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About this series
Five Lies that Ruin Relationships
Wrong Beliefs Produce Wrong Behavior
Have you ever looked back over a situation or relationship in your life and wondered how it became so messy or difficult? In the series from the book of James, Five Lies that Ruin Relationships, we'll define five of the most common lies that have the potential to ruin relationships with those we love. We'll also uncover the source of quarreling, how our words wound, and how not to make decisions. And together, we'll ask and answer the question: do wrong beliefs produce wrong behavior? We will discover that when we confront the lies we believe, there is power in knowing and applying God's truth to our relationships.More from this series
The “if-only” game goes like this, and it is the fifth lie. The lie is that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. When things get hard, and when they get difficult, somehow we think, If I were in a different situation, if only this happened or that happened, then everything would be just absolutely good. It’s my circumstance.
And the lie is, the grass is greener. If only – and are you ready? Let me ask you to fill this in, in your notes. If only I could change – and then you could fill it in – then everything would be – and then write the word wonderful. And I don’t know what it would be, for you, but I’d like you to think, what would you fill in there? If only – fill that in – then life would be wonderful.
If only my health were restored, then life would be wonderful. If only my husband would have a change of heart, then life would be wonderful. If only my boss would be transferred, or join another company, then my life would be wonderful. If only my son or daughter would come back to the Lord, then life would be wonderful. If only this ministry would take off, and I could just get out of what I am doing and get where God wants me to be, then life would be wonderful. If only I made a few more thousand dollars a year so that we could … then life would be wonderful.
Have you got it? Under pressure, we all play the “if-only” game. If only he was more sensitive … If only she was more affectionate … If only the economy would change … If only the stock market would go back up … If only the interest rates would change … If only we could…
And we do it, and we do it, and we do it. And it’s a lie. We think that way. And I’m going to suggest, this is the lie of the greener-grass mentality.
Here’s the false premise. I believe we, especially in this country – this is not too much in the Third World. When I go to India, when I go to Haiti, when I go to Africa, those people live in intense times and very difficult times. When I spend time with people who know that sharing the Gospel may well cost them their lives, they do not share this false premise.
But in America, I believe, this is a false premise. And the false premise is, God wants me to be happy. Now, there is a lot of truth in that, so don’t get too shaken up. God does want to bless us, He does want to give us a full life. But when I say “God wants me to be happy,” I mean He wants me to feel happy. He wants me to be emotionally satisfied. He wants everything to be going right, all the time, so that I’m a happy camper, so I am fulfilled, so life is going my way, so I’m successful, so life is good.
I believe that is a false premise, because I’ve got passages that say, “In the world, you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” I’ve got passages that say, “Why are you surprised at the fiery trial that you are undergoing? Because it is predictable and certain.” I have passages that say that every single person that longs and wants to live a godly life will experience persecution.
So, I think we have eliminated some of those passages in our American view of the New Testament and the Old Testament, and we have come to believe that God wants personal fulfillment, and happiness, and good emotions, about ninety-nine percent of the time.
So, I put this in a little axiom here. Major premise: God wants me to be happy, and that is His highest goal for my life. That’s what He really wants. Minor premise: My situation, my job, my marriage, my school, my relationships are so painful and stressful that – conclusion – this situation or relationship can’t be God’s will for my life. That is, day after day after day after day, being believed and acted on, at least in America.
I was doing a radio call-in – we had just written the book, Love, Sex, and Lasting Relationships, and it was about giving people a whole new paradigm about building lasting relationships, and God’s role for sexuality, and the kind of relationships that really stay together.
And I think it was one of the Moody stations, and it was a nationwide call-in program. And they talk a little bit, and then people call from around the country. And every time I – when a book comes out, you do this, on all these different radio things. And so, this happened almost every time we did a call-in.
And so, this was a Chicago listener, and this lady calls in. She goes, “Well, you know, I just really want you to know that I know God really wants me to be happy, and I am just miserable in my marriage. And so, I am going to be divorcing my husband, and … That’s okay, isn’t it?”
And I said, “Well, ma’am, that’s a very complex situation, and I don’t know all the issues, but do you have biblical grounds for divorce?” She goes, “Well, what do you mean?” I said, “Well, has he been sexually unfaithful? Is he an unbeliever that maybe you married before you were a Christian, and that he has abandoned you? I mean, do you have biblical grounds for divorce?” And she goes, “Well, no, he’s just not very considerate. He’s just not very nice. I don’t feel fulfilled. I mean, I’m missing out on life. I’m miserable. I just don’t like him anymore.” Then she said this, “But I know God wants me to be happy. Therefore, I know this can’t be His will.”
