“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” –James 1:2-4
I wonder how many Christians really believe those verses? I mean, most of us who have walked with Christ a while and are familiar with the Bible can quote those opening verses from James’ epistle, but that doesn’t mean we live by them, or even agree with them.
I say that because of the constant complaining I read on social media these days about all that we’ve been through in 2020, and the things I hear from friends about how much they couldn’t wait to get the year behind them. Well, it is behind us now, but that doesn’t mean the trials are going to stop any time soon. There’s nothing magical about turning the page of a calendar that makes our circumstances suddenly improve. Life happens, and often that includes difficult and trying times.
And the reality is, as James was pointing out, God is interested in growing us into maturity as His children, and that growth usually comes more through challenging times than when things are comfortable. Yes, James’ words are certainly counterintuitive, telling us to “count it all joy” when we face trials. That means you evaluate your circumstances and the trials and tribulations that you face, and you consciously put them into the category of things you enjoy. What kind of crazy person does that? The one who is secure in knowing his or her life is in the Lord’s hands, and whose goals are more about conformity to Christ-likeness than comfort.
The J.B. Phillips paraphrase of that passage reminds us how other-worldly that concept is: “When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realize that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance”
So….when you face trials like a worldwide pandemic that knocks you out of your comfort zone; social upheaval and economic uncertainty that make you wonder what the next day’s news will bring; negativity and disunity on every side of the cultural and political divide; isolation and loneliness brought on by social detachment; and even unwelcome rules and regulations that erode your personal liberties–you don’t resent those things as intruders, but you welcome them as friends!
And the key to doing that is the next word…“realize” in the Phillips translation. Realize that those things are there to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance. Realize that God allows them, and sometimes intentionally brings them into our lives, because His plan for our lives is greater even than our own. The NIV tells us why we can “consider it pure joy”: because you know that the testing of your faith is the only path that leads to genuine spiritual maturity.
This is not just some pollyanna lunacy that is divorced from real life. On the contrary, it is real life. So I can face things that are difficult, uncomfortable and even painful, because I know that God is at work through those things in my life to mold my character and faith into what He wants me to be–and what I need to be. Living with the expectation that there should be no pain or discomfort or frustration is not only unrealistic, but it is counterproductive toward my goal of being more like Jesus. And that simple change of perspective can make a lot of things more tolerable when we just see God’s hand at work in tough times.
I like how A.W. Tozer said it: “When I understand that everything that happens to me is to make me more Christlike, it solves a great deal of anxiety.” It really does.
So congratulations for making it through 2020! May the Lord use the difficulties and afflictions of the past year–as well as those in the year ahead–to grow us up in Him.
Happy New Year! I am praying for you, as I hope you are for me, and I look forward to seeing you Sunday.