Ever wondered why suffering is a part of the Christian journey? Find out this Sunday as we dive into the profound teachings from the book of James. Learn how trials and difficulties can actually lead to perseverance, character formation, and a closer relationship with God. Don’t miss out on discovering the secret to finding joy in the midst of life’s challenges!

We’re in a series called Practicing the Way of Jesus, where we’re looking together at practices that allow us to arrange our lives around being with and following Jesus.


The foundation is to surrender my life and my will to the care of God — “Not my will, but yours be done.”

Then, I have my mind renewed with great thoughts, especially by engaging with Scripture.

Then, I don’t go through life in my own power but talk with God constantly, particularly asking, “God, give me the knowledge of your will for this moment and the strength to carry it out.”

Then, we move from me to we and do live together in community with each other.

Then, I invite another person to help me be accountable to my commitments, to my values, and to the life I want to live.

And last week we talked about confession.


These are not practices we do once and we’re done. These are practices that we do for a lifetime as we try to live out the way of Jesus.


Now, in these last couple weeks, we’re going to talk about how engaging in the world outside of ourselves shapes us.


And today, the practice is — Suffering.


Now, I realize that out of all of the spiritual practices we could talk about today, you’re probably not coming in here going, “Man, I hope Matt talks about suffering today.”


Well, one of the most important parts of the way of Jesus involves trials, pain, problems, and suffering.

And we need to work out our faith in the ordinary events of life and work, particularly by our patient acceptance of everyday problems, trials, and suffering.


How I understand and deal with suffering has a huge influence on the person I will become.


And the real question with problems, pain, and suffering is not — will it happen?

The question is — does it mean anything?


There was a nineteenth-century German philosopher named Arthur Schopenhauer. He ended up having a very large influence on the modern world.

He was an atheist, and he was so famous for his bleak outlook on life that he wrote one work called Studies in Pessimism.

He wrote that existence is so bleak that if we were rational we would never have children so they would be spared the burden of existence.

I’ll give you a few quotes from Schopenhauer.

He wrote:

Today is bad, and day by day, it will get worse until at last the worst of all arrives.

Life is hard, and then you die.

He taught that the world is meaningless.

Human life must be some kind of mistake.

That’s a good bumper sticker for you!

It’s a good way to greet the kids in the morning. “Human life must be some kind of mistake.”

He actually said:

Our main comfort is the thought that when things are bad for us they are worse for other people.

He was not a guy who got invited to a lot of parties. He himself was arrogant and paranoid.

He died lonely, selfish, and miserable.


He made one other observation I want to reflect on. He wrote:

Life presents itself as a series of tasks.

Now, this, I believe, is profoundly true. Life presents itself really as a series of tasks, challenges, and problems.

You’re born.
You have to take your first breath.
You have to be fed and clothed and cleaned.
You have to get someone else to do that, so you learn to cry.
Then, you have to learn to walk and talk and dress and feed yourself.
Then, you have to go to school and learn to read and write and do math.
You’re given problems and you take tests and get grades so you can get a job and find a place to live and fix meals and wash dishes and clean house and navigate traffic and pay bills and maybe have little children.
Then, they start crying until you do all of these things for them and pay for them to go to school.
Then, you get old.
Eventually someone else has to feed you and clean you and dress you and, then, you die, which is a bummer.


Here’s one line of thought in Studies in Pessimism — Suffering is meaningless.

Life is hard, and then you die.


There’s another line of thought (kind of a minority report).

This comes from a man named Jesus, from a man named James, who was a brother of Jesus and actually was the leader of the early church.

Here’s what he wrote:

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.

Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)

This, I submit, is an outrageously optimistic way of looking at problems, pain, difficulty, and suffering.

But it’s optimism with a twist.

It’s not optimistic at all about circumstances. James doesn’t say, “If you follow Jesus, nothing bad will happen to you.”

He says, “When something bad is happening to you — something good can be happening in you.”


Now, it’s human nature to want good things to happen to us. I want promotion, money, health, approval, reputation, attractiveness, and security.


God wants good things to happen in us (the formation of a character of love and courage and joy and simplicity and truthfulness and generosity and peace), and he uses our circumstances — “life presents itself as a series of tasks” — to form our character.