Now, that’s a graphic one. But I would challenge you, and I would challenge me, to ask ourselves, where do we play that “if-only” game?
A while back I had a guy come to me, and he hated his job, hated his job, hated his job, frustrated with his job. “This isn’t where I belong. This isn’t what I really want to do.” Now, he hadn’t put a resume together, hadn’t done anything, hadn’t talked to his boss, but he just whined and whined and whined, and in his mind, If only I had a different job … If only I had a different job, then I would be happy.
So, one day I met him for coffee, and he said, “Well, man, I’ll tell you what, I’m doing great now.” I said, “Why? What happened?” He said, “I quit.” I said, “You did? Your job?” “Yeah!” I said, “Well, wow! Great! I mean, what’s your new job?” “I don’t have a new job.” I said, “You don’t have a new job?” He said, “Yeah, I just realized it couldn’t be God’s will for me to be in this job because it makes me so miserable.”
That guy was unemployed, probably, for about fourteen or sixteen months, and I watched his life, and his family … Because he played the “if-only” game. The grass-is-greener mentality … And, If only this changes, then I’ll be happy. And so, he bailed out of God’s program in his life.
The truth is, if you’ll look in your notes, running from adversity and conflict in relationships does not solve problems, but it compounds them. If we had time, we could pass a microphone around this room, and all of us, at certain times in our lives, have run from adversity, have run from conflict and difficulty. And we could probably tell a lot of stories of how, you know what? Running away from it did not solve it; it just compounded it.
Patience and perseverance are the keys to relational transformation. Boy, now, isn’t that hopeful? That’s just the kind of thing you say, “That’s what I really want. I was hoping the last time, the last session, someone would tell me, ‘Here’s the answer to those relational, knotty, difficult issues in your life: be patient and persevere.’” I mean, that is just felt need all the way, isn’t it? It’s what you were longing to hear.
And I can almost hear some of you say, “No, no, no, you don’t understand, Chip. You don’t understand. I’m sure there are a lot of people that probably need to hang in there, and they need to have patience, and they need to persevere, but you don’t understand. I don’t sleep at night because of this situation. I have stomach acid rolling, I’m having panic attacks. This conflict, this difficulty, this thing is so difficult.” “You don’t understand how bad this situation is with my daughter.” “You don’t understand the kind of marriage I’m in.” “You don’t understand the pressure I have in my finances.” “You don’t understand the mess in this church, and that’s why I’m leaving it now, and shaking the dust off my feet. You just don’t understand.”
And you know what? You’re right. I don’t understand. But God does. And I would suggest there’s a group of people that, I do not care how difficult your situation is, their situation was far worse. They had lost their homes. They had been abandoned by their families. Some were starving. Others were being persecuted by the Roman government. They were hiding out in caves to be able to pray and worship the Lord. They were dispersed, and ran for their lives.
What do you think God would say to that group of people? Well, you don’t have to guess. If you’ll look in your notes, I put exactly what God would say to people in a very difficult situation of conflict and adversity.
And here’s what He says to them, beginning in verse 7 of chapter 5 of the Book of James: “Be patient then, brothers” – well, how long? – “until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and the spring rains? You, too, be patient and stand firm” – well, why? – “because the Lord’s coming is near.”
Well, what kind of attitude should we have while we’re waiting? Verse 9, “Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged; the Judge is standing at the door. Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who persevere. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and you have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. Above all, my brothers, do not swear, not by heaven or by earth or by anything else; let your yes be yes, and your no, no, or you will be condemned.” In other words, keep your word.
Now, we have been doing Bible study, and I was so excited, I brought two pens, because we are going to both underline and circle. Are you ready to do a little Bible study? There are four commands in this passage. As I give them to you, I want you to underline the commands.
Command number one: “Be patient.” That’s in verse 7. Command number two is in verse 8: “Be patient and stand firm.” So, he repeats the same command. Command number three: “Don’t grumble.” Underline that. Command number four is, “Do not swear.” “Do not swear.”
So, he has made it very, very clear. He understands their situation. It’s as bad, or, literally, worse, than anyone’s difficult conflict or adversity. And he says to them, very clearly, “Be patient. Be patient and stand firm. Do not grumble, and do not swear.”
