How are we supposed to hold on when times are tough? We are experiencing a time right now where life as we know it has been thrown upside down. No one could have imagined four months ago that this would be the way the world would look. What are we supposed to do during such difficult times? What does God want when times are hard? We are going to spend some time in the book of James during the month of May. Last week we looked at how James talked about how we make our plans and realizing that we are just a mist as we live in this world. Let us turn our attention to how James begins his sermon to Christians in the first century.
Think of Difficulties Differently (1:2)
My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy…. (James 1:2 NRSV)
This is an important starting point for dealing with a trial: understand that there is something God wants you to do. When trials hit, a trial of any kind, there is something God wants you to do. Trials are not pointless. Difficulties are not senseless. God has a purpose in trials and suffering. James wants us to know that trials are not a waste of time and to understand that God is doing something.
James wants us to look at our trials in a particular way. When we face trials of any kind, we are to look at our trials with joy. God wants us to do something when trials come and the first thing he wants us to do is to consider our trials as nothing but joy. Now on the surface this does not make sense. Why would we ever consider facing trials as nothing but joy? James is going to explain why in just a moment.
But before we can consider why we would do something like this, we need to see that James wants us to look at our trials differently. James does not say that trials are joyful or fun. He says that he wants you to look at your trials as nothing but joy. He does not say that you need to feel joy. He says he wants you regard your trials as nothing but joy. We are supposed to make a mental judgment about what we are facing. We are going to look at our trial and see that God is doing something in our lives through this difficulty. This is important. It is easy when we are going through hard times to think that no one understands what we are going through and that there is no way our difficulty would have any value for us. James says that I do not want you to look at hard times in that light.
Know What Is Happening (1:3)
…because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. (James 1:3 NRSV)
James tells us to look at our trials and hard times as nothing but joy because we know that the testing of our faith produces endurance. This is why we can think about our difficulty differently. James says that there are some things we need to know. We need to know that in hard times your faith is being tested. The purpose of trials is to test our faith. Difficulties are given and allowed by God because faith is being tested. This tells us something very important about life. The goal of life is not to find maximum pleasure. Too often we can approach life as if pleasure is the goal. God shows us that pleasure is not the goal. Further, the goal of life is not a pain-free life. Too often we can approach life as if the goal is to avoid painful and unpleasant circumstances. If something is painful, we quickly try to get rid of the pain. But this is not the goal of life. The goal of life is not self-actualization. Life is not about finding yourself, figuring out who you are and then expressing yourself. Too often we can approach life as finding ourselves and understanding ourselves. But that is not the goal of life either.
The goal of life through the testing of our faith is that endurance would be produced. God is doing a work on us through trials. Our faith is being tested so that endurance will be produced in us. God is proving what we are made of. Peter uses the picture of our faith being refined by fire.
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6–7 ESV)
Our faith is being put into the fire for purification and testing. The goal of our testing is to burn off the impurities so that all that is left is endurance. Now we must not think of endurance as being passive because that is not the indication of this word. The point of the trial is not to see if you can survive it, passively enduring. No, the point of the trial is to build a fortitude in your spiritual character. The point is to give endurance so that you can hold on to God with a strong grip.
How we respond to trials reveals the condition of our hearts. James is very concerned about how we look at trials and how we respond to them. How we respond to trials reveals the true value of our hearts. The true character of a person is revealed when put under pressure. It is easy to maintain a facade until you are put in a crunch. How you handle hard times reveals who you are and what is inside of you. So James tells us to look at our trials and hard times with joy because this is a chance to fix what is wrong inside of you. You are going to discover something about you and about your faith when you go through hard times. Think about what is happening in the world right now and notice what you are discovering about yourself and about your faith. We are having our idols exposed. We are having our faith exposed. We are having our desires exposed. We are being shown what our heart and mind truly consist of.
