How to be Blessed by God
January 26, 2015
We all seek a blessed life.
We might not use those exact words. In fact, we probably don’t. Today people talk about the “fulfilled life” or the “happy life.” But the meaning is the same. The Philadelphia Baptist Catechism begins this way:
Question 1. What is it that everyone wants out of life?
Lest we think that answer light or flippant, here is the second question and answer:
Q. 2. Where is this happiness to be found?
A. In God only.
Here is a basic conundrum of life. We all by nature seek happiness. Some people think they find it in the things of this world. Late last night I was flipping through the TV channels when I happened upon a broadcast of Billy Graham preaching in some great crusade a half-century ago. As the camera panned the crowd, you could hear Dr. Graham say, “You will never find peace, you will never find joy, you will never happiness apart from Jesus Christ.”
What a claim we make!
I heard just that little snippet, but it stuck in my mind. What a claim we Christians make! We not only say that happiness comes through Jesus. We say that the only lasting happiness comes through him. We flatly declare that there is no ultimate peace or joy or fulfillment in sex or money or power or fame or degrees or buildings or gold medals or big estates or anything else that money can buy.
Wealth can do many things, but it cannot buy peace of mind.
Fame can do many things, but it cannot give us lasting joy.
Power can do many things, but it cannot free us from guilt.
Wealth cannot buy peace of mind
Years ago we used to sing a little song called Happiness is the Lord. The chorus went like this:
Real joy is mine, no matter if teardrops start;
I’ve found the secret, it’s Jesus in my heart!
In its own simple way, that chorus contains vast truth. The joy Jesus brings will last even when our hearts are breaking. Teardrops come soon enough for all of us. When the hard times come, we need a joy greater than the passing pleasure of seeing our team win the Super Bowl.
Good news and bad news
When James wrote to the suffering Christians scattered across the Roman Empire, he included a verse that tells us how we can be blessed by God. This is the path to true happiness. There is good news and bad news in this verse. The good news is, this blessing is available to anyone who wants it. The bad news is, the blessing comes with a price tag.
Here are three steps to God’s blessing:
Step # 1: We Endure Our Trials
“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial” (v. 12a).
The most important word in that phrase is “under.”
We must remain steadfast “under” trial.
The Greek word has the idea of soldiers standing in position when the enemy mounts a fierce attack. When others cut and run, this man stands and fights. He does not give in to fear, he does not flinch when the battle gets hot, and he does not look for a quick way out. He stands and fights when the enemy storms the ramparts.
When trouble comes, this man stands and fights
God delivers his children in two different ways. Sometimes he delivers us from trials. Most of the time we aren’t even aware when this happens. We won’t know until we get to heaven how many times God intervened to protect us from danger. Sometimes God protects us through trials. He gives us what we need as we go through the fiery furnace of affliction so that when our “furnace time” is over, we will emerge stronger than we were before.
We don’t get to choose our trials
I suppose most of us would say, “I would rather be spared from trial than have to go through it.” That’s a perfectly normal way to feel. But rarely do we have the choice. Cancer comes whether we want it or not. The economy craters and takes our job with it. The church splits despite our prayers. A former friend lies about us and then tries to destroy our reputation.
Bad things happen all the time.
I know of no way to avoid the troubles that come with living in a fallen world. As far as trials are concerned, we are all in one of three places:
No easy way out
Either we’re coming out of a trial.
Or we’re in a trial.
Or we’re about to go into a season of trial—and we don’t know it yet!
James does not offer us any schemes that will enable us to avoid the troubles that come our way or to get out of them quickly. But he does say this. God promises a blessing to those who will endure their trials with grace, dignity, and fortitude.
“We have always loved Yeshua”
Sometimes the trials are more severe than illness or the loss of a job. Sometimes the trial involves life itself. A few months ago we interviewed Canon Andrew White, the Vicar of Baghdad, on American Family Radio. He commented to us that the West has no idea of the depth of suffering of Christians in the Middle East at the hands of ISIS. Muslim terrorists have systematically burned churches and killed Christians in Syria and northern Iraq. Recently Andrew White reported on four Christian children in Iraq who were beheaded because they would not renounce Jesus. In an interview with CBN, he told what happened:
ISIS turned up and they said to the children, ‘You say the words that you will follow Mohammed.’”
“The children, all under 15, four of them,” he recounted, “they said, ‘No, we love Yeshua (Jesus), we have always loved Yeshua, we have always followed Yeshua. Yeshua has always been with us.’ They said, ‘Say the words!’ They said, ‘No, we can’t.’”
“They chopped all their heads off,” said Canon White. “How do you respond to that? You just cry.”
We live in strange and dangerous times. Muslim terrorists have struck in New York, Ottawa, London, and recently in Paris. When I asked Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch if we could expect more beheadings in America, he quickly replied, “Nothing is more certain than that.”
