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About this series
The ART of Survival
In this series, Chip explains there’s an ART to Survival - skills, honed by practice, that lead to joyful endurance, no matter what. A - is the ATTITUDE that helps us navigate adversity. R - is the RESOURCE God offers in adversity. And T - is the THEOLOGY that guides our perspective in adversity. When challenging times and difficult circumstances threaten to bring us down, God provides the hope and the tools we need to rise above. Life isn’t easy, He never said it would be. In fact, Jesus told us to expect trouble. How we handle the trouble and guard our attitude is an opportunity to demonstrate our trust in the sufficiency and sovereignty of Christ. There’s an ART to survival. Chip shows us, from James, Chapter 1, how it’s done.More from this series
Welcome to part two of The Art of Survival. You know, we are living in a global pandemic with huge implications, economic, emotional, financial. Churches are shut down; businesses are shut down. It’s not just difficult. For many, it’s devastating. And what we want to ask and answer is: God, where are You?
When you don’t feel like there’s hope, when you need to know what to do and how do you hang in there when it feels like you just can’t? What do you do? That’s the art of survival. And God has an answer.
The early Church was birthed in a time just like we are experiencing. And God gave a word to Jesus’ half-brother, James. And we are going to talk about that in just a minute. But as we talk about when you’re stuck and when it’s difficult and when you literally don’t know what to do, sometimes a micro-story gives sort of a macro-understanding.
I want to tell you about a man that I got to know very, very well. We became very close friends. When I met him, he was in a wheelchair. He was very strong and muscular. And I would learn a little bit later that he was a world champion, Olympic gold medalist in the wheelchair on the basketball team. He was a gold medalist in the Paralympics in the marathon. He was a fabulous athlete. And we got to know each other and then I heard his story. Jerry was a phenomenal athlete who had a future in football.
I mean, millions of dollars in his future. Absolute, unbelievable. He was walking downtown with his girlfriend and on a downtown street, two guys came out of a bar and they were fighting and one of them pulled out a knife. And Jerry instinctively stepped in to try and break up the fight to save one of them. It looked very, very bad. And as he pulled them apart and got them away, he said, “All I heard was two loud bang! Bang!” And then searing pain as two bullets lodged in his back.
Jerry was paralyzed from that moment forward. As I talked to Jerry, I thought, If anyone, anyone sort of would have a right to say, “Why me? I tried to save someone’s life, I’m trying to do what is good, and I get two bullets in the back.”
And his career was one of those that would be fame, millions and millions of dollars, he was the star that everyone wanted to play on their team. And he’s devastated. It’s gone. When Jerry first had this situation, I would call him nominally Christian.
He believed in God, did not have a close or personal relationship with God. And his whole world was falling apart and he confessed to me over and over and over, “I just said, ‘Why? Why me, God? Why? I don’t understand.’”
And then he went to rehab and he watched two sets of people. And he said, “I watched people whose lives crumbled. All they did was ask why and they wallowed in self-pity and their focus was inward. They made little progress and their lives were a disaster.”
And he said, “Then there were a few people, just a very, very few people that weren’t asking, ‘Why?’ they were asking, ‘What do I need to do in this situation to get better? What can I control? How do I make it through today? And where can there be hope? Because as of right now, my life is devastated.’”
And I learned some things from Jerry that I want to share with you. And God shared some things with me that were a great help as Jerry became a great friend and God really transformed his life.
James chapter 1, here’s the principle: don’t ask “why”, ask “what”. Survivors, people that make it through the most devastating personal times or even global times ask three questions. Question number one: what can I control? Answer: my attitude. Question number two: what must I do to make it through today? Answer: endure. Remember? Hupomeno. I mean, don’t give up, don’t give in, hang onto the promises of God.
And third, what hope do I have for tomorrow? Answer: an all-powerful, all-knowing, sovereign God who is good promises to take the very worst that you experience in this life and turn it for your best and will either allow you to experience that in this life or in the one to come with Him in heaven.
Jerry stopped asking, “Why?” And he started asking, “What?” And as he did, he began to focus on: I’m going to consider this an opportunity. I’m going to consider that maybe God has a plan for me. And He’ll use me in ways that are not about fame or fortune or money, but He allowed this to happen. He didn’t cause it.
And Jerry went into training. And Jerry became a world-class athlete again, but this time in a wheelchair and won gold medals. He traveled all over the world, all over the United States. He then went in and became a marathoner where he won the gold medal in the marathon in a wheelchair. Twenty-six point two miles. You would meet Jerry and he shared his testimony of how the supernatural power, the Spirit of God inside of his life in the midst of the most devastating thing actually changed his life to the point where I remember having a very private conversation.
He said, “Chip, if I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. Do I like sitting in this chair? No.” He said, “But I thought money and fame and prosperity were my ticket to the life that is really life.” And he said, “I was famous, and I had a big future.” He said, “But I have experienced an intimacy with Jesus Christ, a peace and a joy and a power, and God has used my life all around the world to change people’s lives because I wasn’t a victim, I was a survivor, because He gave me hope. He gave me the grace to endure when I didn’t think I could and it changed me from a nominal, I-kind-of-believe-in-God, to a dedicated follower of Jesus. And then He used my difficulty to share the love of Christ with other people whose lives will be different forever and ever.”
Now, here’s what I want you to know. Jerry got stuck. I didn’t share that part of his story. You know when you hear a story like Jerry’s, it sounds almost like a fairy tale. This happened, he made a few great choices. If I told you the long version, I would tell you about when he was in rehab and was depressed. I mean, clinically depressed. When he wallowed in self-pity. When he was ready to give up. When he didn’t care. Jerry got stuck.