Now, I want you to circle some words because there are some things that are repeated that will tell us what he is talking about. Maybe there’s a theme here. Circle the word patient in verse 7. Circle the word waits in the next line. Circle the word patient in the next line. Go to verse 8, circle the word patient. Skip down to verse 10, circle the word patience. Skip down to verse 11, and circle the word persevered. And then, circle again, in the same line, Job’s perseverance.
Now, does anybody have any idea, might there be a message here? Inductively, do you see something rising out of this text that might be telling us something about what we need to do in the midst of difficult times?
The final thing I’d like you to do is, I’d like you to go up, because he gives us three examples. There are four commands. It’s obvious, it’s about patience, perseverance, hanging in there, not giving up, hanging tough, enduring. But he’s going to give us three snapshots. There are three pictures.
Put a box around the word farmer. Because he’s going to use it as an example. He’s going to say, “There is a lesson to be learned from the farmer.” Skip down, and put a box around the word prophet. He says, “There is a lesson that we can learn from the prophets.” And then, finally, put a box around the word Job, or Job’s. There is a lesson to be learned from him.
And if you had some time to look at those four commands, and as you see those words that are circled, what you’re going to learn is that God has a message to people who play the “if-only” game. He has a message to people like us who, under pressure – we don’t mean to do it, but, unconsciously, we start believing the lie that if only this would change, if only that would change …
See, what we are not asking is, If only I would change ... I’m not asking, If only my perspective would change ... If only my character would grow ... If only I could see and understand …
And did you notice? I didn’t want to wear you out. Did you notice, three different times, the area of patience, endurance, is all centered around a future hope that is guaranteed?
Did you notice you could put parentheses around, in verse 7, “The Lord’s coming is near”? You could put parentheses around, “The Lord is coming.” And then, later on down it says, “He is the Judge.”
In each time, the ultimate reason for patience and perseverance is, we have a hope that is unshakable. We have a God who is sovereign. We have a King who is returning. We have a history that is making its way. We have purposes that cannot be changed. We have a God who is full of love and compassion, who is working both in us, and through us, for His good will.
And out of this, I think, are three very, very clear commands for us, in terms of, how do we make it through difficult times? How do we get to where we don’t believe the lie of the greener-grass mentality of just thinking, Well, maybe if we move, or maybe if I get a different marriage partner, or maybe if I get a different job, or maybe if I change churches, or maybe if …
Now, don’t hear this incorrectly. Are there times to move? Of course there are. Are there times that God wants us to move from one thing to another? Of course there are. Never hear one passage or one teaching outside the full counsel of God.
But what this passage is talking about is, you’re in circumstances that it’s obvious, from Scripture, God doesn’t want to change at this point, and instead of trying to wiggle out of them, and trying to play a game in your mind, believing it will better if only you could do this, like that cow nibbling the grass on the other side of the fence …
He says, a lot of God’s will, in a fallen world, is wait, patience, patience, patience, patience, persevere, persevere, and that in that process, He will do something in you that could never happen any other way, and He will do something through you, as a part of that, that only He can do, if you don’t bail out of His program.
The first point I see out of this passage, in verses 7 to 9, is that we are commanded to be patient, even when circumstances are beyond our control. He says, “Don’t give up, don’t give in, because God is in control, but they’re out of your control.” Look at it. He says, “Be patient, brothers, until the Lord’s coming.”
And then this is the lesson of the farmer. “See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, and how patient he is for autumn and spring rains?” How much control does the farmer have about how much sunlight and how much rain? Zero.
So, what does he do? Does he say, “Well, you know what? Forget this. Let’s move. Come on, honey, let’s just pick up and leave.”
What does a farmer know? “I’m not sure when the rain is going to come, I don’t know how much, I don’t know if there are cloudy days; I don’t know if there are going to be sunny days. All I know, there is a God who is in control of that, and I have been farming for a lot of years. And I have been farming for a lot of years, and what I know is, there are some seasons that are a little dry, there are some that are a little bit rainy.
“But as I look back over year after year after year, you know, I didn’t put seed in the ground, and it didn’t rain very much, and I didn’t see something happen and leave. I waited until the cycle. And I’ve learned there are seasons to life, and there are seasons to crops, and there are seasons to marriages, and there are seasons to jobs, and there are seasons to ministries, and there are seasons with children. And if you bail out, then you may have planted the good seed, and never reap the reward.”
