In the first message in this series, we talked about stress. What we found out was ...
(1) Stress is a fact of life. It is something not even the most spiritual Christian can avoid.
(2) Not only is stress unavoidable, it is necessary. Without the motivation of stressful circumstances, we won’t pay the price of change - we will just stay in our comfort zone.
So, we will have stress - BUT GOD NEVER INTENDS FOR US TO BE STRESSED OUT!
ILLUS: You may remember that I gave you the definition of stress that is used in physics, and illustrated it with the chair I’m sitting in. In physics, stress is defined as a force or pressure that tends to deform an object. When I sit in this chair, I put it under a lot of stress - the force of my weight is trying to deform it. But it doesn’t get deformed. Why? BECAUSE IT’S BUILT TO HANDLE THE STRESS!
If you are a believer in Christ, YOU ARE BUILT TO HANDLE STRESS!
But suppose the chair’s legs were out at an angle; that would make it much easier for them to buckle under pressure. In order for the chair to hold up under the stress of my weight, the legs must be almost straight under it. In the same way, in order for us as believers to hold up under the pressures of life, WE MUST KEEP OUR SPIRITUAL LEGS UNDER US.
What we want to find out today, from James 1, is how to keep our spiritual legs under us so that even though we go through stressful circumstances, we are not stressed out. In other words, HOW WE CAN TURN OUR STRESS INTO REST.
Go with me to our text for this series ...
James 1:2-4 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
We want to look at three verbs in this passage - ACTION WORDS that tell us what we need to DO to keep our legs of faith under us so that we can stand at rest in stressful situations. Those three words are COUNT, KNOWING and LET. We will talk about the first two today, and get to the last one next time.
James 1:2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials
Let’s start with a definition: COUNT (Greek hegeomai) means to deem, consider, account, esteem, judge, suppose, think.
What that word signifies is: MAKE UP YOUR MIND HOW YOU ARE GOING TO THINK ABOUT THE SITUATION.
ILLUS: Have a big man come up. Push him, but be sure to emphasize to him beforehand that this is just an illustration. Because he has already made up his mind how to think about the situation - as a demonstration and not as aggression on my part – he can react with a laugh rather than anger – or worse!
What James is telling us is that the first step to being able to stand up under stress - to being able to be at rest in the midst of our stress - IS TO MAKE UP OUR MIND HOW WE ARE GOING TO THINK ABOUT THE SITUATION.
The level of stress I experience in any situation is determined not by the situation itself, but by how I think about the situation. MY MIND INTERPRETS MY CIRCUMSTANCES TO MY FEELINGS.
ILLUS: There has been talk at work about layoffs. You come in one Monday and they tell you they have to let you go. Wouldn’t that be stressful? BUT, what if, having heard the rumors, you had already been looking for another job, had interviewed and been offered one, and that very day you were going to give your 2-week notice? NO STRESS AT ALL! The difference between you experiencing great stress and experiencing no stress at all, is not in the circumstance of being laid off – it is totally in the way you THINK about being laid off.
So what James is telling us is that THE KEY ISSUE IN HANDLING STRESS IS MAKING UP MY MIND HOW I’M GOING TO THINK ABOUT THE SITUATION I’M FACING.
What are my choices? Remember the definition of stress we gave last time: STRESS IS NEGATIVE PRESSURE APPLIED TO OUR EMOTIONS BECAUSE OF PERCEIVED ADVERSE OR THREATENING CIRCUMSTANCES.
#1 So, my first choice is to FOCUS IN ON THE CIRCUMSTANCES - how bad and threatening they are. Isn’t that just what we tend to do? And if I do that, what will be the result? NEGATIVE PRESSURE ON MY EMOTIONS. If my thoughts are all about how horrible my circumstances are, my emotions will FEEL how horrible my circumstances are, and I will be stressed out.
