How to Navigate Through Success, Failure, and Life In-Between

Slide1This series is inspired (but not sponsored) by FBC (First Baptist Church of Davis) and their fall focus running from October 4, 2015 through November 28, 2015. When I first heard FBC was doing this series, the lectionary reading and sermon that day at my own church, Christ the Redeemer Anglican Church, was from the book of James, and it really spoke to me; James is also the first bible study I completed on my own: I was fourteen, and I wrote with colored markers in a spiral notebook each morning before school, using an observation-reflection-action method similar to the one outlined in FBC’s bible-study guide. I am looking forward to spending more time meditating on this challenging book of the New Testament. I will be using the bible study guide provided by FBC with the accompanying scripture throughout this series; however, my methodology might hop around from anecdotal to more analytical word study. My goal is to do this study daily, or at least a few times a week! A big thanks to FBC for their theme, chosen scriptures, and structure of this study.


James, a fall bible study

James 1:1-11

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, 2Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

5If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

9Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, 10and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. 11For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

Monday – James 1:1-11
Tuesday – James 1:1-4 [Romans 5]
Wednesday – James 1:5-8 [1 Kings 3]
Thursday – James 1:9-11 [Proverbs 30:7-9]
Friday – Recap [Psalm 145]

 


Monday James 1:1-11

I missed Monday, so even though today is technically Tuesday, this is Monday’s post and topic.

Enough of the introduction!

In the past, I have heard James described as the “litmus book of faith” (this description is perhaps more apt for 1 John) or the practical handbook  of faith; however, I think James is not writing about salvation. We can derive conclusions about what a saving faith looks like, but I think that James is primarily addressing the complexity of life with its troubles and the question of suffering and true prosperity. James is similar to wisdom literature, and it is the litmus test for a truly prosperous life.

These questions of suffering and lack of prosperity have challenged me this past year, and I have questioned for the first time the goodness of God. The hard-core cynics will ask me why just now am I wrestling with the goodness of God when suffering has been around for a while, and the pure in heart will ask me how could I doubt. My life has been uneventful, pleasant, yet under the heavy burden of dreams deferred.

 

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore —

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over —

like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags

like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

“Harlem” by Langston Hughes

 

Noting that I am a single person, you might highlight marriage as a dream deferred for me, which, sure, would be one of them. Since I am dating a supportive, adventurous, genius of a man, this is currently less of a concern; also, I happen to have rich relationships with friends and extended family. My nephew has my smile, plus women in my family have a long shelf life, so I am covered either way. If I were married with children, I would likely feel the same burden as now because the bulk of my deferred dreams are related to independence, career, and calling.

Independence: I have always been so independent –more so than my siblings. Just ask my mother, and she will tell you tale upon tale of me insisting that I can do it myself up to the present where I persistently and (usually) politely fight to take out my own trash. (So silly – but aren’t you glad to know that I take out my own trash?) I moved out as soon as possible after getting my first job. Despite this core value, I have spent the bulk of my thirties living with my parents.

Career: I spent almost five years in a part-time job. I spent three of those years applying again and again to full-time positions (and other part-time jobs) to no avail. I am now doing intermittent temp work, which is also not conducive to financial independence. Exacerbating the discomfort of working part-time with insufficient income was that my job at the time was to help budding entrepreneurs become successful business people (and millionaires). I myself did not have a great idea to sell, which was fine with me because I suspected entrepreneurship would be a distraction to my calling; however, I was constantly confronted with people who were financially prosperous while I had to live with my parents. The contrast made it difficult to fight bitterness – if I have eschewed love of money, why cannot I at least be financially independent?

Calling: Perhaps this will be resolved soon, but maybe it will not. I do not want to presume. I could move forward in an area or two, but the nature of my call seems to require a past that I do not have. I cannot tell if my dreams are deferred because of God’s will or my own foolishness, but I have spent almost two decades chasing a calling that seems to have no success.

There are other little burdens, such as my desire for quiet and reflection in the midst of two chatty, loving, but loud extroverts who rarely leave our small house wherein every pin drop and certainly all conversation and the television are heard in every room. (Yes, I should be more proactive about seeking the quiet wilderness, and at least I do not have to worry about kids, but let me complain a moment.)

I have felt like God has been silent and or even absent. Rather funny – I have wished my own parents to be at least somewhat more silent and absent! Really, I am thankful for them. I am trying to see this household as a community of love and an expression of God rather than an inverse relationship of parents v communion with God. Even so, I am frustrated to be living with my parents as an adult. I am frustrated to see that I have put forth effort to have financial freedom and a fulfilled calling to no avail. It makes me wonder if God is not there because he is the one grants success, right? “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1). I thought I had a calling, but looking over my life, it appears as if circumstances were lined up to make me stumble. Career and calling seem juxtaposed to one another with success in neither of them. These troubles are trivial in light of the persecution of Christians right now in some parts of the world and other acute sorrows and hardships, yet I find myself disappointed to be a statistic ricocheted back home.

My trials are like a slow, constant drip that eventually creates a canyon of sorrow. That is melodramatic, and my life is really not that harsh, but these little deferred dreams have worn away at me until I have started asking why does God let sorrows and troubles come in the first place? Is that not cruel? Even the whole salvation story can be cast in an eerie, twisted light, where Jesus is good and suffers with us and for us to appease the bloodthirsty and vindictive “Father” and God of the Old Testament. (No worries, I will address this ancient heresy that has tempted me for “Tuesday”.) I was not surprised to hear that the pastor, Steve Luxa, had entitled his sermon for this section as “God is Good” because the goodness of God is at stake when encountering trouble.

Pastor Steve’s argument was that God uses trials to transform our character to be more like his own: tender, compassionate, merciful, kind, and patient. I want to leave room for mystery because sometimes suffering comes that is far beyond our understanding, and with Job-like faith we can only admit to God that we don’t understand and that we trust his goodness, knowledge, and power in the apparent evils. Is that what James means by a steadfast faith? For myself, I suspect that I am not quite as righteous as Job and that God can use my troubles to transform me. Pastor Steve said in his sermon that suffering brings “clarity about what is most important in life.” I think he nailed it. I need more clarity about what is valuable in life.

Here is the passage again:

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, 2Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

5If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

9Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, 10and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. 11For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

What strikes me is that James says that a person who has experienced trials and comes out steadfast in faith is a person who lacks nothing. And what is it that could be lacking? Wisdom, which we can request and receive. After suggesting wisdom as the commodity to request, James addresses money. He is not an innocent. He knows that in this life we have trials, and he knows that in this life, money is very important. He addresses money as a fleeting honor yet without lasting value. There is more to say about each section, but that is why there are more posts to come.

I hope in my own trials I may be steadfast in my faith, and I hope that I may lack nothing. I also hope that my values may be transformed so that I can see that I lack nothing.

That would be true success.

 

 

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