Life Doesn’t Get Easier, We Just Get Stronger (James 1.2-8)

How many times have you heard preachers say that once you believe in God through Jesus Christ all your troubles will end and no more tears, pain and sufferings? A Christian who expects her/his life to be easy and pain-free is in for a shock. Peter emphasizes, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you…as though something strange were happening to you” (I Pet. 4.12). Faith in God through Jesus Christ does not make a person immune to trials, pain and sufferings. Cross is a part and parcel of Christian life. As Warren Wiersbe says, “we are “God’s scattered people” and not “God’s sheltered people”.” Believers in God encounter adversity of various kinds (Greek word poikilos means “multicoloured” James 1.2). Peter says, “…even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials” (I Pet. 1.6). Some trials come simply because we are human – sickness, accidents, disappointments and death -, and some other come due to our foolishness. Some other trials come because of our faith in Jesus Christ. James is talking about trials encountered by believers due to their loyalty to God. They are of various kinds – discrimination, oppression, persecution etc.

Christians’ reaction to the trials determines the effect of these trials on them, and their reaction depends upon their outlook of trials. Outlook decides the outcome. Our perception of trials determines our reaction or response to trials. That is why James says, “Consider it nothing but joy” (James 1.2). The Greek word hēgeomai means to think, consider, count or regard. This is an economic term. If “joy” is a head in the accounting ledger, then trials because of our faith in Jesus Christ are placed under this head! The word “consider” denotes mental evaluation. Our evaluation is determined by our values. If we value comfort more than character, then trials will upset us. We become bitter, not better. Job had the right outlook when he said, “But he (God) knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I shall come out as gold” (Job 23.10). Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad” (Mt. 5.11-12).

James, however, does not say that merely the testing of one’s faith by trials is the cause for joy, but rather the result that occurs through the testing. Although trials pose a threat to our faith, they serve to test the quality of faith by producing “endurance”, when they are perceived and borne in the right way. The endurance thus becomes, as Peter Davids says, “(the) new facet of the believer’s character that could not exist without testing.” Endurance is more than passive acceptance and bearing of sufferings. We endure trials with an expectancy or hope of “beauty from ashes”. That beauty, Ropes suggests, is the “staying power”. This is unwavering constancy of faith in spite of adversity and suffering. This is not a single act but a state of character that results over time when there is a faithful response to trials. Moffatt writes, “Only trial can prove what we are made of, whether we possess this supreme quality of steadfastness or constancy to our convictions.” With the trust firmly anchored in God, and surrendered life to God’s will, the believer moves forward in life in the face of trials with steadfastness and a persistent determination. The goal of constancy and perseverance is maturity and completeness of character (James 1.4), producing the fruit of Christian disposition and expressed in good works (James 2.14-26). Jesus says, “Every good tree bears good fruit…A good tree cannot bear bad fruit” (Mt. 7.17-18). So the “complete character” of a believer is expressed by the consistency of faith and conduct.

Therefore, trials produce endurance, and endurance results in the ethical integrity, which characterises a mature Christian. Maturity is the ultimate goal of one’s faith being tested.

The problem which faces the believer who is going through suffering is that there is a tendency to lose perspective and direction. It is easy for one’s attention to be diverted from God to the circumstances surrounding him/her. In order to see the trials and sufferings in proper light and to know how to cope with them, believers need wisdom (James 2.5). Those who are facing trials do not simply need more knowledge. Instead they need wisdom in applying what they know in a particular situation. Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. It helps us understand how to use trying circumstances for our benefit. Believers seek this wisdom from God, because he is the source of wisdom (Prov. 2.6). “I prayed, and understanding was given me; I called upon God, and the spirit of wisdom came to me” (Wisdom of Solomon 7.7). Again the writer of Wisdom of Solomon says, “I perceived that I would not possess wisdom unless God gave her to me…so I appealed to the Lord and besought him with all my heart” (8.21). The prayer for wisdom should be continually offered, for it is that spiritual insight which enables the believer to maintain perspective and a sense of order when everything surrounding him is in chaos. God responds such a prayer by giving wisdom generously and graciously (James 1.5).

However, the act of prayer alone is not effectual, but it is the prayer “in faith, never doubting” that ensures God’s response (James 1.6). Ineffectual prayer, according to James, is due to “being double-minded and unstable” (James 1.7,8). Regarding the character of the double-minded person Kierkegaard said, “If it changes continually, then he himself becomes changeable, double-minded and unstable. And this continual change is nothing else than impurity.” Such are vacillating persons, who lack foundation. The instability, according to James, extends to every area of life (“in every way” James 1.7,8). This would not only include his life of faith, but also his dealings in everyday affairs with others.

Therefore, when believers in God encounter trials, they should pray to God for wisdom so that they may respond to them properly. However, such prayer must be offered in faith, not in doubt, if it is to be effectual.

Elisabeth Kubler Ros writes, “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

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