So, he says, “Take a lesson from the farmer.” What does the farmer do? He waits for the land. He waits for the process. He lets the land do its work, its valuable crop. He’s patient. He realizes, “You know what? Okay. You know what? It’s autumn now, and things are brown. But guess what? Spring is coming. Spring is coming.”
The word patient, here, is interesting. It’s makro – a lot – thymōs – for heat. And it’s the art of enduring someone who is incompatible for a long time. That’s what that word means. Some of you are thinking, “Boy, I’ve got that person in my life.”
Longsuffering … It’s to tolerate a circumstance or a difficulty for a long time. Now, obviously they didn’t have bombs, and dynamite in fuses, but the word picture, in my mind … When I think when it says patience, the word picture in my mind that helps me is makro is “long,” or “big,” and thymōs has the idea of “heat.” And it’s the idea of, it takes a lot, a lot of heat, a lot of difficulty, a lot of adversity, before you cave in
And I have a picture of a really long fuse. And it’s a really long fuse, and you light the fuse. And what you know is, the fuse is going to burn, burn, burn, burn, burn, and when it finally gets here, it’s going to do its job, and the thing is going to break loose.
But what God is saying to me is, “You need to have a long fuse, Chip. You need to have a long fuse in this ministry situation. You need to have a long fuse in this marriage. You need to have a long fuse in your attitude for this problem person. You need to have a makrothymōs for Me. You need to be, and learn the lesson of the farmer, and realize that you don’t know all that is going on. And there is a season of difficulty right now, but you need to persevere. You need to hang in there.”
And then, by the way, you need to hang in there with the right attitude. Notice what it says. Second command: Be patient and stand firm” – again – “because the Lord’s coming is near.” Seasons have a beginning, and seasons have an end, don’t they? Whatever you’re experiencing that you think, “I can’t take it, I can’t take it, I can’t take it one more day” – yes, you can.
You say, “Well, I can’t imagine myself three weeks from now in this situation.” You don’t have to. There is no grace in hypothetical situations.
If you start thinking, Next year, or three weeks from now, or two years from now, or in five years … You know what? There is zero grace. You know what you get grace for? Today.
I’m not sure – unless you know more than me, I don’t know that you’ll be here three weeks from now, do you? I don’t know if the earth will be here five weeks from now. The Lord is near. I don’t know when He is coming back.
So, he says, “Stand firm and be patient.” And then here’s the attitude: “Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door.”
He says, when things get difficult, and when we should be waiting, and realize there is a season in marriage, there is a season with our kids, there’s a season in a ministry – what we tend to do is start blaming, and grumbling, and …
It’s interesting, the word grumble, here, means “to sigh; to groan silently within, or to whine without.” I hate that definition. It so describes me at times. Isn’t that good? To groan within or sigh – “Oh, brother” – or “to whine without.” It’s to build resentment or a negative attitude toward another person. That’s what it means to grumble. And in difficult circumstances, we are all prone to do it.
Could I suggest that the lesson of the farmer would teach us that if we are not careful, we will bail out before God’s season is complete, in a relationship, a job, a ministry, a church, or a situation, and we will miss the blessing? We will get in on the planting, we’ll get in on the cultivating, we’ll get in on the dry season, and the difficulty, and the adversity, and God was just about ready to rain, and He was just about to bring about and bear some fruit, and you’re ready to leave.
And I learned this early, and the hard way. I was in seminary, and because I was – I don’t know, what would you call it? I’m hyper. Can you recognize that? I’m a hyper guy. All right?
And I was running a little janitorial company, and going to seminary, and I had three kids, and trying to balance all that. And the little janitorial company was having some financial difficulties, and I was also involved in a ministry about twenty hours a week. I mean, insane.
And I realized, after three years of sleeping about four and a half or five hours a night, I can’t do this any longer. And I still have a full year of seminary left. And so, I asked God to somehow take the ministry, and a paycheck, and put them together. And a little, tiny church, outside of Dallas, in Kaufman, Texas, called me to be their pastor. There were about thirty-five people, out in the boonies of the boonies of the boonies.
And they asked me – I didn’t know it – they had had a lot of difficult times with pastors, and I’m glad I didn’t know it all. But they had been through about eight in the last three years. And if I would have been older and smarter, I would have asked a good question, but I didn’t know that, and it’s good I didn’t know.
