to his suffering?
10. When you come alongside someone who is in a time of suffering, what are some authentic and compassionate ways you can care for him or her?
Who needs your help right now? What can you do to support him or her?
Celebrating and Being Celebrated
Pray for those in your small group who are going through a time of struggle and trials. Also, pray for God to use you as an encourager and comforter to those who are hurting. Second
Corinthians 1:3--4 says:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.
Pray for God to use you as an instrument of His comfort and care.
Serving and Being Served
Take time in the coming month to study the book of Job. Read it closely and allow God to speak to your heart and life. Also,
as you reflect deeply on this record of suffering, pray for God to bring to mind people in your life who are going through a time of trial. These can be family members, small group members,
neighbors, or anyone you know. Talk to these people about what you have learned from James and Job about perseverance and God's presence in the middle of the storms of life.