In the game of baseball, a pitcher throws a ball to the batter standing at home plate. The batter attempts to swing the bat at the ball hoping to hit it onto the playing field. If he hits it well, he will race around the three bases and back to home plate, scoring a run for his team.
The pitcher must get the ball across this small area called the “home plate”. He can throw it right down the middle, or if he is skilled, he can use a pitch that curves, slides or changes direction in an attempt to make it harder for the pitcher to know where to aim his bat.
A change-up is exactly what it sounds like. The pitch is thrown and as it gets closer to the batter it can change speed and direction. Not able to see clearly where the ball is going, it often causes the batter to swing over the ball, missing it–and that’s called a strike.
Now that batter has a choice when that change-up comes his way, doesn’t he? He could stand there looking at that pitch like a calf staring at a new gate, or he could go down swinging like there was no tomorrow. Either way, if he misses the ball, the result is the same–he’s back to sitting on the bench. Then what?
When life seems to be throwing all kinds of things at you at once, we can be tempted to react just like a baseball player would in this situation. Life sends us a curveball, and it might throw us off balance–or life throws us a change-up and we feel “benched”. In those not-so-uncommon moments in life we have a choice: we can stand there dumbfounded and just watch as it passes us by, we can flail are arms (and our words) at it with frustration–or we can choose to focus on the goal rather than a single game. I am not saying difficulties in life are just a game we play. They can be serious challenges that can put us in a hard place physically, emotionally and spiritually. What I am saying is, while we sometimes have no control over the circumstance, we can control how we react.
What does the Bible have to say about living life in a curveball situation? In the book of James we are given a lesson on practical, everyday faith. Genuine faith. Faith that endures. James, the half-brother of Jesus, who knows Jesus first-hand (and what He taught), writes to believers about the importance of living out their faith despite the circumstances that surround them. (They were Jews that had been scattered from their homeland and were facing persecution because of their faith.) James, who’s big brother was Jesus (let that sink in!), must have felt all the emotions of living in His shadow. Did these young boys play stickball (an earlier version of baseball)? James did watch Jesus grow up and he would watch as Jesus began living out His purpose for coming. James struggled to believe that this sibling of his was the Messiah until after the resurrection. Now, in the salutation of this letter, he calls himself “a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.”(verse 1) He uses his influence to send a message to other believers, encouraging them to face their current struggles with joy!
“Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” James 1:2-3
While it seems strange to put the word “joy” in the same sentence as the word “trials”, James was encouraging them–and us– to understand three things:
1.) God is sovereign. Yes, He knows everything that is happening in our world today, and though He allows men to make choices that affect others, He is still in control of the situation, and He is able to bring His good purpose to light despite the circumstance. God is all-knowing–so God is never surprised!
“Blessed is the one who endures trials, because when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” James 1:12
2.) God is faithful. That means we can trust Him, even when something has been thrown at us that we can’t avoid. His faithful love–His unchanging character is what gives us hope and fuels our faith. When we choose to trust Him in the difficult times, we are often catapulted into the next big thing God has for us. (That’s a “home run”!)
“Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:16-17
3.) Genuine faith is lived out. While faith is what saves us, our faith lived out is what makes it visible to the world. James reminds us that though we are not saved by our works (Jesus did the work for us!), genuine faith is revealed by what we do, how we live and how we treat others.
“But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves…If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, his religion is useless and he deceives himself. Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” James 1:22, 26-27
Every generation has faced its own trials. We are never exempt from the difficulties that life can bring, but we are responsible for how we respond to them.
God reminds us often that we are only passing through this world, and if we will but keep our eyes on Him, He will navigate us through the curveballs and the change-ups. So often I see myself focusing on the wrong things and the only way to get the right perspective is to get in His presence. Seeking Him is absolutely critical. How do we do that? It all begins with surrendering your will to His. You can find Him in His Word and through a prayer of faith. [Read FAITH, here.] Looking to God for wisdom, the Bible is our source of hope and encouragement when nothing else makes sense. Why not make 2021 your year of discovery? Find out just what it is that God is trying to teach you. Look to His Word. Lean into truth and discover what genuine faith looks like.
“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without pretense. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who cultivate peace.” James 4:17
James 1:22 will be the verse I memorize in my Scripture Memory Challenge–won’t you join me in hiding God’s Word in your heart? This one is short, but it sure is a valuable one for us to be reminded of every single day! What are your goals for 2021? Won’t you say “yes” to God today?