“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)
For the past ten years, James 1:2-4 has been a recurring theme in my life. Not that I have at all come to walk in the fullness of joy in every trial, but that it has been a continual reminder to me of how I ought to walk. I am a slow learner. I claimed this passage as my “life verse” over a decade ago (I don’t remember why) and was even given a framed copy for my high school graduation by some friends–even though they didn’t know that. Since that time, there have been countless seasons of tremendous trials and difficulty throughout my life that have brought this passage of Scripture to mind.
At times James’ words have appeared to be encouraging, but I would have to admit that they have more times than not, frustrated me. Since when are joy and suffering used in the same sentence? Perhaps he was only referring to “moderate” trials we experience–but what about those gut-wrenching, heart-ripping trials that would plunge me into despair? What about the times when others deeply wound me, yet acknowledge no error on their part? What about every time my heart has been broken by shattered dreams? It’s been regretfully so easy to get my hopes up and sucked into fantasies of a “happily-ever-after” future, only to just as quickly find that I somehow became blinded again by my own selfish ambitions and desires, and I’m left emotionally, physically and mentally exhausted and spent.
Yes, it is quite true that trials will never cease in this life. The question is, is our faith genuine? Will we stand fast? Will we hold true to what we have been taught in the Gospel of Jesus and run to Him when times become difficult?
I find myself yet again walking through the valley and asking these questions. A dear friend shared James 1:2-4 with me recently, not knowing what it has been to me over the years, and I decided to sit down and meditate on it, yet again. This time, I saw something I had not seen before.
James begins by exhorting the saints to consider it, or think of it as all joy–whenever we encounter sufferings in this life. In other words, we have to make a conscious choice to look beyond the pain of the moment and put on a different perspective. We must not focus on the circumstances, which only tell part of the story, but see things from God’s view. This requires faith on our part–faith in believing that there is a greater reward. Paul said in Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” We’re called to set our hearts on the things that are above, where Christ is, and not on things that are on the earth (Colossians 3:1). Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).
James doesn’t leave us wondering “why?” but he gives us the ground for which we can find joy in the midst of all our trials: “for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness (or endurance)…” Endurance. Perseverance. Steadfastness. Remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:13, “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”
This is what I had not really seen before. The Lord recently brought me to a place of deep repentance in my life. For years I had been walking in darkness, holding on to sin and the things of the world, unwilling to confess and walk in truth. But out of His abundance of grace and steadfast love, He brought me into the light. I got a greater glimpse of God’s faithfulness as revealed in Philippians 1:6, “And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
Trials are a means of sanctification in our lives. They are a means through which endurance is established and cultivated in us, through faith in Jesus and by His grace, for a greater purpose than what we might see in the present moment.
Only those who endure to the end will be saved.
It is God who works in us, by His grace, purging our unbelief as we continue to find Him faithful and true through every hardship and difficulty along life’s narrow way. May we learn to look less at our circumstances, throw off every weight and encumbrance and sin, and run with endurance the race that is set before us
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
So I am free to take upon His yoke, which is easy and light (Matthew 11:29), and I rest my heart and soul in His finished work. He’s already gone before me, and He has won. I don’t need to fight for His favor and righteousness. His faithfulness towards me is not dependent upon anything I have or will do, but solely upon what He has already done. This is good news! This is reason to be joyful!
Lastly, we see that when steadfastness (or endurance) blossoms and comes into its fullness, it produces the fruit of maturity, integrity, character and perfection. Perhaps this is what Paul meant when he said in 2 Corinthians 3:18a, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” And Romans 8:29, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…”
There is a promise for us in James 1:2-4, that as we know the testing of our faith produces endurance, the consequent effect is perfection, maturity, completion and godliness in Christ Jesus.
The trials still come. Suffering is inevitable. But even when the threat of heartache and brokenness looms like a darkened cloud on a rainy day, we must ask ourselves if God is enough for us. Do we believe His promises for us? Do we believe that He is all He says He is for us in Christ Jesus? Is our hope and joy in our ever-changing circumstances or performance, or is it rooted firmly in the finished work of Jesus and all that He has already accomplished for us? We have every reason to consider it all joy, for He is working His glorious work in our waiting and in our suffering.
I will be the first to acknowledge that I am weak and need the grace of God to stand fast and to believe Him. But this I do call to mind, and therefore, I find hope:
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion, says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in Him.’ The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him.” (Lamentations 3:22-25)
The trials in our lives are the evidence of God’s faithful, loving, and gracious work to make us more like Jesus. Let us rejoice and be glad in Him!
Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him,
on those who hope in his steadfast love,
that he may deliver their soul from death
and keep them alive in famine.
Our soul waits for the LORD;
he is our help and our shield.
For our heart is glad in him,
because we trust in his holy name.
Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us,
even as we hope in you.