According to James
1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.
9 Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. 10 But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. 11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.
12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.
The mature Christian is patient in trials.
You’re either in a trial or headed for a trial- The goal of the Christian life is not to avoid trials, but rather to persevere through them. This right here is a big deal. Too many of us judge our proximity to God by the amount of trials we face. We have this belief that if we are good Christians, God will spare us from trials. That’s partially true in the sense that many of our trials are self-inflicted. However, many trials are not self-inflicted and the question becomes more about how we respond to those trials.
I am not saying that trials are no big deal. I am not diminishing the difficulty or trivializing trials. Neither does James.
Accept blindly, Reject, or Redeem.
What James is teaching is how to redeem trials.
Why does God allow trials? Because God is producing something in you that is valuable.
It’s what it can produce in us that matters. Perseverance. Perseverance walks hand in hand with maturity, because to be mature you have to understand that life is hard and you have to learn to keep going through whatever may come at you. A mark of immaturity is to remain stuck in a tough spot too long, or to give up and lose hope.
“When you’re going through hell, keep going.” -Winston Churchill
Sometimes you just have to keep moving.
No one can learn perseverance without trials. It’s impossible. It’s like learning to repair a car without it ever breaking down.
In life and faith, we go through a series of breakdowns. Our problem is that we as a society have become addicted to the idea that we should never suffer. Not only that, but we have attached a certain sense of entitlement to our lives that when violated causes us to blame God, as though he owes us a life free from all pain and trials.
Do not believe the American Christian myth that God opposes the suffering of his people. What God opposes is immaturity and lack of faith. Perseverance is a godly attribute. God perseveres.
So one might ask, “does God endure trials?” Of course. Just look at the Bible. Look at Jesus. He endures them all without fail. Jesus went through some dark times, but he kept moving. He didn’t stop and wallow in discouragement. He walked out of the grave. He perseveres.
So we are to count it all as joy, James says. Not because trials are enjoyable, but rather because of what they can produce in us if we endure them patiently and joyfully. If we don’t endure them patiently and joyfully it only means they will last longer and fail to produce the maturity we need. Just because you suffer does not mean you’ll develop perseverance. Some people suffer poorly and wind up hopeless, bitter and defeated. You have to make a choice.
Suffering and trials will come, the question is will you go through them poorly or well. You get to choose. James encourages you to see what God can do through your suffering if you choose well. He goes on to say that when you have learned this, you have found the true secret to lacking nothing.
How we respond to trials reveals many important things:
1. What we really expect from God.
Unmet expectations are the root cause of much of our relational problems. Dig deep and ask yourself, “what do I expect from God?” When trials come many people act like God has let them down. Their expectation was that God would protect them from pain. We have to ask ourselves is that a healthy expectation? Where does that come from? James points out that this is an unhealthy expectation. Jesus does as well. So does Paul, Peter, John and virtually every other biblical writer. So where do we get this idea?
From our misunderstanding of the gospel, borrowed from other religions, from those seeking to control us.
2. What we value most.
If we value our comfort and pain free lives more than anything we will fail to see how anything good can come from trials. But if we value growth and God’s plan through trials more than anything we can focus on what God can do in us through them.
3. How much we love God.
Many people turn away from God completely in times of trials because they become angry with God. What we can learn is that we love god only God is and does what we want. When our love for God increases during trials, it shows that he is indeed our greatest love.
Now of course this takes wisdom. James promises that God will give this gift to those who ask God for it. Think about that!
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise.” Psalm 111:10
Where does wisdom come from? It begins with a right understanding of who God is and who we are. All worldly wisdom apart from the knowledge of God leads to foolishness.
18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 1:18-31
If you want wisdom to get through your sufferings, seek God perspective on your life, not your own. We are too short sighted. God sees the big picture.
Notice that James sees the suffering Christian as a person in a high position, while he equated the rich person with no earthly suffering as a low position. He says that the rich will fade away, even as they go about their business.
This means that it’s possible that you can have the whole world and lose your soul. It means that your life fades into meaninglessness when all you have is wealth. When God is not part of your life you can have it all but still fade away. Consequently, when you have God, even though you may be weak and poor you have it all. James calls this “the crown of life”.
This isn’t just talking about heaven. This is referring to your life here on earth. The crown of life is far greater than the crown of worldly success. Worldly successes fade away quickly. They come and go. But the crown of life endures forever. Which crown are you working for?
James reminds us which one matters with his words. With his life he also showed us how it was done. I wonder what that conversation was like when Jesus appeared to his little brother James.
I wonder if Jesus shared this encouragement with him because he knew the trials he would face. And indeed he would face them. And indeed he did. And he faced them well. May the same be true for us.
A quote often attributed to Mother Teresa is "God will never give me more than I can handle.”
The better way to say it is, "God will never give you more than he can handle.”