The book of James is dated about A.D. 45 making it the earliest book in the New Testament. It speaks of trials in the church soon after its inception. Some of them are from outside and some within. Our small group just began a study in Job, the OT book of suffering that seems to be without reason, at least for Job. It will be good to read James at the same time.
James was written to Jewish converts telling them how to deal with their struggles in faith, the same faith that sustained Job, the faith that endures in the face of all kinds of obstacles. Job’s losses and trials were more extreme than what will ever happen to most of us yet Job and James both give hope and encouragement as well as instruction.
James greets his readers, then says the most surprising thing. This statement, when first read, usually causes readers to shake their heads and wonder if they will ever feel this way about the challenges of life:
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)
James was the half-brother of Jesus (see Galatians 1:19), yet he called himself a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. He was no stranger to suffering, likely watched Jesus crucified and knew that He did not deserve what happened. James wrote about practical life as a Christian yet his words have great depth and point to a maturity that challenges everyone. Me too.
Most of us meet trials of various kinds with dismay, grumbling, even questions of ‘why me?’ and ‘what is the point of this?’ James answers these responses by giving the purpose of trials. Of course the enemy wishes to use them in a destructive way, destroying my faith in God and side-tracking me into the uselessness of self-pity. However, God’s purpose is to test my faith. In reality, faith is His gift to me, His faith. Will it hold when challenged?
In the story of Job, this man lost everything, his vast herds and all his children, in one day. The news came to him in rapid succession with one messenger beginning to speak before the preceding messenger was finished. The reason for this test was never revealed to him, but he eventually came through.
In James, the reason is given; trials exercise my trust in God and because I am trusting Him, He will accomplish His purpose for the trial. I will become steadfast, mature, able to rest in the character and trustworthiness of God no matter what happens, even when it seems like my entire world is falling apart.
Therefore James calls for joy — joy is the result of knowing God is in control and that He is good and whatever is happening will result in good, good for me and glory for Him. Joy is the by-product of faith, the proof of it. If I can consider a trial a thing of joy, then my faith is as solid and mature as it can be.
Sometimes it doesn’t take much to side-track me into forgetting that God is in charge. Last week, I had an extremely sore toe. It felt broken and I could hardly walk. I used to joke about prayer meetings being shallow because the requests too often focused on praying for ‘Aunt Mary’s sore toe’, so I never thought to ask for prayer, but I did complain about it. A ninety-year-old friend heard me. When we were alone, she asked if she could pray for my toe, then bent down, put her hand on my foot, and prayed. In a short time, my pain was gone.
As I think of Job, whose suffering did not leave him that quickly, and as I think of James who tells me to rejoice in trials, I am encouraged to trust God and pray with joy. He may ask me to endure or He may show me His great power by releasing me from the trial, but either way, He can be trusted. Life is not a willy-nilly set of puzzling circumstances, but an adventure with a God who is transforming me into a joyful person who trusts Him with everything, small or large, because He is a powerful and gracious God who knows exactly what I need to grow in my faith and knowledge of Him.
Lord Jesus, this life is an adventure. I will never again joke about prayer requests for sore toes or anything else that seems trivial. You also answered prayer this past month for a friend who should have died and did not. I am in awe of You. The trials of life are never desired, but they can be met with the encouraging knowledge that You are not passing them out randomly. You know exactly how to test and build the faith of Your children.
God cares about everything that happens to me.
God sometimes removes the trials.
A lively meeting with two others to discuss ideas for ministry.
Our local supermarket’s one day a month with 15% off everything in the story.
My hubby showed up to load and unload the groceries.
Text messages from family.
A super comfortable bed.