Strange and dangerous times
When Canon White told about the four children who were beheaded, he also mentioned a Christian man to whom the Muslim terrorists said, “Either you say the words of converting to Islam or we will kill all your children.”
What would you do in that situation? It’s one thing if they threaten to kill you; it’s something different when they threaten to kill your children. Under enormous pressure, the man caved and said the words of conversion even though he did not mean it. He did it to save his children. Later, deeply ashamed of what he had done, he phoned Andrew White and said, “Does this mean that Yeshua (Jesus) doesn’t love me anymore? I said those words because I couldn’t see my children being killed.”
“Jesus still loves you”
That sort of question makes you stop and think. Before you condemn the man, consider how far you would go to save your own children. Andrew White gave him this reply: “Jesus still loves you. He will always love you.”
It is good for us to hear these stories so that we will know what is happening to our brothers and sisters in the Middle East. They also help to prepare us for what we in the West may face sooner than we think.
So the first step in receiving a blessing from God is to endure our trials when it would be easier to run away from them.
Step # 2: We Are Approved by God
“For when he has stood the test” (v. 12b).
Here are few other translations:
“When he has passed the test” (HCSB).
“Once his testing is complete” (Phillips).
“Once he has been approved” (NASB).
“When he has proved he is strong” (WEB).
Life is nothing but a series of tests
Life is nothing but a series of tests. Some we pass, some we fail. We may face a sudden new challenge on the job, or the boss may fire us with no warning, or the doctor may say, “I’m sorry. You’ve got cancer,” or your spouse may leave you, your kids may disappoint you, your church may split, your portfolio may plummet, your friends may desert you, or you may struggle with depression and thoughts of suicide. You may be tempted to chuck it all and run away, to turn to alcohol, or to give yourself over to sensual pleasure. You may simply feel so overwhelmed that you can’t imagine going on for another day. Chronic pain may be your constant companion.
James wants us to know that standing strong in hard times brings its own reward. We will be “approved” by God. We will “pass the test.” We will “gain the prize.”
Recently Ann Voskamp wrote a blog entry called The Law of Guitar Days. It’s based on the observation that in order to make beautiful music, you must put the guitar strings under great stress:
Music is made in stress. A string has to be stressed, it has to be pulled tight, to make music. The string has to be moved from its comfortable, resting position if it’s ever going to be make music.
A limp string makes no music. You have to tighten it and then tighten it some more. Only when the string is pulled taut can it produce a beautiful sound. So it is with you and me. When we are relaxed and comfortable, when the bills are paid, our family is intact, and all is well in our little corner of the world, life may be grand, but we don’t make much music then.
A limp string makes no music
We have to be pulled taut, stretched in ways that make us scream with pain, pulled almost to the breaking point, tightened again and again by the Master Musician who knows how much we can take and who will not stop until we are stretched to the point where our lives produce the beautiful music of heaven.
No one says this is easy or fun or painless.
Making music for God comes at a high cost.
But that music, the melody that our lives produce when we are put under stress and yet endure it joyfully because we are trusting in the Lord, that song we sing, the Symphony of Suffering, that is what it means to be “approved” and to “pass the test.”
We all want the music of heaven, but we don’t want the pain.
They go together.
You can’t have one without the other.
Step # 3: We Receive the Crown of Life
“He will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him” (v. 12c).
When you read the word “crown,” don’t think of a crown a king would wear. Think instead of the laurel wreath given to victorious athletes in the ancient Olympic games. It is the honor reserved for those who paid the price in hard times so they could stand victorious in the end.
We all want the music of heaven, but we don’t want the pain.
Last year I read the “Last Lion” trilogy, William Manchester’s masterful biography of Winston Churchill. He records in great detail the long struggle during the 1930s as Great Britain faced the growing threat from Adolph Hitler and Nazi Germany. When Churchill finally became Prime Minister in May 1940, many doubted his fitness for the job. In his first speech to the House of Commons, he spoke frankly about the difficulties that lay ahead and then he uttered these oft-repeated words:
I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”
And what would be the policy of Great Britain in the war against Hitler?
You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us;
Then he laid out the ultimate goal:
You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be.
No wonder the common people loved him so much. He told them the truth about the task in front of them. I think James would appreciate Churchill’s approach.
The Christian life is hard!
The Christian life is hard.
Sometimes it is very hard indeed.
Better that we should know that now, on the front end, so that we are not surprised and overwhelmed when tough times come. But the good news is, God intends for us fight through to victory. That’s his policy! Victory at all costs, however long and hard the road may be.
Think about this.
God intends for you to wear the victor’s crown.
He intends for you to stand on the Victor’s Platform in heaven.
