2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, 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.
You don’t have to be alive for very long to realize that life is full of hurts, heartaches, pain, problems, disappointment, discouragement, sickness, and suffering. No matter how hard we try to bring our lives into a place where they are more like an upbeat chorus and how much we will our lives to be better, we still seem to be running into brick walls.
James wrote this letter to the Jewish Christians everywhere, not just the ones in Jerusalem in the church that he was leading. The Israel nation had been captured and taken into exile for the second time by the Babylonian empire and had been left scattered across a vast area. At the time James wrote this letter many Jews had responded to and accepted Jesus as the messiah, but they were finding it hard living out their new identities as Jewish Christians. This was mainly down to living in a culture that despised both Jews and Christians; to be both of these was incredibly difficult. So it’s understandable that many of them were contemplating stopping or had already stopped following Jesus.
But this isn’t a unique thing that happened in the first century, right? Life’s painful trails have been with every generation of Christians. Many of you reading this will be going through trials, troubles and circumstances that have taken your faith to the very edge. But James, as a pastor, writes a letter to all of us with some advice that is both needed and also equally challenging. He leaps headfirst into this word: trail. Without hesitation he says to us ‘consider it pure joy when…’. Notice he doesn’t use the word ‘if’ we face trials. Jesus was also very clear on this subject when in John 16:33 he said,
'I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’.
James is reinforcing this by saying not ‘if’, but ‘when’. The word James uses in the Greek is really important for describing the type of trials he is talking about. He uses the word peirasmos and this word refers specifically to tests that will challenge the integrity of your faith. So what is James saying here? God WILL test your faith, He will stretch it, He will pull at it, and He will allow situations where you feel uncomfortable.
He says that these trials are unavoidable; you can’t run away from them and you can’t escape them, but what you can do is benefit from them. He also explains that not only are these trials inevitable, but they are varied. It may seem a bit strange to focus on this but think about it, James is pointing out the fact that you can never be prepared for the trials heading towards you. We can be prepared by knowing that trails are going to happen, but we can never truly be prepared because we don’t really know what they are going to look like, or what they are going to be. Some will be trivial and seem small and annoying, but some will be life changing and painful.
However, the good thing is that James doesn’t just leave it there, he goes on to tell us about what God is actually doing in these moments, what the point of all this is. James goes on to explain a couple of things, he says first of all when we are in a trial and our faith is being tested it produces endurance. That is the immediate result of testing.
You almost have an image of when gold rushes happened. Some explorers would find a nugget of gold and the first thing they would do is bite it to see if it would break into pieces or if it was genuine. God does the same thing with our faith. Now, depending on your image of God or your relationship with Him, you might think that is a little harsh. Almost like God is some mad scientist trying to hurt his subjects and get them to breaking point, but I promise you God is not like that. He’s more like an expert trainer who knows which muscles you need to develop, which diet to follow, what schedule to keep in order to bring out the best results. The goal is not to snap your faith muscles but rather to grow them, to stretch them and to strengthen them. The truth is that to grow more muscle you have to tear the muscle that’s already there. This produces endurance; God wants us to have the strength to hang in there.
Next, James goes on to explain that when this pushing and pulling happens, yes at first it causes perseverance, but ultimately we are to see it through because the perseverance becomes maturity. It leads to us having a mature and developed character. Think of someone you would regard as having a great Christian character, those who you see as mature Christians. Now, notice those people are generally the people we know have learned how to trust God in the hardships and in the toughest times of their lives. They understand that God is working in them. I think of a mother and father I know who lost a baby and they say, ‘God, you give and you take away, blessed be your name’. Or the teenager who says, ‘Although I’m an outcast at school, although they tease me or even at times bully me, I’m not moving from my principles and my trust in God’.
This is the amazing quality of those who are mature in their faith in Jesus: they have been so stretched, they have been so pulled, they have been through these moments of testing, but they trust in God. These trials will happen, they will build our endurance and they will lead us into maturity, and the Bible is clear that this is how God does His work in us.
However, all around us the world will tell us all kinds of ways to be happier. How to be a better version of you so that your life will be better. That you won’t need to struggle in the problems of this life anymore. Now, be careful what you watch and read; make sure that the Bible is where you get your input from. The Bible should to be our filter, our guide, our GPS. The problem with ‘self-help’ books and the prosperity gospel is that they don’t line up with the Bible, the word of God.
You see where these books say you can make your self a better person, you can get through this, you will, this is your time, activate your faith, achieve your dreams. The Bible says actually that’s not your job. God is the one who will do it, not you. The truth is when we believe the prosperity gospel, we are ultimately left confused when things don’t get better, easier or we don’t become happier. These books say you can do it, you can fix it, you just have to try harder, do more. Whereas the Bible says God will do it, he will work it out. You will have hard times, you will struggle, but God is saying “I am with you."
It’s really easy to be people that are whistling songs and skipping down the street only when the sun is shining. It’s really easy to sing worship songs in that time, but when the thunder rolls in James is calling us to be a people of joy because we understand that God is still in control, and He is working His good in all circumstances we go through.
Joy is not like happiness, it’s not just smiling on the surface, you can be real with the people around you. We can be unhappy about something, but joy is deep down, it’s immovable from our heart. Why? Because we understand our God is in control. We might not always understand what He’s doing or why He’s doing it, but here’s what we do know: He loves me, He has the best for me, He desires to see me grow and mature, and He is calling me to trust in Him. I know that it’s not about me, or what I can or cannot do, but it’s all about Him.
James tells us is how to deal with these hard times: first to ask for wisdom. Wisdom that he is describing here is the ability to view your life from God’s perspective, and to get this perspective you need to pray for God to give it to you. You need to ask for it. In the hard times, how often is your first response prayer? James is calling us to ask for God to give us his perspective and we need to do that by praying.
Lastly, James is calling us to be a people of faith. Just like a lack of true wisdom, a lack of faith can cause us to become like waves of the sea, tossed around, overwhelmed and with no sense of direction. James is talking about us expecting God to give us a faith that sustains us through any and all circumstances. Do you feel like you are right in the middle of the storm clouds, like you’re bouncing around and crashing like waves?
You know you need Gods perspective on what He is doing. You know that you need faith that will help sustain you though this time. Self help books will not stop these times and they will not get you through them. But God will, and He wants you to come out the other side knowing Him better, reflecting His image more to those around you, and understanding His love for you and what He has done for you more and more.