#2 So, what’s my second choice - the one God wants me to make? Instead of thinking about how bad the situation is, James says to COUNT IT ALL JOY! When you are in the midst of a stress filled situation ...
- Instead of thinking about how bad the situation is ...
- Instead of going over it again and again in your mind, thinking about how much you hate the situation you are in ...
- Instead of THINKING ABOUT and TALKING ABOUT and REHEARSING over and over how badly somebody is treating you ...
- Instead of continuing over and over to break it down and work it out in your own mind just how unfair the way you are being treated is, and how inconsiderate and unloving and downright wrong that person is for treating you that way ...
- Instead of all that, God says YOU NEED TO BE GLAD that you are in the situation you are in!
Now, you want to talk about something that sounds totally unrealistic! HOW CAN I BE GLAD WHEN MY CIRCUMSTANCES ARE SO BAD?
Let’s go back to that word "COUNT" - it’s a special kind of verb: an IMPERATIVE, a COMMAND. There are two things we know about any command that God gives us ...
(1) It is something we CAN do - God never commands us to do something it is not possible for us to do. If we couldn’t do it, it would be an INVALID COMMAND.
ILLUS: Everybody, raise your right hand. You all did it because that’s something you can do – so it’s a VALID COMMAND. Now, I want a couple of volunteers to levitate out of your seat, fly around the sanctuary twice, then return to your seat. Why didn’t anybody do that? Because it’s not something that’s possible for you to do; it’s an INVALID COMMAND. So, when God gives us the command to “count it all joy when you fall into various trials,” the fact that He never gives us invalid commands means that it is something that is possible for us to do.
But how can I make myself be joyful when I don’t feel that way at all? People often say, "I can’t help the way I feel." But, remember: MY MIND INTERPRETS MY CIRCUMSTANCES TO MY FEELINGS. I FEEL the way I do about my circumstances because of the way I THINK about my circumstances.
If I go with the flow of my natural feelings, I will be stressed out. But, "COUNT" has to do not with what I feel but with what I think. So the way to change the way I feel is to change the way I think! God is telling me that although I may not be able to directly change my emotions, I CAN change the way I think, and when I change the way I think, that will change the way I feel.
Look at the power we have ...
2 Cor 10:5 casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, BRINGING EVERY THOUGHT INTO CAPTIVITY TO THE OBEDIENCE OF CHRIST.
Bottom line ... I CAN TAKE CONTROL OF MY FEELINGS BY CHANGING THE WAY I THINK!
And, how do I change the way I think?
Rom 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by THE RENEWING OF YOUR MIND, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
I MUST ALLOW MY THOUGHTS, MY PERCEPTIONS, MY OUTLOOK ON LIFE TO BE SHAPED BY THE WORD OF GOD, and not by my natural feelings.
When I am in a stressful situation, my feelings urge me to think about how bad the situation is, and to keep my thoughts going round and round in a rut of worrying about how I’m going to get out of my situation. Instead, in order to turn my stress into rest, I MUST CONSCIOUSLY AND DELIBERATELY SHAPE MY THINKING ACCORDING TO THE WORD OF GOD rather than according to my natural feelings.
That brings us to the second thing we know about any command of God ... (1) It is something we can do ...
(2) It is something we must CHOOSE to do - God never forces us to obey.
ILLUS: Adam and Eve had a choice whether to obey what God commanded. God deliberately made the forbidden tree accessible to them so that they would have to freely choose to obey or not to obey. Jonah had the choice of whether he would obey God and go to preach in Nineveh. Even though God put the pressure on by allowing him to be thrown into the sea and swallowed by a big fish, the choice was still Jonah’s.
So, the first thing God is telling us about handling stress is that IT IS MY CHOICE WHETHER OR NOT I GET STRESSED OUT BY MY CIRCUMSTANCES. I can either choose to go with the flow of my natural feelings, or I can deliberately and consciously choose to think the way God thinks about my situation.
