Why Do We Struggle?
Chuck Affholter said in his eulogy that: “All life is suffering.” Now, that might be a half glass empty approach to life, but it’s a fair reflection for most people in the world. All life is struggle. Life so often feels that way, doesn’t it? Why is that? Why do we struggle so much? Well, the Scriptures illustrate some good reasons for it.
- Because the Struggle Is Where God Wants Us. (2-8)
He wants us in the struggle. So that’s where HE puts us. Now, the text doesn’t say outright, that the trials of verse 2 are “from God,” but I think there is good reason to think that’s what James means in the text. You may think differently, so let me explain why I think that’s what James means.
- These trials (2) should be received with joy (2) because it makes us mature and complete (4) (more like the Lord). I don’t think the Devil ever intends to help us look like Jesus. But that’s what these trials are intended for.
- On the other side of these trials are (12) the crown of life. It’s a sports analogy. Crowns were for olympians who won competitions. The idea is that God put us on a track, that when we finish, we receive His reward.
- You could even make a case that the “gifts” mentioned in verse 17, at least, partly refers to the trials mentioned in verse 2.
So, for those reasons, I think it’s safe to say that the trials of verse 2 should be understood as trials “from God.”
James has in mind here people like Joseph. Sold into slavery by his brothers. Falsely accused as a slave, thrown into a slaves’ prison. Forgotten there for years. Until finally in later adult life, reconnected to his brothers and expected to forgive them in spite of what they did to him. And yet Joseph didn’t blame Satan or his brothers for what happened to him. Joseph puts God on the hook and says it his way to his brothers by saying: “You intended this for evil, but God intended this for good.”
Sometimes we believe that everything happens to us for a reason that we can control. Maybe that’s you. And you’re here today and you just can’t figure out what in the world is going on and why you’re facing what you’re facing. And you’re thinking, ”What did I do to get myself into this?” And the answer is nothing. You are where God wants you and exactly where God put you. Do you hear me? It’s not by accident, and it’s not because of something you could control. You are where you are on purpose, for God’s purpose – wonderful reasons, glorious reasons, cloud dimly, and in preparation for glory.
Now, I can’t tell you what God’s total purposes are behind the trial He’s got you in. I won’t pretend to and neither should you. He may be doing something that we won’t know until 80 years from now. I can’t tell all God’s purposes, but I can tell you how you can use your struggle, and not waste it.
I was with a family at USA Medical. We don’t know much about them; we just ministered to them a while back and it was a chance meeting. He was a 68 yr old who had a random aneurysm. They opened his skull, cleared the blood clot, but then the wound got infected to (yet again) threaten his life. I couldn’t see him, but I could visit with his family in the waiting room. After a few minutes, his son pulled me aside and said, “Pastor, I want to tell you something. My dad, all his life, no matter what was happening, gets the biggest smile on his face when he would talk about Jesus. Filled him with joy. And we’ve gone into pray every so often, and that man smiles and is filled with joy at the name of Jesus Christ.” You know how you can avoid wasting your suffering? You show your children, grandchildren, and the world that Jesus is better. That Jesus + Nothing = Everything.
He’s better than a healthy body, good job, nice kids. And so if God takes it away, “if I have Jesus, I have everything.”
But, look, I know that that’s hard. That’s hard to accept. Trials are still hard. “Joy” (vs 2)? Strengthen your faith (3) to make you like him (4) to get you to seek his wisdom (5-8)? Trials make us strong, like metal through fire? That sounds good, but it’s so hard. Look at me. I know it’s hard. I’m your pastor. And I know that it’s been a hard month. Maybe the hardest ever. I’m helped. I’m helped because of what I know about Jesus…look with me at Jesus. Luke 9:22, “The Son of Man (speaking about himself) must suffer many things, be rejected, and killed.” We don’t have a Lord who makes us walk anywhere he hasn’t already been. Jesus struggled, because God, His good father, put him to it. And trusting that His father is good, he said. “Let it come…Not my will, but yours be done.”
- Because We Are Trying to be Righteous with a Ruined Nature (13-15).
