An Attitude to Embrace
From the series The ART of Survival
Looking back to the way others have risen above their circumstances is often a good way to get perspective and inspiration. Their choices to honor God and love like Jesus did, spark our motivation to do the same - regardless of our circumstances. In this message, Chip shares five observations that’ll forever change your attitude toward adversity.
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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
You know, we are living in very historic times right now. I mean, it’s historic in that we have a pandemic that is global. And pandemics bring very difficult things into the lives of people all across the world.
For some right now, this is a very difficult time. But they see a way through. For others, it’s a desperate time. How will we get through this? And it’s more than just the disease, as radical and difficult as that has been. It has created emotional, relational, economic issues. Churches are closed, businesses are closed. I have been in contact in recent days with people in Egypt and the Middle East, issues in Lebanon. We have talked very directly with what is going on in China as they are dealing with the pandemic.
People in India, Pakistan, we have been having talks with them about what is going on in that country and how do we make it through this? In Latin America, another team of pastors and leaders have talked to us about: It is really, really difficult.
The question isn’t sometimes: how do we thrive? Sometimes the question is: how do we survive? I mean, people don’t have food, people don’t have money, their connection, the church, the love, the encouragement of what people need to make it through times – pastors and leaders are asking: “Why, Lord?”
As I talked to one leader recently, he said, “Our teams all throughout the Middle East are coming to me and they are very young leaders.” “I am serving God; I am risking my life for the gospel. And in the midst of this, why is all this happening?”
Well, I want to tell you that there is an art to survival. Science sometimes is very clear, there’s a formula, right? Two plus two equals four. Here’s the law of physics. But art means that there is an answer, there’s a way but it looks different for different people in different situations.
And you may not know it, but the early Church was birthed at a time much like our own. It wasn’t just difficult, it was desperate. And God gave them the very first words from the half-brother of Jesus.
His name is James and it’s found in the book of James. The book was written about A.D. 46 or 49. So, the Church is only thirteen, fourteen, fifteen years old from the death and resurrection of Jesus. And what we find is there’s a great persecution that occurred. We learn about it in Acts chapter 8.
And now, people are struggling. They have left homes. They are scattered abroad. There are economic issues. They have been disinherited. They have been cut off from family. There’s persecution by the Roman government. And they are wondering, What do we do? We have believed in this Jesus who died and rose from the dead. We have eternal life. But how do we survive this difficulty? And what is very interesting and so encouraging is we are going to get the answers.
I called it The “ART” of Survival for those who speak English, there’s a little acronym, because I think there’s an A: attitude that you must have. R: there’s a resource, the most important resource to get through all of this. And the T is for a theology or a way of thinking that will give you perspective in the midst of the most difficult times in all the world.
Before we begin, let’s get a little worldview perspective and say, “What does the Bible say about a fallen world?” Right? It’s a very difficult, fallen world. Some of us are surprised and struggling and wondering why.
Listen carefully to Peter. Peter said, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial that you are suffering as though something strange were happening to you,” 1 Peter chapter 4, verse 12.
Jesus said the very last night on earth, “These things I have spoken to you that in Me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation. Be of good cheer! I have overcome the world.”
Or the apostle Paul would write in 2 Timothy chapter 3, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in union with Christ Jesus will be persecuted. And evil persons and imposters will keep on going from bad to worse, deceiving others and being deceived themselves.”
So what I want you to know is some observations before we jump into the text and learn the actual art of survival. Number one, trials are inevitable. Difficulty in a fallen world is absolutely promised.
The second observation is trials either make us or break us. It’s interesting, the word for tragedy and opportunity is put together and that word for tragedy and opportunity that’s put together in Chinese is the word crisis.
When you’re in a crisis, whether it’s personal, whether it’s a community, whether it’s a church, whether it’s a nation, or whether it’s global, what emerges out of this is great, great possibility for tragedy but also great opportunity.
