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A Theology to Understand, Part 1

From the series The ART of Survival

If you’re wondering where God is in the midst of your suffering and frightening circumstances, if you’re so discouraged that you’re ready to throw in the towel, what do you do? In this program, Chip tells us to hang onto that towel! Because he’s gonna reveal how to slay the dragon of discouragement and have rock-solid hope, no matter what.

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Message Transcript

Well, welcome to part three of our series, The Art of Survival. And, boy, don’t we need to survive and even thrive in these kind of days? This is part three, it’s all from James chapter 1.

And as I begin, I want to tell you an apocryphal story. This is not a true story; it was made up. But it has a very powerful point. The legend goes that Satan went into the market and he was having a big sale of all of his tools, tools he used to blind unbelievers, but even more importantly, he had some tools to render Christians, especially leaders, people really walking with God, just to absolutely ruin their faith.

And so, he had a broad spectrum of multiple tools and he had a price tag on each one of them. And all the junior demons were invited to come and buy these different tools to help them as they would persuade and deceive Christians and unbelievers alike.

There was one very, very small box that had an astronomical price. It was so high that all the demons said, “It’s such a small, little box. What could be in that little box that’s worth that much?”

And Satan said, “What’s in that box is discouragement, because it’s more useful to me than all the others.” He said, “I pry open men’s heart and I get inside of them and I can get near to them with this tool like no other. It’s badly worn because I use it almost all the time. But since few people know it really belongs to me, I deceive them, I discourage them, and I get them to give up or to give in and render them powerless in this fight against the enemy, the King, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

And so, a cute story but a lot of truth to it. In fact, discouragement I think is the number one destroyer, especially at times like this, that undermine us. And that might sound like an exaggeration unless you’re one of those people that has really been discouraged, that has felt like giving up, giving in, I can’t do this anymore.

As I was praying about it early this morning and thinking of my time to get to talk with you, I thought of one of the seasons, very much like now, where the things that held me up, there were health issues. And then there were ministry issues. Then there were financial issues and there were family issues. And I felt like it was a time in my life where I was seeking and praying and pursuing God like never before and it just was getting worse and worse and worse.

And I actually, it was about ten years ago and I dug this journal out this morning. I wrote, “For twenty months I have clung to a passage and a promise in Psalm 25. The journey has been characterized by pain, injustice, betrayal, the stripping of the old, new insights into my pride, into ministry metrics that don’t focus so much on the number of people that do this or that but leading into new processes and strategies and focus and energy that really have to do with life change, while at the same time experiencing absolute desperate dependency.

“We’re broke, personally and as a ministry. We have no office, no staff to speak of, no clear direction for teaching, a future that is uncertain and unknown, and we are forced to live simply by faith and the clear conviction and pain that we must move forward to helping Christians live like Christians with what we have, which is little; with where we are, which is difficult; and with God who brought us here. I have been tempted many times to give up. I have felt deeply, deeply discouraged. And I have battled feelings of hopelessness in the midst of this journey.”

That was ten years ago. And as I look back now at what God did, I realize that He had to work deeply in me before He was going to work significantly through me. I had to learn what we have learned in part one and part two about considering it all joy when nothing feels or looks joyful. I had to come to the point where I said, Lord, I don’t know what to do. I don’t have any money. I don’t have direction. Difficulty is at every turn. I need Your wisdom. And He gave it.

And now what I want to ask you is: where are you at? How are you doing with discouragement? And what discourages you? The definition of discouragement is to deprive courage, hope, or confidence. It’s the lack of courage. Courage is that thing that wells up inside of you that says, “The circumstances don’t matter. The opposition doesn’t matter. I am going to press forward. I am going to follow Christ. I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength, no matter what happens.”

Discouragement is when you lose heart. Discouragement is that feeling when you say, “It’s not worth it. Nothing will ever change. I can’t go on. I’m powerless.” It’s that feeling that just screams, “Just quit. Just give it up. Just compromise. Take a shortcut.”

So let me ask you before we begin the teaching time here and get into how to slay the dragon of discouragement, I want to you ask you: where are you at in terms of what discourages you? What person? What circumstance? What is going on in your life or in your thoughts? What is happening in your country? Where are you in your life right now that you would say, I mean, very specifically, “This is discouraging me. These are the thoughts that are coming into my mind that make me want to say, God, I just can’t do this anymore. I give up.” What is going on? I want you to get it down very specific and very clearly, because God is going to take His Word today and He is going to speak to that very specific discouragement in your life and in mine.

