Friday, 19 September 2014
Walking in Circles? James 4:13-5:20
Have you ever hiked a trail and suddenly realized you were walking in circles?
I’ve been on many a trail with my intrepid husband and loyal puppy. He is the one with the great sense of direction. I’m the one that reads the signs. The dog just sniffs and marks. But sometimes despite the best efforts of all three we suddenly realize that the tree in front of us and the rock to the right of it look strangely familiar.
That’s a little how I feel as we wrap up the book of James. We started with the reality of trials in our lives and the need to both persevere and pray (James 1:2-8). Now we find him talking about trials again. And guess what? He wants us to persevere. And pray.
What do you and I do when we think we’re walking in circles? We climb a tree or a hill or something that will give us a wider perspective.
The view from above shows us that there are many valleys dotting the landscape. James know that. There are many types of trials and many reasons for them. Some involve sickness. Others involve other types of suffering, perhaps job loss, marital break down, or family trauma. And most of them involve sin, which either caused the trial or was one of the inevitable results of it.
James talks about trials at the beginning of the book, because if you’re in one, that’s all you can think about. And every hearer of his words was either in one, finished with one, or about to enter one. His sweeping big picture was purpose, perseverance, and prayer. God has a glorious purpose in our trials. Yours and my part is to persevere and pray.
But trials isolate us like so many valleys. We can feel like we’re persevering and praying alone.
At the end of the book James seems to be in a different valley. Sin, sickness, and suffering are all present, but there is something else. Other people. Don’t just pray, James says, ask for prayer. Ask the elders. Ask another believer. Ask a righteous person.
And if someone has isolated themselves from the prayer and help of others, pursue them. Don’t let them simply wander off from the truth. Go after them and bring them back.
The Deepest Valley
It’s fascinating up here on the mountain top. As we look down into the valley below, the people are tiny. Their suffering is barely visible, and it doesn’t affect us.
Is this the view God has of our trials? Does our good God simply send his good gifts (and help) from on high without getting his feet dirty–like Amazon Prime, delivered by drones? How can our suffering affect him when he’s so far away?
If we go back to our “mountain top verse,” James 1:17, we realize that the greatest gift that came down to us from the Father of lights is the gift of his only, begotten Son. God the Son descended the mountain not just to the surface of our planet, but into the valleys of our sin, sickness and suffering. In the end he descended into the deepest valley of them all–death, even death on a cross.
Jesus laid down on the wooden beams so he could be lifted up as our substitute. He bore our sin, sickness, and suffering in his own body on the tree and stayed in that valley all alone.
Until it was finished.
Yes. Sometimes it feels like we’re walking in circles, moving from one trial to the next, each one terribly familiar. And often we feel very alone.
But we’re not. Having conquered the deepest valley, Jesus is walking with us. The Holy Spirit is living in us.
And so also, says James, we must walk with each other.