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The book of James: When facing trials

DID YOU EVER hear anything so strange? “Consider it pure joy,” James said, “whenever you face trials of many kinds” (1:2). To some that sounds about as sensible as stepping in front of a speeding Amtrak train. Is James being serious? Is he being realistic when he commands us to rejoice in trials?

You’ll notice James is not telling us to go looking for trials. But he is being very honest. He wants Christians to realize that they have no special inoculation that keeps all trials away. In fact, besides sharing in the sorrows and sufferings common to all people, Christians must often endure additional trials because they are connected with Christ. That’s how it was with Christians of James’ day—and still is today. With interest, therefore, we listen as James speaks to us about how faith acts when facing trials.

What trials do for us

James encourages us “to consider it pure joy” not because trials come, but because of what they can develop. Trials can produce “perseverance” (1:3). You might even call it “Christian staying power,” the ability to hold up under life’s bitterest blows. Such staying power is not ours by birth. It needs to be developed in the crucible of life’s crises and fired in the furnace of everyday living

When troubles come, our reaction is all-important. We dare not let trials become wedges to split us loose from our gracious God. What trials do for us is the important point, not what they do to us. In the stormy waters Christians develop their “sea legs.” When the waves of trouble crash over us, we learn that Jesus is both present and precious. When we learn to view our trials as tools used by God to mature our faith, we can find joy even in them.

What our Savior provides during trials

Do you feel like saying, “I don’t have what it takes to view trials in this way”? You’re right. We need to go to someone who does, to our God “who gives generously to all without finding fault” (1:5). Our open-handed God gives wisdom to all who approach him in faith. On his part, there will be no “finding fault,” no scolding about our lack of wisdom or childish requests. On our part, there will be no wavering in doubt, no wondering, Will he or won’t he help? We will just have simple confidence that he who has given us our Savior will also give us wisdom to understand our trials in life. “Ask God . . . and it will be given to you” (1:5), James assures us, echoing the words of our Lord himself (Matthew 7:7).

When trials smash in the front doors and sneak through the back doors of life, we need to deepen our prayers. Sometimes in answer God will show us the why for a particular trial. Usually, though, there’s another answer he gives: the wisdom to trust him in the dark until the light of eternity reveals all. Such wisdom God puts within our reach in his Holy Word. On its pages we find wisdom. From its words we get answers also for the trials of life.

Digging deeper

  1. What does Romans 5:3-5 tell us about the benefits of trials? Though we might not always understand,  Romans 5:4 reminds us that trials bring several blessings. Chief among them is “hope.” Trials raise our eyes heavenward to a God whose love would never let anything “hurt” us.  One of my  favorite sayings is, “We trust God, not because of what he does, but because of what he is.” He is love, and hope relies on that love.
  2. What do 1 Corinthians 13:12 and 1 John 3:2,3 tell us about understanding the trials in our lives? We wait for the time when we stand at our Savior’s side in heaven with perfect understanding of how he led our lives in his love.  In heaven when we have perfect knowledge of his will and ways, we can throw away our list of questions that we accumulated during our earthly journey.
  3. What confidence do Mark 11:24; John 16:23; and Matthew 7:7,8 offer when we ask for patience in trials? Prayer is a blessed privilege that God gives the believer.  Coupled with that privilege is the confidence that God hears and answers our prayers.  When trials hit, the best outlook is up to a loving Lord, who will give us the patience we need to endure.

This is the second article in a series on the book of James.

Author: Richard Lauersdorf
Volume 107, Number 08
Issue: August 2020

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