I’m very hopeful in God during this crisis, but I’m also very aware of what lies ahead. As I said in a recent article, “We are facing uncertain times. Within days, our entire way of life in America changed drastically. The pandemic has given most of us a new perspective about what is really important to us. God is giving us a chance to stop, take a breath, and focus on prayer. . . . Discouragement is Satan’s tool to keep people in bondage, but it’s also God’s magnet to draw them to Himself.” For example, in just over two days, a sermon preached just a few days ago on this theme has over 125,000 views on just one of our media outlets.
I don’t say this to elevate anyone, but to show the power of God even in the midst of trials, and to demonstrate how hungry people are for the truth. First, I was sensing a powerful move of God all week (like carrying a heavy burden). Second, the internet and phones were down all day so we began filming anyway. Then, a few minutes into the service, the Live-stream miraculously came on. Third, after the service, my 10 year old prayed that God would get the message out to America (that was her only prayer). Fourth, some outlets have been trying to limit exposure by readjusting algorithms and denying promotion. In short . . . God wasn’t done. Who can stop God almighty? For those interested, the sermon I’m referencing is also available here.
The key to being used by God is to follow the advice of James, Jesus’s half-brother and one of the leaders of the early church. Here are three takeaways from the opening few verses in James.
1. Allow the trial to break you. James, in his letter to believers, said he was “a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:1). In other words, he was bound to do God’s will. The first step in benefiting during these difficult times is to crucify the flesh; selfishness must die. If I saw families broken, parents fasting, and kids weeping over their sin, I would be encouraged, but right now I see a lot of selfishness, hoarding, and contention. Allow this trial to break you—push out pride and replace it with humility. In the Bible, the refiner’s fire and the furnace of affliction were good things because they removed the impurities. As the old-time preachers used to say, “God often hurts a man deeply before He uses him greatly.” Are you ready to be used? Then humble yourself today.
2. Make an attitude adjustment. James added, “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience” (1:2-3). This is much easier said than done. As I’m writing this, we’re going into the second week of the Safer-At-Home policy, and I wish I could say that I have handled this perfectly. Though I have stumbled, I continue to make attitude adjustments in my heart to be thankful and full of joy for the blessings I do have. To “count it all joy” means that we must take our thoughts captive. Trials produce either bitterness or love, anger or joy, fear or contentment—the choice really is ours. My prayer has been, “Lord, I don’t like this or understand it, but I’m fully trusting in You.” This simple prayer gets me back on track, as joy once again fills my heart. Saturate your mind in God’s Word rather than the media, for what you put in your mind greatly affects your attitude.
3. Stay under the load. James then adds, “Let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (1:4). Perfect here means full, satisfied, and complete. Patience is “active endurance”; it means staying under a heavy load until it accomplishes its purpose. We must “let” the burden remain until it accomplishes its goal. We are not to run in fear but to carry the load. In short, God often says, “You will not need to fight in this battle. Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the LORD” (2 Chronicles 20:17). In the same way that squats in the gym strengthen leg muscles, the pressure of trials strengthens our faith. Weak Christians complain, blame-shift, and run from the weight. As a result, they never grow spiritually, whereas mature believers have learned to carry the weight of trials as God builds and strengthens.
In closing, we don’t know what’s going to happen with COVID-19, but let God build you up rather than allowing the “negative Nellies” to pull you down. Don’t let them cloud your judgment with doomsday prophecies and worst-case scenarios. How do we know that God is not breaking us down to build us up? Nowhere in the Bible are we encouraged to let conspiracy theories and doom and gloom flood us with fear. It appears that more people are afraid of the Illuminati and the New World Order than they are of God almighty! The Bible tells us to do business and to fight with prayer, fasting, worship, and the Word until He returns. We are to cast down fear, not embrace it.
Trials also bring the prodigal sons and daughters home. If this is you, stop running from God—embrace this wake-up call and turn back to Him. Repent of your apathy and come back to the Cross, to repentance. If you don’t know God, take time now and repent of your sin and ask Jesus to save you. A terrible trial can be turned into a triumphant victory if you are open and teachable.
Shane Idleman is the founder and lead pastor of Westside Chrisitan Fellowship in Southern California. More can be found at ShaneIdleman.com, and free downloads of his books are available at WCFAV.org. Visit him on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/confusedchurch/ and subscribe to his new podcast. You can also download his free e-book on health and fitness here.