When Life Hurts
This lesson shows what the Bible teaches about how to respond to the difficult experiences of life.
1. Getting Started 5 minutes
2. Responding to Trials 45 minutes
To teach students why it is important to respond to trials in a biblical manner, to show them how to respond to trials in a biblical manner, and to help them understand why they should respond to trials in a biblical manner.
As you prepare this lesson think about the difficult experiences God’s brought you through, what you’ve learned from them, the ways you were tempted to respond sinfully, why it was difficult to respond biblically, and what you can learn from James about responding to difficulties in a way that honors God the next time a trial comes into your life.
1. Getting Started 10 minutes
A. Introduce the Group.
B. Think about This:
Q. What are some different types of trials that people experience?
Q What are some of the more difficult experiences you have had in your life?
Q. What are some typical ways people respond to difficult experiences? Why do you think they respond that way?
C. This morning I’d like for us to think about the way God wants us to respond.
Read: James 1:2-4
Q. What does the fact that James starts this letter this way tell us?
Q. What do we know from the rest of the letter about what their life was like?
James 1:1 – They were living as “refugees.” They faced persecution so intense many had to flee Jerusalem, their homes, and even their families just to survive.
James 1:9-11 – Since they were living as refugees, they didn’t have much.
James 5:1-6 – They were easily taken advantage of. Their employers would slander them, abuse them, oppress them, take them to court, withhold their wages from them, and sometimes even kill them.
Q. What are some of the particular temptations do you think you would have struggled with if you were in their shoes?
“I know it’s difficult to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. But try to imagine for a moment what it must have been like for these early Christians. What would you be thinking, what would you be feeling, if your family turned on you for following after Christ? If your mother and father disowned you for your faith? If you were physically beaten for being a Christian? If the leaders of your community kicked you out of your home and stole your possessions, leaving you with nothing? If your friends deserted you, if you had to flee to a foreign country just to stay away from those who were persecuting you. And if you found out when you arrived that the rich in that country took advantage of you?”
2. Responding to Trials 30 minutes
THE WHAT OF RESPONDING TO TRIALS…
I want us to think together about why it is so important to understand how to respond to trials.
Q. What are some reasons you need to know how to handle trials?
“It is possible to respond to trials in a way that makes them worse. The way we respond to the difficulties God brings into our lives either promotes our spiritual growth or hinders it.”
GIVE ILLUSTRATION FROM YOUR OWN LIFE
Q. What does James say about the way God wants us to respond to trials?
Write these words up on the board:
Let’s put this all together into a simple to understand statement…
Q. What is shocking about that statement?
Imagine going to a friend and sharing with him or her all the problems you are facing. You pour out your heart about all your difficulties. He looks you right in the eye, and says, “Great. That is reason for nothing but joy, happiness, and thanksgiving!”
Say what? Did you hear me? Did you hear what I just said?
But that’s exactly how James responds. He knows what these believers are going through. He knows they are being oppressed, they are being persecuted, they are hurting. And yet he says straight up, second verse in his letter, “Whenever you face various trials, you are to consider those trials all joy.”
It’d be enough if James said consider it joy. But he doesn’t. He says, consider it all joy. He’s not calling on you just to grin and bear it, to stoically resign yourself to enduring trials. Instead he’s commanding you to ‘count yourselves supremely happy’ ‘rejoice exceedingly,’ ‘account it sheer joy’ when you are suddenly and unexpectedly surrounded by all sorts of different difficulties. When trials come knocking on your door, you are to respond by evaluating that trial and considering it a reason for nothing but joy. Every part of your trial is an occasion for joy.
Q. How do you think someone in a difficult experience might be tempted to respond to this verse?
A. James must have had an unusually positive personality. This must be his crazy idea.
No – Peter, 1 Peter 1:6-9.
No – Paul, Romans 5:1ff.
No – Jesus, Matthew 5:11,12
You don’t know my pain. You can’t expect me to rejoice in the midst of trials. Sounds great, consider it all joy…but the problem is, it doesn’t work in real life.
Tell that to the apostles…Acts 5:40
Tell that to Paul and Silas in prison in Philippi. “They’ve been roughed up, given an unjust trial, put in the stocks in the most stinking dungeon at the bottom of the jail where all the filth drops down. And what are they doing down there? Complaining, moaning. No, they are singing, praising God and rejoicing.”
Tell that to Paul as he sits in prison in Rome…Philippians 1:18
If you are a believer, I have good news for you, you can learn to respond to trials, even the worst of trials with joy.
THE HOW OF RESPONDING TO TRIALS
The question is how?
I want you to you think about what we can learn from James about how to respond to trials with joy.
Q. Notice what James does not say to do when trials come into your life. He does not say “feel all joy when you face various trials.” Why is it significant that he does not say that?
He also does not say pretend like trials don’t hurt. Why is it important we understand that?
Q. What is James telling us then? What does he tell us to do?
The primary idea behind the word consider is to lead. What James is saying is that you’ve got to manhandle your thought life. You’ve got to take control of your mind and lead it down the right path.
