Under pressure (part 3)

Time for a quick recap if you have been following the previous blogs on ‘under pressure’.

My points till now were:

POINT #1 TRIALS ARE PART OF LIFE. THEY ARE GUARANTEED. WE MIGHT AS WELL FACE THEM!

POINT #2 OUR PERSPECTIVE OF TRIALS DETERMINES HOW WE WILL FACE THEM

POINT #3 TRIALS KEEP US IN NEED OF GOD

Ok. We are good to continue.

POINT #4 WHEN TRIALS COME, DON’T COMPARE YOUR LIFE WITH OTHER PEOPLE’S LIVES

Do you know the expression “the grass is always greener on the other side”? Well, when the storms of life hit us, this tends to happen as well. Suddenly, we are aware of what we don’t have, or what other people do have. In the times of James, the issue was riches and poverty. Most people that heard the words of this letter poor, former Jews that now walked with the Lord. They were culturally and socio-economically sidelined by fellow Jews. Just a few of them might have been rich, but the vast majority had a hard time in making ends meet. We live in a relatively wealthy part of the world. Of course, there is poverty, but most of us are probably doing OK enough. Yet, the comparison game can happen in many ways.

Today a lot of people are so hooked up to Social Media. Let’s say you are having a bad day, or rather, a bad episode in your life. You are tired and bored. What do you do? You entertain yourself with some Facebook posts or Instagram pics of other people’s lives who seem to be doing great. They show the most stunning holiday pics of exotic places – destinations you will never be able to visit because you don’t have the $$. And before you know it, you start to secretly envy others. Research now shows us that many people that are connected a lot to social media start showing more and more traits of depression and anxiety. Often this is triggered by the comparison game. The virtual world of the internet gives us the possibility of putting on a show or use filters. We would like to be perceived as happy people with amazing, adventurous lives.

James makes it abundantly clear to us all that the comparison trap during trials is not going to help. The grass may always seem greener on the other side, right?

So, when life’s tough at times…don’t compare yourself with others. There’s no point in that. But there is more when hard times know on our life door.

POINT #5 WHEN TRIALS COME, BE AWARE OF WHAT’S HAPPENING ON THE OUTSIDE BUT ESPECIALLY BE AWARE OF WHAT’S BEING PROCESSED ON THE INSIDE

It’s true that when we are born again, we are truly a new creation. In our spirit, we are a new person. That new reality of who we are in Christ now needs to work its way out to our thoughts, emotions, and desires as well. We also call that being renewed in our minds. That is a process! And that process does also not come without a fight. Great! We are already in the fight for our lives when a storm hits us. Now we must deal as well with the war of wars that rages in our minds.

You see, when hard times hit us, and they are guaranteed, it can potentially do something amazing. Like with the diamond under pressure or the talented athlete, under pressure it will show its true nature. Yet, it’s a two-edged sword. The enemy of our souls, the devil, also knows what hard times can potentially do to us. Trials are guaranteed, but a beautiful outcome in which you come on top…well that’s another story.

God’s desire is to purify our character and pressure will do that. He does not necessarily send all those storms in our lives. He could, but He’s not the author of everything. James makes it clear that Satan also is a formidable opponent that knows where to ‘push our buttons’. Perhaps it’s money, or better the lack of it in your situation, that causes fights or family problems. Maybe it’s the sense of ‘always receiving a bad hand in life’ that causes you to put God on the stand in your mind.

“Well God, I thought you had my back! I thought you’d care for me! Aren’t you a loving God? Why is my life such a mess?”

Sometimes these thoughts are verbalized, but often they are just thoughts. The thing with thoughts is this: they pretty much influence everything else in life (emotions, desires etc.).

If we are unaware of this internal process that is going on, we might set ourselves up for something bad. Human nature teaches us that we have a very hard time in assuming responsibility. Instead of accepting what we did, we either play the victim or do the blame-game.

“Sorry, God, but if it wasn’t for you, I would not be in this situation. You allowed it to happen!”

Or what about this one…?

“Well, you know, I have tried to change myself, but you know, the devil is just too cunning. I can’t help myself. He got me again. It is what it is.”

God does not tempt us or causes us to commit sin. James calls that even foolishness and evil to even suggest. Evil is the possibility to choose wrong. We aren’t God’s puppets on a string. When we sin, the only one to blame is us and nobody else. That might not be comfortable, but we might as well face that.

James 1:13-15 says it like this:

“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’, for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.”

Remember, our thoughts, emotions, and desires (the will) need to be renewed still even though our identity is secure in Christ. That’s a process. It doesn’t help to play the victim or blame others for where we are (or aren’t yet). Temptations are real, but it is not a sin to experience them. We all must deal with temptations in life.

Jesus Himself was even led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, but He succeeded. It was also Jesus that taught us a very well-known prayer we know as “OUR FATHER…”There is this line in this beautiful prayer that we know. It goes like this:

“And do no lead us INTO temptation, but deliver us from the evil one…” Matthew 6:13

Have you wondered what that means? After all, it’s the most famous prayer on earth that many people have prayed.

If James says that God does not tempt us, what does it mean to not lead us into temptation? I think it simply means this. Even though God may allow hard situations to happen in our life (sometimes caused by own choosing, sometimes simply because life is tough), it doesn’t mean that He is the author of every single situation. We choose certain things and God’s opponent also plays a role in the whole thing. God doesn’t necessarily take all temptations away from us, even though He doesn’t want us to sin. Temptation ultimately drives us to ask ourselves this question: AM I GOING TO BELIEVE GOD, OBEY GOD AND LIVE ACCORDING TO HIS WILL OR NOT? To pray that God will not lead us INTO temptation simply means to pray and believe that God will get us through in the face of our giants of life. We won’t give ourselves over to the temptation itself, because He will not lead us INTO that place.

I believe that to be true for two reasons.

First, in Christ, we have a God who can empathize with our weaknesses even though Christ Himself, while He was tempted, did not give in to sin (see Hebrews 4:14-16). God knows us. He’s not unaware of our reality.

Second, even though the reality of the temptation may seem overwhelming, even though the giant in life might be really huge, God has also promised in His Word that He will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that we may be able to bear it (1 Corinthians 10:13)

How? It’s simply our submission to God – your “yes God you are right, and I will believe you and follow you and trust you rather than myself” that also is our resistance to the devil. There is no point in making promises to God to shape up or not commit that horrendous sin again. If we make promises to God to live as a better Christian, we are still living under the assumption that it’s our willpower that will pull that off. We can’t change ourselves. Ultimately, it’s pride that drives people to make promises to God in the hope of a better life, because the source for change is still not in God but in self.

James says it this way:

“God resists the proud but gives grace (the power to change!) to the humble. THEREFORE, submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” James 4:6-7

That leads me to the next important point about a faith that works during trials and temptations.

To be continued…