I want to look at this passage and these words from James one thought at a time to learn how we can follow in the way of Jesus and grow spiritually by patiently enduring suffering together with God.


James says:

…whenever you face trials…

What is a trial?

A trial is when something happens that you wish had not happened — any event that makes me worry or irritated or afraid or sad or robs me of joy.


Remember, the very first step in the way of Jesus is — we surrender our wills.

Well, a trial is when my will gets thwarted. That’s a trial. My will is thwarted.


James says, just to be really clear about this:

…whenever you face trials of many kinds…

That could be translated — “of any kind” or “all kind” or “every kind of trial” —

Trials I cause or trials someone else causes for me.
Old problems or new problems.
Short-term problems or long-term problems.
Big problems or little problems.
Relational trials.
Money trials.
Emotional trials.
Vocational trials.
Financial trials.
Or spiritual trials.

Often, when people think about suffering in faith, they think of major suffering like life-threatening diseases or the loss of a loved one, and wonder, “Where is God in the middle of this?”

That’s a very important topic. We’ve talked about that before. We’ll talk about that one again, but that’s not this step.

This is practicing the way of Jesus for beginners.

This practice is about how to use trials for spiritual growth.

So for this practice, the place to start is with ordinary trials of everyday life.

Life presents itself to us as a series of tasks, and a place to start is by noticing all of the ways I experience my life as a task, as a trial, as a challenge, or as a difficulty, starting with just getting up in the morning:

“Why didn’t I sleep better? It’s too early to get up. I’m still tired. I don’t want to get up. I have too many things to do.”

That’s a trial.


Then, it’s time to eat:

“I’m eating too much. I don’t like my body. Why can’t I cut down on what I eat? Why don’t I have stuff I want to eat?”


Then, in getting dressed:

“I have nothing to wear. I have too much to wear. I have too much clutter in my closet. Nothing makes me look good.”


Then, in community there are rude drivers, stop-and-go traffic, too much time in my car, having a car I don’t like, having to make payments on a car I don’t like, having to take my car in to get fixed, or not having a car.


Then, work. Work is the main place we have problems because it’s where we spend most of our waking hours.

Too much to do, too many emails to answer, that co-worker I don’t like, being interrupted, having a project go badly, not getting a promotion that, of course, I deserve, getting a bad annual review, feeling underpaid or under-recognized.


“I had a fight with my spouse,” or “I don’t have a spouse.”


Or “My kids are in trouble at school, or are making bad choices about friends or alcohol or sex or lying, or they’re anxious or depressed.”


Or “I’m a young mom, and I’m exhausted, and my husband doesn’t help.”


Or “I’m a husband, and I feel overwhelmed.”

Does anyone here have any trials going on in your life?


Very often, what is a trial for me is embarrassingly trivial, honestly.

We often call them first-world problems like commute problems or, “I had a bad round of golf,” or “I had a bad hair day,” or “The Wi-Fi wasn’t working on my plane flight.”

Can you imagine how that would sound to the vast majority of the human race throughout human history?

I’m in a seat 30,000 feet in the air, flying at hundreds and hundreds of miles an hour to go to some place other people never would have visited, and my capacity to be connected with and get information from all around the world is taking place more slowly than what I want. What a horrible thing to have to be me!

The remote control doesn’t work, so I have to walk all the way over to the TV to change channels. God have mercy!

The lines on the ski lift during my vacation are too long. My masseuse used the wrong pressure.

I left my phone charger at home. What will I do?

I can’t remember the stupid passwords for my stupid private accounts that let me buy and use stuff all over the world.


James uses the word whenever — …whenever you face trials…

When do you face trials?

Whatever is a trial to you, however embarrassingly trivial that might be when you stand back and look at it.

When do you face trials?

All of the time, from one moment to the next. Life presents itself as a series of tasks. It just does.

This is just life!


Five members of my family are playing a game. This is recreation! My wife and I are on the same team. I give her a clue, and my wife misses it, and our team loses.

I could be joyful because we’re playing a game against my children (who I want to be bright and competent).

Am I cheerful?

No! I want to beat those kids!


I’m driving and talking with God and thinking about this message about problems, and as I’m thinking, I drift into the crosswalk when the light turns red.