Discouragement is the number one destroyer of God’s plans for our lives, just before we receive God’s highest and best, many of us throw in the towel. I have had some times and I have counseled so many hundreds of people, right before there’s a breakthrough in their marriage where it gets resolved, where they learn to forgive, and where they love, so many quit and separate or get a divorce.

Right before there’s a huge answer to prayer, whether it’s finances or an open door in ministry, just before that happens, so often, many give up and they quit. Just before God is at work and the habit, the addiction, the struggle that it has just been a stronghold in your life, God is working, working, working, working and just before He answers and delivers, so many people give up.

And what I want to say to you is we are going to learn how to slay the dragon of discouragement and God is going to give us a plan. He is going to answer: how do you survive when you’re tired, when you have tried, when you have worked, when you have prayed, when you’re exhausted, and everything in you says, “I just can’t take it anymore.”

God says, “I have an answer for you.” He has an answer for me. And He has a plan. And the plan begins with an attitude. It all begins with our attitude. God’s will in adversity is this attitude: joyful endurance. “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result that you might be perfect or mature, lacking in nothing.”

And then the second thing He gives us is a resource. In the midst of not knowing what to do, in the midst of not having answers and battling discouragement, He says, “Here’s a resource. God’s promise in the process is supernatural wisdom.” He is going to give you insight into the best possible ends by the best possible means for the most possible people for the longest possible time.

He says in verse 5, “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.” Condition, “But let him or her 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 man expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being double-minded, unstable in all his ways.”God tells you and me in the midst of our discouragement He will show you what to do and how to do it to get through your greatest challenges.

And then the third thing in God’s plan isn’t just an attitude and it’s not just a resource of supernatural wisdom.He is going to say, “I’m going to give you a truth, a theology if you will, about life and about circumstances and about the future. And when you get this clarity, this truth, it is the thing that will allow you to slay the dragon of discouragement.”

He writes, “But let the humble brother in his humble circumstances glory in his high position, and let the rich man glory in his humiliation,” why? “because like flowering grass he will pass away,” speaking of the rich man. “For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed. So too, the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.”

And then he gives this admonition, this hope, this reward, “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial, for once he has been tested and is approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord promised to those who love Him.”

God’s prescription, His truth to persevere, to not give up is this: a divine perspective. There is a truth, there is a theology about life – here’s life. God says, “I want to give you a lens to look at life and your circumstances. I want you to see things through the kingdom lens.” In the practical lens, rich people, powerful people, people with position, with homes, with money, with security – they are the ones that have it made.

He’s going to say, “No, in God’s kingdom lens, actually, the opposite is true.” Those who have little actually have a high position. And then he’s going to explain why. Let me take a moment and just explain this passage and then from it, I want to give you three very specific principles that will allow you to hang in there when things get tough.

He says, “Let the brother of humble circumstance,” this word is socioeconomic. He’s not talking about character or humility. He’s saying, basically, let someone who doesn’t have very much money, “glory,” and the word means to boast or take joy or rejoice and say, “Wow! Look what I have!” So, “…in your high position.”

And I don’t know about you, but I have studied the Bible for a number of years and I remember reading and studying the entire book of James and looking at each paragraph teaching through the whole book and for years, honestly, getting to verses 9 through 12, especially 9 through 11 in chapter 1 – and we do this, don’t we, who study the Bible, especially some of us who teach it, and just scratching my head and thinking, I don’t get this. What’s with this little section about poor people being, having a high position and rich people having a low position and then this promise of reward?

Well, follow along. It’s super insightful. One of the things I have learned about studying the Bible, if there’s something in a passage that at first doesn’t seem to make any sense, chances are it’s very profound and this is one of those passages.

So he says to those of us that don’t have very much, or for those of you that don’t have very much, I’m thinking maybe because of COVID you’ve lost your job. Maybe you have lost your business. Maybe you’re in a country right now that things are very, very difficult. I mean, super challenging like you don’t have food. I mean, he says to those who have little to boast and to rejoice in your high position.

And what he is doing is saying, “I want to give you a perspective from heaven about looking at life through this lens of faith.”

Here’s his point. He’s going to say, “When we don’t have anything, our high position is we are automatically dependent. We automatically turn to God. We automatically pray.”