Peter says your faith is going to be refined and purified. James says you are going to be given spiritual endurance. You are going to be given the power to hold on to God with a strong grip. When we think about going through trials in this light, we can see that we should look at our difficulty differently. If you are a Christian, you know you need this. You know you need to have your faith fixed. You know you need to have your faith strengthened. You want to have a stronger grip on God. You want to have the power to hold on to the Lord no matter what happens.
Let The Trial Work (1:4)
And let endurance have its full effect…. (1:4)
Now James says something very important because this is where our failure frequently lies. James says you have to let this process have its full effect. Our endurance grows through the testing of our faith. So we need to let this process have its full effect. Our failure frequently lies in that we try to stop our trials early. We try to bail out in the trial process. We try to cut the pain short. To put this another way, rather than learning through the testing of faith and seeing where our faith is being refined so that we can greater spiritual strength, we just try to end the suffering so that we can get life back normal. Rather than working through the difficulty of a marriage, people quit by divorcing to stop the pain. Rather than working through the difficulty of loss, people quit by turning to alcohol, drugs, or suicide. Rather than working through our trial and looking at ourselves and allowing our faith to be strengthened, we look for the exit and try to stop the pain. Even worse, we give up on God, causing the very opposite of what God wants to accomplish in us. God does not want you looking for the easy way out when times are tough. We must stop trying to get rid of the trial that God gave us to teach us. When we do this, we are looking at a trial as pointless, as something that has no value and therefore must quickly end. God gave us something and we are trying to eliminate it at all costs. That is not what God wants. God wants you to look at yourself and let endurance have its full effect in your life, on your heart, and in your mind so that you can have a stronger grip on God.
…so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:4 NRSV)
Notice that endurance is not the goal. Maturity is the goal God wants for you through trials. It is only by not quitting on the process that we will be made mature and complete, lacking nothing. This is the way we become what God wants us to be. This is the way God makes us spiritually mature. God does not fix our faith through prosperity and happiness. God fixes our faith through difficulty, trial, and pain. If we do not let the trial complete its process, then we will not be made complete. The worst thing we can do during these times of difficulty is to be the same person after the trial that we were before the trial. It is tragic to watch a Christian act like the same person, have the same heart, and have the same faith during the trial and at the end of the trial that they had at the start of the trial. That is not what God wants. That is not supposed to happen. Even worse, sometimes our faith weakens rather than strengthens through the trial. Our character gets worse and we become uglier through the trial than we were before the trial began. How horrible because what it shows is that we did not know what James said we know. We know that the testing of our faith produces endurance so count your trial nothing but joy.
So in our trials we are turning to God in prayer, asking God to show us what we need exposed and what we need to change. We are not asking God to get the trial over with. We are not asking God to get the pain to stop. We are not telling God that this is enough. We are asking God to show us our flaws, expose our weaknesses, reveal our character, and display the true nature of our faith so that we can let endurance have its full effect on our lives. We need to count our trials as nothing but joy because God is giving each of us an opportunity to exercise our faith so that it can be purified and so we can strengthen our grip on God. So do not stop the trial. Do not stop letting the trial teach you. Do not stop thinking about the trial differently. Let’s end the lesson by looking at verse 12.
Blessed is the one who endures trials, because when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. (James 1:12 CSB)
If we will endure the trials and stand the test, we will receive the crown of life that has been promised to those of us who love him. God says you have a reward now in trials and a reward in eternity in trials if you will stand the test. So what do you do when there is nothing you can do? This is the essence of a trial. There is nothing you can do. So what do you do when there is nothing you can do? Right now God has turned down all the noise of life. He has ended our busyness and ended our schedules. God has shut down the world and flipped everything upside down. God has put a trial in your life. What is God showing you about your faith? What is God showing you about your life? What is God trying to teach you? How are you responding to the trial? Are we letting the trial produce endurance? Are we allowing the trial to finish its work in our lives so that we can be mature and complete, lacking in nothing? This is an opportunity to strengthen our grip on God. Are we drawing closer and strengthening our grip on God? Or are we drifting farther from God and loosening our grip on God? Consider what God is doing for your through your difficulty. God wants you becoming mature and complete as hold on to him more and more.