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Why a Change in Scenery Rarely Improves the View, Part 1

From the series Five Lies that Ruin Relationships

Change is inevitable and change can be a great thing. But there are times when making a change in your life, or work, or relationships can bring devastating consequences. Chip looks at how to know when it's right to move on.

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Message Transcript

Under pressure, when life gets difficult, when it gets painful, and when there is stress in your marriage, or when you’re sick and tired of being single, or when this job just isn’t working out, or you think the two or the three-year-old phase will never leave, or the teenage phase, we’ll never get through. Under pressure, we all tend to play what I call the “if-only” game.

And the “if-only” game goes like this, and it is the fifth lie. The lie is that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence mentality. When things get hard, and when they get difficult, somehow we think, If I were in a different situation, if only this happened or that happened, then everything would be just absolutely good. It’s just, it’s my circumstance.

And the lie is, the grass is greener. If only – and are you ready? Let me ask you to fill this in, in your notes. If only I could change – and then you could fill it in – then everything would be – and then write the word wonderful. And I don’t know what it would be, for you, but I’d like you to think, what would you fill in there? If only – fill that in – then life would be wonderful.

If only my health were restored, then life would be wonderful. If only my husband would have a change of heart, then life would be wonderful. If only my boss would be transferred, or join another company, then my life would be wonderful. If only my son or daughter would come back to the Lord, then life would be wonderful. If only this ministry would take off, and I could just get out of what I am doing and get where God wants me to be, then life would be wonderful. If only I made a few more thousand dollars a year so that we could…then life would be wonderful.

Have you got it? Under pressure, we all play the “if-only” game. If only he was more sensitive, if only she was more affectionate, if only the economy would change, if only the stock market would go back up, if only the interest rates would change, if only we could…

And we do it, and we do it, and we do it. And it’s a lie. We think that way. And I’m going to suggest, this is the lie of the greener-grass mentality.

Here’s the false premise. I believe we, especially in this country – this is not too much in the Third World. When I go to India, when I go to Haiti, when I go to Africa, those people live in intense times and very difficult times. When I spend time with people who know that sharing the gospel may well cost them their lives, they do not share this false premise.

But in America, I believe, this is a false premise. And the false premise is: God wants me to be happy. Now, there is a lot of truth in that, so don’t get too shaken up. God does want to bless us, He does want to give us a full life. But when I say, “God wants me to be happy,” I mean He wants me to feel happy. He wants me to be emotionally satisfied. He wants everything to be going right, all the time, so that I’m a happy camper, so I am fulfilled, so life is going my way, so I’m successful, so life is good.

I believe that is a false premise, because I’ve got passages that say, “In the world, you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” I’ve got passages that say, “Why are you surprised at the fiery trial that you are undergoing? Because it is predictable and certain.” I have passages that say that every single person who longs and wants to live a godly life will experience persecution.

So, I think we have eliminated some of those passages in our American view of the New Testament and the Old Testament, and we have come to believe that God wants personal fulfillment, and happiness, and good emotions, about ninety-nine percent of the time.

So, I put this in a little axiom here. Major premise: God wants me to be happy, and that is His highest goal for my life. That’s what He really wants. Minor premise: My situation, my job, my marriage, my school, my relationships are so painful and stressful that – conclusion – this situation or relationship can’t be God’s will for my life. That is, day after day after day after day, being believed and acted on, at least in America.

The truth is, if you’ll look in your notes, is that running from adversity and conflict in relationships does not solve problems, but it compounds them.

And all of us, at certain times in our lives, have run from adversity, have run from conflict and difficulty. And we could probably tell a lot of stories of how, you know what? Running away from it did not solve it; it just compounded it.

Patience and perseverance are the keys to relational transformation. Boy, now, isn’t that hopeful?

That’s just the kind of thing you say, “That’s what I really want. I was hoping the last time, someone would tell me, ‘Here’s the answer to those relational, knotty, difficult issues in your life: be patient and persevere.’” That is just felt need all the way, isn’t it? It’s what you were longing to hear.

And I can almost hear some of you say, “No, no, no, you don’t understand, Chip. You don’t understand. I’m sure there are a lot of people that probably need to hang in there, and they need to have patience, and they need to persevere, but you don’t understand. I don’t sleep at night because of this situation. I have stomach acid rolling, I’m having panic attacks. This conflict, this difficulty, this thing is so difficult.” “You don’t understand how bad this situation is with my daughter.” “You don’t understand the kind of marriage I’m in.” “You don’t understand the pressure I have in my finances.” “You don’t understand the mess in this church, and that’s why I’m leaving it now, and shaking the dust off my feet. You just don’t understand.”