Pedestrians are trying to cross, so I quickly back up. In my hurry, I don’t notice there’s a car behind me, and the driver lays on the horn. Not a little, friendly, sanctified warning honk, but a prolonged honk, the honk of shame, and everyone is looking at me.

I’m not joyful. I’m not growing. I’m not finding God. I want to say to everyone, “Hey! I was talking to God about a sermon to my church, so quit looking at me you stupid people!”


When James uses that word “face” — whenever you “face” many trials. It means an unexpected encounter.

So this seventh practice is different than all of the other practices we’ve looked at so far.

I can initiate surrender.
I can initiate studying Scripture.
I can initiate prayer.
I can initiate community.
I can initiate accountability.
I can initiate confession.

I can’t initiate trials. They just come.


And that’s a really good thing.

That’s part of why trials are so fundamental to spiritual growth.


I can get kind of self-righteous about how I’m initiating surrender and prayer and other practices, but not trials. They just come.


When do they stop?

When will you stop having problems?


When you die.

The number of problems and the rate at which they come will actually go way down when they put your body in the ground, but probably not until then.


This is kind of striking especially for us in the modern world.

Through technology, education, wealth, and science, we are — more than humans at any other time in history — often quite surprised and even offended when suffering comes.

“Why did that happen? It shouldn’t happen. There ought to be a law. Someone should be fired. Someone should be sued.”


For people following the way of Jesus, things are quite different.

Jesus’ friend, Peter, wrote:

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

Life presents itself as a series of tasks, problems, and challenges.

But rejoice [There’s that word again] inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.
(1 Peter 4:12-13)

The goal of life is not to stop having problems.

In fact, this brings us to what it is that James commands. There’s a command in his words whenever you face trials of all kinds.

Consider it pure joy…


Do you think James really meant this?

Is this just the kind of stuff religious people write?

Not even try to avoid problems? Of course, often we’ll do that.

Not even try to solve a problem, figure it out, and make it go away.

Not even try not to whine too much about your problems?

You might think it’s just religious cliché, except if you stop and think about it — he was writing to people who knew a lot about suffering.


In the ancient world, half of all children died before they reached adulthood.

On average, parents in the ancient world who loved and got just as attached to those little lives as you and I do would bury half of their children, and their hearts would break.


Most of the people James wrote to were dirt poor.

Many were slaves. They lived and died not owning their own lives or their own bodies.

They were scattered because of religious persecution from which James himself suffered and eventually died.


“Consider” is a real important word.

It’s a big part of being a follower of Jesus. It’s something you do in your mind.

“To consider” has to do with how I evaluate or discern or understand or grasp or assess or interpret what’s happening to me.

Not through conventional wisdom and not the way everybody else does but through the lens of faith.

What might be called a practice or maybe even the virtue of considering is found, actually, all over the New Testament. This is the way of Jesus.


Paul says:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility consider others above yourselves. (Philippians 2:3)

Human ego does not naturally do that.


Paul says:

Jesus Christ, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage. (Philippians 2:6)

We talk a lot in our day about privilege and how it’s to be considered.


The writer of Hebrews said:

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. (Hebrews 10:24)


Abraham considered God to be faithful when life didn’t look like it.

Paul considered his former self- sufficient glorious resume to be rubbish when no one else did.

When Paul was unfairly arrested and on his way to imprisonment and eventually death, he said:

King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate to stand before you today. (Acts 26:2)

No other prisoner would have said that to Agrippa, but Paul did, because he could point Agrippa to Jesus.



You could translate this word reconsider.
Run the numbers a second time.
Review your assessment of current reality through the lens of confidence in our friend, Jesus, and his glorious way of life, and it will cause you to take your problems out of the sheer debt category.

There’s still hardship and pain there. There’s still confusion there, but also, you put them into the asset category.

Because something glorious is going on.


“Consider” means I don’t just look at my problems; I look through my problems and see God is at work in them.


Therefore, when you face problems, consider it joy!


Now, the Greek word for joy meant joy.


James doesn’t stop there.

Not just, “Consider it joy,” but:

Consider it pure joy…

Consider it all joy.

It’s almost like he had been listening to his brother, Jesus, who once said:

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad. (Matthew 5:11)

Seriously Jesus?


