I am not sure where I first heard it or who it was that said it but I have never forgotten the aphorism, “Problems are not planned, but they can be planned for.” That little truth sat behind the substance of our sermon this Sunday and it confronts me as I plan for what I need to do this week and in the coming months as my life adjusts to the changing realities of work, family, and the world around me. I will be traveling to Florida this weekend to visit with my dad and my brother and sister. My father wants to make out his will and he wants me to oversee the process. It is a situation fraught with possible problems, both present and future.
The message of Sunday’s sermon was that it is not the trials that come into our lives that determine what kind of people we become, but how we respond to them. The Apostle James makes this abundantly clear in the first Chapter of his epistle, written to the twelve tribes of Israel, who at that point are scattered throughout the world. He argues that problems are tests and James sees them both as a source of joy (1:2) and a means, as we struggle through them, to teach us endurance (1:3) or how to stay the course under pressure (to keep on keeping on). If you question trials as a source of joy, as many do, the simple answer is that God’s economy is different than ours. The long answer will have to wait for another time. What I am dealing with at the moment is how they teach me to endure, to continue the struggle until I come out the other side.
So often our prayers are requests to remove the problems. We just want them to go away. It might be better if instead our prayers focused on getting the necessary resources to correctly handle the trials and adversities that face us. We need wisdom to make the proper choices and strength to stick to the course we have chosen. That said, there is an important promise give us in 1 Corinthians 10:13 to support us in “staying the course”
No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.
We will always face the temptation to abandon the effort. But notice God’s promise. While it says He provides a way out, it is not so we can avoid dealing with the problem, but instead, it is so we can stand up under it. He gives us a way through, a path we are capable of following through the trials and tribulations and the temptations they engender.
James further tells us that those who persevere under trials are blessed. I particularly like the old pronunciation that emphasizes the
lastfirst syllable ( bless- ed bless-ed. It is a wonderful thing biblically to be blessed blessed. [note: changes reflect comment by Jeremy Pierce – see comments.]
So, if you like me are beset by problems, do not despair. Read James and take heart when you remember the seventh verse of that great hymn commonly called St. Patrick’s Breastplate
Christ be with me, Christ within me
Christ behind me, Christ before me
Christ beside me, Christ to win me
Christ to comfort and restore me
Christ beneath me, Christ above me
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger
Christ in hearts of all that love me
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger
May God be with you today, to support you as you work through all of your problems, giving you wisdom to make the proper choices and the strength to do what you have chosen to do. And finally, instilling the endurance to finish what you have started, always remembering that the Lord Jesus Christ is faithful and just to bring to completion the good work he has begun in you.
Grace and peace, today and always.