But they asked me for a five-year commitment. And I thought, Well, you know, God has showed me I’m supposed to be a pastor. And I thought, Well, I’ve got one year of seminary. I could break that and slow down, do it in two years. And I’m going to have to learn how to be a pastor somewhere. This is a good place. Yeah, five years …
Well, I signed up for five years, and that little group of thirty-five, and I found out everyone was related, and I found out, in about the first year, why all the other pastors left. And they were wonderful people, but it was an interesting journey. And I had so much to learn.
And at about year two, or year two and a half – now seminary is done, I’ve got about six months after it, and if someone would have said, “You are out of your commitment,” I would have run through the door.
I mean, I grew up in the suburbs, and this is a tiny little town. I mean, no stoplights. We actually grew, and got a stoplight later. But, I mean, at one end of town was the feed store, and the other end of the town was the Wagon Wheel. And I think there was a Sonic. I mean, that’s it.
And in those Texas towns, they have the little squares, where you have the courthouse, and you could even see where the rings were where people would put their horses. And everyone wore John Deere hats, and had guns in the back of their pickups. And that is not how I grew up. This was a different environment for me, and it was hard, hard, hard, hard. And at two and a half years, I think we went from thirty-five to maybe ninety or a hundred people. And I’m just thinking, I’m knocking my head against the wall. I didn’t go to seminary – Lord, I want to be a missionary. There are only a hundred people here, and I’m killing myself, and I might be killing them.
And everything in me wanted to leave, except I made a commitment. And what I didn’t understand is, there are seasons. I didn’t understand that the person who needed to grow up the most was the twenty-eight-year-old young pastor who went there that didn’t know what he didn’t know, and that, really, those people, instead of being backward, and this and that, they really knew a lot more about God, and about how to teach me to be a pastor, than I ever imagined or dreamed. And I stayed there for one simple reason.
As I think – “Let your yes be yes, and your no be no.” But emotionally, it was like – I think I would have taken a job, a good janitorial job, not running a company, but being the janitor. I was discouraged!
And what was interesting was the seasons. And God began to work. And by about years number four and five, we saw the thing begin to grow, and God move in the area. And then, actually, I ended up staying eight years. And at years six, seven, and eight, we just watched things double, and multiply, and in a town of about forty-five hundred, we saw about five hundred people involved there.
We saw churches get connected. We had outreach for all the youth, non-denominationally, for all the high school kids. We built a child welfare center. We shut down the pornography in all those little shops that they had. And God did a wonderful thing. And I would have missed it all because I didn’t want to wait. I didn’t want to be patient. And I didn’t understand what the farmer knows. The farmer knows that there are seasons.
What season are you in? What season are you in, in your marriage? What season are you in, in your business? What season are you in, in your church? What season are you in? And could it be that instead of, If only this was
different … And you know those secret thoughts, like, If only I had a different marriage partner ... You know? If only my health was better, then …
What if God has you, in His sovereign will and purposes, in a season to develop something inside that is going to be better, and deeper, and greater than you ever dreamed? That’s what James is saying.
Notice, there’s a second lesson, not just from the farmer, but there is a lesson to be learned from the prophet. And notice what he says here about the prophets. He says, “Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets” – plural – “who spoke in the name of the Lord.”
And you think to yourself, Well, what’s amazing about that? It says, “Well, we’re commanded to be patient, even when our circumstances are unfair and unjust” – verse 10.
See, that’s what I get from the prophets. When I study the prophets’ lives, I’m just thinking, If you really love God, if you’re really for God, if you’re really willing to take a stand, if you’re going to live a righteous life then life is going to be good. You’re going to be happy! Right?
Yeah, Daniel – happy, happy, happy with all those lions. Jeremiah – happy, happy, happy. “I’m in a cistern, down in a well. Now I’m in prison.”
Study the lives of the prophets. My lands, they do exactly the right thing, and they’re treated with injustice, and lack of fairness. Or Joseph! Here’s a guy that, “All I want to do – You gave me a dream. I want to do Your will, Lord.” So what does he get? Falsely accused; sent to prison unjustly. His whole life, the first thirty years, is like a bad dream.
God wants us to learn the lesson of the prophets. They spoke God’s Word. They were in the center of God’s will. We have skewed expectations about what it means to walk in the will of God.
See, it’s the happiness cult that we’ve produced in America.
And he says, “Learn a lesson from the prophets: Daniel, Jeremiah, Joseph, Elijah.” They were in the center of God’s will, and being in the center of God’s will meant pain, and suffering, and injustice, and difficulty, and being light and salt in a perverse and dark world.