If you look at the lives of great Bible characters, of great people in history, you’ll find that when pressure and difficulty and opposition and persecution, for some people, they cave in. It destroys their life. And for others, something happens. It makes them.
There’s something that happens in their character, in their faith, in their trust. The greatest stories we have in human history – Christian or not – are people that come through the fire and are purified. And that’s what God wants for us.
The third observation is that victims fail to move beyond asking “why” and remain stuck in their pain. You see, the opposite of a survivor is a victim. And we need to be very careful. One, we don’t want to diminish how difficult this is. But you’re only a victim if you choose to be a victim. Victims begin to ask “why”. “Why me, Lord?” “Why now?” “Why this?”
And hear me – I understand. There are such pains some of you are going through. It’s okay to begin with a “why” question. “Why me, Lord?” I have been through cancer with my wife in an earlier season. “Lord, why did this happen? She loves God.” By God’s grace, we made it through that.
I have been through seasons where I have been betrayed by Christian leaders that I couldn’t believe would do something to me. I have had health issues. I have had challenges with my children. I have been I places in the world where I didn’t think I was going to live.
So, I think it’s okay to pause and say, “Lord, why is this happening?” But you can’t stay there. But victims do. They get stuck in their pain. “Why this? Why that?” Here’s the thing, it never works. Pragmatically, people who never stop asking “why” are stuck in their pain and they become victims and they get bitter and they get resentful or they give up.
What I would suggest to you is that God has clear instruction in James chapter 1, verses 1 through 12. And we are going to look at the first section of it. Follow along as I read.
“James, a bondservant of God of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings.” So, he’s saying to them: they are running for their life, they are going all throughout the Roman Empire, and he is writing to them and he says, “Greetings.” Christianity is primarily Jewish, right? I mean, there was the Day of Pentecost and some different things have happened different places. But overall, this first ten, fifteen years, these Jewish Christians, their identity is still as their Messiah Jesus has come, they are following Him, and their world has fallen apart.
I mean, they aren’t in a difficult situation. They are in a desperate situation. And so, you might want to ask: what would God say to them? I mean, if Jesus walked in the room where you are right now and you could look Him in the eye in His resurrection body and you could say, “Jesus, what do I do? What do I do with this situation with my family? What do I do with this ministry? What do I do with this health issue? What do I do; I haven’t been able to work? What do I do; I lost my business? What do I do, Lord? I don’t see my way in the future.”
Here’s what He would say. He said there’s an attitude that you must begin with. Verse 2, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
I want you to notice first there is a command. It says, “Consider it all joy.” We’ll look at that more carefully. But it’s a command; it’s not an option. Second, there’s a reminder. It says “knowing”. And this word for knowing we will learn is knowing by experience. Knowing by how God works in our lives, that faith will produce an endurance that will do something.
And then after that, he gives a second command. It says, “And then, endure.” Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Don’t become a victim. You are more than a conqueror in Christ, but it starts with this kind of attitude.
And now what he’s going to say is, “Don’t ask ‘why?’ Ask ‘what?’” Here’s what I can tell you, whether it’s in a cancer ward, whether it’s when a friend of mine’s house burned down, whether it’s when I was in Indonesia, I mean, literally less than a week after the tsunami and I saw things devastated like never before.
There are people who are survivors and there are people who are victims. Victims almost always keep asking, “Why me? Why now? Why, why, why?” And they get crushed. Survivors ask, “what” questions. They ask three very important “what” questions. And the answer to those “what” questions are in this text.
And here’s what I want you to know: God can and will give you the power to be a survivor, to conquer, to overcome whatever you’re facing as you begin to obey this passage by the power of the Holy Spirit, sourced in the Word of God, and in the context of fellow brothers and sisters that we are going to go through this together.
The first “what” question you need to ask in your world right now is this: What can I control when my world falls apart?
What can you control? I can’t control the pandemic. I can’t control the economy of your country or my country. I can’t control what certain leaders, decisions they make, or what they don’t make.
