Eating an Elephant

How Do You Eat an Elephant?

James 1:2-12
Ed Jansen and Trish Gaffney

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man shouldnot think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business. Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

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Like most kids, my son Michael was five years old when he started school. I still remember the second morning of his kindergarten experience. His mother got him up and started helping him get ready. Then came his question-“Do I have to go back?”Oops. She wasn’t expecting that! His reasoning:”I already went yesterday.”His mother told me later,”I didn’t have the heart to tell him-there’s thirteen years of this!”

Today’smessage is about handling life’s trials when they seem overwhelming.You see, I think Mike was feeling overwhelmed about his new “assignment.” He sure would have sunk into deep despair if his mother had tried to explain to him he had at least thirteen years of this stuff. He didn’t have a clue. But you know what? Mike made it through all thirteen years and then some. He did it not by thinking about thirteen years, but by doing that “school thing” one day at a time. Now, maybe going to school never seemed overwhelming to you. Or maybe you’ve grown out of it if you did. But maybe you’re facing another kind of trial today-and it looks huge.

Maybe it looks like you’re being told you have to eat an elephant. It could be a bombardment of responsibilities.. Stressful deadlines. Trying to raise children by yourself.. Trying to make your marriage work.. Facing a chronic medical condition.. Digging out of a financial pit.. Or maybe you’re facing false accusations with legal ramifications.

Here’s what God has for us today as we approach this passage verse-by-verse, precept upon precept:

Trials are inevitable
Not one of us will escape this life without going through them. It’s just part of life’s cycles that we can expect trials of all sizes and shapes to be spattered throughout our lifetime.

Trials have a purpose
Once we understand that trials areinevitable, we need to give up viewing them as bothersome intrusions and start seeing them as purposeful tests. James writes: you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish
its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. “Tests” are what strengthen, like the wet clay potthat goes through the fire, only to come out strong and firm.

You see, trials bring about the circumstances needed to help us grow. And it’s God’s desire to help us,the clay vessels created in his image to mature in the furnace of trials without
cracking. He wants us to become stronger so that when future trials come up, and we know
they will, we can go through with more strength and firmness of faith, and with thekind of
deeper peace and joy which is dependent on God’s presence, not upon life’s circumstances.

In God’s presence, we can hurt and be strong at the same time, because we are notlacking
anything. Now some may ask, “How can I rise above overwhelming trials when I’m in the midst of them?” James has an answer:

Consider it pure joy:  Consider it pure joy,my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds . . .  JOY? Yes, we can be joyful knowing that God will bring something good out of every trial when we face the trial in faith,trusting in God’s purpose. Throughout scripture, God promises over and over that he will “raise us up” from the darkness of our trials. We can give up our outrage, knowing that these trials are used by God for gaining strength. James says they are merely tests of our faith: Knowing that testing…produces endurance. These tests are designed by God for good, not evil. We know that they have purpose. The heat of the furnace is not designed to crack us, but to strengthen his character in us so that we will not merely survive trials and ordeals, we will conquer them one way or another. Another question might be asked: “Why do trials overwhelm me?” James gives us two reasons:

We lack wisdom
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. Jamesis speaking of the kind of wisdom directly related to dealing with trials. Here’s the promise: if we ask for wisdom, God will give it to us generously. “Oh come on Ed. Get real!” “I am!” Let me tell you why I think that promise is
sometimes hard to believe. On occasion I struggle believing this promise because I don’t want God’s wisdom, I want my will! I don’t want to know what God’s will is because I’m so bent on doing what I want to do! Beloved, wisdom is not the same as agreement, and God’s wisdom is far beyond our own thoughts and understanding. When we ask God for his wisdom, he will give the wisdom that he has, to us. And maybe we don’t want to hear it. Has that ever happened to you? The premise is that God wants the very best for us even when it doesn’t feel that way and God will reveal just as much as we need to know. If you struggle with this premise the rest of thismessage isn’t going to make much sense. But if we believe that God is a loving god who only wants the very best for us, we have these promises in James:

But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. Believe that if you go to God and say, “Lord, I don’t know what to do. I lack wisdom. Please show me your wisdom” that God will. He is faithful. But we need to listen and watch for his response to hear or see it. Sometimes God only tells us what not to do, and leaves the rest up to us because any other choice available is ok with him.

When God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden, he pointed out all the different kinds of fruit trees and said, “These are all yours. Take whichever ones you want. It matters not to me.” But then he said, “Just don’t eat from THIS tree.” Adam and Eve knew the wisdom of God. James is telling usbelieve and do not doubt; when it comes to certain choices in life, God’s “silence” is often an indication that it matters not to him. and his “no” is often clearer than we want it to be. Even in the guidance of God’s wisdom, it’s still our choice. That’s one reason he gave us a free will. But when we need to know if what we’re about to do is right or wrong, he will speak clearly if we’re willing to ask and listen.