Life is not certain, life is not easy, and life is not fair. That’s a biblical appraisal.
When you do what is right, when you’re in the center of God’s will, if you are expecting that everything lines up and goes your way, that your circumstances align, that people are going to be wonderful, that all your kids are going to make great decisions and turn out right, that you’re never going to have a major problem in your marriage, that you’re never going to go through difficult, painful health issues, that you’re never going to be betrayed by a friend, that you’re never going to have to have a messy church situation, you’re never going to have someone in business cheat, or lie, or do something difficult to you, then you set yourself up, wrongly, for a life of despair and discouragement, and you’ll get disillusioned with God.
I meet Christians all the time who are disillusioned with God. “God promised the abundant life! God promised I would be happy! God promised!” And I’m thinking, Yeah, God promised persecution! God promised suffering! God promised character building! How come no one is writing books on that?
Seven Steps to Great Character Through Intense Suffering Over a Long Period of Time. I could just see that baby flying off the shelf! If Jeremiah was writing a book, that’s the one he would write. If Joseph was writing a book, that’s the one he’d write.
But what do you find out about those prophets? What’s the lesson? It’s where they land, it’s not what they go through. “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various” – or “all kinds of difficulties, knowing that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” Hupomenō – He’s going to use this word. Hupo - to be under – menō – stress or pressure. “…knowing the testing of your faith produces perseverance and allow” – it’s a command, but it’s in the passive voice – “allow perseverance” – or the difficulty, to do what? Produce Christ-like character or a maturity in you, that God may do in you what He wants to do.
See, the premise of the New Testament is not that God wants to make you happy. You know what the correct premise is? God wants to make you holy. It changes everything, doesn’t it? That’s His agenda!
How does God produce maturity, or holiness, or a Christlikeness? It’s not because we’re happy all the time, and everything goes our way. It is when He takes us through things that the pressure, and the difficulty, like a piece of coal in the heart of the earth, the pressure, pressure, pressure, pressure, pressure, pressure, pressure takes it and makes it a diamond.
Or it’s like the piece of sand inside of a pearl, where all the rubbing, and the difficulty, and the irritation, produces a pearl. God is looking to create men and women whose character, and whose hearts, and whose lives, from the inside out, are diamonds and pearls reflecting the fragrance of Christ. That’s His agenda. But if we think it’s to make us happy, we get very ticked off with God, and disillusioned when He allows us to experience what the prophets experienced.
Jot down, if you will, Genesis 50:20. Here’s the principle. Here’s what we learn from the prophets. It is a fallen world. Life is not fair. Life is not certain. But all the evil, all the difficulty that came into Joseph’s life, he could, when he saw it all, look backwards and say to his brothers, “As for you, you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good, to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”
He said, “Your motives were bad. You were evil. You did the wrong thing. Some of you” – and I’m reading into the text here. Don’t look for this in Genesis, but a little elaboration here. “Some of you wanted to kill me. Thank heavens, some of you wanted to put me in slavery. Potiphar, his wife did me in; he treated me wrong. The baker, he didn’t even remember my name. All these things happened to me, thinking directed for evil, but God meant it – He’s sovereign. He’s all knowing. He’s all powerful.” And notice the text: He’s compassionate.
That word means there is something down – literally, the idea is out of the bowels of God, out of the inner parts of God, that when He sees your need, He wants to rescue and help. He loves you.
“God, out of His mercy and out of His grace meant it for good, to bring about” – what? “He delivered all these people. He wanted the nation of Israel to be a little incubator over here. And the way He did it is, He sent me. And He knew there would be a famine, and He knew what He wanted to do, and He knew the promises He made to Abraham. And what He did is, He brought me here so that, by the time the things happened, I would be the second most powerful man in the world. And I would be able to be the shepherd, and take care of God’s people.”
Other people don’t have the power to ruin your life. Circumstances do not have the power to ruin your life. The only thing that can ruin your life is failure to believe that God is good, God is sovereign, and God is faithful to His promises.
And so, he says, “Learn, first, the lesson of the farmer.” There are seasons in life – patient, wait patiently – until you see God bring about what He is going to do. Don’t miss out.
Second, learn the lesson of the prophet. Even when life is unfair, or unjust, don’t get your expectations skewed thinking that God has left you.
If He left you, He left Daniel, Jeremiah, Joseph, Elijah, Paul. Eleven of the twelve disciples – does anyone know how they happened to die? They were martyred. And the only guy left is on an island, writing down Revelation for us.