And you know what? You’re right. I don’t understand. But God does. And I would suggest there’s a group of people that, I do not care how difficult your situation is, their situation was far worse. They had lost their homes. They had been abandoned by their families. Some were starving. Others were being persecuted by the Roman government. They were hiding out in caves to be able to pray and worship the Lord. They were dispersed and ran for their lives.

What do you think God would say to that group of people? Well, you don’t have to guess. If you’ll look in your notes, I put exactly what God would say to people in a very difficult situation of conflict and adversity.

And here’s what He says to them, beginning in verse 7 of chapter 5 of the book of James: “Be patient then, brothers” – well, how long? – “until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and the spring rains? You, too, be patient and stand firm” – well, why? – “because the Lord’s coming is near.”

Well, what kind of attitude should we have while we’re waiting? Verse 9, “Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged; the Judge is standing at the door. Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who persevere. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and you have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. Above all, my brothers, do not swear, not by heaven or by earth or by anything else; let your yes be yes, and your no, no, or you will be condemned.” In other words, keep your word.

Now, we have been doing Bible study, and I was so excited, I brought two pens, because we are going to both underline and circle. Are you ready to do a little Bible study? There are four commands in this passage. As I give them to you, I want you to underline the commands.

Command number one: “Be patient.” That’s in verse 7. Command number two is in verse 8: “Be patient and stand firm.” So, he repeats the same command. Command number three: “Don’t grumble.” Underline that. Command number four is, “Do not swear.” “Do not swear.”

So, he has made it very, very clear. He understands their situation. It’s as bad, or, literally, worse, than anyone’s difficult conflict or adversity. And he says to them, very clearly, “Be patient. Be patient and stand firm. Do not grumble, and do not swear.”

Now, I want you to circle some words because there are some things that are repeated that will tell us what he is talking about. Maybe there’s a theme here. Circle the word patient in verse 7. Circle the word waits in the next line. Circle the word patient in the next line. Go to verse 8, circle the word patient. Skip down to verse 10, circle the word patience. Skip down to verse 11, and circle the word persevered. And then, circle again, in the same line, Job’s perseverance.

Now, does anybody have any idea, might there be a message here? Inductively, do you see something rising out of this text that might be telling us something about what we need to do in the midst of difficult times?

The final thing I’d like you to do is, I’d like you to go up, because he gives us three examples. There are four commands. It’s obvious, it’s about patience, perseverance, hanging in there, not giving up, hanging tough, enduring. But he’s going to give us three snapshots. There are three pictures.

Put a box around the word farmer. Because he’s going to use it as an example. He’s going to say, “There is a lesson to be learned from the farmer.” Skip down, and put a box around the word prophet. He says, “There is a lesson that we can learn from the prophets.” And then, finally, put a box around the word Job, or Job’s. There is a lesson to be learned from him.

And if you had some time to look at those four commands, and as you see those words that are circled, what you’re going to learn is that God has a message to people who play the “if-only” game. He has a message to people like us who, under pressure – we don’t mean to do it, but, unconsciously, we start believing the lie that if only this would change, if only that would change.

See, what we are not asking is: If only I would change. I’m not asking: If only my perspective would change, if only my character would grow, if only I could see and understand.

And did you notice? I didn’t want to wear you out. Did you notice, three different times, the area of patience, endurance, is all centered around a future hope that is guaranteed?

Did you notice you could put parentheses around, in verse 7, “The Lord’s coming is near”? You could put parentheses around, “The Lord is coming.” And then, later on down it says, “He is the Judge.”

In each time, the ultimate reason for patience and perseverance is we have a hope that is unshakable. We have a God who is sovereign. We have a King who is returning. We have a history that is making its way. We have purposes that cannot be changed. We have a God who is full of love and compassion, who is working both in us, and through us, for His good will.
And out of this, I think, are three very, very clear commands for us, in terms of: how do we make it through difficult times? How do we get to where we don’t believe the lie of the greener-grass mentality of just thinking, Well, maybe if we move, or maybe if I get a different marriage partner, or maybe if I get a different job, or maybe if I change churches, or maybe if…

Now, don’t hear this incorrectly. Are there times to move? Of course there are. Are there times that God wants us to move from one thing to another? Of course there are. Never hear one passage or one teaching outside the full counsel of God.

But what this passage is talking about is, you’re in circumstances that it’s obvious, from Scripture, God doesn’t want to change at this point, and instead of trying to wiggle out of them, and trying to play a game in your mind, believing it will better if only you could do this, like that cow nibbling the grass on the other side of the fence.

He says, a lot of God’s will, in a fallen world, is wait, patience, patience, patience, patience, persevere, persevere, and that in that process, He will do something in you that could never happen any other way, and He will do something through you, as a part of that, that only He can do, if you don’t bail out of His program.