God says that when I am in stressful circumstances, I CAN COUNT IT ALL JOY. My natural feelings say that there is absolutely nothing joyful about my situation. IT’S MY CHOICE! I can either go with the flow of my natural feelings, or I can choose to be joyful by reorienting my thinking to line up with what God says about my situation.
We are going to talk in a moment about how I can reorient my thinking. But here’s what I want us to see right now: Our theme this year is DETERMINED TO DEVELOP. This is one of the areas where we’ve got to be determined. I’VE GOT TO MAKE UP MY MIND THAT I AM NOT GOING TO ALLOW MY FEELINGS TO CONTROL ME! When I look at my situation, it does not feel like joy, and I can’t see anything joyful in it. But God said I can have joy, and I have to be DETERMINED enough to choose to rejoice even though that’s absolutely not the way I feel.-I must refuse to let the devil steal my joy!
BY THE GRACE OF GOD, I WILL COUNT IT ALL JOY NO MATTER HOW I FEEL!
Bottom line: don’t just go with the flow of your natural thoughts or feelings. Take control of your emotional reaction to circumstances by changing how you think about them based on the promises of God’s word.
James 1:2-4 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 KNOWING that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
The thing that will change your mind’s reaction to a circumstance that seems adverse or threatening is to discern the true nature and purpose of that circumstance. James is saying that a trial is not pleasant, but when you know it’s for your good, you can be joyful in it.
ILLUS: My wife, Priscilla, had surgery. It was painful, inconvenient, even embarrassing having to share a hospital room with someone else and having no privacy. But she’s glad about it, because she knew it was for her good.
So, James is telling us that our ability to count it all joy depends on KNOWING the truth about the situation. Well, what is the truth about our situation when we are under a lot of stress? In our text James tells us that God uses stressful circumstances to develop us in patience – perseverance under pressure. And as we develop in that ability to stand firm in Christ no matter what the circumstance, we will be made, “perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” And look at what else God accomplishes in our lives through our times of stress ...
Rom 8:28-29 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. [God promises to bring good out of apparently negative circumstances, and to use that experience to mold us into greater Christlikeness].
Psa 119:71 It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes. [God uses stressful times to teach us how to be overcomers by applying His word in our circumstances].
Rom 5:3-4 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope. [It is through our times of stress that God develops our character].
2 Cor 1:8-10 For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. 9 Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, 10 who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us. [God wants to develop our faith in Him. He wants to teach us how to trust Him and keep our eyes on Him no matter what our circumstances look like].
1 Pet 1:6-7 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ. [God uses the stressful events He allows in our lives to purify our faith and demonstrate its genuineness].
So, the next time you find yourself in stressful circumstances, remember that it’s your choice whether you will allow the pressure to stress you out. You can choose to go with the flow of your natural feelings; or you can choose to count it all joy, knowing that God will use that stressful situation to perfect (mature) you spiritually.
ILLUS: Dr. Robert Seizer, in his book “Mortal Lessons: Notes in the Art of Surgery,” tells the story of a young husband and wife. He had operated to remove a tumor from the wife’s face, but in the process had unavoidably cut a facial nerve. It left her mouth permanently distorted. She asked him, "Will my mouth always be like this?" He had to say that it would. She was devastated. But then her husband spoke up. With a smile on his face, he said, "I like it, it’s kind of cute," and he bent over to kiss her. He had to twist his own lips to make them fit with hers, but he did it, and he kissed her. And seeing what this young husband did for his hurting wife, the doctor said he felt like he was in the presence of God.
Because the young man CHOSE to think about his wife’s permanently distorted mouth as cute rather than horrible, he turned what could have been a lifetime of regret, pain and shame about her distorted face, into a source of joy and strength; because now whenever she thought about her face, it would remind her not about how ugly it had become, but about how much her husband loved her. That’s the power of choosing to “count it all joy.”
And when we do choose to count it all joy in the midst of a pressure situation, we will indeed turn our stress into rest.