The prosperity gospel won’t work through the New Testament. It didn’t work for Paul; it didn’t work for James. He’s saying, “So, I followed Jesus.” “What happened to you, Paul?” “They killed me.” “Peter, what happened to you?” “Well, I followed Jesus. They killed me.” “James, what happened to you?” “I followed Jesus. They killed me.” There’s another good book title: How to Walk with God and Die Young.
And you know when they did it? Church history says Peter didn’t do it like, “God deserted me.” Peter requested to be crucified upside down, because he felt unworthy to be crucified in the same way as his Lord. Paul would understand that it’s not frivolously being happy, and all the circumstances lining up.
In Philippians chapter 3 he will say, “For me, forgetting what lies behind, pressing forward, I want to apprehend, or gain, or get, what God has called me to, and so what I want to do, I want to know Him. And I want to know the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His suffering.”
You will never be closer to God, you will never have more intimacy with God, God will never speak more loudly, or more clearly, than when you are in pain, when you need Him. You know what? When sex, and food, and trips, and money, and possessions, and houses, no matter how nice they are, all in the right frame of mind, with all the right people, can’t deliver, Jesus said, “I’ll be there for you.”
The third lesson we learn is the lesson from Job. We are commanded to persevere, even when we don’t understand why God is allowing such adversity in our lives. Notice, it changed from patience, patience to persevere.
The third picture, with Job, is this idea of – I alluded to it – patience is having a long fuse. But with Job, it’s not just patience. It’s perseverance. Perseverance is holding up under pressure.
The word picture that I have – I have a little stick figure in my notes that when I think of this word, hupo – under – menō, I have a little stick picture. And I take a bag with a bunch of weights. And the bag with a bunch of weights is on his shoulder, and on it is stress, pressure, life demands. And hupomenō is, I’m under this, and what happens is, with a lot of people, if you put weight on their back, it crushes them.
But these people just, one day, one moment in time, This marriage is difficult. This health is difficult. This financial situation is difficult. This conflict at church is difficult. But I’m going to hold up today. I’m going to hold up today. I’m going to hold up today. It hurts. I’m going to hold up today. And when you persevere and persevere and persevere and persevere and persevere, all you people out here who are athletes, you know there are some people that actually pay to get to do this.
But instead of a bag, it’s actual weights. And if you take actual weights, and you put them on your shoulder, and you persevere, and you persevere, and you persevere, and you persevere, and you do about three sets of that, with just a little bit more, then your legs will burn, and then your core will get strong. And you do that for about six months, and you know what? You can get under that thing, and it’s no problem at all, because the weights don’t change, but the person under the weight gets stronger.
Did you ever consider that part of God’s plan may not be to deliver you out of your difficult circumstance? But He might want to deliver you through it. And there’s biblical precedent, isn’t there?
The apostle Paul, he had enough faith. The apostle Paul had a pretty powerful prayer life. The apostle Paul had seen the third heaven. Who knows what that is, or what it looks like, but we’re going to find out soon. And he asked God, one time, two times, three times, “Take the adversity away! Take the thorn in my flesh away.” We don’t know what it was, but some difficult, painful, physical thing that just bugged him to death. And what did God say? “No.”
See, if he went to a meeting today, people would say, “Well, Paul, you just don’t have enough faith. That’s your problem. If you just believed God then…” No, no. God’s will, in this situation, for him, was “no.”
But then, in 2 Corinthians 12, verses 9 and 10, He tells him why. He says, “Paul, My grace is sufficient for you. Because power is made perfect in weakness.” I’ll do something in you. You hupomenō. You allow Me to strengthen who you are, as a man, in your inner man. My power is perfected in your weakness, and in your pain.
In fact, we learned the reason he got the thorn was that he saw and had such a revelation of who God was, and what He had done, that arrogance would have been impossible. And so, it kept Paul in this sense of dependency, out of his pain.
Could it be that God has something so wonderful to do in you, and through you, that He has chosen – not because you’ve been bad, but because you’ve been good, and He knows that He can trust you with it – to allow you to endure through the pain of the relationship, or the health issue, or the difficult situation? And that through the pain, His grace will be sufficient and one day you will be able to say, “Therefore, most gladly, I will take joy, or rejoice, in difficulty, in suffering, in persecution.”