God’s policy is victory
But it will not come without toil, struggle, pain, and loss. Our most famous hymn says it very clearly:
Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come.
‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
We love the song.
The dangers, toils and snares—not so much.
Hard times teach us to depend on God
If life were easy, we would be tempted to think we don’t need God’s grace. If the sky were always blue, we wouldn’t cry out to God in desperation. Hard times break us of our self-reliance, expose our weakness, and show us our need for God.
What is this “crown of life” that James mentions? Surely one part of it is the “abundant life” Jesus promised to those who follow him (John 10:10). But the biggest part comes when we finally get to heaven. It is a reward from Jesus himself for enduring hardship in this life.
From Prison to a Palace
This week I’ve been reading about a godly Puritan minister named Christopher Love who lived in the 1600s. He was a Welsh Protestant preacher who converted to the Presbyterian faith. Accused of treason, he was sentenced to die by beheading in 1651. While he was awaiting execution, his wife Mary wrote to encourage him to stay strong in his faith. Here is part of her letter:
When the messenger of death comes to you, let him not seem dreadful to you, but look on him as a messenger that brings you tidings of eternal life. When you go up the scaffold, think (as you said to me) that it is but your fiery chariot to carry you up to your Father’s house. And when you lay down your precious head to receive your Father’s stroke, remember that you said to me: Though your head was severed from the body, yet in a moment your soul should be united to your Head, the Lord Jesus, in heaven. And though it may seem something bitter, that by the hands of men we are parted a little sooner than otherwise we might have been, yet let us consider that it is the decree and will of our Father, and it will not be long ere we shall enjoy one another in heaven again.
Let us comfort one another with these sayings. Be comforted, my dear heart. It is but a little stroke and you shall be there where the weary shall be at rest and where the wicked shall cease from troubling. Remember that you may eat your dinner with bitter herbs, yet you shall have a sweet supper with Christ that night. My dear, by what I write unto you, I do not hereby undertake to teach you; for these comforts I have received from the Lord by you. I will write no more, nor trouble you any further, but commit you into the arms of God with whom ere long you and I shall be.
Farewell, my dear. I shall never see your face more till we both behold the face of the Lord Jesus at that great day.
On the day of his death, Christopher Love wrote his final letter to his wife. I here reproduce the beginning and the end:
My most gracious Beloved,
I am now going from a prison to a palace: I have finished my work, and am now going to receive my wages. I am going to heaven, where are two of my children, and leaving you on earth, where there are three of my babes. These two above need not my care; but the three below need thine. It comforts me to think, two of my children are in the bosom of Abraham, and three of them will be in the arms and care of such a tender and godly mother. I know you are a woman of sorrowful spirit, yet be comforted, though your sorrows be great for your husband going out of the world, yet your pains shall be the less in bringing your child into the world; you shall be a joyful mother, though you be a sad widow; God hath many mercies in store for you; the prayer of a dying husband for you will not be lost.
. . .
Farewell dear love, and again I say farewell. The Lord Jesus be with your spirit, the Maker of heaven and earth be a husband to you; and the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ be a father to your children – so prays your dying, your most affectionate friend till death,
The day of my glorification
From the Tower of London, August 22, 1651
His first sentence says it all: “I go now from a prison to a palace.” This is the truly Christian position. This is what it means to die “in the Lord.”
If you consider what Mary wrote and then add what Christopher Love wrote back, surely this is what it means to gain the “crown of life.” Though the sword severs the head from the body, it cannot touch faith like that. That sort of faith will never die because it rests on the eternal promises of God.
Faith for Trying Times
We sometimes wonder what sort of faith we need in trying times like these. I answer back, we need such faith as this, faith that cannot be touched or destroyed by trying times. We need faith that rests on God alone, faith that is simple and deep and profound.
We all want the blessed life
We all want the life that God blesses. I want it for myself and for my family. I want it for all my loved ones. I want them to know the blessing of God’s favor in all they do. If the words of my text mean anything, they mean that this kind of life is within the reach of every believer.
We can all have the blessing of James 1:12.
No one is left out.
Following Jesus always leads to a cross
But it comes at the cost of pain and toil. There is no easy road to the blessed life. It is bought with tears and paved with sorrow. If it is an easy life you want, you will never take up your cross and follow Jesus. Hebrews 12:2 tells us that Jesus “saw the joy ahead of him, so he endured death on the cross and ignored the disgrace it brought him” (GW). The word for “endured” in that verse is the same Greek word translated “endured” in James 1:12.
Following Jesus always leads to a cross.
If you want the blessing, you must set out on the “Jesus road,” knowing there is a cross somewhere up ahead. Those who follow him will never be put to shame. They are the ones who endure their trials with grace, find God’s approval, and in the end finally receive the crown of life.