This isn’t irony.

This is the carefully considered assessment of a brilliantly impactful man.

And an obvious question to you and me in our day is —

Why would anyone do this?
Why should we consider it all joy?

…because you know that the testing of your faith

Life presents itself as a series of tasks, challenges, and problems.

produces perseverance.

It’s creating something (a character) that isn’t thought of very much now.

It doesn’t get you likes on social media.
It doesn’t earn you money.

But it will be revealed in the truth in the kingdom in eternity as something unimaginably glorious.

The testing of your faith is producing something.

Not that God sends testing but God uses testing to make us

Not weaker but stronger.
Not discouraged but encouraged.
Not defeated but developed.

See every trial, when it comes, is a moment when the care of God will be confirmed to me.

Again, I’m not talking this week about massive suffering undergone by heroes, although I know some of you are.

Just start in a really small moment-by-moment scale that life presents itself by finding the care of God in everyday trials.

God in this traffic jam.
God in this computer crash.
God in this snarky email.
God in this colicky baby.
God in the problem that might be sitting next to you right now. Don’t look but find God there!


During this series on Practicing the Way of Jesus, I was off one morning.

I was trying to spend some time in prayer.

But I was having a hard time because of a trial that involves a conflict that has been difficult to resolve. It doesn’t involve anyone here from this church, but it won’t quite go away, and it keeps recurring in a way that’s not up to me but I don’t like.

I was praying, but my mind would drift to thinking about how much life would be better if I didn’t have this problem.

Then I got a text message from one of our prayer team members. She wrote John 15:7 in the text, which is:

If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (John 15:7)

My next thought was of God saying, “Matt, I want you to know that I can take care of this situation. Just bring it to me and I’ll give you the wisdom you need. I love you and want to help you. This is my word for you. I want you to ask. And I want to give you the desires of your heart.

It was God speaking to me through someone on our prayer team. And through his word.


Now, does that mean any time someone from our prayer team sends me a text that it’s always 100 percent of the time God speaking to me?

Yes! Of course it is. I’m not stupid!


It occurred to me in that moment that this problem I’m experiencing is something God wants me to talk to him about. And I can trust that I will receive God’s love and care and concern for my situation.


I can keep seeking a surrendered will, and if I do that, and if I don’t become, on the one hand, bitter or resentful or vengeful or angry in my thoughts.

And at the same time if I don’t become afraid or anxious or try to appease or placate someone.

If I can be honest and loving and courageous and authentic and, when I don’t know how to do that or what to do I ask God, “God, would you give me the knowledge of your will and the strength to carry it out?” —

I will grow much closer to God and much stronger in my soul at the core of my being in my capacity to live and endure and love and have poise and confidence than I ever would if I didn’t have this problem.

I can do that on the inside and I, even I in my weakness, can consider it joy. —

“God, bring it on. I can do this God, with you. Bring it on.”


This is why Paul said, “I consider…” That word again.

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18)

Not to us. That, too, but, “In us.” In you.


This is a fundamentally different perspective for viewing life.

We think pure joy is having great circumstances regardless of our character.

James teaches pure joy is having great character regardless of our circumstances.


Circumstances come and go. Character will be forever.

Pain is temporary. Joy is eternal.


God is in the character-formation business, and every single problem, whatever else it may be, is an opportunity to find God’s presence and God’s care and God’s faithfulness to gain self-awareness about my true condition, including my weaknesses.

And to be grown by God to a stronger capacity for faithful persistence, and a love for what is good and right and noble and beautiful and true.


Now, I want to tell you one more part of James’ story, where I think maybe the turning point of his life came, because it might be the turning point of your life, too.

James, as I mentioned, was Jesus’ brother, and you might think when it comes to having faith and trusting and considering problems joy that James had kind of an unfair advantage because he got to grow up with Jesus and be around him from earliest of days.

But the Scriptures point actually in quite a different direction.

We’re told early in Jesus’ ministry when his family heard about what strange things Jesus was doing and saying:

When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3:21)

That was James. James thought his brother, Jesus, had lost it.

Then, even well into Jesus’ ministry, we’re told at one point that even his own brothers did not believe in him.

That was James. He thought his brother was deceived.