Here’s what you can control: Your attitude. Notice he says, “consider”. The word means evaluate, calculate, choose. Choose to consider your current difficult situation as pure, literally the word is “unmixed”, joy. And you say to yourself, Well, how do I do that? How in the world could I do that? He says, “Knowing that you’re surrounded by trials.”
In fact, this word is only used one other time in the New Testament. He is saying, “I want you to consider, to choose an attitude of pure joy about these external trials.” The other place it is used is when, if you remember the story of the Good Samaritan, it says he got surrounded, literally, by robbers.
God is saying through Jesus’ half-brother James, by the power of the Holy Spirit, that there are times in life where external circumstances come around our life and they threaten to crush and destroy us. And he says, in the midst of that, because you are connected to the all-powerful, all-knowing, sovereign God, because His Spirit lives inside of you and because you can know for sure He is going to work this for your good and bring good out of the worst in a fallen world, choose to consider it all joy, knowing something – that the testing of your faith is going to produce something.
So, the first question you need to ask and answer is: Where is my attitude?
And, by the way, don’t confuse attitude with feelings. In difficult situations, I don’t feel like counting it joy. This is not an emotion, this is a choice. I’m going to choose to look into the face of this difficulty and I’m going to choose to count it all joy as I’m surrounded by overwhelming, devastating trials knowing that this is a test that God wants to take me through. And He’s going to do something in my life and as He does something in my life, He’ll do something through my life. But I can’t have a pity party at a time like this. I need to fight the good fight. “Greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world.” God has not given you or me a spirit of fear, right? But of power and love and self-discipline.
This is where we put on the full armor of God. This is where we fight. This is where we grab hold of the anchor of hope and we say, “I will not give up; I will not give in. I am going to choose, moment by moment, my attitude.”
I remember reading a quote by one of the survivors of the concentration camps. He later became a world-renowned psychologist – Viktor Frankl. And he wrote this after enduring the concentration camps of which most people died. He said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of all human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
So, here’s what I want to say to you: don’t ask “why”, ask “what”. First, “what” question: what can I control?
Second “what” question is: what must I do to make it through today? Okay? Not tomorrow, not: what will happen next month? Not: what about my business? Not: what about the church? Not: what about even our country? Not: what will happen in the next two years or five years or ten years?
The moment your mind goes out that far and you have no idea what is going to happen and you can’t control it, it will keep sending you downward. The question I need to ask, you need to ask: what can I do to make it through today?
And the answer is one word and I don’t like it and you don’t like it, but it’s: endure. It’s: persevere. In other words, it is a choice to say, “I won’t give in. I won’t give up. I won’t become a victim. There is no short-term fix.”
I remember reading the story of a prisoner of war. And he was nine years in a prison camp of war. And he had a number of his colleagues were with him. And they asked him, because he made it through after nine years. And the great majority of them didn’t. They died, they gave in, they struggled. They either died or were tortured and in the torture they gave up information and then they were killed.
And they asked him, “How did you make it? Who made it and who didn’t?” He said, “I can tell you very quickly. Those that were optimists died. They didn’t make it.” They thought, Well, by Christmas, I’ll get out. Or, By Easter, I’m going to get out. Or, Maybe in nine months or it can only last a year. And they kept creating false expectations. And then every time their expectations failed, you could see them sink deeper and deeper and deeper in despair. The only thing you can do and the only thing I can do is endure today.
What do I do to make it through today? You know what I do? I hang tough, I don’t give up, I don’t give in. And here’s the reason: knowing by way of experience that tests produce endurance. That what God is going to do, this word is He does something inside of you. The word, Greek word is hupomeno. It’s to hupo – to be under, meno – pressure or stress.
And for some of you right now, you’re under incredible stress, emotional stress, family stress, financial stress, ministry stress, the stress of uncertainty. There are people looking to you. Some of you have friends and family members with the disease. Others of you have seen people that you love and they have died.
