“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4; NIV)
What on earth is James talking about? Consider it joy when you encounter trials? I think most of us would agree that trials are something to be avoided. They are certainly not something to accept, much less be joyful about. This flies in the face of everything our culture believes. Many of our actions are built upon the idea that if we work hard, do good, and are smart then trials in life can be avoided, and they should be.
The problem is that our focus is in the wrong place. This life we live, and the circumstances we encounter along the journey, aren’t about us. It’s about God, His Kingdom, and His purposes. When we encounter trouble, discouragement sets in because the life we had planned is interrupted. We mourn over the loss of comfort, peace, stability, or gain. On the contrary, God says that losing this life for Him is gain (Matthew 16:25). His perspective is an eternal one, knowing that our time in this life is very short and that its purpose is to prepare us for a much longer time in His presence.
Knowing that, James’ words start to make a little more sense. When we encounter these trials, our flesh (the part of us bound to this world) suffers. During that time, if we place our faith in Jesus for who He is and what He has promised, our faith grows. Not only that, but as the flesh decreases in its dominance over us the Spirit increases. The affect of that might seem quite small at first, but don’t miss the power. Believers who have begun surrendering to Jesus in their trials can testify to the outcome James points to. When once you’ve made it through a trial and allowed God to use it in your life for His purposes, you know that you can take on the next one. And when the next one comes (and it will) you’re looking forward to what God is going to do through it. So as time goes on trials are transformed from something that you once dreaded into something that you EMBRACE. Now perseverance has started forming in you. Those petty fears that kept you from serving the Lord in this area or that melt away. Not only are you no longer afraid of the circumstances surrounding that decision but you have JOY, knowing that God is going to use them in you and those around you.
Let me be careful to point out that this is not some natural tolerance or toughness you build as a result of going through difficulty. You don’t have to be saved to be tough. In fact, sometimes that’s a sign of drifting away from the Lord because we’ve come to rely on ourselves instead of God. In contrast, this is all about surrendering to God and letting Him work, not making it about our actions. We recognize that we are weak and rejoice in the fact that our weakness is used to bring Him glory (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Can you imagine the Christian who is not deterred by trials but rather fueled by them? Who doesn’t grow weaker as they endure life but stronger? Trials are guaranteed in life, no matter how much wealth, health, power, or privilege you have. The only question is whether you’ll allow them to drive you further into the flesh as Satan intends, or allow God to produce perseverance in you as He intends, making you “…mature and complete, not lacking anything.”