The first point I see out of this passage, in verses 7 to 9, is that we are commanded to be patient, even when circumstances are beyond our control. He says, “Don’t give up, don’t give in, because God is in control, but they’re out of your control.” Look at it. He says, “Be patient, brothers, until the Lord’s coming.”

And then this is the lesson of the farmer. “See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, and how patient he is for autumn and spring rains?” How much control does the farmer have about how much sunlight and how much rain? Zero.

So, what does he do? Does he say, “Well, you know what? Forget this. Let’s move. Come on, honey, let’s just pick up and leave.”

What does a farmer know? “I’m not sure when the rain is going to come, I don’t know how much, I don’t know if there are cloudy days; I don’t know if there are going to be sunny days. All I know, there is a God who is in control of that, and I have been farming for a lot of years. And I have been farming for a lot of years, and what I know is, there are some seasons that are a little dry, there are some that are a little bit rainy. But as I look back over year after year after year – I didn’t put seed in the ground, and it didn’t rain very much, and I didn’t see something happen and leave. I waited until the cycle.”

And I’ve learned there are seasons to life, and there are seasons to crops, and there are seasons to marriages, and there are seasons to jobs, and there are seasons to ministries, and there are seasons with children. And if you bail out, then you may have planted the good seed, and never reap the reward.

So, he says, “Take a lesson from the farmer.” What does the farmer do? He waits for the land. He waits for the process. He lets the land do its work, it’s valuable crop. He’s patient. He realizes, “You know what? Okay. You know what? It’s autumn now, and things are brown. But guess what, spring is coming. Spring is coming.”

The word patient, here, is interesting. It’s makro – a lot – thymōs – for heat. And it’s the art of enduring someone who is incompatible for a long time. That’s what that word means. Some of you are thinking, “Boy, I’ve got that person in my life.”

Longsuffering. It’s to have, the idea, it’s to tolerate a circumstance or a difficulty for a long time. Now, obviously, they didn’t have bombs, and dynamite in fuses, but the word picture, in my mind, when – I think – when it says patience, the word picture in my mind that helps me is makro is “long,” or “big,” and thymōs has the idea of “heat.” And it’s the idea of, it takes a lot, a lot of heat, a lot of difficulty, a lot of adversity, before you cave in.

And I have a picture of a really long fuse. And it’s a really long fuse, and you light the fuse. And what you know is, the fuse is going to burn, burn, burn, burn, burn, and when it finally gets here, it’s going to do its job, and the thing is going to break loose.

But what God is saying to me is, You need to have a long fuse, Chip. You need to have a long fuse in this ministry situation. You need to have a long fuse in this marriage. You need to have a long fuse in your attitude for this problem person. You need to have a long, you need to have a makrothymōs for Me. You need to be, and learn the lesson of the farmer, and realize that you don’t know all that is going on. And there is a season of difficulty right now, but you need to persevere. You need to hang in there.

And then, by the way, you need to hang in there with the right attitude. Notice what it says. Second command: Be patient and stand firm” – again – “because the Lord’s coming is near.” Seasons have a beginning, and seasons have an end, don’t they? Whatever you’re experiencing that you think, “I can’t take it, I can’t take it, I can’t take it one more day” – yes, you can.

You say, “Well, I can’t imagine myself three weeks from now in this situation.” You don’t have to. There is no grace in hypothetical situations.

If you start thinking, Next year, or three weeks from now, or two years from now, or in five years. You know what? There is zero grace. You know what you get grace for? Today.

I’m not sure – unless you know more than me, I don’t know that you’ll be here three weeks from now, do you? I don’t know if the earth will be here five weeks from now. The Lord is near. I don’t know when He is coming back.

So, he says, “Stand firm and be patient.” And then here’s the attitude: “Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door.”

He says, when things get difficult, and when we should be waiting, and realize there is a season in marriage, there is a season with our kids, there’s a season in a ministry – what we tend to do is start blaming and grumbling.

It’s interesting, the word grumble, here, means “to sigh; to groan silently within, or to whine without.” I hate that definition. It so describes me at times. It’s to build resentment or a negative attitude toward another person. That’s what it means to grumble. And in difficult circumstances, we are all prone to do it.

Could I suggest that the lesson of the farmer would teach us that if we are not careful, we will bail out before God’s season is complete, in a relationship, a job.

What season are you in? What season are you in, in your marriage? What season are you in, in your business? What season are you in, in your church? What season are you in? And could it be that instead of, If only this was different – and you know those secret thoughts, like, If only I had a different marriage partner. You know? If only my health was better, then…

What if God has you, in His sovereign will and purposes, in a season to develop something inside that is going to be better, and deeper, and greater than you ever dreamed? That’s what James is saying.