When I read this from my journal ten years ago, when I said I was broke, I wasn’t exaggerating. No money. I have had seasons where I have sat in the car with my family, we had no money, we had no food, and we bowed our head and said, Lord, You said that You would promise. It was literally after a church service. And we literally had nothing. And as we prayed and while we were praying, toward the end, we heard a knock.

It was the first time I went to this church. We had just moved to that city to prepare for ministry. And someone we didn’t know that apparently sat behind us and saw a young family, knocked on the window, we rolled down the window, and they said, “Excuse me, do you all have plans for lunch? We would love to bring you to our home for lunch.”

You see, we didn’t pray in the car because we were being spiritual. We didn’t pray in the car because we thought, Oh, this is important. Let’s be good Christians. We prayed in the car because we had no money and nothing to eat and I had three kids in the backseat.

What he’s saying is, as hard as it is to face, when we are low socioeconomically, we are rich in faith because we are pre-positioned to be dependent, to trust God, and to seek Him.

And then he says to those who are rich. And the idea in the New Testament being rich is I have enough for today, enough for tomorrow, and I may have even savings for the future.

In other words, the person who basically has their own security. Many in America listening to this, and many around the world that are watching and listening to this would say to themselves, By biblical standards, I may not think of myself as rich, but I’m rich. I’m not worried about: can I eat tomorrow? Or do I have a roof over my head?

And he says to those who are rich, “We should glory,” now my season has changed, I need to glory in my low position. I need to realize that spiritually, I am at a very big disadvantage, because money is powerful. And money can provide false security. And money can create idols. And money can create expectations. And money can get us thinking that we can live our life our way without God.

And so he says we have to willfully choose. I need to get up and say, Lord, I need You. I choose to depend on You. Because the fact of the matter is, if I didn’t pray today, I have enough money in the bank to eat for this week and next week and probably next month. I don’t have to pray.

And so, he says rich people are in a more challenging spiritual situation. And then he gives this reason, “For the sun rises with a scorching wind and it withers the grass; the flower falls off.” In other words, life is temporary, life is transitory, life is a vapor, life is a breath.

And he says the low position of rich people and many people are experiencing this right now is that a few months ago, things were great. Now you don’t have a job. I talk to men who have spent the last twenty years building businesses and investing money with this idea that they are retiring, and they are secure forever and ever. Are you ready? In the last four or five months, COVID-19, it’s gone. It’s gone.

And so, what he’s saying to us is that you can’t trust in these things because of the nature, the transitory nature of life. They fade away. And then he says “Blessed,” and this word is an inner quality of happiness not dependent on circumstances, “is the one who perseveres.”

Now, are you ready for this? If you have your Bible, circle that word persevere, and then go up at the top of chapter 1, remember where it says, “Let endurance,” it’s the same word. Hupomeno. “Blessed is the man, blessed is the woman who, under pressure, under stress, under discouragement, under spiritual opposition, under difficult circumstances, under finances that you don’t know what you’re going to do but you refuse to give up, you refuse, “I’m going to trust,” he says as you endure and persevere, under trial and the exact same word as in the earlier part.

“Blessed is the man who, with these external trials, once you have been approved,” notice, the word here is for a test. And he says, “Once you pass the test…” You know what passing the test is? It’s being faithful to your calling. It’s not giving up. It’s not giving in. It’s not caving into temptation. It’s not compromising. It’s not saying the ministry is not worth it. It’s saying, “I’m going to hang in there in this difficult marriage.” “I’m going to hang in there in this ministry.” “I’m going to hang in there with this difficult situation with my boss or a supervisor.” “I’m going to hang in there in this difficulty because I’m called by God to be faithful to Him.” I refuse in the power of the Holy Spirit to give in or to give up.

And he says once you’ve been approved, you’ll receive the crown of life. And this is great. Grammatically, this is the crown namely life. It’s, yes, we are going to get crowns and there’s going to be rewards for believers. But the emphasis here is the crown, namely life. This abundance.

When you persevere and do not allow discouragement to sabotage your life, there is a quality of life, there is an intimacy with Jesus, there is a power, there is a faith, there’s a courage, there is a life experience that other people don’t get.

He says you’re going to receive the crown of life, not just now, but with future reward as well, which the Lord has promised, notice to whom, to those who love Him. To those who say, Lord, my loyalty, my loyalty is to you. It is hard. It is difficult. It is painful.