It is the case that God may place us directly in the path of a trial, but it may also be the case that we are “struggling” because we are fighting with our own sinful nature. The text tells us that we are “drawn away (lured) by our own evil desires. Your struggles aren’t necessarily something God has put on you (13). Not something from the world. Our “struggle” in this life, as James puts it, comes from within.
When you come to Jesus, you get saved ultimately from the consequences of our sin, but you have not been saved immediately from the presence of sin. And we struggle with that old man, that old way, that old self. And, if we fail in that struggle, we have to, simply, make the bed we sleep in. You get a taste of death (1:15). Now, what you’re living in is not a trial from God (1:13) (God may use it), it’s a problem of your own making.
Carrie and I have been discussing my weight. Conscious of it. And I have been often complaining about my waste size while chewing on my second piece of pecan pie or shoveling handfuls of M&Ms into my mouth. Now, I suppose I could say to Carrie, “God’s putting me through the trial of waste management.” But God doesn’t have anything to do with it. I’m making the bed I sleep in. Not from God. Don’t blame Him. That’s from me.
“I don’t understand why all this is happening to me? Why can’t I get out of my situation? God must have a special target on my back.” Well, if you would stop running with the devil, you’d stop living through Hell. “Pastor, I don’t understand why I can’t get out and get a job. God is putting me through it.” No, you’ve been fired from the past 6 jobs you’ve had. God didn’t have anything to do with it. You just have a terrible work record. “Pastor, I’m in a real money trial.” No, you’ve been foolishly spending your money on trucks and toys, lottery tickets and booze. Leave God out of it. He didn’t put it on you. You sleeping in the bed you made. “Pastor, I got a real marriage problem. God’s got me in a trial.” No, you’re running around, never home, flirting with anything that moves. That’s not God-sent. You brought that on yourself. Drawn out by our own desires. Your trial isn’t from God. It’s because you’re dealing with the devil.
Others of you’re struggling because you’re trying to be righteous 3 and we Have a Powerful Enemy (4.7-8). Still in the presence of sin and the Devil is aimed his strength at tearing us down. And so we’ve got to struggle. It’s a knock-down drag-out, knife fight.
The Devil is a “roaring lion” (I will sift you like wheat). But he doesn’t roar at sleeping Christians. He’s fine to leave em alone. But he comes prowling for those who threaten his domain. You start to move for the Savior you better get ready to meet the Devil. “When the Lord starts blessing, the Devil starts messing.” And he loves to dangle the lure that will tease you to death (1:15
With all this aimed at our failure, what am I supposed to do? Almost certain, James 1 says, that we are up against some powerful enemies. All this stacked against me: ruined nature, active and prowling lion on the hunt for me, what am I supposed to do?
When the Devil, When the Old Dragon comes around, he’ll come around when you’re vulnerable (in the desert after 40 days of hunger), and and he’ll come crafty and say to you: Would God leave you in the scorching sun, why would he let you starve, why would he let you sunburn? Why would God leave you in this marriage? In this job? In this house? In this financial situation? If God loved you….You do some simple things…1:22-25
You do the Word. What does the devil do when Jesus says and does the Word (Matthew 3:11 – The Devil left him)? The Word planted deep (1:21) will have its fruit, but you’ve got to do it. Jesus hit the Tempter with the Scriptures. Christians born again by the Work of God, will keep the Word of God.
What are we supposed to do? How can we be like and follow Jesus? You hit the Tempter with the Scriptures. Jesus could have made some bread. (EV Hill) Would have had sourdough, whole wheat, or pumpernickle. It wasn’t a question of what Jesus could do; he was giving us an example of what he wants us to do. So he hit em with the Scripture. I’m going to “do the Word of God.”
Very simply, we Trust and Obey….because it’s all very simple, boiled down to this. When you go through trials from God, when you face temptations from the presence of sin and the power of the Devil, it all comes down to this: “Do you trust the Lord?”
I cherish that Old Rugged Cross. Because in the valley of trial, temptation, shadow, it reminds me that my Lord suffered. It reminds me of what he has done for me. “No man has greater love than this, than he lay down his life for his friends.” I don’t know The Why all the time. But I do know The Who. And He loves me and you. Now, that gives us a very good reason to simply trust him, and obey.