James 1:2-3 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.”
Let’s say you call me some afternoon to tell me that you are in the hospital, and that your doctor has given you some bad news. Can I come right away? When I arrive at your room a little later, you tell me that you have an aggressive, malignant cancer. It may not be terminal, but treatment involves a very long, very painful course of radiation and chemotherapy. I reply with something like, “I am so happy for you! What a blessing this is. We should thank God right now for his mercy.”
Or suppose you show up at my office some morning and tell me that your car has just been repossessed, your utilities have been cut off, or you have just been evicted and you are homeless. My reply is: “How wonderful! I have been praying for something like this for you! Thanks for remembering me and taking the time to share your good fortune.”
About this time you are thinking: A) I am the cruelest man who ever lived, or B) I have completely lost my marbles. I assure you, I am not so insensitive or so clueless that I would respond to your crisis like that.
But maybe you should! What does that mean? The Apostle James urges us not to miss the good things God is doing in our bad circumstances. He even urges us to adopt a positive reaction. He tells us, “Consider it pure joy…whenever you face trials of man kinds” He’s not crazy. Let me explain.
Mark Twain once wrote a story called The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg. Hadleyburg had a reputation for being the most honest and upright town in all the region. One day a man came along and decided to put that reputation to the test. “There is nothing weaker than an untested virtue,” he said. Sure enough, he concocted a little temptation that exposed the greed and dishonesty in every leading citizen of the town.
Have you ever wanted a stronger faith? “There is nothing weaker than an untested virtue.” “The testing of your faith,” James says, “develops perseverance.” It gives our faith endurance, the ability to keep clinging to Christ to the very ends of our lives. The Christian race we are running is less of a sprint, more of a marathon. There is only one way to prepare for running long distances. It requires the constant repetition of running long distances. Too much rest, too much time away from testing and pushing the body results in lost endurance, lost strength and extra to work to build it up again.
In the context of his own times, the trials James had in mind may have been the persecution Christians suffered. Between 50 and 300 A.D., the persecution was not non-stop, but it did flare up over and over again. Rather than destroying the church, it tended to make it stronger. It produced the kind of Christian who was fully devoted to his faith and Savior. It didn’t prevent new people from joining the church, either.
When we think of our own trials, we start with tragedies and catastrophes like the pandemic through which we are suffering, or the civil and racial unrest that has seized our country.
But the stream of trials that come into our lives is more constant than that. They don’t always get described with words like “tragedy” or “catastrophe.” They often consist of the little irritations that pile up on top each other: A bruise, bump, cut, or pulled muscle that makes simple tasks painful; a workload that suddenly exceeds the hours in our work day; a coworker’s incompetence or a manager’s unrealistic expectations; someone’s irritating habits that become harder and harder to ignore.
Our days are full of these things. Individually and together these trials test our faith. We can react in one of two ways. We can set faith aside and let our sinful nature take the reins. We become whiney complainers, always criticizing, always pessimists, always fishing for pity. We act like we have no God and we have no faith, and we are well on the way to losing both.
Or we can face our trials and let them do their work. We can turn to our Lord for help. We can remember his grace and forgiveness and let them change us. We can get through them with prayer and patience. We can trust God’s promises. We can respond with love and godly action. We can be stronger Christians at the end of the day.
We can consider our trials pure joy, because the testing of your faith produces perseverance.