I was thinking about what it would be like to be a sibling in that family.

How many of you had siblings? A brother or a sister?

How many of you ever had at least one fight with your sibling?

I was thinking that it may not have been easy to have Jesus for a big brother.

”Jesus, you always think you’re right, don’t you?”


“Jesus, who do you think you are? God?”


He just has to stand there.

Even on the cross, Jesus hands his mother over to the care of his disciple, John. “Woman, behold your son! Son, behold your mother!”

Most likely it’s because none of Jesus’ and Mary’s biological sons believed.

Jesus is crucified, and James has to watch how his mother, Mary, is crushed.

This is the end. It’s the old story. Suffering wins. Death wins. Despair wins. Studies in Pessimism.

Except Paul writes that Christ was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.

Then, he appeared to the Twelve, Paul writes.

Then, he appeared to a larger group that Paul calls the apostles.

Then, he appeared to what Paul calls 500 of the brothers and sisters many of whom are still alive at the time of this reading.

Then, Paul singles out one single man by name.

Then he appeared to James…

I wonder what that was like. What did Jesus say?

Everyone else on Paul’s list Jesus came to know as an adult. This was his baby brother. They grew up together. They were kids together.

I wonder if it was something like this. Jesus just shows up.

“Hey, Jim! What’s up? It turns out you were right. I am God. Go figure!”


I believe Paul specifically noted, “Then he appeared to James…” because that was the moment that changed everything for James.

I imagine James falling to his knees.

“Jesus, it’s all true. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry for the pain I caused you. I’m sorry for not believing. I’m sorry I let you, my brother, go to the cross alone. I could have been with you. I could have stood with you.”

He begins to list all of the sins that one brother commits against another brother.

Then, Jesus lifts up one nail-scarred hand. “Stop! You’re forgiven. Who do you think I am, brother?”


Death to life.
Doubt to faith.
Despair to hope.


Now, this could be you.

If you’ve never done this, this could be the day when you confess your sin and your guilt and place yourself by faith in the care of Jesus and in the family of Jesus and become his follower and move from death to life. You can do that today.


We’re doing baptisms in a few weeks, on Easter Sunday, and that’s a time when, if you’ve made this decision to follow Jesus, you can stand up and say, “I’m part of the family now. I’m a follower of Jesus. I’m forgiven. I’m set free.”

And we’ll cheer you on, because here’s the thing:

If the ultimate in unfair suffering (the crucifixion) from which we get the word excruciating — if that could finally turn out to be nothing more than the preamble to the resurrection (the most joyful moment of James’ and Jesus’ life), then, yes, yes — “Consider it pure joy… whenever you face trials of many kinds…”


Life presents itself as a series of tasks — “Consider it pure joy…”


So go, practice this week starting now.

Any moment when a worry or an irritation or an interruption or a bill or an argument or bad news or loss or insult or fear or trouble comes your way, when you leave here and the donuts are gone or it takes too long to get your kids or you suddenly find yourself flooded with doubts, consider it joy.

Let the process go on.

Ask God for his comfort and care.
Ask God for his presence and poise. Find him there.
Laugh at your circumstances — even death itself — in light of the glorious self God will one day turn you into if only you will let him because you have a resurrection coming.

Hold on.
Look for God.
Keep the faith.
Don’t quit.
Don’t despair.

Glory is going to be revealed in you. Consider it joy. “Consider it pure joy…”

Let’s pray.

Would you bow your heads and close your eyes so you’re not distracted.

If you’ve never made this decision before, I want to give you a chance right now to become a follower of this man, Jesus.

Pray this prayer with me in your heart and mind:

Jesus, today now I confess my sin, my guilt, and my regret. I ask you to forgive me not through anything I would merit but as a gift of your grace poured out on the cross.

I invite you, Jesus, to come live in my heart. I commit myself to follow you all the days of my life as you help me.

And I look forward to being with you forever.


Again, with no one looking around, if you’ve made that decision, I’d love to pray for you, so just raise your hand right now wherever you are just between you and God.


God, thank you that in this world that is so filled with pain and suffering they do not get the last word. Guilt, sin, and death do not get the last word. Thank you for our friend, Jesus. We pray this in his name. Amen.

Blue Oaks Church
Pleasanton, CA