And I know what I’m saying is challenging and difficult. But you have the Spirit of the living God who, as you choose to count it real joy, He will give you just what you need, not for tomorrow, but for today. His grace is sufficient for you, power is perfected in weakness.
And so, the one thing you can do to make it through today is choose: I will endure.
It’s a trite illustration, but for some of you that love to do athletics, you have probably at some point in your time lifted weights, right?
You know, you get some weights and you do some curls or you get some big weights and you do it this way. And if you meet someone who is very strong and very muscular, what most people don’t understand is when you lift weights, the reason you need to do it every other day, not every day, is that as you lift weights what happens is your muscles actually begin to tear. Tiny fibers are tearing.
And then you don’t lift every day because they need time to heal. And so, what happens is you have to take them beyond their point of what they can do and that’s why you’ll see weight lifters help each other do those last few reps because they want to just have microtears.
And then what happens when they grow back, they grow back bigger and stronger. And you know, your soul, your character, your ministry, your future, your relationships, you know how they grow? You know how you become patient and kind and generous and loving and forgiving? You have need of endurance – why? Knowing the testing of your faith. Could I remind you? The test, because you’re a follower of Jesus, is for you to come through it, that God will give you what you need to come through it.
The testing of your faith will produce this endurance, this ability to hold up. And I know the moment you think about tomorrow – how will I do it? You don’t know. Because here’s what I know that this is today. And if you start thinking about out there tomorrow, there’s no grace. But God will give you grace for today. You choose, baby choices, “I won’t give up today. I’ll do what I can today. I may not have quite enough food today. I don’t see how I’ll make it tomorrow.” But as you do that one day at a time, what happens is you are strengthened and God will provide both within and without.
I remember the most challenging time, I was leading an organization and it wasn’t a worldwide pandemic but it was one in the United States where there was a total collapse of money and the dotcom market and I just took over the leadership of an organization and we had people all around the world and the budget was millions and millions of dollars.
And like a faucet, it turned off. And I was the new leader and we didn’t have the millions of dollars and I wondered, What in the world will we ever do? And I remember being in Psalm 34 and I would read it out loud over and over and over. And I would not just cry out to God but I would just cry, because I thought, Lord, what will we do? These people are depending on me and our organization in all these countries and we don’t have the money.
And it’s very interesting, as I look back, it was devastating. And, yet, a year, two, three, four – innovation happened. Those groups learned how to do the ministry without the same amount of funds. They innovated in new ways and we went from about nineteen to a hundred countries in the next four or five years.
It’s during times like this that God changes things. Where crises, they are difficult, they are painful, I don’t mean to minimize. But for those who endure, those who pay the price, God will do something in you and I will guarantee, He will do something great through you.
Question number one is: what can I control? The answer is: my attitude. Question number two is: how do I get through today? And the answer is: I will endure. I will endure because I will claim God’s promises.
It was David who said, “It’s good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn thy statues. If Your Word was not my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.” What you find all through Scripture is the men and the women of God in the midst of difficulty, pain, devastation, and what is unfair – they cling to the promises of God.
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me… But my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” “If God be for us, who can be against us?” Jesus said, “I will build My Church,” and you’re a part of it, “and the gates of hell cannot prevail against it.”
This is a time when you grab the invisible promises of God and you hold them dear and you choose to obey and trust when you have no idea how it’s going to work out. And that is the story of how God has built His Church throughout the centuries.
The third “what” question you need to ask is: what hope do I have for tomorrow? Someone has wisely said that hope is the oxygen of the soul. Once you lose hope, you’re done.
So, where do you get hope? Here’s the answer: God will take the worst that you’re experiencing today and use it for your best. God’s going to take the very worst, the very most difficult, the most desperate, the most painful things in your life today, and here’s the promise, an all-powerful, good, kind, and sovereign God in the midst of a very fallen and evil world, is going to take whatever you’re going through and He’s going to use it for good.
