Friday, February 27, 2015

When you meet trials of various kinds

One thing I love about James and the book of the Bible that bears his name: he pulls no punches. James is a straight shooter and I like that. In fact, I am currently teaching through the book and I told my class this past week that sometimes I feel as if he's explained himself so very plainly that all I need to do as a teacher is read the text and conclude with "Yeah; what he said."

I don't, of course. But sometimes I feel like I could, what with all James' plain speech.

Consider how he begins his letter. Barely two verses in and already he is tenderly admonishing his brothers and sisters in Christ to "count it all joy...when you meet trials of various kinds." See how straightforward he is? How realistic? Trials are not an "if" in James' economy; they are a "when." He knows life is hard and struggles will come and he doesn't shy away from that truth.

In fact, he acknowledges that these difficulties can be varied. Naturally our minds turn to the "big" trials--the heartbreaks, the diagnoses, the losses. But we will endure trials of various kinds, the seemingly big as well as the seemingly small, and regardless of how big or small we may consider their relative importance we are to count them all joy.

All joy. Count it all joy when these sure and varied struggles come to you, James encourages us, and were he to stop there we would have to respond with either disciplined stoicism (clinch your teeth and just get through it) or Pollyannish denial (what trials?).

But James tells us exactly why we can count it joy: "for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness..." In other words, count it joy because there is a purpose and that purpose is for the testing of your faith through these varied trials to produce steadfastness in you.

How does this work? Some difficulty arises, big or small, and I am faced with the testing of my faith: "Is God there? Does He hear me? Is He good?" As I wrestle with these questions, how will steadfastness have its full effect in me?

There is not time or space here for a full theology of suffering but here are three truths that feed my endurance when faced with trials, big or small:

1. How I react to the trial reflects what I really care about. This is an ugly truth, but one worth considering with great soberness. Whether it is a sudden devastation or a lingering irritation, what I value will be exposed by my reactions and most often this will require confession and repentance as I work through the sin and idols that are exposed.

2. The Lord is my only true hope and comfort. This truth is closely related to #1. As my false comforts and selfish desires are exposed, I must rehearse to myself the sufficiency of the Lord. Whatever it is I think I want or need I will find it in the Lord!

3. The Lord was faithful yesterday, He is faithful today, and He will be faithful tomorrow. How easily I forget the countless ways He delivers me and sustains me! Rehearsing His past faithfulness fuels my trust in Him.

So when the trial comes, searching my reaction will expose my true desires and my false idols. Confession and repentance call me to cast myself on the truth that my only true hope and lasting comfort is the Lord alone who is always, eternally faithful despite my feelings or questions. I remind myself of the gospel, of Jesus who died to save me a sinner, and of the grace and freedom that is mine as His child. My faith may be tested but I can endure as I trust Him in the sufficiency of His grace.

Life is hard. These varied trials may be big, they may be small, they may last for a short time, they may not cease until the Lord calls you home. But we can count it all joy, all of it, all joy, because we trust our good and gracious God.

That's straight-shooting, plain gospel truth. 


  1. I've also just started teaching through James. 52 or 57 commands in 5 chapters, can't remember which without my notes. Very challenging!

  2. Well said! A great post. I look forward to sharing.

  3. I appreciate a straight shooter, myself. I love James, and it is a comfort to know there is a purpose to my struggles.

    Great post, Lisa!