Posted on April 22, 2015
James 1:1-12—Purposeful Pain
Hi! Welcome to our brand-new study of the New Testament book of James—Faith Meets Reality. I’m expecting this journey to be much shorter than the one we just finished (nearly two years studying Mark’s gospel!). This study will be about twelve weeks long, and will hit the major topics covered in James. If you haven’t already, get your Bible—then read the first twelve verses of James’ first chapter. Here we go!
After a brief but important introduction, James writes eight of the most challenging words in the Bible: “Consider it all joy whenever you face trials…”
I’ve had trials. So have you. Illness, financial stress, business failure, family trouble, broken relationships, grief, spiritual struggles—you name it, many of us have experienced it. Trials are not joyful events. So in practical terms, how can James expect us to look on trials with joy?
Even as I write this, I’m fully aware that what I call a “trial” is far lighter than the ordeal currently facing my Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East at the hands of ISIS. So let’s jump back to James’ greeting. This letter is addressed “To the twelve tribes in the scattering.” James’ readers were primarily Christians of Jewish heritage (the twelve tribes were descended from the twelve sons of the Jewish patriarch Jacob). These Christians had faced intense persecution that drove them from their homeland. They’d been displaced, homeless, cut off from all that was familiar. They had known loss, hunger, uncertainty, grief, and despair. Their lives had been threatened; some of them would be martyred. In other words, James was writing to people who knew what a trial was. How did they endure?
The key to viewing trials with joy is understanding that God doesn’t put us through meaningless misery.
Purpose in the pain
A few days ago my friend Amanda posted a link to an article about C-sections. I read it, identifying with it because I’ve had three. I relived the anxious moments of the “night before”—dread at the pain the morning’s surgery would bring, strangely mixed with anticipation at holding my sweet newborn in my arms.
A C-section is a great picture of pain with purpose. The discomfort is bearable because of the joyful end result!
When we apply the same understanding to our trials, we’re able to “consider it all joy” when we face them. Dr. David Jeremiah wrote, “To consider it all joy in the midst of our trials is to respond with a deliberate, intelligent appraisal of our situation. . . to look at the experience from God’s perspective and recognize the trial not as a happy experience in itself, but as the means of producing something very valuable in life.”* The trial is rough, but the beneficial outcome gives purpose to the pain we’ve endured.
Ask any mature Christian when in her life she grew the most. Almost always, she’ll tell you her spiritual life took a leap forward during or immediately following a time of trial. The fact is, troubles supercharge our prayer lives, increase our thirst for God’s Word, and impel us to desperately seek His will, in a way we just don’t maintain during more serene seasons.
Power in the process
James goes on to offer strength and encouragement to trial-bearers. When our trials seem overwhelming, we can remember:
• wisdom is ours for the asking. Pray! God is anxious to pour out His wisdom. He wants us to come away from troubled times stronger, empowered, more confident in Him. Trials may turn prayer into hard work; God knows that, and values our anguished effort to seek Him in painful times. He understands our groans and answers generously, without finding fault (v. 5). No “I-told-you-so’s.” Just gracious mercy (Heb. 4:16).
• doubt is the enemy of faith. Faith implies a willingness to trust and obey in confidence that God is working all things together for our good (Rom. 8:28)—not a back-peddling mistrust if we don’t like the way things are going. God can’t use fair-weather friends (v. 6-8). He needs our unwavering conviction.
• trials level the ground between us. It’s no accident that the first area of wise living that James covers has to do with finances. We tend to think that money could solve all our problems. But a rich man with cancer is just as ill as a poor man. A woman of means whose child is rebellious aches just as much as a woman with little. Troubles bring people of wealth and people of poverty to the same plane of need, humbling the rich and exalting the poor.
• it’s worth hanging in there! Sometimes we’ll see a resolution in this life, sometimes in the next. But there will be an end to this ordeal—and the end will be worth the struggle. James 1:12 assures blessing for the one who perseveres, “who endures trial because, once proven, he will receive the crown of life which God promised to those loving Him.” In a similar vein, Paul wrote, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Cor. 4:16-17) This is the hope that recently allowed twenty-one Egyptian Christian men to kneel on a Libyan beach praising Christ as they were beheaded for their faith.
The crucial question in times of trial: Do I trust that God is good and that He is working in this? When we can answer “yes” to that question, we can find joy in trials, and purpose in our pain.
• Try to memorize James 1:2-3 and 1:12. (How long has it been since you committed a verse of scripture to memory? This habit in itself builds up your faith and readies you for trials. You can do it!)
• Consider this quote from William Barclay: “It is not simply the ability to bear things; it is the ability to turn them to greatness and glory. The thing which amazed the heathen in the centuries of persecution was that the martyrs did not die grimly; they died singing.” Is the modern church producing Christians of this caliber? Do we know how to rejoice in the midst of trouble? Can we praise God from a sickbed? honor God in an unhappy marriage? trust God out of an empty checkbook? Ask yourself, “In times of trial, is what reaches God’s ears from my lips a praiseful hum or a pouting whine?”
• Read James 1 at least twice, praying for understanding and wisdom, looking forward to next Wednesday’s study of James 1:13-27!
© Diane McLoud 2015
* From Turning Toward Integrity by David Jeremiah (Chariot Victor Publishing: Colorado Springs, CO, p. 15)