James 1:2-4 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 was hardly a diplomat. Bluntness was his stock in trade. He was the very opposite of “politically correct,” calling things as he saw them for the benefit of his hearers/readers. The Church needs more like him! Here, having just given a very brief greeting for the sake of indicating his intended audience, he launches right into talking about trials, which many people would rather not talk about. We don’t live in the Roman Empire with its persecutions, but we have brothers and sisters in the Lord who live under the Taliban, or the Chinese Communist Party, or North Korea, and those are certainly no easier situations than what James’ immediate audience faced. That said, trials are not limited to active persecution; every believer faces spiritual warfare in some way. That can make James’ words here seem like a punch in the gut. Consider trials the highest joy? He’s got to be kidding! However, he’s not, and he’s in complete agreement with Paul. “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4) All of that agrees with a famous line from Hebrews: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11) The fact of the matter is, by nature we tend to be self-centered wimps, and it can take some pretty hard stuff to work that out of us. We tend to admire elite special forces troops, but we wouldn’t want to go through the training they had to endure to become what they are! However, we don’t get to choose our assignments, and God knows what training we need to be ready for them. What James is talking about involves an awareness that God is training us because He is going to use us. It is that awareness that can make trials “the highest joy,” as the Japanese expresses it. When we go through rough stuff our attitude needs to be, “How is God going to use this? Because for sure He’s going to!”
I well remember my own military training, and the difference it made in me in a number of ways. Some elements of it were actually fun, but a lot of it wasn’t, and I certainly wasn’t Special Forces. In my life in general I have been through all sorts of things, and I can see how God has used them to shape me. In line with what James wrote, I am far more patient than I used to be, better able to endure when the immediate situation is unpleasant. At the same time, I recognize various areas in my personality that could still use a lot of work, so I know I’ve got more trials to look forward to! I’m certainly not to seek out trials, but I am likewise not to run from them. As has been said, the way out is through; going through the rough stuff is how I will get out of it in the end. It is the awareness of God’s love and presence even in the middle of it all that makes it joy.
Father, thank You for this reminder. I feel that my trials are very minor, particularly compared to the physical difficulties Cathy faces all the time. I ask Your comfort, strength, and healing for her, and I ask that You enable me both to be the husband she needs and to learn even from her trials, so that we may both continue to grow in Christ, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!