Joy in Trials

1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:
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.

– James 1:1-12

We kicked off the spring semester by looking at James 1:1-12, understanding how to have joy in trials, and wisdom in the midst of trials. I want to provide a few supplementary passages and perhaps offer some encouragement in light of Josh’s message during week one of “The Working Faith.”

First, Josh pointed out that in verse 2 the phrase “when you face many trials” can be translated more closely to “when you fall into the midst of trials.” This got me thinking of another passage that I point out quite often, but I see the parallels between these passages:

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

-Hebrews 12:1-2

The first parallel to draw is the use of the word perseverance in describing how we ought to run our faith race, and how withstanding trials develops perseverance. At Passion 2017, Christine Cain spoke on this verse and how to have endurance. It seems like now more than ever, our generation is being called to run our faith race with perseverance in the midst of the many trials of our day.

Hebrews 12 and this passage in James both remind us that it’s not about if we fall into trials, but rather about when we fall into trials. I want to offer encouragement that when we’re running our faith race and come to a point where we fall in the midst of trials, we need to get back up and continue running with eyes focused on Jesus. However, I also want to make the point that we cannot become so inwardly focused on our trials further ahead that we’re not yet in, or the ones right in front of us. If we do, we’ll miss all the great things God is calling us to in our race. Worse yet, if we stay looking down in our faith race, watching out for trials to prevent falling into them, we’ll end up straying away from Christ because we’re not focusing on Him.

I think of a pastor back home that uses this analogy, which has stuck with me all these years. He recalls a time in his life where he was a young boy being taught how to farm in a field by his father. Now I’m no farmer so I won’t try to repeat some of the more technical terms, but in plowing a field with a tractor, his father taught him how to plow straight. He instructed his son to pick a point on the other side of the field and keep his eyes focused on it, guiding the tractor to that point. So perhaps he would focus on a fence post or a tree, anything at the end of the row that is unmoving and aligned with the path. If his eyes depart from it to the right or to the left, his rows won’t end up being straight. This pastor then uses that analogy and applies it to Hebrews 12, that if we take our eyes off of Christ we will start straying off to the right or to the left off the path that He’s called us to. (See Joshua 1:6-10, Matthew 7:13-14, Philippians 3:13-14)

Now I want to focus in on James 1:5-6, 12. Notice how James says that when we ask God for wisdom in the midst of trials we must believe and not doubt that God will give us wisdom in those circumstances. (See Matthew 7:7-12, 1 Corinthians 10:12-13)

Also notice in verse 6 how James uses the analogy that the believer who doubts God will give wisdom in the midst of trials is like a wave tossed in the sea. This leads me to one of Jesus’ parables in Matthew.

24 Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.

-Matthew 7:24-27

Our trials and hardships are often paralleled to storms of life. With this parable in mind, where is your foundation? Is it on the rock (Jesus)? Or is it on the sand (this world, friends, family, material things, etc.)? When those storms of life come and beat against your foundation, will it stand? If your foundation is in Christ you can overtake any trial that presents itself in your way, through His power, and you will come out stronger on the other side. This same thought is echoed by James in verses 1:3, 4, and 12.

I know trials stink and can be really difficult at times. Think of times in your life that you really didn’t understand what God was doing, or maybe you were seriously questioning God in that time. Think of trials in your life that you really didn’t know how you were going to come out of, that you didn’t think you could handle. Now think about who you are now because of that trial. Think of the strength, wisdom, and character you gained because of that trial. Now recognize that this is why we are called to have joy in our trials. God is allowing these trials, these tests, in your faith race to allow you to run the next stretch of your race that you wouldn’t have been able to before. God is calling you to great things and He’s going to use everything He puts you through to do immeasurably more through you than you could ask or imagine through His power at work in you.

If you need more encouragement in the midst of your trial, go back and read the story of your favorite Bible character, maybe one that most resembles you and your walk with God. That’s why God uses stories of ordinary people in His word. Read their story with the fresh perspective of their trials and how God used their trials.

For some examples, look at Peter and how God used his denials of Jesus, his quick bursts of anger, and his frequent doubts and shortcomings. God used all of that to make Peter so bold in the book of Acts and to be the rock of the Church that Jesus was calling him to be.

Think of Abraham and the trial that led him to be willing to sacrifice Isaac, and how difficult that was for him. Did God not give him a stronger faith and trust in God than before that trial? Did God not set him up in this way to be one of the greatest patriarchs of faith?

Lastly, think of Moses. He led some of the most difficult people in the history of the world, which grumbled and complained against him every step of the way. Leading these people allowed Moses to become one of the most humble people in the Bible, who spoke face to face with God, and still in the midst of trials with these people, fell facedown and trusted in God and His plan. Even further, Moses’ trials and example set up Joshua to be the bold and courageous leader he was.

Consider your trials pure joy no matter how hard they are because God is going to put to use, what He puts you through. You will persevere through His power in you. He will give you wisdom to withstand your trial. All you have to do is ask for it and continue to run your race with eyes on Him.