We lack faith
The second reason trials overwhelm us is because we lack faith. God spoke in Deuteronomy 7:17. “You may say to yourselves, these nations are stronger than we are. How can we drive them out? But do not be afraid.” The people of Israel were facing into, as they entered the Promise Land, huge walled cities and barbaricpeople who looked like giants. They were facing an elephant that had to be eaten. And verse 22 says,”Do not be terrified by them for the Lord your God who is among you, is a great and awesome God. The Lord your God will drive out those nations before you, little by little.” Ha! “little by little.” Even God eats elephants one bite at a time! What encouraging words! When we’re in themidstof the battle, we only need remember that it is God who will bring us the victory, little by little, one day at a time.

When we rely solely on our own resources for resolution or expect an immediate resolution, when we are “outside” of God’s will and wisdom, then the trials in life give us a sense of hopelessness. But that’s exactly when God wantsus to say: “It’s not nearly as important what’s happening to me here, as how I respond to what’s happening. Show me, Lord….. That’s what really counts. This is a test! It’s only a test! And God will either deliver me from this or through it in his time.” Let me say that again…. God will either deliver me from this or through it in his time. Either way, whenwe get to other side of it,we will be victorious! We will have gained greater strength to endure and greater wisdom and faith for the rest of my life. Now that might not seem very comforting tous the first time, but with each trial we go through, trusting in God’s wisdom, we see how we grow and become stronger,and how much better we’re dealing with the second trial. And that is a real victory! And it’s a promise from God! And the final question we might ask is this: “What’s promised to those who handle overwhelming trials in God’s wisdom and our faith?”

The first promise is happiness. Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial. The scriptures continually refer to our God as blessed. Blessed happiness is indeed of a divine nature; for people of faith ithas to do with an inward state of happiness which does NOT depend upon physical, temporal circumstances. St. Paul put it this way: Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  Nevertheless you have done well that you shared in my distress. (Phil 4:11-14)

Blessedness or happiness comes as we face into overwhelming trials when:

  • We understand that trials are an inevitable part of life.
  • We perceive trials joyfully knowing the purpose behind every one is to test and strengthen us.
  • We seek God’s wisdom instead of our will.
  • Give up our demands to be immediately delivered from the trial and look to God and not ourselves for victory.

The second promise is that we receive the “crown of life
James is not referring to a future crown to be received once we’re in heaven; he’s referring to a crown of life to be enjoyed here and now. James is promising you the crown of life–the peace of God–as you walk in God’s wisdom and your faith: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

To the Greek and Roman of the day, the crown had four great associations:

  • The crown of flowers was worn at times of joy. It was the sign of happiness.
  • The crown was the mark of royalty worn by kings and those in authority.
  • The crown of laurel leaves was the victor’s crown in the games.
  • The crown was the mark of honor and of dignity.

People of faith, tested and approved by the trials of life, receive this gift of the crown; they
have peace and joy.Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy.(Psalm 126:5)

  • People of faith tested and approved by the trials of life, however imperfect as they truly are, become royalty as children of God. St. Paul declares: For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26)
  • People of faith tested and approved by the trials of life have victory in life. 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. (Romans 8:28)
  • People of faith tested and approved by the trials of life have honor and dignity. They are ever conscious of the fact God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

God thought us worth the life and death of His Son. No person can ever be worthless, if Christ died for them. Anyone who claims that they don’t need a savior to hang on a cross for them, will never experience the love expressed through that cross. When they reject this costly gift of love so freely given, they reject their own worth in the eyes of God. You see, our value as human beings is not based upon our performance, nor the opinions of others. Our value is based upon the price paid, which was the suffering and death of Jesus Christ which has tremendous worth. Christians have honor and dignity in Him!

Friends, as we follow the teachings in these first twelve verses of James, we can now do more than just bear through our trials, we can actually choose to grow because of them. We can be filled with joy and peace through victory in Jesus based upon these promises in James. Now let’sgo forth into the world rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit and not shun any trial that comes along. We can stand firm in the belief thatit’s God’s fire; a fire that strengthens us into a shape and form he has purposed for us.

In Christ’s love and service,
Ed and Trish

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2 Responses to Eating an Elephant

  1. Barbara says:

    I really do love the Book of James. The whole book is basically about love, passing on Jesus Word, caring for one another and how to go about getting, using, and retaining love, faith, peace, and fellowship with our brothers and sisters. How to forgive is much easier once you read and understand James, because he gives you the tools you need to follow in Jesus footsteps….

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