“A Survival Guide for Life” (James 5:7-20)

I’m sure many of you will have heard of the TV personality and adventurer Bear Grylls. He’s travelled the world, met President Obama, and happens to be the current Chief Scout. But before he became famous, Bear Grylls served in the armed forces. To be precise, he served in the SAS – the UK’s special forces unit trained to fight in the most hazardous of situations, and to complete the most demanding of missions around the world.

Bear Grylls and the SAS have both published their own survival guides. These are little books to help someone survive in extreme situations. They are written to help people to cope in hostile situations and in extreme weather conditions. They teach you how to remain safe, keep warm and stay alive until help arrives.

But its not just hikers, mountaineers and soldiers who need a survival guide. We ALL need a survival guide for life. We all need a survival guide to get us through tough times. Times when we are being overwhelmed at work, or lying in a hospital bed, grieving a loved one, persecuted for our faith or wrestling with depression. We ALL need to know what to do when times are tough.

Thankfully today’s Bible passage from James gives us the guidance we need. James chapter 5 is a survival guide for life. James provides us with four pieces of God-given guidance to get through tough times. We need Patience, we need Prayer, we need the Gospel and we need Hope. Let’s quickly look at each in turn.

 

  1. Be patient and persevere!

First off, James’s ‘Survival Guide’ tells us to be to be patient in tough times. We need to be willing to wait until they are gone. We need to stay strong and perseve in the face of suffering. So in verse 7 James says “Be patient, brothers and sisters”, in verse 8 he says “stand firm”, and in verse 11 he says those who persevere in the “face of suffering” are actually “blessed.”

If you are anything like me, that’s a hard message to hear. I hate waiting. I even struggle to wait for the kettle to boil or for Christmas to come – let alone for suffering to end or for Christ to come back.

Patience doesn’t come easily to most of us – perseverance is something we need to learn, something we need to be trained in.

In verses 7 and 11, James gives us a couple of examples of patient people to inspire us. He mentions two people who show great patience and perseverance:

  • The first patient person is a farmer. Every year farmers sow seed on their fields and then wait months for it to grow. Day after day, week after week they must be patient. Nothing seems to happen for ages. Then at long last shoots appear, a crop comes up and is ready to harvest. As we look at fields this time of year, we see that farmers’ patience pays off!

 

  • The second example James gives us is a man named Job. If you know the Old Testament story of Job, you will know that Job was a man who lost everything. He lost his family, his health and his livelihood in quick succession, one after another. He came close – very close – to total despair. But he hung on. He kept going, and his perseverance was rewarded. Eventually his bad situation turned into a time of blessing, and he was even granted a one to one meeting with God in the middle of a whirlwind.

 

You see, in our troubled world, with wars, worries and wickedness, there is no substitute for simple old-fashioned courage and bravery – for strength and stamina, for patience and perseverance. Don’t grumble, says James –keep going! But patient perseverance isn’t the only strategy for surviving tough times.

 

  1. Be prayerful!

Because Stage two in James ‘Survival Guide for life is the power of prayer. To survive tough times and keep going when all is not well, we need to ask for God’s help! We need his Holy Spirit to give us the patience and perseverance we need.  That’s why James says in verses 13 and 14 that if “any one is in trouble”,  he should pray for himself, and ask elders (other church members) to pray for him too.

Prayer says James, is “powerful and effective”, it puts us in touch with the king of the universe, the creator of the cosmos.

In verse 17 James gives us the example of Elijah, an Old Testament prophet who “prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.” God is so great he can even control the climate!

 James tells us God loves to answer his people’s prayers, because he “is full of compassion and mercy”. The Lord loves to help and heal his people, and he has the power to sustain us through tough times. So to survive life, let’s pray! Its something we can do anytime, anywhere – we don’t need a mobile phone signal or a working WiFi connection to communicate with our Creator! When we tap in to the resources of God, great strength is at hand.

 

  1. Believe the Gospel!

At number three in James top tips for survival comes the Gospel. In verse 15 he urges sinners to confess their sins and be forgiven. And in verse 20 he says sinners can be saved. James is describing what Christians call the message of the Gospel – the good news that through repentance and faith in Jesus we can become God’s forgiven friends forever.

Whoever we are, we must all acknowledge we share some responsibility for what’s wrong in the world. The Bible says that if we’re honest with ourselves , we’ve all contributed in some way to the suffering of others. Our harsh words, bad language, unkind actions and selfish behaviour have all hurt other people at one time or another. We are all sinners in need of a Saviour. Humanity has a lot to answer for.

But if we confess our sins, God will forgive us for Jesus’ sake. When Jesus died on the Cross he willingly paid the penalty for all our evil thoughts, words and deeds. He made it possible for us to become God’s children, to join God’s forgiven family forever.

And that is a huge help in tough times. The message of the Gospel gives Christians great strength to survive. For example:

  • As a Christian believer feeling sad or lonely its an enormous comfort to know the Lord Jesus loves me enough to die for me.
  • As a Christian facing hardship it’s a huge reassurance to remember I’m an adopted child of God.
  • And Christians facing disease and death get great joy from knowing they have a wonderful inheritance ahead in Heaven.

 

  1. Be full of hope!

And that brings us to the fourth and final part of James’ survival guide for life – be full of hope!  This world is a mess, but Jesus is coming back to put things right. The “Lord is coming” says James – not once, but twice! The “Judge is at the door” he writes!

To survive tough times we all need something to look forward to. And Christians have an awesome hope to hold on to. Jesus has risen from the dead, ascended to Heaven and has promised one day to return. If we are forgiven friends of God, we can look forward to a new creation to come. A remade world where wars will be know more. Where suffering will cease. Where sin will be a thing of the past.

When Jesus returns, he’ll do all those things – its a wonderful hope Christians can hold on to in tough times!

 

Conclusion

So that’s it. James’ survival guide for life – be patient, be prayerful, believe the Gospel, and be full of hope. That’s the Christian solution to tough times. The God-given way to get through our war-torn world.

Did you know that Bear Grylls is a Christian believer? He has called his Christian faith the “backbone of his life”, his most amazing adventure. Because Bear Grylls says the thing that has really kept him going in tough times is not his military training, but God’s grace. Knowing Jesus is more important to him than all of his SAS survival knowledge. He has learnt the lesson of James chapter 5, and so should we!

So let’s pray: Lord Jesus, thank you that knowing you is the secret of survival in this fallen world. Help us all to come to you for forgiveness, patience, perseverance and hope. In your name we pray. Amen.

Phil Weston