Jay Adams explains, “In trials you cannot directly control your emotions but you can change them indirectly by leading your mind toward the right biblical considerations. Thinking about trials God’s way generates proper inner and outer responses…This doesn’t just happen; it takes a deliberate act to wrench your mind out of the pagan cesspool of thought into which you have allowed it to wade. Over the years, perhaps you’ve slackened the reigns and allowed your mind to muck around in the well-worn pathways into which your sinful nature used to lead your mind. But now redeemed by the blood of Christ, regenerated by His Spirit and given a new heart oriented towards God and capable of living for Him, you are able to seize control of the reigns and lead your mind to the pure, refreshing waters of life. In other words, in any and all trials, if you deliberately take the time and make a prayerful effort to consider them as God does you will reach the place where you look on them entirely as a blessing – and rejoice. But you will not rejoice until you learn to consider trials what God does.”
Q. The fact that he tells us we need to consider our trials a reason for joy means when we are in a difficult experience, it is important we do what?
Q. What is the opposite of considering trials a reason for all joy?
Q. Is it possible to experience sorrow and still consider trials a reason for all joy? Why or why not?
Jesus wept, and He was perfect. When He was on the cross, He wasn’t up there pretending like it didn’t hurt. No, He cried out “My God, My God why hast Thou forsaken Me?” That’s real pain. You can be distressed and still obey this command here in James. In fact, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 6:10, I’m always sorrowful and yet always rejoicing. But joy is incompatible with self-pity and this hopelessness. Don’t sorrow, don’t grieve like God doesn’t exist.
Imagine a billionaire traveling overseas. He’s got a huge bank account, an incredible home back in America, everything you could ask for. While he’s overseas however, he’s mugged and robbed. He had about hundred bucks in his wallet, and all that was stolen. He also got some bruises, and some aches and pains from being beat up by the mugger.
He’s not going to say yippee that felt really good, I just love being beat up and robbed, that was really delightful, get me that muggers number, I want to do that again sometime soon. But on the other hand you’d think he was pretty strange if he just sat in his room and cried and cried and cried and cried for days and weeks on hand because he lost that hundred bucks and his favorite wallet. You’d say, o.k. I recognize that it hurts but remember what you’ve got back home.
Q. What are we supposed to do when we are in the middle of a trial?
Q. How are we supposed to do that?
THE WHY OF RESPONDING TO TRIALS
I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the movie Hook. It’s a story about Peter Pan going back to NeverLand as an adult. He had to learn to fly. At first he couldn’t because he was older and so bogged down with all the worries of the world. But then he started to think happy thoughts and he was able to soar.
We might call that, the power of positive thinking.
Q. Is that what James is talking about? In other words, what is the difference between what James is saying to us and to average ordinary, Joe who might just say to us when we are in a trial, “Don’t worry…Be happy…”
A. James is not telling us to ignore reality. He is telling us to remember reality.
Q. What reasons does James give us in verses 3 and 4 as to why we ought to rejoice in the middle of trials?
Write following words and phrases up on board:
What are the different ways people know something? What kind of knowledge is James talking about here?
The testing of your faith…
What does it mean to test something? How do trials test your faith? Why is testing important? Why might you want your faith tested?
Trials produce endurance…
What is endurance? Why is endurance so valuable? What happens if you don’t have endurance?
You need endurance because Jesus says it is to the one who perseveres that he is going to give the crown of life, it is the one who overcomes who shall not be hurt by the second death, it is the one who overcomes who will sit with Him on His throne. If you don’t have endurance you aren’t going to make it to heaven. Listen to Hebrews 10:35ff, “…do not cast away your confidence which has great reward. For you have need of endurance so that after you have done the will of God you may receive the promise: For yet a little while and He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back my soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul.”
So that you might be perfect…
Q. What happens if you don’t let trials do that in you?
Jerry Bridges in his book Trusting God tells an interesting story about a man who was watching a moth emerge from its cocoon. The moth was struggling to get out, and the man felt some compassion as he watched, so he tried to help by snipping the shell of the cocoon. But instead of helping, he’d actually done great harm. The moth came out with its wings all crimped and shriveled. The moth which would have stretched out its wings to fly if left untouched was doomed to crawling out its brief life in frustration of ever being the beautiful creature God intended it to be. Because what the person who was watching didn’t realize, was that the struggle to emerge from the cocoon was used to develop the muscle system of the moth’s body, and pushed the body fluids out the wings to expand them. By unwisely seeking to cut short the moth’s struggle, the watcher had actually crippled the moth and doomed its existence… “The adversities of life are much like the cocoon of the moth. God uses them to develop the spiritual muscle system of our lives…We can be sure that the development of a beautiful Christ like character will not occur in our lives without adversity.”
The problem many of us have is that we say we want endurance, we say we want to be mature, but we don’t want to have to go through trials to get there. So when we are in a trial we are looking all around for the nearest exit door. Get me out!
Q. If you are going to respond to trials the way James tells you to, what needs to be most important to you?
Q. How can you be different as a result of what we’ve learned?