And the first thing He is going to change is not your circumstance. I think we have lived in a world where some teaching about the gospel, some prosperity ideas that if you love God, if you are obedient, if you do what God wants you to do, then everything is going to go your way.
And many people are disillusioned and very discouraged because when they do what God wants them to do, like many of you, and yet you find a relative has died, that you can’t open your business, that you don’t have any money, that there’s not enough food, that you can’t even contact the people in your church, that life is not going better. And you say, God, why? I love You.
This last portion explains. He says, “Let endurance,” or, “perseverance have its perfect result that you may be complete and mature, lacking in nothing.” In other words, what God is saying in this passage is that as you – attitude – choose to consider it all joy and as you choose to endure, just moment by moment, day by day, he says, “Cooperate with God. Let this endurance, let God have His way. Cooperate with what He is doing in your heart and in your life, that you could be perfect.”
And the word doesn’t mean you’re going to be sinlessly perfect. The word is teleios. In English, we get our word telescope. It’s the idea of something that fulfills its design. God has a design for you and His design is more than to make you happy. His design is not that everything works out wonderful in your circumstance.
His design is to make you and to make me like Jesus, to conform you to the image of His Son. What is that promise we quote in the most challenging of times? “For we know that God works all things together for the good to them that love God, to those that are called according to His purpose.”
And we usually stop there. That’s Romans 8:28. Verse 29 says, “Whom He called He also predestined that He is going to conform us to the image of His Son.” And so, what he’s saying is in this process, allow God to mature you, to have His way.
And notice the promise, “That you’ll be complete, lacking in nothing.” You know, sometimes in my weakest, most difficult moments, what I, Lord, where are You? And I have asked why. Lord, I took a big step of faith, or, I maybe I moved, or, I gave a lot of money away. Or, like you, you do something and you say, I’m stretching, Lord, to do what You want me to do with all my heart. And this is what I get?
I remember in my basement when my world fell apart and I had all these people around the world that I felt like I needed to take care of and I didn’t have anything to help them with. And I remember crying, just literally weeping.
And I remember the Lord saying, So, when is it your responsibility to make the world work out? Chip, I just want you to trust and obey Me. I have a plan. And My plans don’t always work out in this life the way that some of you all think.
And as I was literally crying, I remember thinking, Well, all the apostles, they obeyed God. They loved Him with all their heart. They birthed the Church. What happened to them? And I thought, They were obedient and every one of the apostles except the apostle John was martyred. They were killed.
And John was stuck on a rock so he could write the book of Revelation. And then I remember the last half of the book of Hebrews. And it talked about those that trusted God and the world was not even worthy of them because of their faith and their dedication and their commitment and their loyalty to Christ. And it says they never saw the promise. They never got to see the big, wonderful answer.
Could I remind you that we do not live for a temporal world and circumstances of today? Our anchor, our hope, our promise is heaven. Jesus said to His disciples, knowing what they would go through, He said, “I am going to prepare a place for you. And if it weren’t true, I wouldn’t have said it.” But here’s the heart, “I want you to be with Me where I am.”
And as painful and as devastating as death is, we need to get our New Testament eyes. “Precious in the sight of God,” says Psalm 116, “is the death of His godly ones.” This life is not all that there is. I would remind you, historically, that in the first three centuries of the early Church, they were persecuted. They were viewed as atheists because they didn’t worship the emperor.
In the midst of all these gods, they were the ones that there were three major plagues in the first three centuries – I mean, pandemics – that would wipe out hundreds of thousands of people, that took down whole metropolitan areas. And the only people that stayed in the cities were Christians nursing people back to health and those who were too sick to leave the city.
And Rodney Stark, a sociologist, in his book The Rise of Christianity, looks at the lens of the growth of the Church, not through maybe a spiritual view of the Holy Spirit and what God did through His Word, but just from a pragmatic, sociological view.
