The School of Hard Knocks

I have a sermon on James 1:2-4 entitled “The School of Hard Knocks” because of what that text teaches us about the value of trials in our lives. God’s goal for believers is to make them like His Son, and one of the ways by which the Father lovingly pursues our spiritual growth is the school of hard knocks. Although it sounds crazy in some ways, we are to “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials” because we know something about trials, namely that they produce endurance and endurance leads to spiritual maturity. It is not the trials themselves that are the joy, but the knowledge that they produce the good fruit of endurance and maturity.

My youngest son, Derek, is an 18 year old high school senior who literally entered the school of hard knocks last week. On his way home from a friend’s house he pulled off the road to help another motorist whose front tire had come completely off so that the car was shooting sparks all over the freeway. Derek approached the car on the passenger side, but when he could not get the driver’s attention to see if she was okay he came around to the driver’s side. As he tried to talk to an unresponsive driver a semi-truck hit him. Incredibly, he survived the hit. I am typing this as I sit at the end of his hospital bed, where he lies sleeping and I am filled periodically with praise and thanks to God.

Derek was pretty badly banged up–9 broken ribs, punctured lung, fractured skull, broken clavicle and scapula, a laceration in his liver, a handful of fractures in his neck and spine, as well as a couple of cuts that needed stitches and loads of abrasions head to toe from being knocked an estimated 115 feet down the freeway by the impact. Even as I type this I can’t believe that is all that he suffered. He got hammered by a semi going 55 miles an hour. God showed him and our family incredible mercy and we are exceedingly thankful.

Anybody who has received a phone call like I received last Tuesday night knows that it is hard to explain the feeling that floods through your body. It was not the first time I’ve gotten a bad phone call, but I literally felt like the wind got sucked out of me this time. My wife and I were in Florida and our son was being taken into emergency surgery because he was in critical condition in a hospital back in Detroit. As only God can do, though, He graciously gave peace and folded us into the comfort that comes from knowing He rules over all things.

As a pastor I have often found myself giving counsel to people who are getting hit with the hard realities of life in a sin-cursed world. One bit of counsel I’ve shared countless times is that the wrong thing to do is to start asking, “Why?” That question flows from the wrong place in our hearts and almost always leads into a destructive, downward cycle. The right question, I believe, is “What?” Specifically, “What do you want me to learn? What do you want me to do?” The reason I give this counsel is rooted in the truth of James 1:2-4–God’s plan for the spiritual growth of His children uses trials to produce endurance and maturity. And I know that this is God’s plan for my/His child. Derek knows Christ and has committed his life to serving Him, so I know that this is God’s will for his life right now. God is going to graciously grow him and us through this. Knowing that enables me to count even this as joy. SDG

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