(This post was written by Shannan Copland, Worship Administrative Assistant)
As I sit here trying to title this post, I’m having trouble deciding on one: No Pain No Gain, The Ultimate Chisel, Life’s Pressure Cooker, Invitation to Party… for Your Problems, The Transformation of Your Reflection, Refiner’s Fire, The Pain Perspective, Growing Pains, Road Work Ahead…the list could go on. So I guess after you read through this, you can decide which one hits it home for you.
James 1:1-4 says:
“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.”
Background: The book of James was written by Jesus’ brother, not the apostle James, in around A.D.50 during a time where the persecution of Christianity spread out the believers throughout the Roman world. James was writing this letter to encourage the Christians who were throughout Rome, Alexandria, Cyprus, Greece and Asia Minor.
Take notice that these Christians were being persecuted. The trials that James is referring to are serious trials of torture and martyrdom. Some were set on fire, some were made subject of sport by being chased by wild beasts or dogs, nailed to crosses, beaten, and imprisoned.* In fact, the name “Christian” was originally a derogatory label meaning “little Christs” – those that followed The Way.* Notice James says, whenever you face trials, not if. At this time, it was inevitable that Christians would face serious persecution, they expected it.
Here I have to pause and note that understanding the background of this passage really puts the “trials” I think I am facing into sharp contrast in light of what the Christians were (and many are still) facing as they literally risked their lives for the sake of Christ. That, in and of itself is a reason to consider my trials pure joy.
So let’s continue. (Those of you who read my last blog got a taste of how I converse with passages to help myself understand, so bear with me!) James tells us that we are to “consider it pure joy” when we face trials. What? I know when I am going through a rough time the last thing on my mind is breaking out in the electric slide. But when I consider the types of trials that I have dealt with in my life, I have a LOT to be joyful about in comparison to the terrible persecution the Christians faced during the time of James’ letter.
Then James answers the “why.” Why should we consider our trials pure joy? “Because you KNOW that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” What does perseverance really mean? Here it relates to the words patience, steadfastness, and endurance. The apostle Paul continuously reminded us of the same things in Romans 5:3-4, “…But we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Perseverance develops our character into the likeness of Christ. As “little Christs,” that is who we are called and strive to be like – so that we reflect more of Christ in our lives, not ourselves. Our joy in our sufferings is “not because we enjoy pain or deny its tragedy, but because we know God is using life’s difficulties and Satan’s attacks to build our character.”* The result is strengthened character, a deeper trust in God, and solid confidence for the future.
The Christian life promises trials, and with every trial we are given a choice: to reflect Christ or to reflect ourselves. I like how my study Bible puts it, “We can’t really know the depth of our character until we see how we react under pressure.” It is easy to be kind to others, and worship the Lord when everything is going great in our lives.
How do you react when things seem to fall apart? When you feel like you cannot handle things on your own, realize that you are not supposed to. It is during the times where we feel most out of control that God is trying to get our attention to focus on Him and His strength and power to get us through. God asks for our burdens because He cares for us! (1 Peter 5:7) As painful as it is, and as real as your trials are to you in your life, whether it be financial, relational, health related – whatever the case, this is how our faith grows.
Do you see your trials as an expression of His love for you? God tells us that He disciplines those He loves (Hebrews 12:6; Proverbs 3:12). He wants us to be mature and complete which means He will not shelter us from all pain but will be with us through it (Hebrews 13:5).
Do you see your trials as an opportunity to learn and to show other’s the power of Christ in your life? You see, the world does not have the hope that you have when their world crumbles. So when your faith is tested, when you feel most out of control, when you are put under the Refiner’s fire (1 Cor. 3:13-14), do others see that difference in you?
For those of you who are still reading this, as crazy as it may sound I challenge you, along with James and Paul the apostle, to take the time to reflect on the different trials in your life and take a moment to thank the Lord for them. Thank Him for the pain. You are truly blessed.
“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, 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)
As believers, remember that this world is not our home. Scripture constantly reminds us to maintain an eternal perspective in everything we do. Before you know it we will be in the presence of God Almighty worshipping Him for eternity!
I say this in faith, trusting in the promises in God of the universe who is all knowing, all powerful, and all present. “Sign me up for the trials, Lord, because I know that who I am is nothing in comparison to who I can be in You. My strength is not in myself, but You alone. Bring on the hurt, bring on the pain. As scary as it is to document this, let alone say it, bring it on, because all I need is You.”
John 3:30 “He must become greater; I must become less.”
*”Nero Persecutes The Christians, 64 A.D.,” EyeWitness to History, www.eyewitnesstohistory.com (2000).
* Towns, Elmer. Core Christianity. Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2007.
*Life Application Study Bible, New International Version. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. and grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1991.