Here’s what I want you to know. When things are happening the way they are in our life – you don’t have a job, maybe someone close to you has died of the virus, maybe the ministry is completely shut down because the churches are closed, maybe you can’t travel from country to country, maybe your mental health – you are depressed. You are discouraged. Maybe your marriage wasn’t going well and now it’s a train wreck; it’s a mess.
Maybe one of your kids has been impacted. Maybe you have no idea where you’re going to get food tomorrow. You don’t have any money. Or the business that you built has evaporated.
I don’t know where you’re at, but I know many of you, you’re stuck. And you’re saying, I want to consider it all joy. I want to allow God to test me and I want this endurance to make me mature and complete. I want a story like Jerry’s, but I’m stuck. I can’t get there. I’m trying hard but am I just supposed to pretend that I have joy? God understands and He knows that we get stuck.
And in verses 5 through 8 of chapter 1, he is now going to shift. And early on he said, “Don’t ask ‘Why?’ ask ‘What?’” And he told us that the key is first your attitude. Now he is going to tell you that you need a resource. And it’s a resource more valuable than money. It’s a resource even more valuable than a friend, as important as that is.
There’s a resource that He wants to give you that when you get stuck, when you don’t know what to do in your circumstance, you don’t know what to do in your relationship, you don’t know what to do in terms of your geography – He says, “I have a resource that will show you exactly what to do and I promise to give it to you one hundred percent of the time.”
Follow along as I read. Remember, “Let endurance have its perfect result that you might be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Look at verse 5, “But,” and by the way, in the Greek text, this is the strongest word used for a contrast. I mean, it’s, “But if any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith without any doubting. For the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that person or that man or woman expect that they will receive anything from the Lord, being double-minded, unstable in all your ways.”
And in this little passage, he is going to teach you and he’s going to teach me: what do you do when you’re stuck in your pain? What do you do when you’re stuck in this virus? What do you do when emotional, financial, relational issues are flurrying around and you want to follow God and you literally don’t know how?
Here’s what I want you to know, number one, is that God understands when we get stuck. God wants to help you when you’re stuck. God gives you a condition that if you will fulfill this condition, He promises He will show you exactly what to do. And now, let’s break this down to understand: God’s offer of supernatural wisdom, that’s the resource.
By the way, wisdom here isn’t being smart. It’s not intellectual. This is the Hebrew sense of wisdom. Hebrew wisdom means the skill and the ability to know what to do, when to do, and how to do it in the midst of any situation or relationship.
God’s wisdom, literally, from the Old Testament and James is writing as a Jew to these Jewish Christians. He is saying God has a design for life and He wants to bring about the best possible ends by the best possible means for the most possible people for the longest possible time.
And there is a way, there’s a way to think, there’s a way to do decisions, there’s a way to do relationships. There’s wisdom, there’s this skill that God wants to give to those who ask.
And so, what he’s promising to this early group who find themselves, “I believe in Jesus the Messiah. Fifteen years ago, He was raised from the dead. He showed Himself to over five hundred witnesses.” They believe. Their lives have been transformed. They have seen miracles. And now the world is falling apart.
And they say, God, what do we do? He says, “Consider it all joy.” But we’re stuck! Now what do we do? He says, “Ask God for wisdom and He will give it.” But I want you to know this, he says, “You have a responsibility.” This isn’t about trying hard, figuring it out your own way. He says, “Let him ask,” it’s a command.
And the idea of this word is: let him ask for a gift in prayer. This is a word for prayer that is not just “I’m praying,” or, “Lord, help me.” This is coming to God and saying, I don’t know what to do in this pandemic, about this relationship, about money, about housing, about location, about a big decision. I don’t know what to do. God says, “If you lack wisdom, number one, ask.” And here’s the promise, “He will give it generously and without reproach.”
I have been a pastor for over thirty-five years, and I have seen people stuck in health issues, relational issues, financial issues, legal issues, criminal issues. And it has always amazed me that there are times when a Christian will get stuck and they will do almost anything in the world to figure out what they ought to do except go to God in genuine humility and ask Him what to do.
And for years, that used to puzzle me, but it doesn’t puzzle me anymore. See, I think many people have a very warped view of God. I think many people feel like God is arms crossed and when we want and really need His help, we tend to think, “But I lied and I have stolen,” or, “I have not been the kind of Christian I know I should be,” or, “I have some areas of immorality in my life,” or, “I haven’t obeyed what I know and how could I go to God now when I have messed up, when I know I’m not the person that I should be?”
And did you notice what it says? “Ask of God who gives to all men,” the word means generously. In fact, literally this phrase is: come to the gift-giving God.
God loves you. And like a Father who understands when His kids mess up, His desire isn’t for you to get everything cleaned up before you come to Him. His desire is just: come. You just come as you are. It thrills your Father’s heart when you say, I can’t do this. I need Your help. I don’t understand. Yes, we all have some issues where we have done some things that we know are wrong.
But He says He gives generously. And then I love this word, “without reproach.” It means that His arms aren’t crossed. He is not pointing with a finger and saying, “Well, you want help, but what about this or what about that?”
No, this is when Jesus says, “Come unto Me all of you that are heavy laden, that are burdened, that are overwhelmed. Come, I will give you rest.” You serve a God who is kind and good and loving and understanding.
It’s why Jesus, when He taught the disciples to pray, He introduced a foreign concept. In the Old Testament, there’s not a lot of references to God as our Father. And Jesus would say, “When you pray, pray, ‘Abba.’”