And he goes on and lists about everything bad that could ever happen in your life. “Because when I am weak, I am strong.” That’s the lesson of Job, isn’t it? Persevere. Persevere. Why? Because God’s plan is at work, even when we can’t see it, or understand it.
Did Job know what was going on? He didn’t have a clue! He did not have a clue, and his friends were not a lot of help. But he knew God.
There’s a song I heard years and years and years ago, and who knows who wrote it, and who knows the melody, but there was one line in it. It says, “When life is hard and difficult” – I’m paraphrasing here, because I’ll get to the line that I really like – “and you just don’t think you can take it,” it says, “when I can’t see Your hand, God, I can trust Your heart.” That’s a great line.
There are times where you’re a Christian, and you love God, and it just stinks. Okay? It’s hard. There are probably stronger words the youth would use. I don’t know what they are, because they don’t come to my mind, but you could probably think of one or two.
And there are times, as a believer, it’s like that. And you pray. And you know it’s not sin. At least, if it is, you’ve asked, and prayed, and confessed, and you look back on your life, and you say, “I’m walking with the Lord. I’ve been obedient to what I know. I feel like I’m meeting with Him. I feel like I’m honoring Him with my life. I want to be used by Him. And life is just hard, hard, hard.” And you pray, and you’re waiting for the breakthrough, and there’s no breakthrough.
And it gets harder and harder and harder and harder, and you just get to where – there’s one thing where it’s times where you cry out to God, and there are some times I’ve had, at least, and I’m sure you have, where you just cry. You just get before the Lord, and you cry, and you go, “I don’t get it.”
There are times there’s a veil. And what He says to do is, you persevere, even if you can’t understand.
Final thing he says here is, there’s a lesson from the farmer, there is a lesson from the prophets, and a lesson from Job. And then, the application: We’re commanded to demonstrate. How do you demonstrate your patience? We’re commanded to demonstrate our patience and our perseverance by keeping our words, and our vows.
Verse 12 – did you notice what it says here? “Above all, my brothers” – “Beyond all that I’ve said” – “do not swear by heaven or by earth or by anything. Let your yes be yes and your no be no.”
Don’t bail out. If you made a commitment to God, keep it. If you made a commitment to a marriage partner, keep it. If you made a commitment to your kids, keep it. If you made a commitment to your church, keep it. If you made a commitment to someone else, keep it.
Psalm 15:4 – “He who swears to his own hurt and changes not, those are the kinds of people that can enter the temple of God, the holy hill, and be honored by Him.”
Now, are there – please hear – are there unique situations where immorality or things happen in a marriage? Are there unique situations where churches go off doctrinally, or there are dysfunctional things that you have done all you can, and God releases you? Yes. Okay?
But we’re living in a world of exception clauses and loopholes. We’re living in a world where, “It really wasn’t adultery. It was kind of this, and kind of that. And I am miserable and unhappy, so I’m going to get a divorce.” “Well, yeah, the church really isn’t all that bad, but I’m just so sick and tired, and it’s so much work, so I’m just going to…”
Keep your commitments. Keep your commitments until God tells you, “This is what I want you to do.”
And if He tells you, “This is what I want you to do,” you better be able to open your Bible and say, “And here’s the biblical basis for it, not because I felt it, or even because some Christian leader, person, or pastor said it was okay.” We have all kinds of pastors and leaders telling people unbiblical things to justify our immoral behavior in the Church right now. And it has to stop. And it has to stop by starting with us. Amen.
“‘I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for good and not for evil, to give you a hope and a future.’” Part of that plan will mean times where you have to patiently wait. Part of that plan will mean that you’ll have to be like a prophet and say, “This isn’t fair, and this really stinks, and I’m not giving up.” And part of that plan will mean you will persevere, when you don’t understand why God is doing what He is doing. And so, you will have to trust His heart, because you can’t see His hands moving.
But what I want to remind you is, all the cards aren’t dealt yet. All the cards of your life, and His purposes, aren’t dealt yet.
And forgive me if I’ve watched a couple of those ESPN shows, or those poker shows, now and then, but I always like it. And it looks like one guy is going to lose, you know? And then, they have the low hold card, right? Card on the river! And I know they’re only playing for fun; there’s no real money exchanged. I don’t endorse gambling in any way. People take these illustrations wrongly sometimes. But you know what? The whole thing looks like this, but there’s one card left, and you turn it over.
God has a card He’s not turned over in your life yet. Don’t give up. And that’s God word to some of you. Never give up.