Friday, December 13, 2013

Troubles

TITLE: TROUBLES?
SCRIPTURE: James 1:2-3
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: December 13th, 2013

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance." (James 1:2-3)

It was December 14th, 2012. After killing his own mother, Adam Lanza drove to Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut. Removing his semi-automatic weapons, he emptied rounds of ammunition in a horrendous few minutes of terror and tragedy before turning the weapon on himself. That day, twenty school kids died, together with six other adult staff members at that school. Questions remained on why Lanza did what he did; why the gunman had to choose that particular school; why the little children had to die; and why God had allowed such evil to exist and takes its toll. Did evil win on that fateful December 14th, 2012? Tomorrow will be the first Anniversary of that terrible day that shocked the entire nation. My hearts go out to the families affected and who will be reminded again of that unforgettable day. Did evil win that day?

Today's news only made the reminder worse. In a Colorado High School this morning, two persons were shot dead, and that included the lone shooter. When will these all end? What is happening to the world that we once longed for? Is it not true that Christmas is about peace on earth and goodwill to all?



A) Work Troubles or Life Troubles?

I feel saddened by all of these. It is hard already to try to make ends meet in this economically tough environment. It is even harder for those affected by the tragic shootings to be reminded over and over again by the media, and forced to relive those moments again. How can there be hope, peace, and joy in the midst of a season that promises hope, peace, and joy?

If indeed the trials and troubles of this world are like that of Sandy Hook, it may very well push many people over the limits of perseverance and despair. Perhaps, it is something else. Something like troubles that we can overcome? Surely, the troubles of Sandy Hook are not exactly the kind that James had in mind.

Maybe, James is talking about day to day earthly troubles, such as our work problems. The letter of James begins with a positive note. At the onset, one can be easily mistaken for thinking it is one of those positivistic motivational talks that hypes up temporal confidence. Inspirational gurus are really good at doing that. One such guru is Canada's Peter Legge who gives an inspirational message to all his staff every Monday morning. In one of those memorable messages comes this entitled: "Be thankful for your troubles."
"Be thankful for your troubles, I wrote, because they provide about half of your income. Think about it. If it were not for the things that go wrong, the difficult people with whom you deal, the problems and the unpleasantries of your working day, someone else could have handled your job for half of what it costs to have you doing it." (Peter Legge, 365 Days of Insights, Eaglet Publishing, BC: 2012, p36)
Yes, such troubles are ably matched by a perseverance because there is a work benefit tied to it. Overcome the competition and salesmen meet their quota. Solve the backroom problems and the customer complaints go away. Address the PR matter professionally and any negative backlash will be diminished. However, is James talking about this kind of trouble when he was writing the letter of James?

B) Troubled Hearts?

Maybe, trouble is about surviving tough times through life. We can learn to cultivate a troubled heart and use it to our advantage. One of them is to use troubled hearts as motivation for life.

When I was working with a large property conglomerate a decade ago, the CEO of the group is known for sharing weekly quips and motivational stories about life in general. For a company that is focused on managing property and constructing buildings, this CEO is also passionate about managing and motivating people. Since 1998, he has been writing short notes for his staff about life lessons in his personal philosophy of building people so that they can build both concrete and character well. One of his advice when it comes to civil engineering is to let paranoia be the guide to planning and building. As a civil engineer, building something with the highest safety levels is paramount to people and career survival. Such a mentality has helped many structures weather the toughest conditions of life.

Is this the kind of troubles James is talking about? Not exactly, for the underlying motivation is about letting paranoia and fear drive performance. Such paranoia and fear drive people to outperform others for the sake of survival rather than building a kind of excellence. Some people may claim that both are important, but my point is, motivation led by fear only leads to more fear. Running a company with fear is no way to run a company.

C) What Trouble Is James Talking About?

James would not have known that Sandy Hook tragedy would happen as he did not live that long to see the massacre happen. Neither is he familiar with our modern work environments and cultures of our age. All he is interested are these questions:


  • What kind of a life are we building? 
  • How resilient is our character? 
  • How firm is our faith?
  • What is the test of our faithfulness?

The book of James calls us to "consider it pure joy." It is a call for us to counter our natural tendencies to give in and to give up when facing challenges of life. James does not mince his words. He tells us three things.
  1. There will be many kinds of trials;
  2. These are tests;
  3. These trials and tests will form in us perseverance.
Indeed, we do not need to go out looking for troubles for troubles will naturally come looking for us. Just like dust and germs in the air, we may not be able to see it with our naked eyes, but they are there. When our body immunity goes down, our vulnerability to the dust and germs also goes down. Spiritually, trials will try to get us down and turn our lives upside down. James urges us to adopt an attitude of considering pure joy, so that we can go through these tests and trials, and come up victors eventually. In doing so, we get to develop perseverance. Just like a car that is useless when left only to sit in a garage, a human body is useless if it is forever sheltered in a bubble. The legs, the arms, and the rest of the body parts cannot venture outside the bubble. That is no way to grow any faith. In fact, faith that is untested remains very much theory and speculation. It is like a car in neutral gear. It is like a nice looking convertible with no one knowing exactly whether the car will perform as specified, or simply a dud that is dead on arrival.

D) All Shall Be Well

My friends, James is talking about trials that can be used to build our faith in God. His object is clear: Maturity in Christ. It is not the trouble or the kinds of troubles that is the focus. It is the spirit and resilience that pledges to overcome *any* attempt to derail our faith. That means, whether it is life troubles or work troubles; troubled hearts or troubled plans; anything that threatens to diminish our faith in God is the kind of trouble James is talking about. 

As we remember the first year Anniversary of Sandy Hook massacre, the question remains: Did Evil win? According to the mother of Emilie Parker, because of the great love and care showered upon them from strangers, well-wishers, and friends, they learn to walk through the deep valley of the shadow of death and despair, to grow stronger in faith and belief that one day, all will be well.

Such holy and reverent optimism is not about overcoming temporal trials of life. Neither is it avoiding tragedies that may happen to afflict people from time to time. Reverent optimism is above all of these for it is focused on enduring all things, that one can grow closer and closer to God.

Yes, in this life there will be many troubles. The troubles that as Christians we need to pay attention to are those that threaten to derail our faith.

THOUGHT: "Lord, You know what I want. If it be Your Will that I have it, grant it to me, and if it be not Your Will, good Lord, do not be displeased, for I want nothing which You do not want." (Julian of Norwich)

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Copyright by SabbathWalk. This devotional is sent to you free of charge. If you feel blessed or ministered to by SabbathWalk weekly devotionals, feel free to forward to friends, or to invite them to subscribe online at http://blog.sabbathwalk.org . You can also send me an email at cyap@sabbathwalk.org for comments or enquiries. Note that views expressed are personal opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of any organization.

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