He says, “By 313 A.D., when Constantine became the emperor,” he said, “of the sixty million people in the Roman Empire, it’s estimated that thirty-three million were followers of Christ.” And they were followers of Christ because of the early Church’s commitment through these pandemics to love people, to literally give their life.
When you would serve someone who died in one of these pandemics, you were a martyr. You were among the most esteemed in the Church. God wants us to know that there is an attitude that we are to have and the attitude that we need to have is we choose to consider it all joy, that we are going when we ask ourselves: what can I control? My attitude. What do I do to make it through today? Endure. How do I have hope for tomorrow? I can know for certain that an all-wise God, an all-powerful God, the God who brings about the best possible ends, by the best possible means, for the most possible people, for the longest possible time – that’s the wisdom of God – is on your side.
And in this present life, it may not work out the way we choose. But if we are faithful, if we trust, regardless of what happens, God will take that and at the end of this passage, verse 12, he said, “Blessed are those who endure in suffering and there is a great reward.” There’s a great reward in what happens in our life now, what happens in us and then through us, and there is great reward that God has promised for all of us. We need to keep our eyes on the prize, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of the faith, who blazed the trail so that we could come before the Father, the throne of grace, to find mercy in our time of need.
As I wrap things up, I would just give you some perspective. And these are things that you can pass on and they are things that will help you begin to think and ponder and respond to this passage. But there are five observations I have about adversity, difficulty, pain, and challenges like we’re facing.
Number one, God uses adversity to make us mature because we are forced to depend on God at a new level. Left to ourselves, we tend to be self-sufficient, proud, and insensitive to the Lord. In this time, we will depend.
Second, we are weaned from the temporal, the urgent, and the worldly affairs of life and we are forced to reexamine our values, our priorities, our commitments, and our future.
You know, it’s in times like this where God says, Why are you really living? What really matters? What are you giving your life to? And it’s a time that can only happen when things are this difficult.
Third is trials allow us to witness firsthand the reality and the power of God. Our need becomes the vehicle of God’s grace and our problems become the object of His power. You will see the supernatural power of God like never before as you trust Him. He is Jehovah Jireh, He is the great provider, He is the great protector. Lean in. Trust. Refuse to have self-pity. The Spirit of the living God that raised Christ from the dead dwells in you. He is your hope. And as you do, you will see His power working in you and through you.
And four, they serve as an awesome testimony to the unbelieving world. How we endure hardship shows the world how real God is.
I spent an afternoon yesterday for about an hour and a half with a man going through cancer with his wife with every treatment under the – whatever they have tried: problem, problem, problem, problem, problem, problem. And he has been steadfast. And he was very, very concerned about: if his wife dies, will that be a bad testimony? He said, “I believe, I am trusting.” And I said to him, “Your testimony is not whether your wife lives or dies. Everyone is going to die sometime.” I said, “The way that you and your wife are going through this, both for us as believers and your unbelieving friends, is a testimony of an unexplainable power. Your attitude is amazing. Your love for your wife is amazing. Her attitude is spectacular. And you have been through things that I could never ever imagine.”
And God is going to use your life in lives of others as they see how you endure and respond. And you don’t just respond with: I’m somehow going to make it through.
You choose in the power of God to be the Paul and Silas, who you don’t feel like it, but you start singing hymns in the prison. You say, God, You are a great God. You are the Lord. You’re the maker of heaven and earth. You are My God. You are My hope.
And as you sing and worship and thank God in the midst of things, you will see His power. And the world will see His power in you and through you.
And finally, we become sensitive and caring, compassionate Christlike people. Those who have been hurt deeply love deeply. Those of you who will go through the most devastating and painful things in this season, it won’t last forever. You will become a tender, kinder, more compassionate, more Christlike person as a result of this if you choose to ask “what” and don’t ask “why”.
May the Lord Jesus fill you with His grace and His power.
Lord, thank You that You promised to give us all that we need for this moment on this day. May Your Spirit fill us with hope and encouragement by the power of Your Word and Your Spirit, in Jesus’ name, amen.